Ethan Hunt, James Bond, Jason Bourne, OSS 117, guns, gadgets, villains, and a hero who saves the world and always gets the girl: so many symbols and characters call on the supposed glamour of the world of espionage. This is a very commercial image of espionage perpetrated by Hollywood, novels, and conspiracy theorists. The CIA, FBI, NSA in America and the British MI6 are among those who are most recognisable around the world. However, they are not the only spy networks and powerful secret services.
France has seven espionage agencies that work under the directions of three different ministries (Defense, Interior, and Economy & Finance). The most famous of these agencies are the DGSE (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Ministry of Defense), responsible for espionage and counterespionage outside of France; and the DGSI (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure, Ministry of Interior), which deals with mostly counterespionage domestically.
The DGSE combines civilian and military personnel. The renowned 13th RDP (13eme Regiment Dragon Parachutist), famous for their secret expert observation techniques, that the Americans have several times attempted to imitate (however, unsuccessfully), is in part under the DGSE command. The mission of the DGSE is to collect information on foreign threats or possible threats. Today they work mostly in counter-terrorism, but in the past, they have also worked against the USSR and independent groups.
The DGSI works inside the French frontiers. Their principal mission is to find enemies or foreign agents inside their territory. Today the DGSI works mainly in counter-terrorism to find Islamist cells, whether they are preparing an attack or radicalising individuals to commit Jihad. The DGSI also works to dismantle organised crimes and independent organisations in Corsica or Pays Basque. In fact, French authorities recently managed to disarm the ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), a Basque independentist group that has been active since 1959 and led most of its operations in Spain. So, although the Cold War has passed and foreign spies aren’t the main threat anymore, the DGSI is still kept busy by other criminal organisations.
It’s true, French secret service is not famous, or romanced as other great country’s spy organisations are. However, the French espionage and counterespionage departments are hard at work, mostly in the war on terror, fighting terrorist organisations at home and around the world, and aiding American, British, and other allies.
By Pierre-Alexendre Le Ber