TOP INTEL TODAY 2017 STORIES — #9 : An Introduction to French Intelligence Agencies

“French spies have faced persistent calls for reform since they failed to prevent the multiple terror strikes in Paris. The Nice attack may finally force the issue.”

Foreign Policy — July 15, 2016


DGSE Headquarters 141 Boulevard Mortier, Paris XX, France

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France has six main intelligence agencies which operate within an ill-defined legal framework. Four Directors are expected to retire very soon adding quite a bit of uncertainty to a country bracing for a Presidential election.

UPDATE January 2018 — This post was written on  February 23, 2017. Although the post is still mostly correct about the structure of the French IC, all of these Directors have now retired. Time flies when you are having fun…

I will write an update as soon as possible. But you should know that Bernard Emiè has succeedeed to Bernard Bajolet at the DGSE. Laurent Nunez has taken the helm of the DGSI after the retirement of Patrick Calvar. Pierre Bousquet de Florian runs the CNR.

The CNR is actually an add-up to the French IC. The French Council of Defence approved on June 7 2017 the creation of a ‘National Centre for Counter-Terrorism’ among the National Coordination of Information (CNR). Both institutions are currently managed by Bousquet de Florian.


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France has six ‘main’ intelligence agencies as well as several smaller ones such as the “Direction du Renseignement de la préfecture de Police de Paris” (DRPP).

Complex structure

Let us be honest, the system is complex and it takes a bit of work to figure out WHO is doing  WHAT? Let us get started with a very basic introduction.

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Among the six ‘main’ intelligence agencies, three fall under the authority of the Ministry of Defense:

The Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure (DGSE, Directorate General on Exterior Security),

The Direction du renseignement militaire (DRM, Directorate on Military Intelligence),

The Direction du renseignement de la sécurité de la défense (DRSD, previously known as the DPSD, Directorate on Defense Protection and Security).

Two agencies fall under the authority of the Ministry of Finance:

The Cellule de traitement du renseignement et action contre les circuits financiers clandestins (TRACFIN, Service Against the Laundering of Capital and the Financing of Terrorism)

The Direction nationale du renseignement et des enquêtes douanières (DNRED, National Directorate on Customs Intelligence and Investigations).

Finally, the Ministry of the Interior has an intelligence service as well:

The Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure (DGSI, The General Directorate for Internal Security which was previously known as the Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur — DCRI — Central Directorate on Domestic Intelligence).

Fuzzy Legal Framework

A 2013 parliamentary report noted that much of France’s intelligence agencies still operate in a very blurry “para-legal” or “extra-legal” environment, despite some efforts by the legislative branch to provide a better framework.

The six main intelligence agencies mentioned above were all created by decisions of the executive branch rather than by legislation.

The DGSE, DPSD, DRM, DCRI, and TRACFIN were all created by decrees, and the DNRED was created by an arrêté (executive decision). Only in 2011 did the French Parliament provide some legislative basis for the creation of these agencies, by adopting a law stating that specialized intelligence services are appointed by executive decision [arrêté] of the Prime Minister.

Furthermore, the regulation of French intelligence agencies rests on many decrees, executive decisions, circulars, and instructions that are classified. [Global Security] (We will not discuss today recent efforts to provide a new legal framework for these Agencies. However, we shall come back to this issue soon.)

For now, let us take a quick look at the top jobs that must be filled in the next few months.

DGSE: Directorate General on Exterior Security

The current Director is Bernard Bajolet (born 21 May 1949). Bajolet is a French diplomat. On April 10, 2013, he was appointed as Head of the DGSE. Bernard Bajolet must legally retire on May 21 2017.

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Bernard Bajolet

DGSI: Directorate  General for Internal Security 

Patrick Calvar (born 26 November 1955) has been head of the French General Directorate for Internal Security since 30 May 2012. Patrick Calvar must legally retire on May 15 2017.

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Patrick Calvar

DRM: Directorate on Military Intelligence

The Direction du renseignement militaire (DRM) (English:Directorate of Military Intelligence) is a French intelligence agency that has the task of collecting and centralizing information for the French Armed Forces.

Created in 1992, its role is similar to that of the DIA (United States), the DI (United Kingdom) or the GRU (Russian Federation). The DRM reports directly to the Chief of Staff and to the President of France, supreme commander of the French military.

General Christophe Gomart, who is the current director of the DRM, has also announced his retirement. (I do not have the exact date.)


General Christophe Gomart


René Bailly — nicknamed “Fox-Terrier” because of his tenacity — has been the boss of the Direction du Renseignement de la préfecture de Police de Paris (DRPP) since May 2009. René Bailly will retire on April 17 2017.


René Bailly

Obviously, the French Intel Community is going to experience a major renewal of its leaders.

Intel Today will inform you about their successors as soon as they are known. And — of course — we will try to guess who the top candidates may be… Stay tuned!


French Intelligence Agencies — Global Security

Foreign Intelligence Gathering Laws: France — US Library of Congress (December 2014)

Could the Carnage in Nice Reshape France’s Spy Agencies? — FP


TOP INTEL TODAY 2017 STORIES — #9 : An Introduction to French Intelligence Agencies

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