The “office of legends”, the real one, will move. The Ministry of the Armed Forces announced, Friday, May 7, that the French foreign intelligence, the DGSE, would leave, in 2028, its mythical premises in the twentieth arrondissement of Paris, marked by a history as rich as it is secret and popularized by the famous television series.
The General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) will set up at Fort Neuf de Vincennes, a city bordering eastern Paris, on an area of 20 hectares which represents double the capacities of its current headquarters, according to a press release published by the Ministry of the Armed Forces.
A strong symbol of the institution’s development, of its heavy investments in human and technical resources and of the challenges posed to it by an increasingly tense geopolitical context. All for an investment of 1.3 billion euros.
“Intelligence is a decisive strategic function for our defense and our national security and an essential asset for detecting, preventing and hindering threats”, specifies the ministry, evoking the need to ensure the place of the DGSE “among the best services of world intelligence ”.
An aging building
The spies were informed Thursday by President Emmanuel Macron, during a visit to their premises. “The increase in the workforce of the DGSE and the deployment of new technical capacities come up against the limits of its current site on Boulevard Mortier”, the press release added, describing a “fragmented and aging” pavilion.
The move will also “strengthen the synergies between intelligence and operations” and promote exchanges with other intelligence agencies in France (domestic, military, counter-interference, cyber, etc …). Work is expected to start in 2024.
The announcement recalls the very recent move of the judicial police from the legendary 36 quai des Orfèvres to the Porte de Clichy. A pivotal date, a chapter that closes, with a hint of mystery and a pinch of fantasies in addition. This former barracks, which briefly became a prison during the Second World War, had housed, in 1946, the External Documentation and Counter-Espionage Service (SDECE), now DGSE. The locals experienced the Cold War, decolonization, the fall of the Wall, the emergence of China as a world power.
141 boulevard Mortier, “it’s like 36, it’s a place steeped in history. Now, it was no longer suited to current needs, ”summarizes Alain Chouet, former senior manager of the house.
The box, the swimming pool …
“It is an agency whose name we do not mention. So we say Mortier, the box, the agency, the swimming pool, ”referring to the nearby Tourelles swimming pool, underlines Alexandre Papaemmanuel, professor at Sciences Po Paris, an intelligence specialist.
“The Office of Legends”, a series devoted to agents who work under false identity, has considerably popularized its vast immaculate walls studded with cameras. Although it focuses on a small service, which represents only a tiny part of the agency’s activities, the series has given a face to a canteen, a crisis room with blue seats, multiple secure doors, a partition almost paranoid.
National priority since 2017
The fruit of a lot of documentary work which has renewed the image of the house. After five seasons and an exhibition at La Villette, “Mortier” has “entered a sort of collective unconscious”, insists Alexandre Papaemmanuel in this regard.
A new story is now to be written and it will undoubtedly be epic, dangerous, important. After decades of political disdain or indifference towards it, intelligence was recognized as a strategic function by the 2008 White Paper on Defense, then made a national priority in 2017.
And, in 2021, according to the Military Programming Law (LPM 2019-2025), the DGSE recorded a budget of 880 million euros, against 816 in 2020, an increase of 7.8%. In addition to increasing payment credits and heavy investments, it benefited from 100 additional positions, not to mention 100 other jobs dedicated to cybersecurity in other entities.
The trend could continue. By comparison, the British services have around twice as many agents as their French counterparts.
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