Reforming Intelligence: Obstacles to Democratic Control and Effectiveness

By Thomas C. Bruneau; Steven C. Boraz | Go to book overview

FIVE
CULTURAL LEGACIES OF
FRENCH INTELLIGENCE

Douglas Porch

Many countries have ambiguous relations with their intelligence services. Even mature democracies find intelligencestate relations to be subjects of some delicacy. Given a history of war, invasion, empire, and on occasion a shaky but ultimately triumphant tradition of republican control of the military, one might logically conclude that, of all countries, intelligence should play a critical, central role for France. But while that role has been central, it has seldom been critical. Why is this so? In France, as elsewhere, part of the explanation lies in bureaucratic mechanisms that translate to a lack of systematic evaluation of intelligence. However, beyond these often personality-driven bureaucratic interactions that impact intelligence-state relations, in France a special intelligence culture has developed from the stormy historical relationship between government and intelligence agencies. To paraphrase Tolstoy’s famous observation about families—successful intelligence services resemble each other in that they have managed to master the basics of collection and analysis and their product is trusted by the decision maker. Unhappy intelligence services, however, are all unhappy in their own way. In the French case, it is because a special culture of state-intelligence relations has developed that has caused a particularly dysfunctional relationship to develop between intelligence services and decision makers.

Before sketching a catalog of French intelligence failures, it is perhaps proper to begin by noting French intelligence successes, of which there are at least three. First, in the realm of code breaking, the French services excelled through the First World War. Unfortunately, they failed to keep pace in the era of the mechanical cipher. Nevertheless, French counterintelligence at least played midwife to the cracking of the enigma codes in the 1930s, a second accomplishment, by acquiring

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