President Nicolas Sarkozy is to create a "school for spies", whose principal job will be to discourage French intelligence chiefs from spying on, and fighting against, one another.
The first head of the new "intelligence academy" is likely to be named in the next few days. According to Le Monde, the Professor Dumbledore of the French spy world will be a woman with no previous experience of espionage. She is at present a senior figure in one of the grandes écoles, or elite university-level French colleges.
The job of the spy school will not be to teach aspiring James Bonds or Mata Haris how to hide bugs or choose dead letter drops or murder opponents with poisoned umbrellas (or toxic baguettes). The school – to be based in the Ecole Militaire, near the Eiffel Tower – will admit only senior spy chiefs. It will be, in effect, an espionage "staff academy", whose principal role will be to forge a single culture and esprit de corps from the complex, and often antagonistic, alphabet soup of the French spy world.
French intelligence and security agencies have often been accused of fighting one another as much as France's enemies. Their bosses have sometimes been associated with domestic political figures or factions and have occasionally become pawns in a power game.
President Sarkozy – who believes he was the victim of such practises during his rise to power – is determined to create a single French "intelligence community", based on the US model. His plan for a French equivalent of the US National Security Council – the Conseil de défense et de sécurité nationale (CDSN) – took shape by official decree on Christmas Eve. The CDSN will have an intelligence arm, uniting the chiefs of the six French spying and security agencies, the Conseil National du Renseignement or CNR. The chairman of both bodies will be President Sarkozy.
There will also be, for the first time, a "national intelligence coordinator", Bernard Bajolet, 60, whose task will be to ensure that the half-dozen different intelligence and security agencies cooperate with one another.
The new espionage academy will be created over the next six months with the same objective, according to Le Monde. Its job will be to instruct spy chiefs in the ethics and legal constraints of intelligence and counter-intelligence and to keep them abreast of the latest security threats and the latest espionage techniques.
Most of all, the academy will seek to "encourage a spirit of community", in which senior officials work willingly together and can be moved from agency to agency as they are promoted within the French intelligence hierarchy. There will be an intelligence "brevet" or diploma, recognised by all the spy organisations.
President Sarkozy has already simplified the French security world by merging the two, mutually-hating French equivalents of MI5, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST) and the Renseignements Généraux (RG). The new single internal security agency – called the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur (DCRI) – is one of six which will participate in the new spy school.
The others include the main French external espionage agency, broadly equivalent to MI6, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) and the two military spying and security agencies, La Direction du Renseignement Militaire (DSM) and La Direction de la Protection et de la Sécurité de la Défense (DPSD). The other participants will be specialised, anti-money laundering and anti-drug trafficking intelligence agencies.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies