Today’s special episode is an interview with Dr. Deborah Bauer on her new book Marianne is Watching: Intelligence, Counterintelligence, and the Origins of the French Surveillance State. Dr. Bauer received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles and is currently an Associate Professor of History at Purdue University at Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her work primarily concerns the development of professional intelligence and counter-intelligence services in France from 1870 through 1914. Today we’re discussing the origins of French surveillance, which is a complex affair with deep roots tracing to Napoleon and even before. You may have heard about some important events and names in the French 19thcentury, such as the Franco-Prussian War, the Dreyfus Affair and General Boulanger. All these and more play a pivotal role in the emergence of one of the most comprehensive surveillance states in the world; for better or worse.
Gary: So, thank you very much for being on the podcast Dr. Deborah Bauer, I think that it’s quite fortuitous that you are on because your work is on the history of French Intelligence Services, essentially from the Franco-Prussian War up until World War I. And for those who don’t know I actually did my dissertation, which I got a fair amount of help from you when you sent me your dissertation to do sort of the background. My dissertation is on the development of British and French Intelligence services during World War I. So either your upcoming book is a prequel to my work or perhaps my work is a sequel to yours. So thank you very much for joining me.
Deborah: You’re very welcome and I agree. I think it’s so cool that we were in touch those years ago when you were starting the work on your dissertation and I love hearing from students and that you thought to reach out to me and you helped me out with some things too. So that was really neat and then, lo and behold, here you are this world-acclaimed podcast host and I’ve definitely been enjoying listening to some of your episodes, so I’m grateful and appreciate that you invited me on today.
Gary: Well, I’m going to put “world-acclaimed” as a blurb on the website. I’m not sure I’ve heard that before.
Deborah: First time for everything.
Gary: So your book focuses on professional secret services in France following the Franco-Prussian War, but you do talk about some of the precursors going back to Napoleon. What were these agencies and how did they operate?
Deborah: So, good starting question, and I’ll say I actually go back even before Napoleon when I get into the first chapter of the book, and I’ll talk a little bit about that. But one thing I just want to kind of point out is the fact that there actually weren’t agencies, not very much in the frame that I’ll be talking about for my own research and what we’re more familiar with. So, you do have, of course, the three kind of main bodies that practice intelligence activity in the old regime up to Napoleon and back even further: the military, the police and diplomats. So I’ll start here with just talking about the military really quickly, just to say that dating farther back, looking back to the 16th through 18th century, when you read literature talking about tactics of war, they are really not talking about information gathering at all. And yes, reconnaissance, information collecting did take place during individual battles, but notably once those battles were over, any information collecting bodies that had existed were dissolved and there were some attempts towards centralization of information gathering and analysis under Louis 14th. He had a war secretary, Marquis de Louvois, who created this body. So if we want to talk about agencies called the depot de la guerre, so that was probably one of the early precursors to the bodies that I studied in my book. But even that was primarily an archival service for topographic intelligence, cartographic information rather than an analytical body that’s gathering the kind of intelligence were more familiar with today. Definitely military intelligence gets a boost with Napoleon. So I can see why you started asking about him. He’s a guy who recognizes how important intelligence is. He used it successfully in a number of his campaigns. But even Napoleon doesn’t create any specific agency, and we do know that while they recognize that intelligence was important to military strategy, they look down on spies, the individuals who are practicing it. There is a famous quote that Napoleon supposedly said about this guy who was one of his most successful spies, this Alsatian named Charles Schulmeister and Napoleon says, quote: “gold is the proper reward for spies, no more and no less” so showing he didn’t have a lot of confidence in espionage. So, not considered a particularly patriotic or nationalistic man, but somebody out for money, material wealth and that’s how people considered spies at the time. So that’s kind of police intel-, excuse me, military intelligence in the old regime, although there is an exception that maybe I can talk about later when it comes to military intelligence gathering in the colonies. But on the mainland, from the old regime forward it’s a temporary practice for the military. Then you of course have police in France, as in many countries. Police have long been charged with collecting information about people within the nation, and there were police forces present in France during the old regime, which grows, of course, during the French Revolution and certainly grows under Napoleon. It was Napoleon who creates the position of police prefects and police prefects they had jobs that included policing the interior, watching for foreigners or anyone else who would be considered a threat to the regime, and these guys did all the stuff that you imagine. They intercept and opened mail, they watch suspect individuals, even keeping track of people working for Napoleon, his ministers and generals and other public servants. But after Napoleon leaves and we enter into the restoration regimes and forward, the focus of intelligence in France really is in the interior rather than gathering external intelligence. So in that sense it’s the police rather than the military that are doing most of the watching activity. And in fact the first official, so if you want to talk about something close to an agency, the first official surveillance body is created in the police forces. It’s in 1855. So now we’re at Napoleon III, Louis Napoleon, Napoleon’s nephew, known as the Railroad Police, also known as the Special Police and the Railroad police, was the first force that was officially charged with watching foreigners on French territory. So this is in some ways France’s first kind of official attempt at bureaucratic counter-espionage and I mention that because, as we can talk about later, what happens during my period, the fin-de-siecle we see the military take over that role of counter-espionage whereas here we can see it was officially in the hands of the police. And then one last body to note, of course, when we talk about intelligence gathering prior to 1870, and the old regime is diplomatic intelligence, so kind of foreign affairs ministry, if you want to think of it that way. And again, if you go back to early-modern times and think about who’s doing the information, collecting its ambassadors, there’s this famous Dutch statesman named Abraham Wicquefort, who calls the ambassador a quote, “honorable spy.” But again, at this stage this does not bureaucratic, it’s not institutionalized, it’s not an agency. And in fact ambassadors really were people who relied on their personal connections with the monarchs or personal connections with those high folks in power. There is a famous kind of team of agents under Louis XV called the king’s secret, and they were people who King Louis XV hired to conduct secret diplomacy with him. There’s this crossdressing spy, the Chevallier d’Eon, who goes into the court of Catherine the Great, dressed as a woman, but again, this isn’t an agency. It sort of sounds like it, as it’s called the “king’s secret.” It has a name, but it’s something that works directly for him and breaks down once he’s no longer in power. Also, when we think about diplomatic intelligence, under that category, military attachés, which of course kind of stride that boundary between military and diplomacy. But military attachés are introduced in the 19th century and slowly France begins to use them to gather information about foreign powers. But these too, their positions, are pretty minimal, it’s hardly organized and it’s hardly professional, even as we see, that began to accelerate in the years just before the Third Republic. So, a couple take aways from that early period to lay the groundwork for my book. And what we’ll probably spend the rest of the interview talking about is firstly, that none of these institutions, whether within the military, the police, foreign affairs, none of them had anything permanent or professional, set up to work exclusively on collection, collation, assessment of intelligence. Yes, there were certain bodies, certain individuals that came and went, but most of them were dissolved pretty shortly after they were established. Number two: is that what intelligence gathering there was took place almost exclusively at the behest of one particular sovereign, like the example I just mentioned with Louis XV or with Napoleon, and so it relied on individual relationships rather than any kind of impartial institution serving the state as a whole that we think about when we think about more modern intelligence. And the last thing is this fact of the matter that intelligence gathering, and espionage in particular, had a pretty sordid reputation. So think back to that quote I just mentioned about Napoleon, saying that a spy is really only entitled to gold and no more. This idea of spying was considered dishonorable and disreputable, and so for that reason all the top military and political minds of the time, dedicated patriots, had no reason to flock to intelligence gathering, so kind of confirming that for a long time there was really no desire to professionalize the task of espionage or intelligence collection.
Gary: So I think that feeds into the next question really well. When you talk about how, before the Franco-Prussian war, these organizations were mostly ad hoc operations; can you talk about the differences in Prussian intelligence verses French intelligence around the time of the Franco-Prussian War? And how did this spur the creation of French Intelligence organizations?
Deborah: Sure, so Prussian intelligence gathering, it’s interesting because there is definitely a difference between the actual organization and practice of Prussian intelligence as we know it from historians today, and here is where I give the caveat that that’s not the research I’ve done. But of course I’ve read plenty of stuff by German historians who have begun to research into this. So the disjunction is between what we know as scholars in the 21st century really happened and what the French thought. So taking our modern knowledge, in fact, intelligence really wasn’t that different between France and Prussia. So I’ll turn to France just quickly, because of course that’s my research. But French intelligence prior to the Franco-Prussian War, as I mentioned before, was pretty disorganized. Yes, there have been some concerted efforts made, especially going into the 1860’s. And here your question about Prussia is really important because we know this is the time that Prussia is growing and the wars of unification are taking place. So France knows that Prussia is a growing threat and it’s at this point that under Napoleon III and his military leadership, there is a move to begin to expand information gathering practices. So we see a little bit of the expansion of military attaches, the expansion of the use of military officers who go on what’s quote known as on mission. So they go off into foreign countries under the guise of just traveling or, you know, being on vacation or whatever it might be to gather information. So this does accelerate into the 1860s. We also know that really very much on the eve of the Franco-Prussian war, talk about 11th hour leaders of the French Army finally do create something: a true intelligence service, the service de renseignments whose job is to gather information about Prussian forces, and they did make some significant breakthroughs reading through the documents and you see them really thinking about the importance of intelligence. But it’s a little bit of too little, too late kind of situation right. So the conflict ends. The Franco-Prussian War does not go well for France, of course, and that defeat demonstrated not only that France was poorly informed, but also that France lacked a good military organization. And that’s something I’ll get to in a second. But we know France loses the war for a lot of reasons, but among them French strategist pointed to their failure to be informed. Go one of my favorite examples is that, ironically, the French Army had better maps of Algeria than it did of Eastern France, where the battles are taking place. So, turning to Prussia in terms of organization and intelligent strategy, yes, they were better organized, and this is something that France would particularly emulate, having a general staff, a high command able to direct planning and strategy. But honestly, they really weren’t that much more advanced in terms of espionage or intelligence gathering that we think of in the sense of modern intelligence today. But, as I mentioned a few seconds ago or minutes ago, what is important is that that’s not how France views it. There is this belief that spreads in France, within French military circles as well as among the public, that one of the main reasons that Germany won, because of course France did not expect they were going to be defeated by Prussia in this war, one of the reasons for German victory, stemmed in part from Bismarck’s successful use of spies. And so there’s all these stories that begin to circulate in the military and police files, as well as in popular newspapers, that the Prussian army succeeded because Bismarck had this man in Paris, a former chief of police, whose name was William Steber and that ever had this whole network of spies all around France, who you know posed as artists along the Rhine River, pretending to be drawing the landscape, but in fact making maps of eastern France, spies that were walking around, meeting people and measuring the moral strength of the nation. Again, modern historians tell us that really wasn’t true and that really didn’t contribute to German victory and French defeat. But in the French mentality that was huge and it’s really going to play an important part for France when they begin to change their hesitation towards espionage and intelligence and begin to embrace it. So that second part of your question about how the defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and this belief in Prussian supremacy shaped it was that France starts copying Germany, or at least copying their sense of what the Germans did best. And so one of those principles was to have a better organized military, and so in 1871, in the summer after the war is over, the army undergoes this massive reorganization, focused on centralization of staff and being better prepared in the case that another war is going to come. So this decree that’s passed in June of 1871 creates a état major général which is a high command or general staff attached to the Ministry of War, and the job of the état major is to organize all of the things that you might need if you are directing a mass of military organization. So, troop movements, correspondence, military statistics et cetera, and it’s within this new high command, this General staff, that we have the emergence of a particular body whose job is to focus on being informed and practice intelligence that would include espionage and counter-espionage so this body is the second of the several offices that are created within the general staff. So the second office, or in French the Deuxieme Bureau So of course this is something you know, I mean we of course know about this, this organization, but the Deuxieme Bureau is created really in response to the failure of the Franco-Prussian War.
Gary: So let’s talk a little more about the differences between Germany and France, although this time we’re going to be talking about the French Third Republic rather than the Second Empire. As an authoritarian regime, Germany was much more flexible in creating and maintaining a secret intelligence service. What struggles did the French Third Republic have in creating, justifying and expanding its secret services?
Deborah: Well, first of all I will say yes and no about Germany as authoritarian. So again I’ve perused plenty of articles by German scholars who look at the professionalization of intelligence in Germany at the same time and actually say that even though, of course yes, we know Germany is ruled by a Kaiser and much more authoritarian. But there were a number of things that made the culture in Germany more resistant to the expansion of secret intelligence than in France. So just you know a couple of things to mention. First of all, while Germany isn’t democratic like France is, the political culture there actually was pretty liberal and law-abiding especially when it came to civil rights. And that’s interesting because the contrast is that France, which is the democracy, is a place where politicians and the public were much more okay with kind of temporarily abandoning civil rights if it came to national defense, which, in case of espionage, really gets painted as a national defense issue. Another thing that actually made it harder for Germany to centralize and expand their intelligence had to do with the federated system in Germany and the struggle to allow one institution or one area to become too powerful. So an example that I read recently was that the Prussian general staff had tried to push for a national political police force, something moulded on the French Sureté Générale but the more liberal southern German states really pushed back against it and resisted because they didn’t want to yield power to Prussian authorities. And so this is of course in contrast with France, which has always been a highly centralized nation, you know, dating back to the old regime and the and the kings. But France has this highly centralized political culture and political institutions. So that centered in Paris meant that directives could come from the top and apply to the country much more generally. And in fact my argument in the book is that the third republic didn’t have all that many struggles at all in the creation and expansion of their services because there was an oversight. There weren’t people to justify that desire to expand and grow and then what happens is that intelligence gets created kind of as a result of the loss of the Franco-Prussian war. And then this growth and expansion starts to happen slowly and autonomously, without any input or oversight from politicians. And so you know, it is important to round this in the politics of the third Republic which if anyone knows much about this time period, it’s an era, it’s a parliamentary democracy. So governments are constantly coming and going and all that turnover means there’s just not a lot of the same politicians in as to regulate different organizations like intelligence, whereas the leaders of these intelligence organizations they stay. And I think in the first couple of decades of the Third Republic there’s only maybe three intelligence heads at the same time. As you know, how many times is the republican regime itself turning over? So there will be blowback to this expansion and this very kind of slow, secret autonomous expansion of intelligence. There will be blowback during the Dreyfus Affair, but that’s not until really the end of the 1890’s that is revealed that France has been creating these institutions. So kind of interesting to think about that comparison with Germany, and I would agree with you that it’s kind of counter-intuitive that it’s the democratic country where that expansion happens faster and to a greater degree than the authoritarian country.
Gary: Let’s talk about the early intelligence services. Who were the intelligence agents and what did they and their services do?
Deborah: Kind of building from the first question you asked about the early services. We do see still during the era of the Third Republic, the same big three right, Army, Police and Foreign Affairs practicing intelligence, and before I go into each of these different bodies, I do want to preface by noting that during this period all of those agencies do a bit of everything. So there’s not really a clear division between domestic and foreign intelligence or espionage and counter-espionage and you know, people familiar with American intelligence of course have their sense theCIA does the foreign intelligence gathering, The FBI works at home, you think MI5-MI6, that same division. This was not the case in France, and so this in some ways becomes a little problematic, and one of the things I argue is that we see the military really stepping forward to try to take on all those roles, and then it leads to a lot of confusion. So there is definitely a struggle. I mean there’s a French historian who has written an article about it and he calls it the ‘guerre de police’ are really calling it a war of policing between all these agencies. That’s maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but so we’ve got all these groups practicing intelligence, but they’re certainly not an intelligence community, right. They don’t share with each other, as it would be more practical to do so. So I’m going to start with the agency that I left off with before that I mentioned, was formed in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War, which is the Deuxieme Bureau So the Deuxieme Bureau like I said, is part of the French High Command and it is the office charged with the overall umbrella of Military Intelligence. The chief aim of this bureau, when it was first set up in the 1870’s, was to aid, inform and prepare the army for a future war. So again they saw that they had just been defeated and they recognized that they need to work harder if another war is to come, to not face the same issues. So the Deuxieme Bureau is charged with things like studying foreign military forces, including how other militaries are organized and the progress they’ve made. They are also supposed to be reading about, digesting and circulating information about foreign armies. That included reading foreign newspapers, sending people out to learn about what was happening in foreign armies. They studied intelligence that was coming in from military attaches, from officers on mission, from officers traveling abroad, and they were really just supposed to be summarizing, analyzing and then disseminating that information in regular reports to help French leadership with decision-making. They got their information from a bunch of sources, I already mentioned a bunch of military sources, but also agents of the statistical section, which is a body I’ll talk about in a second, as well as from non-military sources. So folks over at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the Naval Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, the Prefecture of Police, and they interviewed deserters, prisoners of war and, of course, had some spies who brought this information to. Now, if you’re still awake and following you maybe noticed that one of the things that’s missing from the early description of the tasks that the dozen bureau was charged with is counter intelligence, and I have a couple of theories of reasons why they’re not focused on counter intelligence at this point. Probably it’s showing that in the 1870’s the army is much more concerned about learning the abilities and future plans of enemies than in hiding their own developments. Secondly, the fears of infiltration by outsiders that anyone who is familiar with Europe at the end of the 19th century knows this is that you’ve xenophobia and nationalism. Those hadn’t quite yet taken hold in French culture and society in the way they would in the following decades. And then finally, at this point in time, counter-espionage duties really are the purview of the police, as I mentioned that they had been under Napoleon III. So again, we will see that change if we get into if you read the book and get into it. So when looking at military intelligence, one more important body to know, in addition to the Deuxieme Bureau, is the statistical section. And this office you know, I don’t need to tell you that a lot of research about secret intelligence is hard to do, because archives have either been destroyed or people burned documents for a particular reason. So even this name, Statistical Section, people aren’t sure if that was the official name of the body when that name was given. But when I did my research there are a number of documents that have at the head, Statistical Section. Others say Service de Renseignement or just Intelligence Division, and what this is is a smaller section within the Deuxieme Bureau that emerges a couple of years after the Deuxieme Bureau itself is founded. Like I said, it’s kind of hard to pin down exactly when or how it emerged, but I think it’s about 1874. And though by name it appears defined as a subsection of the Deuxieme Bureau some of the documents say Deuxieme Bureau, Section de Statistique, in reality, this section maintains only a really tenuous attachment to those larger institutions that it was linked with. So the statistical section, as we find out later, is more closely tied to the leadership of the war ministry itself rather than the leadership of the general staff where it technically belonged. And it’s this autonomy that allows this smaller intelligence body to make decisions that are really unencumbered by possible resistance, whether from within or without, and would assure secrecy and discretion by keeping knowledge of intelligence out of the regular channels of government. And so where the Deuxieme Bureau is this larger body with maybe 30 people, mostly officers and a few civilians? There were only five officers who worked for the smaller intelligence service. And beyond those permanent employees this unit had an extensive network of agents, so diplomats, police, civilians, other people gathering information from different institutions, and then the folks that we think of as spies. And those spies were sent on tasks to embassies. They were sent on intelligence gathering missions abroad, they were placed in domestic scenarios, and so they were the ones who were really charged with intelligence gathering. Also notable is that the statistical section maintains its autonomy in financial as well as hierarchical terms. So they were able to do this thanks to these secret funds. (30:01 The Fonseca) that were at the disposition of the Minister of War and the military has these secret funds that are used pretty much solely for intelligence, and it was from that money the agents who worked for this action were paid. So, like the Deuxieme Bureau generally, the statistical sections, missions were at first also predominantly focused on gathering military information, maybe learning knowledge about advancements and weapons, organization of foreign armies and plans for future battles, though we know that eventually the section’s missions expanded, and by the time we get to the testimony of people who had worked for that section during the Dreyfus Affair, we find out that by the 1890’s they were doing far more than gathering intelligence from abroad, but also were watching along Francis borders and practicing counter-espionage both in France and in other countries. So that’s military intelligence. Then turning to the Interior Ministry, to police intelligence. Okay. So then, in addition to military intelligence, we have the police force practicing intelligence in France, and this is definitely a body that grows as well in terms of numbers and in terms of prestige, as France centralizes under the Third Republic. Looking at that body that I mentioned, founded under Napoleon III, the Railroad Police, they, for example, grow incredibly in size. I think there were about 200 of them in 1879 to more than 300 of them in 1898 and more than 400 at the turn of the century. And these and other forces, They are the ones who take on the job, at least in the beginning, especially of spying on the republic’s own citizens, performing a variety of tasks. They again they intercept mail, they follow suspects, they are watching and noting anyone who might seem a little suspicious and really looking to expose anyone or anything that they consider a threat to the regime. But like I said, there’s not a delineation of duties. So in addition to watching for threats within France’s borders, members of the French Police did practice intelligence abroad in foreign countries. So when I worked in the police archives in Paris I found all these notes from agents that had been sent to places like Brussels and Athens, Berlin, Hamburg, London, Rome, Saint-Petersburg. So agents of the Police stationed all over the place abroad, recording their findings in these anonymous notes that they would send back to Paris, observing things about politics, economics, society and the military. And we know that these notes probably made their way in intelligence reports from the prefect of Police to the Interior Minister. So police doing both. And then finally again the diplomats are performing intelligence, and so this branch also had an intelligence service of its own, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This one was probably the hardest to pin down. I really couldn’t find a lot of evidence of it in the archives, but I have read about it in diaries that people who had worked for it talk about, and so I know that this organization also placed agents both in France and abroad, and famously the Foreign Affairs Ministry was probably most helpful in terms of professional French Intelligence because it developed a cryptography section. And again I didn’t find a lot of evidence myself. But Chris Andrew, of course you know, since you study intelligence, he’s the father of intelligence history. Chris Andrew’s written quite a bit about their cryptography section. So those are the big three. And then we also have some additional bodies that get created during the 1880’s to practice intelligence, some regional intelligence services, the Service de Renseignement Territorial There is an expansion of watching under the gendarmerie who again, you probably know a lot more than I do when it comes to World War I and their role in intelligence gathering. But they get charged, these different bodies, some of which are police, some of which are military. The regional intelligence services are headed by officers, but they’re staffed by kind of ordinary folks, a spectrum of professionals, whether it’s businessmen, builders, property owners, and these new intelligence bodies are really focused on counter-espionage and they’re important. They are created in the 1880’s and the fact that they are created shows this expansion of counter-espionage and in particular under leadership of the Ministry of War. So I mentioned this idea of centralization, that yes, there is an expansion of watching services, but in a lot of ways they all report back to Paris, they all report back to the Statistical Section. So there’s those. And then in the 1890’s, the watching agencies expand even further and all of the police departments across France create this mass network of surveillance composed of forest guards and rangers and customs officials and postal workers. And there’s some, like almost 400, of these networks by the start of World War I. So we really do see an expansion of services and notably an expansion of purpose, from gathering intelligence about foreign armies to watching whatever is happening inside France.
Gary: So now that we’ve covered the major agencies, let’s talk about the powerful individuals, both within and without these intelligence services, and how they impacted intelligence practices. Who were some key players in the development of French Secret Intelligence, and what were their contributions?
Deborah: Yea I really love this question. I’ll say I actually trained as a cultural historian and so it was definitely outside of my boundaries to learn all this stuff about militaries and intelligence, and so I really liked going back and looking at the individuals who played an important role, looking at who they were, the kind of things they wrote, the environments they might have grown up in, and so it’s a really fun question and now just kind of thinking through who some of those folks were. There are some names that are very familiar to historians of French history, others that are not, but all equally important. So I’ll start with a guy named Jules Lewal and I am sorry because I never know how to pronounce your last name. So for listeners it’s and Lewal. And Lewal was one of the really important early advocates for intelligence. He wrote a lot and was urging for the professionalization of intelligence during this time and maybe the 1860’s,1870’s. So Lewal is important because he is one of the early advocates of intelligence in this period, when very few are recognizing how important intelligence would be, how useful it would be for an army to adopt it, and he wrote a lot of books advocating for France to professionalize intelligence. He stood before the Ministry of War in the 1860’s and kind of said: look, we are falling behind, we absolutely need to professionalize, we need to adopt intelligence and he has this great quote. That’s one of my favorites. I’m not going to direct quote it, but he says something to the effect of espionage is a tree that does not bear fruit until many years after it’s been planted. So one of my first articles was called Planting the Espionage Tree. I just really liked this idea that you know France really needed to think and organize and get a system set up if they wanted to be prepared to not lose another war. So Lewal is really important. He’s an early advocate and he actually works for a number of these services. He’s the guy who serves as the head of the intelligence service during the Franco-Prussian war. Really looked at in a lot of ways as kind of a father of the notion that professional intelligence is necessary and important. Another guy that I want to mention is Marsha; Bugeaud and listeners who may know the name but associate him with his role in Algeria as the quote unquote pacifier of Algeria. Right in the 1840’s. He was a marshal, so he’s an important military figure who went in and helped conquer Algeria for France in the 1840’s. But in terms of intelligence he is really important because he found this group known as the Arab Bureau, the Bureau Arabe. And these are intelligence gathering network. They are operated by soldiers and officers and their job is very much to understand Algeria, to understand the population, understand the resources, understand social activity and organization, and he really uses this information, him and those who come after him, to best figure out how France is going to pacify and control this country. So he’s doing this in the 1840’s, at a time when, back in the mainland of the Metropole, intelligence is not regarded as important at all, spies are still thought of as totally dishonorable and disreputable, and so he is one of the early advocates, and the military strategists and thinkers who write about intelligence during my period at the end of the century, I reference him quite a lot. So I consider him one of the important folks and again sort of different view of him that we might have if we looked at him only for his role in pacifying Algeria. Another important guy I want to mention, his named is Émile Vanson and Vanson is the guy who really pushes for the establishment of separate organization within the military that was dedicated primarily to spying, and so by that I mean the statistical section. So Vanson had some experience. He served under Lewal in the depot de la guerre, and during the Franco-Prussian War, and he is actually the first head of the Duexieme Bureau. So the head of the Duexieme Bureau from 1871 to 1880 and as such really shaped the early service, including doing things like starting an important publication called the Revue Militaire de l’Étranger which is a publication describing activities taking place in foreign armies and societies, so making sure that the Army is as informed as possible about what’s going on. And again he’s the one who really pushed for the creation of the statistical section distinguishing espionage and intelligence gathering from all the other rubrics of information gathering, whether topography or reconnaissance, things like that. And so he’s the guy who really pushes for the autonomy of the Statistical Section that is so important to a lot of the development of French intelligence practice. He also makes it a strong argument for specialization at a time when this is hardly a career, hardly a profession. So he advocates for dedicating resources to training and compensating people to carry out intelligence activities, really making a career out of this occupation. That beforehand was really pretty half hazard. And one more thing that he does that’s notable, and how this community gets shaped afterwards is, he is one of the ones who pushes for centralization of intelligence gathering in all of France and argues that it’s the War Ministry that should be the centralizing body. So he calls for assistance from all the other Ministries, Ministry of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Navy Finance, Public Works. He’s the one for calling for centralization of intelligence within the War Ministry and although it doesn’t actually go in this direction, it is under him that the Army and the Military Services really push to be the body that is charged with intelligence gathering and has the agents of other ministries working for them. So the next person to mention is definitely the biggest name, I would say in my book, and this is General George Boulanger. So again, Boulanger is somebody who has a name very recognizable for scholars of French history, though not necessarily associated with his intelligence activity. And if someone’s listening and they’re not a scholar of French history, I’ll give a quick background. So Boulanger is important to me because he serves as war minister for a short time, from about January of 1886 to May of 1887. But he’s far better known because it’s after he leaves the war ministry that he becomes the figure that a number of far right movements flock to in their attempt to overthrow the republic. So he and his followers embrace these really xenophobic, antisemitic views and he works to harness these sentiments for political ends. He has got this mass movement and there are of course plenty of biographies about him talking about his xenophobia and how he succeeds at really mobilizing the masses and the masses of the right in particular. That focuses on the years after he leaves the war ministry, which is 1888-1889, before he of course commits suicide on the grave of his mistress. But for my purposes I find it interesting, as I can definitely see the origins of the xenophobia and origins of this antisemitism in his work within the War Ministry and in particular in the attitudes he takes towards intelligence. So in terms of intelligence he definitely embraces the practice in a way that really none of his predecessors did. Again, this is 1886 were still getting into the time when military strategists are recognizing intelligence and espionage as possibly important. He surrounds himself with advisors who appreciate intelligence and he throws significant resources to the statistical section. In fact, in the year and a half that he war minister, the Statistical section saw an increase in its funding, with a near tripling of its budget, and under him the section grew more than previously and more than it would for the remainder of the pre-war years. Also notable is that he appoints a man named Jean Conrad Sandherr who I’ll turn next as the head of intelligence in 1887, because Sandherr has a really important impact on French intelligence while he heads the section. But just as Boulanger demonstrates in interest and intelligence, we also see in him, and this is the xenophobia I’m talking about. We also see in him the growth of this distinct concern with espionage being practiced against France, and notably, it’s this sense that Germany is sending spies and sending agents to learn as much as they can about France, and so this concern of Boulanger that really can be classified, I would say, as intense paranoia leads him to kick-off this whole series of moves from creating a new law, to creating new agencies, all geared at targeting and preventing foreign espionage. So this is why it’s important that I mentioned before when I laid out that job of the Deuxieme Bureau in this Statistical Section at the beginning and I mentioned, you noticed I didn’t say counter-espionage it’s under Boulanger that we began to see a real pivot in focus for the French intelligence services to take their attention from what’s going on in foreign armies and to start focusing on this fear that France is being overrun with spies, which again, of course, we know, as modern day historians, was not the case at all. But to them it was, and as a result there’s all these policies and resources that get directed towards counter-espionage. So, I mentioned one of them as a law, I call it the Espionage law. It’s got a really long name that isn’t really official sounding. But this law is passed in April 1886. So just a couple of months after Boulanger begins his career in the War Ministry. And this law is the very first law on the books ever in French history that targets espionage in the public sphere. So it’s a law directed at civilians rather than, yes, there’s stuff within military law codes that talk about what you do with spies during wartime, but this is directed at civilians during peacetime and again demonstrates this real fear that begins to spread in France of the potential that spies could be everywhere and the harm they could cause. And there are few, I think, really important things to note about the fact that this law passed in 1886. So this law, pushed put forward by Boulanger, passed by him but approved almost unanimously within the French Chamber of Deputies, within the French government, notably at a time when the French politicians cannot agree on anything. So I think all of our listeners can possibly imagine what it might be like for Congress not to agree on anything and imagine what kind of issue would cause them to pass something unanimously. So this law, this law targeting spies in the public sphere, passes unanimously, and the politicians who talk about it and the newspapers that write about it all frame it in this language, of this being a piece of national defense. So really the sense that France as a nation is under threat and it’s under threat by spies, and we need this new law to protect against them. So the law itself is actually quite benign in its scope and its penalties, but it will serve as the first step in the path towards this new xenophobic surveillance regime in France. That grows as the law becomes a basis for a bunch of orders and decrees all focused on finding spies, and mostly they’re talking about foreign spies under the direction of the military. So it’s right after now that Boulanger sets up those agencies that I referred to a little bit ago about, like the regional intelligence networks, and when Boulanger charges the Gendarmery with watching foreign spies. So he’s broadly increasing the number of people within France whose job it is to find spies, and the language is definitely referring to spies as being foreigners. So the idea that the foreign spy is a threat. The foreigner is someone with real potential to harm national security, and so, as a result, foreigners need to be watched, they need to be surveilled, they need to be noted and maybe they even to be arrested. And so what this results in, as part of the bigger argument I make in the book, is this results in a real marginalization of foreigners. Of course, at a time when xenophobia is already on the rise but really feeds into this sense of spy mania that spies are everywhere and their foreign spies. So that’s Boulanger. One more person I’m going to mention and then I’ll be done talking about the characters in my book. So the last person that I think is important to mention when we think about the development of french intelligence is Jean Conrad Sandherr. And this is a name that, if anybody has heard it, probably has heard it in connection with the Dryfus affair. But Sandherr is hugely influential to the development of French intelligence. So a tiny bit of background about him. He jumped into intelligence really early on. After he graduated from military school, he worked for the Arab bureaus in Algeria, then he went on to do some reconnaissance missions in Germany at the end of the 1870’s and in 1880 he joined the Deuxieme Bureau and joined their intelligence division. The following year he was actually chosen by authorities to lead an intelligence mission in Tunisia, where the French had their eye on colonizing. And he, the french mission, probably succeeded in part, presumably because of his help securing influence and collecting information. So after cutting his teeth in intelligence in the colonies, learning a bit of the tricks of the trade, he comes back to France and in 1887 it’s Boulanger who appoints him as head of the Statistical Section, replacing this guy, Colonel Vincent, who was kind of on the outs to some sketchy financial situation. And so Sandherr serves as head of the statistical section from 1887 until 1895, when he had a stroke and couldn’t work anymore. So it’s under him that the Statistical Section really grew and really expanded and carries out its increased counter intelligence. So there is one particularly shocking thing that I want to talk about in terms of Sandherr and in terms of the counter intelligence project of the Statistical Section under him. And this is the effort to target foreigners in the specific way of putting them on these national lists. That would, the aim was, at least in their minds, eventually lead to arrest and incarceration. So this list is known as the carnet b. The carnet b is conceived of in some ways, first, under Boulanger again he’s really somebody that I point to as the origin of a lot of these xenophobia, intelligence practices. And what Boulanger did was kind of introduced the idea of watching foreigners but not just watching them, of noting them and registering them. So that concept evolved over the next couple of months, from December 1886 into early 1887, into two different lists known as the carnet a and the carnet b. So carnet a identified foreign males of military age living in France, while carnet b listed anyone. They could be foreign, they could be French, but anyone who was suspected of possible espionage and therefore deemed a threat to French national security. So these carnets, they’re just kind of pliable paper folios and on the paper folios, officers would write details of particular suspects. They would note all of the different movements they followed them in. They would talk about the suspect’s name, their nationality, date and place of birth, where they lived, what their profession was, what they looked like, and then, in the main part, just line by line, of talking about the various actions that made this person suspect. And once an individual had a carnet b filled out in his or her name, he or she was to be subject to increased surveillance. And the idea was that when the army mobilized for the inevitable war that would come, because of course this time in the fantastical, everybody sort of imagines war is on the way. So once that mobilization did take place, everybody who was listed on the carnet b was supposed to be rounded up and interned or incarcerated in local prison. They were trying to find locations for big prison camps where they were going to keep these suspected spies. Mostly they had settled on the South of France and I will say this never ended up happening. This was kind of controversial that in the end, when the mobilization came, they didn’t end up arresting everybody on the list. But it really demonstrates this draconian move, this use of intelligence in a way that was supposed to target people who were considered threats, considering foreign espionage to be a very grave danger to the health and safety of the nation. And again, like with almost everything else that I look at in the book, the reality versus the perceptions is so very different. So when I went through the archival files where these canes are held, you see people who make it onto these carnets for really the most minuscule reasons. So somebody who happened to live a short distance from a bridge that was close to a fort, somebody who walked there, was one. They accused this guy of having the quote stiff gait of a German soldier, another an 18 year-old boy who got listed on the carnet b because he was overheard singing German songs of patriotism. And then the next year they took him off the list when he registered for the French Army. So just this very intense paranoia of foreigners, of spies, of the threat that they could bring, even though again looking at who actually makes it onto these lists, these are not people who, if it was up to me, need to be rounded up and kept in a camp. So those are the main characters. I think that I could tell you, of course there’s plenty more side characters, but we’ve gone on long enough.
Gary: One aspect that your book touches on is French intelligence across the empire, notably in North Africa. How did intelligence gathering in the Colonies impact intelligence gathering in the metropole?
Deborah: Yeah, that’s another one of those million dollar questions, and again one that I’ll say it’s a bit hard to say, since there’s not a lot of documentation that explicitly links them. But it’s pretty clear to me that there is some influence. So I’ve already noted a couple of different moments when we see intelligence gathered in the empire. First, of course, was the Arab Bureau under Bugeaud in Algeria, and then I meant just mentioned Sandherr, who was sent to Tunisia, and so my sentence from trying to figure out what these agents were doing in the empire in North Africa is that it was definitely a different kind of intelligence gathering. So while you think of military intelligence back in Europe is aimed at learning more about well known enemies, the armies that you already are pretty familiar with in the colonies, the role of intelligence was to become informed about people and societies that seemed a lot more foreign. So in some senses when you look at the intelligence they gather, it’s much more anthropological in scope. So intelligence gathering, where they’re talking about the culture of different native groups, talking about the resources that are native to the different areas they’re curious about. Looking at the politics and relationships between people that they are learning about. And so you see that in the early case in Algeria, the Tunisia and then in the 1890’s, the same thing, military intelligence agents gathering this kind of information in Morocco. But what I think is important, and I think translates back to intelligence practices France, is that the quantity of information gathered in the colonies really allowed the French a sense of power and confidence in their ability to control, and in the case of the empire, is their ability to control certain groups and dominate those lands that they end up making into their extended empire. And so that confidence and intelligence translates back to the metropole. And so one of the main examples, is really Sandherr himself and his project in Tunisia, and probably the reason that’s my best example, is because it’s where I have the most evidence. So you go to the military archives, and Sandherr kept these very journals, which is of course really fun to read all the different things that he’s doing and the agents he’s engaging in Tunisia. And so from these journals you see Sandher learning new strategies for intelligence gathering, new ways to implement the intelligence that clearly is going to influence him when he takes on his role as intelligence chief in Paris. So again, a different kind of intelligence from military intelligence, learning the importance of social-political economic information. He’s definitely paying a lot more attention to gossip and rumors. When he’s in the colonies, he probably perfected methods of intelligence gathering. So in his notes in his journal I see him demonstrating the use of codes, of intercepting messages, a lot of bribing of sources. Definitely this kind of Machiavellian sense of any means necessary to be able to get your information however you want. So he’s talking about all of the different shady characters that perhaps back in the Metropole, especially a century prior, French military would have turned their noses down on. We don’t we don’t need to talk to Jews, we don’t need to talk to these peddlers, but these are very much the people who Sandherr is going to employ in Tunisia. And so I think the success of intelligence gathering in the empire really impresses upon French leadership. And of course, even after the military leaves all of these different places, the civil authorities who eventually take over still recognize the importance of intelligence as a weapon of occupation, using the knowledge that has been gleaned in these decades about native cultures to work to control them, maybe stamp out practices that the French disapproved of and otherwise to show French dominance.
Gary: So now let’s move on to a very big topic, both in French history but also something that is enormously influential in intelligence, which is the Dreyfus Affair. We could talk all day about the Dreyfus Affair, but I think that let’s just hit the main points as they relate to intelligence. Do you want to start out by laying out, in however much detail is needed, who Dreyfus was, how he came to be implicated and the initial involvement of intelligence services?
Deborah: The Dreyfus Affair, the elephant in the middle of my book. Yes, of course anybody who knows anything about the words Spy and France and fin-de-siecle will know Dreyfus. So while you’re totally right that you could walk into a library and see shelves and shelves written about the Dreyfus Affair, it does remain important. It’s clearly not the centre of my book, but I’m happy to talk about it. So who is Dreyfus? Dreyfus was an artillery officer, he’s a captain in the French Army and at the time of the affair, the 1890’s, he’s working as an intern within the French Army’s general staff and important to know when we talk about who he is is firstly that he comes from Alsace, which also of course, is one of the annexed provinces which had been part of France. But after the Franco-Prussian war becomes part of Germany. But notable, Dreyfus was among those people who chose to leave Alsace and did not want to be German and wanted to remain in France, wanted to remain French, but regardless he has that connection with Alsace attached to him. And of course the other important aspect of Dreyfus identity is that he’s Jewish. So that’s who he is. Now the Dreyfus Affair began in September 1894 when a woman named Mary Bastian, who was an agent of the Statistical Section. She was working as a cleaning lady in the German embassy in Paris. So she’s a cleaning lady, but again she’s in the pay of the Statistical Section and she’s someone who had been hired by Sandherr and his small agency to do various kinds of spying in the embassy. But notably one of her jobs was to empty the trash cans of the German ambassadors. And she did this every night and before shredding machines were invented, the way that people would dispose of their secret documents as they would just rip them into shreds, rip them into a bunch of pieces of paper in the trash can. So she would empty the trash can because of course she’s a cleaning lady but because she’s also a spy, she brought the contents of the trash cans back to the Statistical Section and they would regularly work, to, you know, do their puzzle work and piece those documents back together. So in 1894 she’s doing her regular work and she brings the trash back to the Statistical Section. And in this case one of the pieces that had been in the trash of this German military attaché named Schwartzkoph, with his name, was a note. That note is now infamous as the bordereau That is the French word for this particular kind of note, a note that indicated that there was someone within the French general staff who was passing technical military information to Germany. So now the officers of the section, including Colonel Sandherr and Commandant Henry, have this note and they can see that someone in the French Army is a spy. So Sandherr because the Statistical Section is really well-connected at the highest points with the authorities of the French Republic, quickly spread the news and the first person he goes to is War Minister Auguste Mercier and before long they begin to come up with a-list of suspects. And at the top of that list of suspects is Alfred Dreyfus. So they call him in for a number of interviews where of course he vociferously denies his guilt. But they use some flimsy evidence. They claim that his handwriting matched the handwriting on that note that they found in the trash can and they put him on trial. So Dreyfus goes to trial. Note, this is a military tribunal, it is a closed trial. Nobody else is allowed in there beside Dreyfus and the military officers and at that trial Dreyfus gets convicted of espionage and treason based on some really loose evidence. So one of them is this supposed similarity between his handwriting and the handwriting on the incriminating note. And there are some documents that allegedly prove his guilt which throughout the trial remain in this secret dossier. So Dreyfus can’t see them. His lawyer can’t see them. They just get presented by the Statistical Section there during the trial. So it was enough. It convicts, convicts him, he gets sent all the way across the ocean to Devil’s Island off the coast of South America, and that’s that. for the French Republic they don’t think twice about it. Dreyfus, as I said, is Jewish. He’s from Alsace and this is right in this midst of this spy Mania that I was talking about, xenophobia and spy mania, where people are pointing to everyone foreign as spies. And even though Dreyfus isn’t foreign, he is in the minds of antisemitic French public, a foreigner for all intents and purposes. So Dreyfus is gone across the ocean, locked away. But back in Paris he’s got his devoted brother, Mathieu Davis, who worked really hard to prove his innocence, Mathieu and Dreyfus’s wife. They knew he was innocent and they just worked doggedly to find evidence of that and worked to bring the issue into the wider public. So there is a big turning-point in the Dreyfus Affair in 1895, when our good buddy Colonel Sandherr suffers this attack of general paralysis and is no longer head of the statistical Section, he gets replaced by a guy named George Picquart who, along with the famous novelist Emile Zola, will become one of Dreyfus’s supporters and one of the heroes of the people supporting the Dreyfus case, who are known as Dreyfusards, and so you’ve got Zola, who’s openly making these written statements and proclamations for justice. You have Picquart who is gathering evidence, and you have a host of famous politicians. And cultural icons who are arguing for the French government to revisit this trial. And in the midst of all that, the Statistical Section engages in this next step of kind of fraud and cover-ups to assure that guilty verdict that was declared on drives remains. And part of this cover up that I’m talking about is a document that is forged by one of the officers of the Statistical Section, a guy named Commandant Henry. And it’s a document that actually says Dreyfus’s name, because in all of the evidence that had come out before, the evidence that sent him across to an island to just live out his life and die, there was never proof that it was him. There was an initial saying the scoundrel D, there was the matching handwriting, but there wasn’t proof. So what does Henry do? He basically manufactures this proof. He takes another one of these puzzle pieces of documents and puts it together and tapes it together. And in this document you have the German military attaché actually naming Dreyfus by name. Of course, that proof was fake and through you know another series of events that does eventually come out into the public: Henry is arrested, he is put in jail. He ends up committing suicide in jail because of what he had done, and so this gives the statistical section a bad reputation. Eventually, the true traitor and the author of that note is exposed as a guy named Commandant Esterhazy, and some of the evidence comes out that I was in that secret dossier, showing how weak the case against him really was, and there again, a whole series of trials and mistrials that famously divides France in two, with families fighting and everybody fighting about which side is the right side, and Dreyfus is actually reconvicted. And it’s not until the early 20th century when he’s pardoned and recognized as innocent.
Gary: So, past the initial involvement, there is the choice that the Section Statistique made to double down on its false claims against Dreyfus and did everything in its power to reaffirm his guilt. What repercussions did this have on the Section Statistique, the Deuxieme, and the Intelligence community in general?
Deborah: Yeah, so that doubling down, of course, that you’re talking about is the forgery, I would say against, against Henry and really just sticking there heels in to not allow a retrial and to make sure that Dreyfus remained convicted. But of course, as you say, this all comes out. Eventually, through all the trials and retrials, what the Statistical Section did from the beginning through to the end becomes public, and so this really does result in an absolutely negative perception of the French intelligence community. So before the Dreyfus Affair, as I mentioned earlier on, the statistical section really wasn’t very well known. It had escaped the attention of, I’d say, the majority of the French public. It was secret, it developed autonomously, and so this was really the change. After the Dreyfus Affair and everything is exposed people then start condemning the secrecy that was central to the Statistical Section, the autonomy that some of those early founders, the people you asked me about before, had argued was so important to having a successful service. All of that gets exposed and people start condemning it. So we see politicians start to really vocally express disapproval of French intelligence. There is a deputy named Joseph Reinach who calls this section a sentinel of spies. Deputies start talking about taking funding away from a lot of the organization and, most important for the French intelligence community as a whole, what this does is prompt a major restructuring of French intelligence. So in May of 1899, the current Minister of War, a guy named Gaston Galliffet, passes an order that declares now that all counter-espionage duties are taken away from the Ministry of War. So if you follow, I started, you know the Ministry of War in early 1870’s is only doing foreign intelligence. Then through Boulanger they begin to focus on counter intelligence. But this focus on counter intelligence, counter-espionage has now come full circle and exposed some of the unsavory tactics, and so they are denied the ability to do that from their forward, and counter intelligence duties are placed in the hands of the Interior Ministry, the Police. It also resulted in the Statistical Section losing its autonomy, so that autonomy that was viewed as so central and so precious is supposed to end. After the Dreyfus Affair now the head of the Deuxieme Bureau is supposed to maintain strict control over the Statistical Section, including in terms of finances. So those “fonds secrets” the secret funds they had been allowed to. Now they don’t have access to those. And the idea is that, from there forward, every operation performed by the Statistical Section, whether it was recruiting spies, whether it was buying secret documents from people, whatever it was, had to have official approval from a superior officer leading the bureau. So, basically instituting, weigh more oversight that never really existed beforehand, and changing who was charged with what activity. Though I will say that in spite of that decree, it doesn’t really last, and by the next decade the military intelligence is back to counter-espionage anyways, but publicly we definitely see that change and it’s definitely a result of what happened during the Dreyfus Affair.
Gary: An important theme that runs through your book is that of free democracies: maintaining their citizens civil liberties or not, while developing a secret service capable of effectively countering foreign threats. You argue that France’s secret service did more harm than good. Why couldn’t France find a proper balance between these two?
Deborah: Yeah, so do I definitely make that claim that there’s more harm than good, and I guess I should qualify what I mean by that. So the harm that I’m referring to is in creating and perpetuating conditions within society and within French culture for more social anxiety, more paranoia, the marginalization or kind of othering of groups of people who are considered outside, whether it’s foreigners or, like I mentioned, with the case of Dreyfus, Jews outside to the nation. And so I do find quite harmful, because the idea that the existence of intelligence agencies has now shown French society that espionage is a real threat, that foreign spies are very real concern for national security. Again, as I mentioned that a passage of the espionage law was done in the idea that foreign espionage is this grave danger to just the existence of France as a whole, and so you know, you institute, you create institutions whose job it is to go out and look for spies. Well, low and behold. What are they going to find, spies! And so it’s this cycle by which this understanding that intelligence and espionage is important. And yet when other nations practice espionage and intelligence, it can harm the French and therefore we all must be very wary and we all must look around and see what’s happening and be incredibly vigilant to prevent this great danger. And I see this, I have a couple of chapters in my book where I turn to the public, I turn to the public sphere and I talk about, for example, what you see is this very real participation by the public in the hunt for French spies. So, for example, if I’ve seen these folders in the police archives filled with notes by kind of ordinary French citizens writing to the police saying, oh, my work colleague is a spy or my neighbor is a spy, or this woman is a spy. And when you look at the groups of people who are being mentioned, it’s foreigners, it’s perhaps people from Alsace and Lorraine, it’s a certain kind of woman. You know the new woman, the loose woman who transcends gender norms and acts out of the expectations for feminine activity. It’s Jews, it’s quote unquote, degenerate Frenchman, and so seeing denunciation letters, seeing the expansion of newspaper articles, novels, just lots of different kinds of discourse and the public talking about spies and how harmful they are, again to me, really contributes to this atmosphere that identify as almost an early version of the Cold War right, this sense that this threat is here, that it’s within our borders and that it could harm us, and it leads to this stress and this paranoia that you know feeds into stuff that’s already there. Certainly there’s already antisemitism and there’s already a larger narrative of competition with Germany and fears of social decline and degeneration. But adding spies, adding espionage into that mix, really contributes, as I said, to this marginalization of certain groups, marginalization of outsiders and in terms of civil liberties. I’ve already talked about the carnet b and the proposal to just arrest everybody who might be considered threatening by someone. The expansion of watching, the expansion of noting, especially people that fit into those groups, those categories that I mentioned. We see a restriction of certain kinds of speech within the press, a restriction of images. There’s a couple of cases of people who sell post cards, who are forced to not sell post cards that have any image of a French Fort, things like that. So really an acceptance of those limits and acceptance of those practices again, all under the age of national defense. And this goes back to the question that you asked early on about being a democracy and this sense of why the French are okay with it. But for me it’s really this sense of threat that gets spread by so many different groups. It’s the same language, you see in military files, police files, in public newspapers, that spies are out there, they are real, they are harmful and therefore, as a nation we need to do whatever we can to find them. And the contrast to how many real people are arrested and tried during this period is amazing. The numbers are really quite small of people who are actually performing espionage. Again, when I read the German scholars who write about this, they say that there was not a single-piece of important information delivered back to authorities in Germany that came from spies. Yes, Germany was pretty informed, but it was all from open-source intelligence. The French were saying these things themselves out loud. It’s not spies, but yet this is a time that plenty of historians before me have looked at and called a moment of spy fever the l’espionite So it really is interesting to see how the creation of these agencies, the spread, the perpetuation of them, the pivot to counter-espionage how it really creates and expands this vision within French society and within French culture that one of the gravest dangers to France as they know, it is espionage.
Gary: I want to end by talking a little bit about modern times and how this has evolved, because France has become quite famous for its surveillance state. Now I assume you have kept up with developments in modern France, at least to some degree. Here I want to read a quick excerpt by Eli Lake, writing on the 23rd of March 2016 in Bloomberg about Frances Surveillance State. Lake says: imagine if Ted Cruz or Donald Trump proposed a policy to monitor thousands of Muslim citizens, even if they had no specific ties to terrorist groups. Then for good measure they called for a new law to allow the police to search the home of suspected terrorists without a warrant and to place terror suspects under house arrest without a court order. Sounds like a nightmare. One can imagine the indignation pundits and politicians of good conscience would intone against the politics of fear. Some on the right wing would respond that political correctness should not be a barrier to counter-terrorism but what I have just described is not a republican soundbite. Rather, it is the current counterterrorism posture of France. Since the attacks in Paris last November, and here Lake is referring to The Bataclan Attack which killed 137 people, the socialist government of President Francois Hollande has placed his country under a state of emergency. France’s National Guard has been deployed to protect sensitive religious sites and other soft targets. The country of Voltaire, Diderot and Camus is in 2016 the police state that critics warn Cruz or Trump would bring about if given the chance. Now Eli Lake stated this in early 2016. Unless I am mistaken, surveillance has increased under Macon in response to the beheading of Samuel Pate on the 16th of October 2020, when an Islamic radical killed him for showing a-class cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. As a world expert on the historical roots of France’s surveillance state, what are your thoughts on contemporary developments? Is the French surveillance state doing more harm than good? Will it only get larger? Will France ever find a balance between surveillance and civil liberties?
Deborah: So, first lot to think about. It’s a great question and I will first preface it by saying no. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised. I think a lot of the stuff that you outlined that we see, this targeting of Muslims in recent years in France looks very similar to the targeting of foreigners and in particular Germans. You know, when I mentioned foreigners it is mostly exclusively Germans, also Italians, at the end of the 19th century. But while the target of French surveillance and French fears has shifted, those fears still exist. And what I was talking about before about this targeting of Germans during my period, because of this idea of spies as a threat to national defense, to national security, is very similar to the language that French politicians are making today about the need to survey Muslims, to protect the nation, to protect national security. And you are absolutely right, I think Macron, recently, one of the things I read, they are talking about expanding Surveillance digitally. So a problem is that young kids these days use social media and the French want to develop software and the ability to access social media accounts. And so what we see is absolutely a surveillance that in some ways is different because the technology has evolved. Yeah, in some ways it’s different because the technology has evolved, but in other ways it’s more of the same from the past. In fact in 1969 French intelligence authorities in the military and police set up a system called the ‘fiche S’ or S card that to me sounded very equivalent to the carnet b that I saw during my period and the Fiche S, the S Card was a tool to flag suspicious individuals considered a threat to French national security. And its expanded far beyond spies, including certainly Islamist radicals, anarchists, gangsters whatever. And so, do I think this is doing more harm than good. Yes, absolutely the same way that I just explain that I think the targeting of Germans caused more French people to be afraid of Germans and to dislike Germans and to marginalize them and other outsiders to French society. I fear for the result of what this does for Islamic citizens, for Muslim citizens or non-citizens but anyone wearing a headscarf, practicing Islam in France today there is going to be a broader sense among the population that person is a threat. Even though, of course, just like was the case with Germans in France during my period, the mask, mass, mass, mass, majority of them were not threats. So yeah, I do see in this very disturbing parallel. I don’t know where this is going to go. I can see that the terrorist threats that France has undergone and the deaths and the horrible things that have happened are pretty bad. But using it to expand a surveillance net to such a large population is not the answer. And I will just say that this tendency to struggle between a balance between surveillance and civil liberties is hardly an exclusively French phenomenon. I mean, I don’t need to tell you that, while the United States hasn’t officially sanctioned surveillance of Muslims in quite the same way, there definitely have been a number of documented cases of the FBI doing just that. Surveying mosques and identifying particular groups is threatening. So to me, what this comes down to human nature and this tendency to be afraid of others, and in particular others who have maybe at point in time demonstrated a threat, but then to group all of those folks into the same threat category which ultimately, I believe is harmful.
Gary: Well, what’s interesting that we compare the case is when people think mass surveillance, they usually either think China, which, because it’s a more authoritarian state, or they think the United States, because the US is the world superpower, because it has such incredible technologies to monitor people and because there were infamously the Snowden leaks. But what’s fascinating is that, even though the United States has this enormous reputation for spying, if you actually compare just how intrusive domestic surveillance is in the United States compared to Britain, compared to France, so many other developed countries are so much more intrusive and these intelligence agencies can just stomp over civil liberties in a way that the United States can’t. And it is fascinating that with France you do have at least what some people say is the hard course surveillance state that the far right might dream of, and yet they don’t seem to have the same reputation.
Deborah: Yeah, I would definitely agree. I think there is also a degree that we see, both in the United States and in France, that people find themselves not necessarily concerned with the extent of civil surveillance. You know, as you said, after the Snowden leaks it came out that our government has plenty of access to our cellphones. They can tap to various kinds of correspondents all through the national security acts that were passed in the aftermath of 911. But most of us just shrug our shoulders and say, well, I’m not doing anything bad, so it doesn’t matter. And I think that again, that’s kind of a human tendency that we see both among French public and an American public. The French public, to an extent they know that this surveillance exists, but they’ve let it give them a sense of safety, a sense of security, and I think that some Americans feel the same way, that they don’t quite sense, I agree with you that America isn’t quite the surveillance state that France is. But if you think of, for example, the Church Committee in the 1970’s and the revelations that the FBI and CIA had been carrying out so much domestic surveillance, that they had been overthrowing regimes, that they had instituted the MK Ultra programs, it was so shocking and it did usher in a period of government oversight and intelligence activities. But I don’t think that it really curbed the power of our intelligence agencies, and so I don’t know if it’s just occasional posturing that we care that our civil liberties are being violated until it’s actually happened to us as individuals, whether we’re okay with it or not. And I do think again that in the case of France they may remain with the surveillance of Muslims because they’ve been presented with this narrative that Muslims are a threat. And again reflecting the way that I saw in my research that narrative of Germans is a threat, but I think that in the United States we just maybe our intelligence agencies need to do a better job of convincing citizens who the threat is so they can watch all of us.
Gary: Well, I do hope that the NSA agent who is currently listening to this podcast will take those notes to heart and learn something from it along with all our regular listeners unless all of my regular listeners are just agents listening to me. In which case I hope you are having a nice day. I haven’t done anything wrong yet.
Deborah: Me Neither. Me Neither
Gary: All right, thank you so much for being on the show, Doctor Bauer. The book is: Marianne is Watching Intelligence, Counter Intelligence and the Origins of the French Surveillance State. Thank you so much for being on the program.
Deborah: Thank you, Gary, and I’m really grateful to have a captive audience willing to listen to me talk. So thanks so much for inviting me, and good luck to you with everything.