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DGSE - General Directorate for External Security
Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure

General Directorate for External Security, subordinate to the Ministry of the Defense, is responsible for military intelligence as well as for strategic information, electronic intelligence, and it is also responsible for the counterespionage outside the borders of the national territory. Officially its soldiers were assigned to 44th Infantry Regiment based in Orléans.

Since 2008, France had been constantly improving its architecture for the large-scale collection of data, with the main intelligence agency in France, the DGSE (Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure) increasing its foreign intelligence capabilities in recent years. France now ranks fifth in the world of metadata collection after the US, the UK, Israel and China and runs the second-most important intelligence data collection and processing centre in Europe after the UK.

France’s communications surveillance and collection architecture rest primarily on a supercomputer operated by the DGSE in Paris. This super-computer intelligence centre, allegedly installed on three levels in the basement of the DGSE headquarters, is reported to be capable of collecting, processing and storing dozens of petabytes of data. Data are intercepted and collected by approximately 20 interception sites located on both national and overseas territory, comprised of both satellite stations and interception of fibre-optic submarine cables. The following six agencies have been cited as ‘customers’ of the DGSE metadata bank (named ‘mutualisation infrastructure’ by French officials):

  • National Directorate of Customs Intelligence and Investigations (DNRED), responsible for carrying out investigations on smuggling, counterfeit money and customs fraud;
  • Directorate for Defence Protection and Security (DPSD), responsible for military counter-espionage;
  • Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM), tasked with centralising all military intelligence information;
  • Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence (DCRI), replaced by the General Direction of Interior Security (DGSI), responsible for counter-espionage and counter-terrorism;
  • TRACFIN service (Intelligence Analysis and Action against Clandestine Financial Circuits), responsible for the fight against illegal financial operations, money laundering and terrorism financing.
  • The intelligence arm of the Police Prefecture of Paris

These services send a request to the DGSE and the DGSE searches the database on a hit/no-hit basis. It then forwards intelligence reports on the basis of the data analysed to the client agencies.204 This is allegedly carried out routinely, discreetly and without any form of parliamentary control.

France has its own electronic surveillance network, which might be similar to the Prism program in the United States, a leading French newspaper Le Monde said 05 July 2013. The paper said that France’s foreign intelligence agency, the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE), “systematically collects the electromagnetic signals emitted by computers and telephones in France, and the flow of signals between France and countries abroad.”

“The entirety of our communications is being spied on. All of our email messages, SMS messages, itemized phone bills and connections to Facebook and Twitter are then stored for years,” reads the English-language version of the article, posted on Le Monde’s website.

According to the article, the systems targets not so much at content of communications, but at its context. “It is more interesting to know who is speaking to whom than to record what they are saying. More than phone tapping, it’s the technical data - the "metadata" - that is being combed through,” the paper said.

The DGSE headquarters was formerly situated in the Caserne des Tourelles, 128 Boulevard Mortier, 75020 Paris, in the 20th arrondissement. The DGSE is in the process of moving to the fort of Noisy-Le-Sec, but it intends to retain the Caserne Mortier headquarters. The new headquarters complex at Noisy, situated in the communes of Noisy-le-Sec and Romainville was initiated in 1992 and had been confirmed by successive governments since then. In 1993 the project was reconfigured by DGSE, under the designation of "Fort 2000." The cost of this project is 2 billion Francs over five years from 1996 to 2001.

The DGSE was formed through the the integration of the diverse agencies of French intelligence from the Second World War. The Free French forces in 1942 created the Central Bureau of Information and Action (BCRA), which in November 1943 relocated to Algiers as the General Directorate of Special Services (DGSS). On 06 November 1944 the intelligence networks of the French Resistance were integrated to the DGSS, which was redesignated the Directorate of Studies and Research (DGER). This merger incorporated a limited number of communist networks, which was not entirely satisfactory in the post-War environment. Consequently in 1946 the government of the Fourth Republic created the External Documentation and Counterespionage Service (SDECE) subordinated to the prime minister.

After abolition of the French Indochina opium monopoly in 1950, SDECE imposed centralized, covert controls over the illicit drug traffic that linked the Hmong poppy fields of Laos with the opium dens operating in Saigon. This generated profits that funded French covert operations in their Vietnam war.

With the advent of the Fifth Republic, and through 1962, the SDECE was used as a strategic intelligence service by the prime minister Michel Debre, and was particularly efficient in the struggle against the rebellion in Algeria. In 1962, following the Ben Barka affair, General De Gaulle decided to subordinate the SDECE to the minister of the defense, and the institution adapted to the military environment.

Charles De Gaulle undertook covert operations in Quebec using nationalist and separatist movements in Quebec, under the rubric of "Assistance et Cooperation Technique" or "Operation Ascot." Jacques Foccart dispatched SDECE agents to Quebec to develope and foment the growth of separatist movements. In 1968 Foccart and SDECE tried to wrest control of Nigerian oil from Britain and the US by arming and supplying secessionists in Nigeria's oil-rich Biafra region. The revolt was crushed at a cost of 500,000 lives.

The "Common Program" established by the Socialist and Communist partiess in 1972 included the demand of Communists for the dissolution of the SDECE. This measure was not supported by socialist camp, and intentions of President François Mitterand were unknown at the time of his election in May 1981. In fact, the arrival of the Socialists marked the attempt to "civilize" the SDECE. In June 1981, Stone Marion, a civilian who was the former Director of the Paris Airport, was named to the head of the SDECE. Perceived as a "man of the socialists" and a civilian among soldiers, Marion encountered internal opposition from SDECE.

On 04 April 1982 the SDECE was replaced by the Directorate of the External Security (DGSE). Based on his experience as an enterprise manager, Stone Marion consolidated the structure and the cohesion of the service by the creation of a General Directorate that controls Directorates of Searches, Counterespionage, Personnel and the mythical Division Action. This stimulated the coordinate computerization of service. Furthermore, the DGSE was no longer permitted to operate on French territory.

The contested personality of Marion, and the absence of success in the campaign against terrorism, led to the naming of Admiral Lacoste as the head of the DGSE in 1982. But the "militarization" of the DGSE had slowed, and since the early 1980s the top DGSE military management was gradually replaced by civilians. The proportion of civilians has risen from 45% in 1989 to 60% in 1993. Jacques Dewatre has been the Director of the DGSE since 07 June 1996.

In 1996, the total staff of 2,500 included 1,700 civilians, with an official budget of FF 1,350,000,000. About half these resources were devoted to political and diplomatic intelligence, with the remainder equally divided between military and economic intelligence.

The current DGSE structure stems from the restructuring imposed by Claude Silberzahn following his arrival as the head of the service in 1989.

  • The Strategic Directorate is responsible for the determination of the adequacy of sought-after information with needs of clients. It maintains, notably, contact with the Foreign Ministry. It elaborates documents of doctrine and general orientation, as well as studies on possible French political options.
  • The Intelligence Directorate is responsible the collection of information, mainly from human sources, including the employment of illegal agents. It is responsible both for collecting and disseminating intelligence, and it is the main partner of the Operations Directorate. Traditionally oriented to the military intelligence, this Directorate was relatively weak concerning political, economic and technological intelligence until the begining of the 1980s. In early 1993 the CIA obtained a long DGSE list of the most important intelligence targets in the United States, which included Boeing, among other companies. The DGSE agents were mainly interested in the navigation system of Boeing's new jumbojet to pass on to French companies, including the Airbus syndicate.
  • The Technical Division was constituted from the former Groupement des Contrôles Radioélectriques [GCR - Radioelectronic Communications Group]. It is responsible for strategic electronic intelligence, and maintains a number of collection stations throughout the world. At a listening station west of Paris, the DGSE can intercept international telephone and fax traffic. With the decision by Defense Minister Alain Richard to close the Bouar base in the Central African Republic, the DGSE will lose one of its major SIGINT communications interception and decryption stations. The DGSE"s other major station, in Djibouti, still remains and may even be enlarged.
  • The Operations Division is responsible for planning and implementing clandestine operations. The 1995 "Operation SATANIC" had the objective of neutralizing the "Rainbow Warrior" ship that was part of the Greenpeace campaign against French nuclear tests in the Pacific. On 10 July 1985 DGSE agents detonated a bomb on the ship while it was in port of Auckland, New Zealand, killing the photographer Fernando Peira. The Division's schemes depend on the Division Action:
    • The Army component was the 11th Parachutist Battalion of Shock (BPC), created 01 September 1946 and based in Fort Montlouis. From 01 November 1985, following Operation SATANIC, the 11th BPC was reorganized by President Mitterrand and redesignated the 11th Parachutist Regiment Shock (11e RPC).
    • The Station of Swimmer Combat Command was created on 16 April 1956, and on 26 October 1960 it was transferred to Aspretto (Corsica). The unit figured prominently in the Greenpeace affair of 1985, when French agents sank the Rainbow Warrior while docked at Auckland, New Zealand. After the Rainbow Warrior scandal, CINC was redeployed to Quélern in Brittany.

The Division Action has training camps in Cercottes (Loiret), Roscanvel and Perpignan (Pyrenees Orientals) (formerly situated to Margival, in the Aisne). In 1992, during the DGSE reforms and the creation of the special force headquarters, it was been decided to leave the 11th RPC to the DGSE, given the particular missions of the Division Action in peacetime. On 30 June 1995 11th Shock was dissolved and its functions were replaced by three "stations", the CPES in Cercottes, the CIPS in Perpignan and the CPEOM in Roscanvel.

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Page last modified: 17-11-2015 14:43:03 ZULU