Directorate-General for External Security

The Directorate-General for External Security (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, DGSE) is France’s foreign intelligence agency. It was formed on April 2, 1982 to replace the former Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (SDECE). Its motto is Partout où nécessité fait loi ("In every place where necessity makes law").


Official status

The DGSE was formed under the authority of the French ministry of defense, and made responsible for "searching and exploiting intelligence which is relevant to the security of France, as well as detecting and finding external espionage activities directed against French interests in order to prevent their consequences".


The DGSE includes the following services:

  • Directorate of Administration
  • Directorate of Strategy
  • Directorate of Intelligence
    • Technical Division - Responsible for electronic intelligence and devices
    • Operations Division - Responsible for planning & security
    • Action Division - Responsible for clandestine operations

Action Division

The action division (Division Action) is responsible for planning and performing clandestine operations. It also fulfills other security-related operations such as testing the security of nuclear power plants (as it was revealed in Le Canard Enchaîné in 1990) and military facilities such as the submarine base of the Île Longue, Bretagne. The division's headquarters are located at the fort of Noisy-le-Sec.

The action division's directors were:

  • 1971–1976 : colonel André Devigny
  • 1976–1980 : colonel Gaigneron de Marolles
  • 1980–1982 : colonel (later général) Georges Grillot
  • 1982 – November 1984 : colonel Jean-Pol Desgrees du Lou
  • November 1984–1986 : colonel Jean-Claude Lesquier
  • 1986 – September 1987 : colonel (later général de brigade) Jean Heinrich
  • September 1987 – December 1989 : colonel Pierre-Jacques Costedoat
  • December 1989 – ? : Christian Vie

The current action division originated from the SDECE's action service (Service Action or SA. Service Action is still commonly used). The action division has a "tank" of paramilitary operatives coming mainly from the French Army, often at least from the paras, and some from special forces. Since the early 1980s, the service action is divided in three main parts : commandos, combat divers and air support.

The commandos were originally chunked in the "11e Choc" (11e Bataillon Parachutiste de Choc, 11th Shock Parachutist Battalion, later 11th Shock Parachutist Demi-Brigade), created in 1946. The 11e Choc was disbanded in 1963 because its officers were suspected to be French Algeria supporters. Consequently, its missions were partly given to military special forces units, especially the 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment and the 13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment. After the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, the "11e Choc" was re-raised in 1985 as the 11th Shock Parachutist Regiment. The unit was disbanded in 1993 among other various changes of French armed forces following the end of the cold war. DGSE commandos are since based in three "training centers", the CPIS, the CPES and the CPEOM.

The commando Hubert originally included servicemen from both French Navy and Army. The unit soon split in two, the army soldiers being transferred to the Centre d'Instruction des Nageurs de Combat (CINC, combat divers training center, nicknamed Ajax) assigned to "11e Choc". In the aftermath of the disastrous Rainbow Warrior affair, the CINC was officially disbanded, and the DGSE combat divers were transferred in the CPEOM.

The air support of DGSE operations is provided by a French Air Force unit, the Groupe Aérien Mixte 00.056 (GAM 56) "Vaucluse", heir of a Free French Forces special duties flight.


The DGSE headquarters, codenamed CAT (Centre Administratif des Tourelles), are located at 141 Boulevard Mortier in the XXe arrondissement in Paris, approximately 1 km northeast of the Père Lachaise Cemetery. The building is often referred to as La piscine ("the swimming pool") because of the nearby Piscine des Tourelles of the French Swimming Federation.

A project named "Fort 2000" was supposed to allow the DGSE headquarters to be moved to the fort of Noisy-le-Sec, where the Action Division was already stationed. However, the project was often disturbed and interrupted due to lacking funds, which were not granted until the 1994 and 1995 defense budgets. The allowed budget passed from 2 billion francs to one billion, and as the local workers and inhabitants started opposing the project, it was eventually canceled in 1996. The DGSE instead received additional premises located in front of the Piscine des Tourelles.

Size and importance

  • As of 2007 the DGSE employed a total of 4,620 agents. In 1999, the DGSE was known for employing a total of 2,700 civilians and 1,300 Officers or Non Commissioned Officers in its service.
  • It also benefits from an unknown number of voluntary correspondents (spies) both in France and abroad. These do not appear on the government's list of civil servants and are referred to with the title of "honorable correspondant" (honourable correspondent).
  • The DGSE is directly supervised by the Ministry of Defense.


The DGSE's budget is entirely official (it is voted upon and accepted by the French parliament). It generally consists of about €270M, in addition to which are added special funds from the Prime Minister (often used in order to finance certain operations of the Action Division). How these special funds are spent has always been kept secret.

Some known yearly budgets include:

  • 1991: FRF0.9bn
  • 1992: F1bn
  • 1997: F1.36bn
  • 1998: F1.29bn
  • 2007: €450M, plus €36M in special funds

According to Claude Silberzahn, one of its former directors, the agency's budget is divided in the following manner:




Various tasks and roles are generally appointed to the DGSE:

Counter-intelligence on French soil is not conducted by the DGSE but by the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST).

Historical operations

Known agents

See also

External links

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