Middle East expert to lead France’s external spy agency

A career diplomat, who spent many years serving in embassies in predominantly Muslim countries, has been nominated to head France’s main external intelligence agency. French President François Hollande announced on Tuesday that Bernard Bajolet has been nominated for the post of Director of France’s Directorate General for External Security (Direction Générale des Services Extérieurs, or DGSE). He will be replacing Erard Corbin de Mangoux, who has headed the 5,000-strong organization since 2008. To some extent, the change of guard at DGSE is seen as a political move, as de Mangoux is a conservative known to be close to France’s former President, Nicolas Sarkozy. However, Bajolet’s nomination is interpreted by some as part of a wider effort to recalibrate the DGSE’s operational agenda to reflect the country’s increased military involvement in predominantly Muslim parts of Africa. The 63-year-old Bajolet served for many years as a career diplomat in countries such as Bosnia, Iraq, Jordan and Syria, and is currently France’s Ambassador to Afghanistan. Prior to serving overseas, Bajolet was Deputy Director for Middle Eastern Affairs at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 2008 until 2011, when he departed for Afghanistan, he served as the first-ever intelligence advisor to the French executive under President Sarkozy. Working under the direction of the French Ministry of National Defense, the DGSE has had to reinvent itself in the post-Cold-War era, shifting its focus from the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc to non-state actors in North Africa and beyond. During that time, many diplomats joined the agency’s personnel, which had historically been staffed primarily by military officials. But the DGSE has been unable to overcome some of the bitter political rivalries that some say have hampered its ability to collect intelligence in the post-9/11 era. The organization itself has frequently been at the center of bureaucratic turf wars between rival political parties in France, and many of the DGSE’s senior leadership posts are considered strictly political appointments. There is also uncertainty about the DGSE’s relationship with other Western intelligence services, including those of the United States, which were generally believed to have gone sour during the administration of US President George W. Bush. In 2010, a book by Franck Renaud claimed that listening bugs had been discovered in the Paris apartment of Pierre Brochand, head of the DGSE; they had allegedly been placed there by the, CIA. Bajolet is expected to take over the DGSE’s helm by the end of April.

 

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