Attack on boat still haunts secret agent

MISSING PERSONS No 20 Dominique Prieur
It was surely coincidence, nothing more. Shortly before President Jacques Chirac announced France intended to conduct a new series of underground nuclear tests - the first since 1992 - Dominique Prieur published her account of one of France's least glorious hours: the sinking of the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland harbour, New Zealand.

A Greenpeace photographer was killed in the operation, two French secret agents were captured and the affair caused a huge scandal in France that cost two senior officials their jobs.

Dominique Prieur? Ten years ago next month Ms Prieur, then 29 and France's first woman secret agent, arrived in New Zealand from Corsica as Sophie Turenge, with her designated partner, Alain Mafart, otherwise known as Alain Turenge. Along with several other agents, they had been given instructions to scupper the Rainbow Warrior.

The French feared that the ship would be used by Greenpeace to disrupt the next French nuclear test at Muraroa atoll in the South Pacific. The agents' brief was to stop it.

Ms Prieur says that she felt something was wrong with the operation from the start. "Why two explosions?" the agents apparently asked, when given their orders. Because that is what the hierarchy wants, they were told. It was the second explosion that killed the Portuguese photographer, Fernando Pereira, when he returned to the ship to salvage his cameras.

Ten years on, Ms Prieur, married to a captain in the Paris fire service and with a school-age son for whom she says she has written her book, still has many unanswered questions. She does not know how the New Zealand police were able to track her and Mr Mafart so easily, or why the supposedly secret telephone numbers they used to communicate back to HQ led straight back to the French defence ministry, or how and why the French police divulged their real names to the New Zealand authorities. Whatever the truth of it, she and Mr Mafart spent a month in prison before being transferred by special agreement between New Zealand and France to "exile" on a Pacific atoll. Less than three years later, amid New Zealand cries of foul, they were "rescued" by the French military and returned to France. The decision to break the deal with New Zealand was taken by Mr Chirac, then prime minister, to help his unsuccessful presidential campaign.

Ms Prieur, whose career as an agent was over the moment her cover was blown, is as patriotic and as strongly in favour of the French nuclear deterrent as she was then. She still works at the defence ministry, but no longer has anything to do with the secret service. She is employed in the personnel department - the sort of safe office job she says her mother always wanted her to have.

Major Mafart? He was promoted to colonel, decorated and posted to the armed forces intelligence headquarters outside Paris. But fellow officers say the brilliant career predicted for him pre-Rainbow Warrior was also sunk in Auckland harbour. He took early retirement last month, aged 45.

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