France says to merge police intelligence services
Reuters By Gerard Bon and Jon Boyle – September 13, 2007
PARIS – France is merging its domestic spy service with a police unit perhaps better known for keeping tabs on unions, protesters and the foibles of the great and not-so-good, in order to boost the fight against terrorism.
The merger will take place next year, Interior Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie told a news conference on Thursday at the new headquarters of the joint service, which will be known as the ‘Direction centrale du renseignement interieur’ or DCRI.
‘That is how we will consolidate the quality of the anti-terrorism fight in France, which is recognised around the world,’ Alliot-Marie said at the headquarters of the DCRI, which is already being dubbed the ‘French FBI’.
The move will bring under one roof the Direction de la surveillance du territoire (DST), well-regarded in Europe and the United States for its knowledge of Islamic extremists, and the Renseignements Generaux (RG) police intelligence service.
Housed in a hi-tech new building west of Paris the plan should produce efficiency savings and cut out duplication.
The ‘RG’ has a public order brief to monitor unions, political groups and anti-globalisation activists and also keeps an eye on gambling.
But it has also had a chequered past, and been accused of overstepping the boundary between legitimate surveillance and politically motivated snooping on government opponents.
In February its head admitted the RG had files on 800,000 people who could potentially breach the peace. And it was forced to deny it had spied on an aide to the Socialist presidential candidate or investigated her real estate holdings.
However, in a report shortly before the London suicide bombings of 2005, the RG said al Qaeda planned to attack Britain and would use Britain’s large Pakistani community to strike.
Alain Bauer, a criminologist in charge of body that publishes French crime figures, said the merger was ‘an excellent idea’ happening after 20 years of discussions.
‘We had two intelligence structures, one very political – les Renseignements Generaux – and the other focused on enemies organised by exterior forces.
‘They adapted themselves to the realities without understanding that the internal and external borders had disappeared. The globalisation of crime is a fait accompli.’
Francis Nebot of the Synergie police union said around 400 of the roughly 4,000 officers currently with the RG would be assigned to work with public security police, keeping tabs on demonstrations, hooliganism and urban violence.
Several hundred others will return to uniform duty.