France, Intelligence and Security

France, Intelligence and Security


Although France has employed espionage agents since the Middle Ages, the modern intelligence community emerged in the nineteenth century. As France expanded its boundaries during the Napoleonic era and Age of Empire, military intelligence was equally crucial to the success of battlefield operations and the security of territorial government outposts. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, France maintained one of the most skilled and well-organized intelligence forces in the world. Modern domestic intelligence can trace its roots to the revolution, but it was most acutely influenced by the formation and operation of underground Resistance groups during the World War II Nazi Occupation. Vichy France and French officials who collaborated with the Nazis left a legacy of mistrust of and within the government in the years following the war. These tensions were heightened by the onset of the Cold War. When France began the process of recreating its intelligence systems, it placed special emphasis on domestic and political intelligence.

The French intelligence community is divided between military and civilian agencies, all of which report to the executive branch. The civilian intelligence system emphasizes counter-intelligence and domestic security. This requires not only the substantial national intelligence and security structure, but also the assistance and continued cooperation of provincial security and law enforcement agencies. External intelligence is almost exclusively dominated by the military. This separation of powers gives military and civilian intelligence organizations their own de facto jurisdictions in the intelligence community.

French military intelligence is administered by the individual military branches (Army, Navy, and Air Force) and the Ministry of Defense. The National Defense General Secretariat (SDGN) coordinates intelligence and security operations within the various intelligence community agencies. Military intelligence, as well as strategic information and counter-espionage operations, is directed by the General Directorate for External Security (DSGE). The agency employs analysts as well as active field operatives, and is the primary foreign intelligence agency. The Directorate of Military intelligence performs many of the same plenary and investigative functions as the DSGE, but does not have an active field operations branch.

Military counterintelligence is charged to two agencies, the Directorate for the Defense Protection and Security (DPSD) and the Intelligence and Electronic Warfare Brigade (BRGE). The DPSD is the primary military counterintelligence agency, planning and coordinating most military security operations. The agency also conducts political surveillance of the armed forces and national military police, the Gendarmerie. The BRGE works closely with the DPSD, and is charged with monitoring sensitive communications and securing military computer information systems.

Civilian intelligence agencies operate under the directorship of the Ministry of the Interior. The General Information Service (RG) is the main domestic intelligence agency in the French government. The director of the RG reports to the minister of the Interior and briefs the president on domestic national security issues. Charged with the protection of internal security and domestic counterintelligence, the RG works in close conjunction with provincial governments and prefectures of the national police to protect national interests within France.

In French territories, the Directorate of Territorial Security (DST) performs the functions of the RG. The DST works closely with military intelligence units to protect French interests throughout the world. In twenty-first century anti-terrorist intelligence operations, the DST and RG have infiltrated and arrested several persons with alleged connections terrorist groups smuggling money and weapons via French territories. The DST also focuses on protecting French scientific, research, and economic interests abroad.

In recent years, French intelligence and security forces have grappled with increasing terrorist threats, mostly from members of North African, Islamist militant groups. After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, France joined an international intelligence coalition to find and dismantle terrorist organizations and their operative cells.



Porch, Douglas. The French Secret Services: From the Dreyfus Affair to the Gulf War. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995.


Porch, Douglas. "French Intelligence Culture: A Historical and Political Perspective." Intelligence and National Security 10, no. 3 (Jul. 1995): 486–511.


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