A Cryptologic Veteran’s Analysis of The French Secret Services

Reviewed by George McGinnis

CRYPTOLOG Vol. 20, No. 4

This book covers the activities of the various French Secret Services from the time of the time of the Dreyfus affair, in the 1890s, to the present time. In addition, it includes a sketch of the various secret activities of the French governments dating from the sixteenth century.

From earliest times the French secret services were highly politicized. As a result the targets were not always the enemies of the country, but rather the presumed enemies of various leaders. Like many counties France, in the past, had a number of agencies involved with secret or clandestine activities. These organizations were not well coordinated and often ran their own shows. Within the past ten years France has been reorganizing its secret services to more closely fit the United States pattern. For example they have combined several organizations into one to form roughly an equivalent to our CIA. This is the DGSE (Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure). In addition they combined a number of military organizations into the DRM (Direction du Renseignement Militaire). Roughly the equivalent of our DIA. They also have an organization somewhat similar to our FBI, called the DST (Direction du Surveillance du Territoire).

My readers will probably be most interested in the secret activities occurring during and after WWII. Of special interest is the time when General de Gaulle was in London leading the Free French. He received no respect from the British and very little from the Americans. The unfortunate result was a later schism between France and her World War II allies in the post-war-period. The book makes it clear that the Secret Services were loyal to de Gaulle and their coordination of some of the Free French activities in France, against the German occupiers, paved the way for him to become the post-war leader of France.

Some of the Free French activities in France were controlled by radio from England, and this led to the use of direction finding (D/F) by the Germans to locate those transmitters. Although the Germans were slow in discovering transmitter locations inside France, they were frequently successful. Some information concerning how the Germans used D/F is provided in the book.

The secret services continued to assist de Gaulle in many ways during the post-war struggle against Communism in France. During this era, the French were also struggling to retain some semblance of control over their overseas colonies. This included serious commitment of troops in Vietnam where the French were disastrously defeated at the well-known battle of Dien Bien Phu. French loss of Vietnam eventually led to United States entanglement in that country.

Continued French secret service involvement in Algeria, French Polynesia, and the Middle East is covered.

There is an Appendix entitled Encryption/Decryption, which gives elementary information on those subjects. There are extensive notes covering each chapter, and an Index.

This is an exceptionally well researched book. If you want to learn about how France handles the general subject of intelligence, this is an excellent beginning.

The author is Professor of Strategy at the US Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. He has written several other books about France and its pre-war empire.

Publishing Information

The French Secret Services, by Douglas Porch. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishers, New York, 1995, ISBN: 0374158533, 623 pages, $32.50.