French spy detested US alliance

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The Independent Online
THE FRENCH Nato spy who gave military secrets to the Serbs acted from hatred of the United States, more than out of sympathy for Belgrade, according to the French press.

Because of his motivation, Commandant Pierre-Henri Bunel is on the way to becoming a hero in some sections of the French media. An article in the anti-American, but otherwise intelligent, magazine Marianne yesterday compared him to, among others, General de Gaulle, Joan of Arc and Sir Thomas More.

Commandant Bunel was convinced that France's real interests lay with "natural allies", such as the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, and Iraq's President, Saddam Hussein, according to Le Figaro newspaper. He believed that the country was "hogtied" by its alliance with the US, and its membership of the Washington-dominated United Nations security council.

Far from being a traitor, Commandant Bunel apparently regards himself as a French hero. His lawyer says that he feels no shame, since his motives were "noble". By giving Belgrade details of likely Nato air-raid targets, he is convinced that he was promoting "peace" by encouraging the Serbian leadership to end its dispute with the Western alliance over the behaviour of its forces in Kosovo.

The fresh revelations will irritate the French government, which had been congratulating itself on its successful handling of the incident. As both Le Monde and Le Figaro pointed out, one of the oddest aspects of "l'affaire Bunel" is that the whistle was blown - publicly - by the French government itself.

"Even a year ago, this sad story would have been dealt with within the family," said Le Figaro. In other words, Commandant Bunel would have been quietly moved elsewhere or ejected from the military.

The Jospin government decided instead to publicise the case and to place Commandant Bunel under formal investigation for "communication with a foreign power". The decision is part of a broader drive to openness and accountability under Lionel Jospin, the Socialist Prime Minister. But confessing to the problem was also judged to be good media tactics. If the affair was covered up but leaked to the US press, it was decided, it might cause a media hue-and-cry on both sides of the Atlantic.

The tactics have proved astute. The affair has received relatively modest and restrained coverage. Paris, Washington and Brussels have agreed that the incident is closed.

The French media remain fascinated, however, with the character and motivation of Commandant Bunel. Le Figaro, which traced many of his former army colleagues, said that he became anti-American after serving on the liaison staff between French and US forces in Saudia Arabia during the 1990-91 Gulf War. (Commandant Bunel was one of only five French officers to receive an American campaign medal.)

Contrary to earlier reports, it appears that the officer is not anti- Muslim and not particularly pro-Serb. His experiences in the Gulf convinced him that France was being forced, by its political membership of the Western alliance, to serve American interests rather than its own. "He wasn't really pro-Serb or pro-Arab, He was, above all, anti-American," said one French colonel, who used to serve with the spy.

Commandant Bunel made little secret of his opinions, posing the awkward question for the French government: why was such a man attached to the staff of the French military office at Nato headquarters?