A hoodlum's job done by honest men. With us, you only kill for reasons of state.' This is the opinion of Maurice Robert, research director of the French secret service (and later Ambassador to Gabon), as recorded by Faligot and Krop in their excellent and well-researched book. It is difficult to accept such a verdict on the DGSE (originally the BCRA, then the DGER, then the SDECE). A more accurate summing-up would be that the service has proved both ruthless and frequently incompetent, that it has known its fine romantic hours and impressive coups, but that it has depended on a low-grade and poorly educated cadre prone to tough-guy tactics, and that many of its problems derive from the political purges to which it has been subject, and the chronic distrust it arouses in all its political masters. None of the purges and shake-ups has ever been quite complete: they have always left a cave within the organisation owing loyalty to the ancien régime and not above sabotaging their new political masters in the hope that this will help bring the old lot back. Politicians, knowing this, act accordingly: in the Greenpeace affair, the Elysée first heard of the disaster in New Zealand, not from the DGSE, which comes under the Defence Ministry, but from the Interior Ministry, whose internal secret police, the DST, routinely tap the phones of the DGSE. Similarly, the Government was furious to discover that in the frogman training school whose agents sank the Rainbow Warrior, a portrait of Giscard still hung where the obligatory portrait of Mitterrand should have been. The training school has since been closed down.
LRB 5 June 1986 | PDF Download