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    France’s Intelligence Community: An Overview

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    1.0 Introduction 

    France’s intelligence community (FIC) is one the largest and most powerful intelligence communities globally. Boasting over six agencies focused on foreign, domestic, and military threats, they are the elite vanguard of French national security and defence. Every day, their intelligence machinery collects, analyses, and disseminates vital intel to France’s policymakers, giving them the cutting edge in geopolitical awareness and threats upon la République Française.

    1.1 Renseignement

    The French President is at the centre of the French intelligence community. The Palais de l’Élysée (the Presidential residency) is the ultimate recipient of intelligence through the CNRLT. The National Coordination of Intelligence and The Fight Against Terrorism (La Coordination Nationale du Renseignement et de la Lutte Contre le Terrorisme) coordinates the country’s intelligence agencies, informing the Presidency of the latest security developments. 

    Additionally, the CNRLT also reports to:

    • La Coordination Nationale du Rensignement (National Intelligence Council): Other than the President, is a council composed of the Prime Minister, agency directors and their adjacent ministers, as well as the National Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Coordinator.
    • External oversight committees such as the Délégation parlementaire au renseignement (Parliamentary Delegation for Intelligence).
    • Lastly, the Secrétariat général de la Défense et de la Sécurité nationale (General Secretariate for National Security and Defence).

    CNRLT is therefore the central coordinating body of the FIC since 2017. Originally in 2008, France had a similar system in place shortly after the concept of an intelligence community was founded in the country into law. Acknowledging for the first time by the French government publicly such an entity existed. Future progression led to an implementation of further agencies and intelligence bodies. However, the subsequent terror attacks which followed in the mid 2010’s brought France and her intelligence services to a new low. As such, it was acknowledged amongst policy makers and the FIC the vital importance in coordinating further the specialised agencies with their judicial counterparts through the CNRLT. (Source)

    1.2  Current CNRLT Coordinator (2024)

    Pascal Maihos as Prefect of Midi-Pyrénées in 2014. Wikimedia Commons
    Pascal Maihos as Prefect of Midi-Pyrénées in 2014. Wikimedia Commons

    Pascal Mailhos is the current CNRLT coordinator since January 2023. Mailhos is a part of the Presidential team and is the direct link along with the Deputy Coordinator and Deputy Secretary General for the President and their intelligence services. Mailhos has a long and accomplished career as a civil servant working for the interior ministry. Additionally, he served as the central director of the National Police’s General Intelligence (DCRG). 

    2.0 Symbolising France and her Intelligence 

    Unlike that of the US intelligence community (USIC), the FIC lacks any unifying symbol of intelligence prowess or well institutionalised symbolism. However, La Coordination Nationale du Renseignement et de la Lutte Contre le Terrorisme (National Coordinator of Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism) emblem is in a way highly symbolic of itself in representing the wider FIC family. 

    Emblem of the FIC coordinating body the CNRLT
    Emblem of the FIC coordinating body the CNRLT. Elysee.fr

    Centre:  Marked in red, we have the acronym ‘RF’ intertwined together, standing for ‘République Française’ 

    Inner Layer: Engulfing the centre in white is the Armoiries de la France, the nation’s coat of arms. As such, meaning a multitude of French cultural and core values. Beyond this inner layer towards the outer too in white is an outline of a compass. 
    Outer Layer: Overpowering in different shades of blue, CNRLT is spelt out in full around the emblem. Moreover, at the bottom features what appears to be a red nautical star.

    2.1 Agency Symbolism 

    French intelligence agencies and oversight bodies use the same pattern in their symbols:

    • Each logo follows the traditional French tri-colour scheme of Red, Blue, and White, representing the revolution and city of Paris.
    • Each agency either has a globe with France represented in the middle or the agency name at the centre or other French symbol.
    • A few agencies use animals, signifying the agency’s strength and power in the form of a Lion or Eagle. 
    • Finally, each agency emblem clearly defines what agency they are attached to with the name of the agency either spelt around the emblem or in the centre.

    3.0 History in Brief 

    While the French Intelligence Community is a relatively recent concept in regards to it being acknowledged by the government and developed since 2008, French intelligence is not. Formal and informal intelligence institutions supported French leadership for centuries.

    3.1 Early Intelligence in France 

    Painting of King Louis XIV which during his reign established intelligence in France

    Intelligence in France is a well documented practice dating back to as early as the reign of King Louis (XIV). During the 17th and 18th century, France faced growing issues as a major power and Louis struggled in keeping the country’s nobility in check. As such, Louis repeatedly used his diplomats and envoys to act as spies and gather economic intelligence by stealing industrial secrets about the countries where they were sent. Additionally, Louis (XIV) sent agents to spy on the English courts of Charles (II) and influenced them into declaring war on Holland in 1672. (Source)

    Under the reign of Louis (XV) his ministers utilised intelligence much more thoroughly to spy on foreign adversaries. Intelligence collected was analysed through what was called the Cabinet Noir (Black Chamber) and disseminated to Louis (XV). Louis (XIV) favoured the use of women as spies, viewing them useful in seduction against men to gather information. Today, the use of romance or seduction to elicit information is called honey trapping. Louis XIV and the Cabinet Noir highlighted how far back intelligence was used to inform state decision making in France. (Source)

    3.2 Birth of a Modern Community 

    In the latter half of the 19th century, France suffered a humiliating defeat against Prussia. Known as the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, France lost the territory of Alsace-Lorraine. Accumulating in the collapse of the Second French Empire and solidifying the unification of Germany as a European power. 

    Adapting to the changing tides of military warfare, the French military established the Deuxième Bureau de l’État-major général (Second Bureau of the General Staff) in 1870. The Bureau focused on collecting intelligence relating to enemy troop movements. During this period the Bureau pathed the way for an intelligence service and community to develop in France. As such, developing French counterintelligence, military intelligence, and foreign intelligence and the role it played influencing policy makers and military strategy. 

    Upon the Nazi invasion and occupation of France in 1940, the Bureau was subsequently disbanded in replacement of Vichy France’s Centre d’Information Gouvernemental (Government Information Centre). The Free French forces in exile established the Bureau Central de Renseignements et d’Action (Central Office of Information and Action). Handling intelligence and to help organise the French resistance members as a liberation movement. Free France used these organisations to clandestinely further their intelligence operations. To this day, it is why the tradition of clandestine activity is so prevalent in agencies such as the DGSE.

    3.3 Cold War

    Throughout the Cold War, agencies within the FIC went through numerous changes and short lived life spans. During this period, clandestine activity became the forefront of France’s intelligence mandate. Striving to develop as a strong country with their own ability to project French power against foreign and domestic threats. As such, leading to the establishment of the following agencies:

    3.3.1 Agency Origins

    Domestic: Created in 1944, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (Territorial Surveillance Directorate) served as the nation’s counter intelligence agency. Alongside the DST on internal matters was also the Direction Centrale des Renseignements Généraux (DCRG or Central Directorate of General Intelligence) which dated back to 1907. Both were active throughout the Cold War, eventually becoming the DCRI in 2008, the DGSI’s predecessor. 

    Foreign: Known as the Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (SDECE), the SDECE exceeded the BCRA in 1945. Throughout the Cold War, it was France’s primary agency on foreign intelligence and threats pertaining to the country. In 1982, it was reorganised and then known as the DGSE.

    Military: Both current military agencies were formed towards the end of the Cold War. DNRED formed in 1992 whilst DRM was created earlier in 1981. 

    Economic: Both intelligence agencies present today relating to economic intelligence were formed close together towards the end of the Cold War. DNRED formed in 1988 and TRACFIN in 1990. 

    As such, the majority of France’s modern intelligence community was formed towards the end of the Cold War. The major reasoning being due to the changing geopolitical climate of the time. 

    3.4 The Establishment of a Community

    Portrait of Nicolas Sarkozy who instigated the White Papers in 2008 which began the recognition of the FIC

    In 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy instigated a series of defence and intelligence reforms. A French government white paper in 2008 officially acknowledged the existence of the intelligence services for the first time. The reform package established oversight bodies, furthered public recruitment, and the establishment of what would eventually be l’Académie du Renseignement (Intelligence Academy). In 2014, the White Paper reforms were finalised with the establishment of the DGSI (France’s internal intelligence service) and l’Académie du Renseignement. These reforms established the modern understanding of the French Intelligence Community (Source

    4.0 Organisation of the FIC

    4.1 Structure

    France’s executive and legislative bodies share oversight of the FIC. The President coordinates his intelligence services through the CNRLT alongside the Prime Minister who presides over the ministerial bodies in charge of the six services. In addition to this, there is an oversight body, the Inspection des Services de Renseignement (Intelligence Service Inspectorate) along with a interdepartmental body the Secrétariat général de la défense et de la sécurité nationale (Secretariat-General for National Defence and Security). Lastly, l’Académie du Renseignement (Intelligence Academy), a uniquely educational and training establishment for intelligence officers within the FIC.

    4.2 Executive Body 

    Sitting at the top of the hierarchical structure is the President, who is the primary intelligence consumer and assists in appointing agency directors. However, the intelligence services themselves often set their own mandates and operational tasks as advised by the CNRLT. As France’s executive, the President must stay informed at all times regarding domestic security and foreign developments. The CNRLT however is the direct link between the services and the President. The executive body manages the daily workings of the intelligence community on behalf of the President. 

    4.3 Legislative Body

    Le Premier Ministre (Prime Minister) is the secondary partner in the FIC. The PM and his office oversee a large portion of the intelligence apparatus, communicating with oversight bodies as well as the ministerial heads of each respective intelligence service. These include:

    Inspection des Services de Renseignement: The Intelligence Inspectorate is the Prime Minister’s oversight body within the FIC. The inspectorate is formed through leading senior civil servants who are a part of existing inspectorate bodies within defence, finance, and government. Additionally, these members are appointed by the PM in consultation with the CNRLT. They oversee how the services and other intelligence bodies function within the confines of French democracy and values. 

    Secrétariat Général de la Défense et de la Sécurité Nationale: The SGDSN is a departmental body of the Prime Minister that supports the President’s Office in matters of national security and defence. SGDSN is France’s leading coordinator in national defence and security issues and helps the head of state when making security and defence policy, especially in times of crisis.

    L’Académie du Renseignement: The Intelligence Academy facilitates the training and higher education of intelligence officers and personnel within the services. The creation of the academy dates back to 2014 thanks to Sarkozy’s White Paper from 2008. In addition to serving the personnel of the FIC, the academy is also open to scholars and cooperates with academics across the country and elsewhere. 

    4.3.1 Ministries

    Ministère des Armées: The Ministry of the Armed Forces is the governing body of three of France’s intelligence services. These include the DGSE, DRM, and DRSD.

    Ministère de l’Intérieur: The Ministry of the Interior governs France’s domestic service on matters of national security through the DGSI. 

    Ministère de l’Action et des Comptes Publiques: Translating as the countries Ministry of Public Finance and Budgets, this ministerial body coordinates the final two agencies within the FIC, TRACFIN and DNRED within the realm of economic intelligence. (Source)

    Each Ministry is appointed a minister on advice by the PM to the President, as such, this makes each ministry subject to the PM as head of government. 

    4.4 Financing 

    The financing of the intelligence services is for the most part in the public domain. In fact, it is voted upon by France’s Parliament. Each individual service is allocated a set amount every 12 months, typically at the start of the year. However, the set amount given to each service is largely left a secret and not disclosed to the public. 

    • The intelligence budget for the military is based on the Loi de Programmation Militaire, covering a five year period. In January 2023, President Macron pushed for a bill which would see the military defence budget increase by €1.5 billion with an annual increase of €3 billion each year until 2030. (Source) (Source)
    • In July 2023, over €413 billion was approved by Parliament for the military budget to which over 60% will be placed into the intelligence services of the DGSE, DRM, and DRSD (Source)
    • As for the other services, the DGSI sits at a budget of an estimated €300 million whilst the economic agencies TRACFIN and DNRED are not public knowledge.

    5.0 Agencies 

    The French Intelligence Communities consist of six agencies that cover foreign and domestic intelligence gathering, law enforcement, and covert action.

    5.1 Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE)

    Emblem of the DGSE found within the FIC

    Motto: ‘Partout où Nécessité fait Loi’ translating into ‘Wherever, Necessity is Law’

    The DGSE is arguably the FIC’s most important agency. DGSE focused on foreign intelligence. Their mandate is similar to that of the CIA in the United States and SIS in the United Kingdom. DGSE acts under the umbrella of the armed forces. Today, they are an agency with a mixed pool of personnel, specifically 32% being from the military with the civilian forming the rest, totaling altogether at 7,200 personnel. Additionally, the DGSE is largely responsible for the nation’s SIGINT capabilities as the FIC lacks a dedicated agency. However, given their position within the military structure, the DGSE has vast access to specific equipment and intelligence sharing capabilities with her sister agencies the DRM and DRSD. (Source)

    Mission priorities include:

    • Counter Terrorism 
    • Nuclear Proliferation
    • Preventing Foreign Interference
    • Cyber Defence
    • Geostrategic analysis

    5.1.1 DGSE Directorates

    In 2022, the DGSE was reorganised subsequently leading to their directorates to undergo a change in structure and tasking. The current directorates are as follows: (Source)

    Les Centres Des Missions: The Mission Centres act as the main directorate in tasking intelligence to the appropriate DGSE bodies. Following this, they also analyse and prepare intelligence work to be disseminated to policy makers. Making the Mission Centres the beating heart of the DGSE and to an extent, the FIC itself. 

    La Direction de la Recherche et des Opérations: DRO acts as the logistical directorate facilitating the implementation of different forms of intelligence collection when operations are underway. 

    La Direction Technique et de l’innovation: DTI is the heart of the DGSE’s SIGINT capabilities. Additionally, this is where the agency’s technical procurement and in house development is facilitated. 

    La Direction de l’Administration: The DA acts as the human resource directorate, controlling the financial and administrative work needed to keep the DGSE running. However, they also control the DGSE’s large real estate market of secretive buildings and sites. Additionally helping in the running of ‘front’ businesses on behalf of the agency. 

    Le Secrétariat général pour l’analyse et la stratégie: SGAS are the overview body of the DGSE’s, assuring quality control and liaising with foreign partners when necessary. 

    5.1.2 Action Division

    They are largely unknown, concealed, and beyond the limelight of the outside world. The Action Division or Service Action (SA) is the DGSE’s clandestine weapon in the world of deniability and secret operations. The Action Division is largely comparable to that of the CIA’s Special Activities Center and SIS’s unconfirmed E Squadron. As such, they have been acting on behalf of France’s intelligence service’s as early as the post war period in 1946. Since then, the Action Division carries out two distinct mission types for the intelligence service. 

    Emblem of the Action Division showing an eagle over a black and red star ontop of a parachute
    Emblem of Action Division. Wikicommons

    Homo Operations: shortened from ‘homicide’, such operations include targeted killings of individuals or groups on behalf of the intelligence service. 
    Arma Operations: destructive in nature, ‘Arma’ a Latin word implying ‘defensive arms’ is orchestrated by SA operatives when sabotage and the destruction of material is needed.

    CPIS Operators in training in shoot house exercises at Perpignan
    Service Action CPIS operators in training. terremag.defense.gouv.fr

    5.2 Direction du Renseignement Militaire (DRM)

    Emblem of the DRM found within the FIC

    The DRM is the French military’s intelligence agency tasked with providing geopolitical analysis and foresight for France and her armed forces. By comparison, the DRM is similar in operational capacity and purpose to that of the US’s DIA and UK’s DI. Like the DGSE, it is subordinate to the Ministry of Defence. DRM creates all source intelligence to inform the military as well as the President and Chiefs of Staff about threats and military deployments abroad. DRM collects a vast array of GEOINT and TECHINT through satellite platforms, ISR aircraft, and HUMINT teams on the frontlines. 

    5.2.1 DRM Directorates 

    Currently, the DRM contains four main directorates to assist in their intelligence collection. (Source)

    Centre de Planification et de Conduite des Opérations: The Centre for Planning and Execution of Operations (CPCO) is where the J2 otherwise known as Office Intelligence resides. CPCO is where the DRM’s senior staff and officials work, passing on disseminated intelligence to elements within the FIC and the military. 

    La Sous Direction Recherche (SDR): SDR collects and centralises information for later analysis. Such methods include ELINT, HUMINT, Cyber Intelligence and predominantly GEOINT. 

    La Sous Direction Exploitation (SDE): The SDE analysis information collected by SDR, with a particular focus on producing geospatial analysis.

    La Sous Direction Appui (SDA): Finally, the SDA is the support directorate of the agency, tasked with financial care and human resources. 

    5.3 Direction du Renseignement et de la Sécurité de la Défense (DRSD)

    Emblem of the DRSD found within the FIC

    Motto: ‘Renseigner pour Protéger’ translating to, ‘Inform to Protect’

    The final intelligence agency under the military, DRSD acts as the French military’s counterintelligence organ. The intelligence collected helps to protect troops abroad from subversive and covert elements whether that be direct action against French troops or agents accessing sensitive sites. At home, DRSD monitors and keeps watch on the military’s sensitive locations ranging from nuclear submarine bases to the special forces training centres. Currently, the DRSD employs over 1,600 civilian and military personnel who work around the clock to protect France’s military forces. Additionally, DRSD also carries out all the background checks on personnel within the FIC. (Source)

    5.3.1 DRSD Directorates 

    Although not specifically directed, the DRSD’s mission planning and priority falls into three categories. 

    La Contre-Ingérence des forces: Essentially the main counterintelligence body, CIF deploys investigative means against people of interest who may wish to hurt members of the military through radicalisation, criminal activity or espionage. Additionally, they also protect the military’s assets whether that be overseas bases or military equipment.  

    La Contre-Ingérence économique: Conduct counterintelligence which could bring economic or technological harm to the military. As such, CIE regularly runs intelligence collection on known financial networks relating to terrorism as well as the weapons trade. 

    La Contre-Ingérence Cyber: The cyber team at DRSD work on preventative measures to stop subversive groups accessing sensitive data stored with the MoD’s networks. Additionally, they continuously run cyber security development and testing.

    5.4 Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure (DGSI)

    Emblem of the DGSI found within the FIC

    The DGSI is France’s sole domestic intelligence service with a focus on domestic threats to French national security. As such, they employ a wide variety of mission mandates such as counter terrorism, anti radicalisation, counter espionage, and protection of the economy. Additionally, they have an array of elite operatives such as the GAO to conduct arrests. Furthermore, they are the only service within the FIC which communicates and plans with the judicial system given their subordinate role to the ministry of the interior. Currently, over 3,300 personnel work for the service in which they collect and analyse intelligence for the DGSI. (Source)

    5.4.1 DGSI Directorates

    The DGSI contains five directorates, there is not much detail surrounding as to what exactly they all do. However based on previous agencies it is fairly simple to deduce. (Source)

    Cabinet: Contains the upper echelon of the DGSI’s senior staff such as the director and their supporting staff. 

    Service de l’Administration Generale: Is the administrative directorate which maintains the financial and admin duties in running the DGSI. 

    Inspection Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure: Is the inspectorate body of the DGSI, focused on overseeing the everyday function of the DGSI’s intelligence operations and work. 

    Direction Technique: The technological and innovative department within the DGSI. The Direction Technique’s work surrounds developing new systems and maintaining the operational capacity of existing platforms. 

    Direction du Renseignement et des Opérations: is where the actual intelligence is conducted, filled with analysts collecting intelligence daily to be passed on to DGSI officers and for dissemination elsewhere.

    5.5 Traitement du Renseignement et Action Contre les Circuits Financiers Clandestins (TRACFIN)

    Emblem of TRACFIN found within the FIC

    Initially founded in 1990, TRACFIN gained national jurisdiction in 2006 as a dedicated intelligence agency. TRACFIN is attached to the Ministry of Action and Public Accounts, essentially the nation’s budgetary and finance ministry. TRACFIN is an FIU or Financial Intelligence Unit, similar to the US Office of Foreign Assets Control. The unit’s goal is to collect, analyse and act upon economic related intelligence. Being more specific, TRACFIN investigates both terrorist, corruption, and organised crime groups (OCG) into how they are being funded and more importantly how to stop it. Unlike the previous agencies, TRACFIN is a relatively small agency. Currently, TRACFIN employs only 200 agents and several liaison officers who communicate with both the police, customs, and government agencies. (Source)

    5.6 Direction Nationale du Renseignement et des Enquêtes Douanières (DNRED)

    Emblem of the DNRED found within the FIC

    The DNRED is the secondary agency with a focus on economic based intelligence. Originally created in 1988, DNRED was reorganised in 2008 through Sarkozy’s White Paper to become an agency with national jurisdiction. Since then, DNRED has been at the forefront of France’s fight against illegal smuggling including weapons, narcotics, and counterfeit products. Additionally, given France’s territories around the world, the government considers such territory as being ‘French soil’. Therefore, DNRED acts not just in France but elsewhere, coordinating with local authorities. (Source)

    5.6.1 DNRED Directorates

    Direction du Renseignement Douanier: is the intelligence directorate in which the DNRED’s analysts collect and analyse pieces of intelligence for custom cases. 

    Direction des Enquêtes Douanières: the DED is responsible for all major fraud cases which come to the DNRED. As such, they communicate with other agencies in customs along with other FIU’s to dismantle OCG’s networks. 

    Direction des Opérations Douanières: the DOD is the agency’s HUMINT directorate. Additionally, DOD is responsible for major operations involving personnel and has extensive sub divisions across the country. 

    Direction Technique: Filling a dual purpose, the DT caters to the services financial and administrative upkeep as well as any technical intelligence or cyber related programming.

    6.0 External Bodies

    Some agencies in France conduct intelligence even though they are not formally part of France’s intelligence community Despite not being listed as specialised agencies, their operations are nonetheless vital in safeguarding and supporting the existing framework of the FIC. As such, are constantly referred to in official government documents relating to the FIC.

    6.1 Police Intelligence 

    Photo of French Gendarmeries who would receive intelligence from SDAO

    Within France, their law enforcement system can be divisible into three distinct groups. In France, their police force is a mix of civilian and paramilitary officers tasked with their own zones of interest and judicial mandates. These include:

    La Police Nationale: The primary law enforcement agency located in large towns and cities across France. 

    Gendarmerie Nationale: The paramilitary law enforcement agency who are largely under the jurisdiction of the ministry of the interior as well as the armed forces. Predominantly, Gendarmes can be found across France in smaller communities and rural areas. However, do conduct law enforcement duties in major cities and towns as well.

    Police Municipale: The local branch of police, present in every village, town, and city across France and, tasked with the everyday occurrences within their jurisdiction. 

    6.1.1 La Direction Nationale du Renseignement Territorial (DNRT)

    Emblem of the DNRT within the FIC

    The DNRT is a sub-directorate of the National Police General Directorate. The DNRT forms a vital component of the law enforcement agencies intelligence related duties. These include analysis, collection, exploitation, and research into OGC’s and other persons of interest. In brief, their role provides the National Police with strategic foresight into ongoing and future areas which could be detrimental to national security. As such, they pass on intelligence to other intelligence agencies within the interior ministry including the DGSI. (Source

    6.1.2 Sous-Direction de l’Anticipation Opérationnelle (SDAO) 

    Emblem of SDAO within the FIC

    Created in 2014, the Operational Anticipation Sub Directorate is the Gendarmes intelligence division. Given the paramilitary nature of the Gendarme, SDAO employs a 24 hour armed force capable of responding to intelligence threats collected and analysed at their Operations Centre (CAE). In addition to this, they subsequently provide the Gendarmerie across all branches with actionable intelligence in their related duties. (Source

    6.1.3 La Direction du Renseignement Préfecture de la Police (DR-PP)

    Emblem of DR-PP within the FIC

    The DR-PP is a specialised intelligence division located within the Paris Police Prefecture. Based in the capital, intelligence officers collect and analyse intelligence relating to extremist threats as well as instances of political instability. The DR-PP duties simultaneously include dismantling financial networks relating to terrorist groups along with preventing the radicalisation of individuals. Ultimately, the role of the DR-PP is to protect the country’s capital from a range of threats whether they be criminal related or terrorist related. (Source)

    6.2 Judiciary Intelligence

    In 2017, the Ministry of Justice was inaugurated into the French Intelligence Community, given the sharp rise in terror related threats since mid 2010. As such, collecting intelligence within the confines of the prison service of individuals associated with terror networks and OCG became a vital necessity in monitoring the risk such groups can pose on wider society as well as France’s national security concerns.

    6.2.1 Service National du Renseignement Pénitentiaire (SNRP)

    Emblem of the SNRP within the FIC

    Originally known as the BCRP when it was formed by the Ministry of Justice in 2017, the growing necessity for intelligence within the prison service led to an expansion in 2019 when the BCRP was renamed as the SNRP. Founded with increased funding and operational capacity, the SNRP collects and analyses intelligence relating to individuals with known connections to extremist and terrorist groups within the prison system. Subsequently, this information is passed on to other intelligence agencies as well as government bodies in which the release of prisoners of interest must be maintained. (Source)

    6.3 Groupement Interministériel de Contrôle (GIC)

    Emblem of GIC within the FIC

    The Interministerial Control Group is a lesser known body of the Prime Minister’s Office. Initially created in 1960, the French government only officially recognised it in 2002. GIC functions as an oversight body, however predominantly as an authoritative department investigating the certain techniques used by the intelligence services. As such, they question the legality of ongoing intelligence operations and report directly to the Prime Minister. In addition, they also correspond with the CNCTR, the National Oversight Commission for Intelligence Gathering Techniques which is an independent body. (Source) (Source)

    7.0 Operations 

    For the most part, intelligence operations will forever remain in the shadows, away from public attention. They are hidden for good reason as to not breach secrecy and hinder ongoing operations. However, there do exist a few known operations carried out in collaboration with the joint services and their impact on France and the World. 

    7.0.1 Russian Oligarchs

    In 2022 throughout the offset of the Ukraine War, TRACFIN set up an elite task force dedicated to freezing and seizing Russian assets close to the Kremlin. In total over 1,158 individuals and 98 Russian and Belarusian entities were placed under sanction. An additional €705 million worth in real estate property was also seized. (Source

    7.0.2 Islamic Terror Attacks

    Starting in 2015 and lasting until 2018, France endured numerous islamic extremist attacks due to ISIS radicalisation. As such, the FIC tasking was without doubt almost entirely focused on usurping such networks from continuing terror related acts. This has led to over 42 attacks prevented and foiled, with the DGSI closely monitoring people of interest leaving and entering from Syria. Consequently, new anti-terror laws, funding, and the expansion of the FIC presided, leading to greater DGSI funding. (Source) (Source)

    7.0.3 Africa and France

    French troops conversing with civilians in the Sahel during Operation Barkhane likely collecting intelligence

    Despite the country being largely expunged from the continent, the DGSE had, and still does have a large presence across the Sahel. During France’s earlier engagements conducting COIN in support of Mali and Niger through Operation Serval and Barkhane. The DGSE served in collecting intelligence on insurgent and terrorist groups in the region. Aimed at preventing further radicalisation and growth of terror groups, providing valuable intel to the coalition forces. (Source)

    7.1 Recent Failures 

    Since 2022, France has suffered a wide range of numerous intelligence failures resulting in severe geopolitical consequences and deals for France. On the offset of the Russian Invasion in Ukraine in February 2022, the DRM failed to predict Russians invasion. Meanwhile both US and UK intelligence stated otherwise. The result? An intelligence failure on the world stage as France could be now regarded as incompetent in her ability to accurately collect and analyse intelligence. (Source)

    Later in 2023, France faced a geopolitical expulsion from the Sahel. In 2021, a coup occurred in Mali resulting in France having to abandon their operations against insurgents in the region. In 2022 another coup, this time in Burkina Faso. Finally a coup in Niger, leading to France leaving the country by the end of 2023. Ultimately, the question raised amongst policy makers was how France’s intelligence services failed to predict the inevitable collapse of French hegemony across the Sahel. (Source)

    7.2 Intelligence and the Media in France

    Intelligence and the media will always butt heads. Particularly in a nation bent on democratic values and the concept of ‘Liberté, égalité, Fraternité’. On one side of the coin is investigative media, a role tailored to informing the public. The other, the services who frequently engage in secret activity. 

    In the past, intelligence in France has largely been surrounded by scandal. Particularly between politicians and the public regarding the role the intelligence services have played. In 2019, journalists reported that French defence company Nexter supplied equipment to Saudi Arabia, used in the conflict in Yemen. Consequently, the journalists involved were summoned by the intelligence service and threatened with legal action over ‘breaching state secrets’.

    A more notable example dates back to the l’Affaire des Fadettes in 2010. French news outlet Le Monde exposed President Nikolas Sarkozy at the time that he was receiving illegal payments from billionaire Liliane Bettencourt. Le Monde later implicated the DCRI (DGSI predecessor) in the scandal, stating that the agency had obtained tapes from telecom giant Orange originally given to the police in the investigation in an effort to protect Sarkozy. As such, leading to public attention over the use of the intelligence services in covering up government matters which should be in the public interest. (Source) (Source) (Source)

    8.0 Future

    Given the recent events in the Sahel and Ukraine, it is fairly unlikely that the FIC will remain in the shadows with a limited role on the global stage. Macron’s $413 billion pledge to the military, including the intelligence services will likely grow the FIC over the next five years. Even so, the failure to predict the invasion of Ukraine along with the expulsion in Africa is demoralising for those within the FIC. As such, towards the end of 2023, both the DGSE and DGSI were instated with new directors. This is likely due to the recent failings of French intelligence in the past year. 

    9.0 Conclusion

    The FIC is a leading intelligence community on the global stage. Each agency is highly versatile and plays an important role in safeguarding French national security. The FIC may not be like the US or UK, who largely rely on each other and their Five Eyes alliance. However, France has a strongly built IC with numerous facets to obtain the intelligence they need. Additionally, demonstrating a strong and extensive history relating to intelligence. Evidently, the cogs which keep the intelligence machine alive each play a vital role. Subsequently making the FIC an important body of France’s ability to protect and impose her influence across the globe.   

    Joseph Balodis
    Joseph Balodis
    Is a recent graduate in MA Intelligence & Security Studies, completing the H4MoD program in 2023 and holding a BA in Contemporary History & Politics at the University of Salford. His interest focus is on Sahelian and West African security, French intelligence, and international relations.

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