INTERVIEW – In a lengthy investigation detailed labeled Where are our spies ? co-written with his colleague Christophe Dubois, journalist Éric Pelletier reviews the flaws of the intelligence services of the French in their hunt against islamist terrorism in the past two years.
LE FIGARO. – there has been so many attacks on French soil in the last two years, is that the fault of our intelligence services?
Eric PELLETIER*. – , The terrorist attacks of 2015 and 2016 bear the mark of al-Qaeda and Daech. We should not deceive ourselves of the enemy! The terrorist threat has never been greater, the France became the number one enemy of the jihadists. Our agents are first-line for the counter. That said, it is absolutely necessary to raise the question of the faults to avoid new tragedies. “To war, it is forbidden to be wrong two times,” says a latin proverb. The intelligence services of the French suffer from several shortcomings. First, this mathematical reality, a purely quantitative: there are 700 jihadists French in theatres of operation outside of which it is necessary to add 10.500 radical islamists likely to pass the act on our soil. However, the ISB is able to monitor physically 24 hours over 24 hours in 40 goals. Since the recent attacks of the budgetary efforts have been made and this vacuum is being filled by new hires at the DGSE and ISB.
is this not a technical problem rather than a human?
Our intelligence is very dependent on american technology. To go and arrest a teenager in contact with the jihadists on the chain Telegram, it must pass through Washington, even though he lives in the Twentieth arrondissement of Paris. This situation can become a problem when the ally becomes a spy, as the revelation of the tapping of the Élysée palace by the NSA has shown. This technological dependence binds us to the hands diplomatically, that is why we heard so little protest at the time of the case Snowden.
The battle between intelligence services, is it not also a problem?
there is a structural problem, that of lack of communication, or even the partitioning between the different services. We reason again as in the days of the cold war, where the priority was the protection of information. Number of information classified “top secret” take time to be transmitted. Today, however, the important thing is not so secret, but the speed and fluidity of information. A commissioner told us: “information that does not circulate is not information. It remains an idea.”
” The dogma of the quai d’orsay, which was to let Daech and Assad’s regime will weaken each other confirmed shrines jihadists in Syria “
You mention the failure of the tracking mainland of Abaaoud. What is it due?
This hunt was very close to be complete in January 2015 in Athens, close to Omonia square, 1 km to flight of bird of the Acropolis, thanks to the information provided to the Greeks by the DGSE, as we are relating in the book. But when Abaaoud leaves of new Syria to strike in Europe, nobody sees it happen. More generally the failure of the hunt for Abaaoud illustrates a strategic error. By refusing for more than a year to target Daech in Syria, France has left prosper training camps, jihadist, where they are prepared for the attacks to come in Europe. The dogma of the quai d’orsay, which was to let Daech and Assad’s regime will weaken each other has strengthened sanctuaries to jihadists in Syria. In August 2015, a report premonitory of ISB radically changes the game by showing that a certain Abaaoud driver from the Syria attacks in France (including the failed bombing of the church of Villejuif and the attack on the Thalys). The military strategy is just the opposite: F rance pounded the camps of training from August 2015, but it is too late, Abaaoud is not there. It should be noted that the minister of Defence Le Drian argued for months for targeted strikes in Syria.
The rupture of diplomatic relations with Damascus, has it affected the intelligence French?
The cessation of diplomatic relations between France and Syria in 2012 resulted in the termination of any relationship between the secret services. However, the services of the syrians had been of great use since 2003 to detect the jihadists French parties in Iraq and then came back on the French soil. The Syrians had helped in particular in the dismantling of the chain of the Buttes-Chaumont. The first question is primarily moral: should it collaborate with the intelligence services of a country dictatorial? The second
” Since 2012 the two lines clash : the DGSE is resolutely opposed to any resumption of contacts with Damascus, while the CSB considers that the main enemy is not Assad but Daech. “
question is more operational: is this useful? The proponents of the 'niet’ to Bashar argue that, today, the regime no longer has control of the territories under the trusteeship islamist, and would therefore have little utility in the fight against terrorism. Since 2012, the two lines clash: the DGSE is resolutely opposed to any resumption of contacts with Damascus, while the CSB considers that the main enemy is not Assad but Daech.
there is there no contact secrets?
To my knowledge, no. This can not be done in secret, because the Syrians would take a malignant pleasure to mediate the contacts to show that they are indispensable….
is there a model country in the fight against the intelligence?
France was a model up to attacks by Merah in 2012, which entails a lot of humility. Even the United States could not prevent from being struck on their soil. One certainty, however: the solution requires the strengthening of european co-operation, and securing of external borders to the Schengen area, today porous. It is obviously necessary to increase the means, which is in progress, without succumbing to all the temptations of the surveillance indiscriminate. Authoritarian rule has never protected terrorism and barbarity, as shown dramatically the Turkish example. Democracies are better armed… provided they stay united.
*Eric Pelletier, a journalist at Paris, and author, with Christophe Dubois Where are our spies?- Small and big secrets of the intelligence French (Albin Michel, 2016).