France spooked by intelligence failures – POLITICO

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PARIS – The French secret service doesn’t look that smart these days.

The country’s spies have turned heads in recent years thanks to the internationally acclaimed television series “Le Bureau des Legendes.“But now they are being accused of legendary mistakes, mainly because they did not anticipate Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This faux pas has alarmed French lawmakers and is particularly embarrassing given that the United States has repeatedly warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin would launch an attack – and has proved correct.

But it’s not the only failure blamed on the French intelligence community. Critics have also accused the spooks of failing to realize Australia was about to abandon a major submarine deal with France and failing to foresee a coup d’etat in Mali.

Official dissatisfaction with France’s spies emerged from the secret world last week as French media reported that General Eric Vidaud, head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM), had been dismissed after only seven months in office.

Vidaud, a former special forces commander, reportedly gave “inadequate briefings” and “lack of expertise” on key issues, according to the website L’Opinion that published the story.

Some pundits say Vidaud was the scapegoat not only for Ukraine but for broader failings, particularly at DRM, which is dwarfed in resources by France’s main foreign intelligence agency, the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE). .

The DRM has traditionally focused on locations where French troops are active, such as B. the Sahel in Africa, making it less equipped to make judgments about areas like Eastern Europe.

“They had expertise in the Sahel and less about what happened in Ukraine and Belarus,” said Pierre Brochand, a former DGSE chief.

“I think Vidaud is a scapegoat,” he added, describing the DRM as a “poor service… that’s never really worked well.”

“They don’t attract the most brilliant minds because of a lack of resources and organization,” Brochand said.

Media reports suggest that Vidaud may have lost in a personality clash with General Thierry Burkhard, the French Army’s chief of staff.

Burkhard’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But in an unusually public admonition last month, Burkhard pointed out that American spies read Putin’s intentions better than their French counterparts.

“The Americans said the Russians would attack, they were right,” he said in one interview with Le Monde. “Our services instead thought that capturing Ukraine would incur huge costs and that the Russians had other options.”

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Christian Cambon, a French senator who chairs the Senate’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said lawmakers from both chambers of parliament responsible for intelligence matters would launch an inquiry into Vidaud’s departure.

“The personality issues are not the problem,” said Cambon, a member of the conservative opposition Les Républicains party. “What we want to know is whether military intelligence is at the level that we expect in France.”

Cambon noted that France had also been caught off guard twice in the past year – by Australia’s decision to abandon its submarine deal with France and forge a new alliance with the US and Britain known as AUKUS, and by a coup in Mali, who overthrew a previous military regime.

“The AUKUS affair … we can’t say we saw it coming,” Cambon said. “In Mali, the coup within the coup… we didn’t really see that coming either.”

Some have rallied in Vidaud’s defense – the general himself has not commented publicly on his departure – arguing that military intelligence’s job is to assess military capabilities and pointing the finger at Putin’s failure to leave the DGSE was not read.

“Political intelligence is in the hands of the DGSE,” said Christophe Gomart, former DRM chief and ex-chief of French special forces.

The DRM “has to say whether the Russian army is ready in terms of practical, physical preparation, whether that army has the means to attack,” he said. “But the decision [to attack] remains a political one, and that is the role of the DGSE.”

However, the DGSE is likely to emerge victorious from any internal wrangling between the two services. It has some 7,000 staff, as opposed to 2,100 at the DRM. And according to many officials, it benefits from direct access to President Emmanuel Macron. Some officials called Bernard Emié, the current head of the DGSE, “Macron’s sidekick.”

Eric Denécé, director of the French think tank Center for Intelligence Research, said Vidaud appeared to have been the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“From what people told me, Vidaud wasn’t a good fit and it wasn’t his thing,” said Denécé, who questioned the recent practice of putting former special forces commanders in charge of military intelligence.

“There isn’t a big intelligence culture in the French army,” he added. “There aren’t that many officials who have that in their blood.”

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