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In the secret of the new French intelligence strategy

16 November 2019 Investigations   21245  

Identifying the most crucial French intelligence issues and proposing a new way of operating and coordinating the efforts of the French intelligence community is at the heart of the national intelligence strategy developed this summer by the National Coordination for Intelligence and Counter Terrorism (in French: Coordination Nationale du Renseignement et de la Lutte contre le Terrorisme – CNRLT).

This new strategy recommends an overhaul of Services’ operating procedures to meet new challenges regarding the protection of information which concern strategic areas (political, economic, scientific and technological), the assistance of State services in decision-making, as well as the hindrance of any threat. To this end, “sharing, mutualisation and integration have become essential issues” of the coordination of efforts by the French intelligence community.

Threats and Priorities:

In an era of terrorist threats, of increasing radicalism and of international instability, France develops a new intelligence strategy. A track sheet has been drawn up by the CNRLT, at the Elysee’s initiative. It defines a global strategy for the action of the so-called “first circle” French services, concerned with security and defence issues.

This document foresees significant changes in practice modes of functions of various services (DGSE, DGSI, DRM, DRSD, DNRED and TRACFIN) and redefines their priorities in order to further participate in interception and analysis of necessary to ensure “the prevention of violations to the interests of the Nation, the protection of persons, properties and institutions and the defense and promotion of France’s interests”.

There are many priority issues for French intelligence both within France’s territory and abroad. But terrorist threats are undoubtedly the main challenge Services have to face.

Indeed, for the past 5 years, France has been facing an unprecedented wave of terrorist acts. Preventive neutralisation of attacks risks is thus revealed “at the heart of French doctrine in the fight against terrorism”. Despite their military defeat, the Jihadist movements, both in Levant and Sahel, continue to pose a serious threat to French interests abroad but also in France. And in addition to “organized danger”, there are also actions being taken by individuals with a troubled past “inspired” by jihadist propaganda on social networks. The new Intelligence Strategy emphasizes that anticipating this “radical deviance” turns out to be necessary in sensitive areas such as prisons, cultural and religious associations and on the internet.

In a tense social context, intelligence services must also listen to shifts from ultra-right movements towards violence, which must be treated with the same vigilance as jihadist threats. In addition, the Strategy considers that the rise of national protest movements (infiltrated by small international insurgent groups, such as black-blocks) and the resulting public order crises should encourage Services to adopt a proximity approach, in order to keep abreast of local life. A necessary knowledge for a good understanding of movements crossing society and a better prevention of anything that may constitute a disturbance to public order.

International Challenges:

International relations have a privileged place in this new Strategy. First and formost, relations between States and the importance of analysing transformations of France’s partner countries in order to anticipate the risks of “major disruptions” that could harm French interests.

The Strategy considers that, even if the French Republic is not in conflict with other nations, it must acquire an “advanced level of information in military field”. A vigilance dictated by “the resurgence of military power policies on the part of many States” as well as “the emergence of “hybrid” threats that require us to maintain an autonomous capacity to assess arsenals and capabilities of other States”.

Still in the military field, the Strategy stresses on the fact that France, as permanent member of UN’s Security Council, has the duty to contribute to countering the proliferation of weapons and to identifying the countries seeking to clandestinely acquire weapons of mass destruction.

However, the Strategy emphasizes that opposing State threats is not limited to military domain alone. Services’ actions “also covers State terrorism that may occur on French territory” and also “transversal threats” covering issues of foreign interference in the democratic process and collusion that may harm the Republic”. Therefore, French counter-intelligence will acquire new means in the view of “constantly adapting Services’ capabilities and a better dissemination of intelligence to entities in charge of protection and obstruction. »

Internet has become the preferred area for some of these interference practices, which constitute a threat to democracy, whether they come from state sources or from organised crime. The Strategy insists on the need to set up an intelligence policy based on combating the spread of “malware” (harmful software), hate messages and cybercrime.

Economic Intelligence:

The Strategy considers that defence and promotion of French economic interests must remain amongst the priorities of the intelligence community. The new challenges in the field of economic intelligence demand “the identification and prevention of any serious, potential or proven, systemic or isolated, threat, likely to affect the Nation’s economic, industrial and scientific interests, and in particular strategic assets”.  The Strategy underlines the important role that Services must play in “identifying threats and supporting State’s policies in this area as well as French economic actors in their international expansion”.



The National Coordination for Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism


The National Coordination for Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism (CNRLT) was established in 2008. It’s responsible for developing the strategy and advising the Head of State in the field of intelligence. Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, the current national coordinator for intelligence and counter-terrorism, is also responsible for ensuring good cooperation between services and the cohesion of their action.

The new intelligence strategy, which we present here, complements a first version developed in 2014. It has been the subject of an inter-ministerial review and a validation by the President of the Republic within the National Intelligence Council. It will be partly reflected in an intelligence law text to be presented to Parliament in 2020.

It should be noted that the National Intelligence Council, within which this new strategy has been discussed, is dedicated to defence and security issues. It develops intelligence policies and strategies and defines the necessary technical and human resources to implement them. It is chaired by the President of the Republic and includes the Prime Minister and ministers and directors of relevant intelligence services.