French secrets under the microscope

June 9, 1995

Research into intelligence activities has begun to take off in France, where it has been a neglected area for academic study, compared to the United Kingdom or the United States.

Admiral Pierre Lacoste, who was head of the French secret service, the DGSE, at the time of the sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, has designed a university course on espionage due to start next autumn. It is one of three new initiatives to develop defence and intelligence studies in France. Historian Maurice Vaisse recently launched a Centre for Studies in the History of Defence, based at the Fort of Vincennes near Paris.

The Chief controller of France's armed forces Gerard Hoffmann is to direct a new Centre for Studies in the Social Sciences of Defence, also in Paris. The series of university seminars on the secret services will be linked to a doctoral studies course in international relations at the University of Marne La Vallee.

Admiral Lacoste, who resigned over the Rainbow Warrior affair, believes that intelligence activities are an "inseparable" part of all strategic domains, political, economic and social as well as military and diplomatic.

There was a political storm when the role of French undercover agents in sinking the ship in Auckland harbour to prevent it going to France's nuclear testing site was revealed in the French press.

Lacoste's proposal for a seminar on "intelligence and investigative journalism" alerts students to the role and "exaggerations" of journalists in their reporting on secret service activities.

The seminars will cover a series of themes including intelligence and decision-making, intelligence and data-gathering, industrial espionage, the manipulation of information and secret activities and the ethics of espionage.

Secret service activities were also the theme of the first seminar at the centre directed by Mr Vaisse, whose guest speaker was Charles Kogan, the former CIA chief.

Although the next topic will be the French intelligence, Mr Vaisse says this is just one facet of the Centre's mandate. "We want to look at a whole range of issues: international affairs, the relationship between the political and military establishments, peace-keeping," he noted.

The centre will play a key role in co-ordinating information on the access to defence-related archives. Nearly two dozen Paris academics have met at the centre to discuss student access to archives and an information meeting for students will be held later this month.

Mr Vaisse said: "The centre is open to a broad range of users, from PhD students to academics to military personnel.

"While most researchers are historians, there are also political scientists, sociologists and others working in social science areas."

The centre, to be run by the armed forces controller, will also have academic links and establish research contracts with universities.

Mr Hoffmann is a specialist on legal, historical and political aspects of the right of military personnel to freedom of expression. He has written several sociological studies on conditions in the armed forces. His centre will focus on questions of sociology, psychology, administration and political science in defence matters.

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