Russian honeytraps useless against French spies … their wives already know

French spies
French spies - PhotoAlto/Eric Audras
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Honeytraps do not work on French spies because their wives are used to them having affairs, a television documentary about France’s equivalent of MI6 has revealed.

Intelligence agents in the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) said that their Russian enemies came to realise that blackmail over taking lovers was ineffective.

The stock phrase in response was “Go ahead, my wife already knows” one agent said in the Making of Secret Agents, a 90-minute documentary that gained unprecedented access to the spy agency over several weeks. It was set to air on French public TV channel France 2 on Tuesday night.

The agent known only as Nicolas, whose voice and face were blurred, says: “Defectors from the Soviet Union used to talk about the ‘French paradox’, namely if you surprised a Frenchman with a mistress by telling him, we’ve caught you red-handed with a 22-year-old called Tatyana, work for us or we’ll tell your wife, it didn’t work.

“That was because he generally said: ‘Go ahead, show her, she’ll understand,’ or ‘she already knows about it’.”

However, a secret agent’s life is a far cry from James Bond, bar “the odd vodka martini”, according to one agent. Instead, it is inhabited by “ordinary people doing extraordinary things using exceptional means”, according to Bernard Emié, France’s spy chief until December 2023.

The decision to open the doors to the agency appears partly in response to the negative press the DGSE has received for a string of apparent recent setbacks.

In one key sequence, Mr Emié, 65, vigorously defends claims French intelligence was caught napping when Russian forces had massed at the Ukrainian border in February 2022.

While Britain and America publicly warned that Russian president Vladimir Putin had the firm intention of invading Ukraine “in the coming days”, even pointing out false flag operations in real time, the French continued to deny any invasion was imminent.

President Emmanuel Macron was fiercely criticised for continuing to talk to Putin despite the military build-up.

“When Russia unleashed its war on Ukraine, the DGSE had the same technical information as its American partners,” insisted Mr Emié. “The problem is then how you exploit and analyse that information and the way in which you think an event will or won’t take place,” he said.

“The CIA made the totally respectable decision to divulge the intelligence it had with the aim of dissuading the Russians from launching their operation. This is a policy that we don’t pursue.

“But in terms of intelligence, we had the same level of knowledge. In plain terms, nobody was party to someone within President Putin’s entourage with access to his personal way of thinking.”

Shot at ‘Anglo-Saxons’

In one jab at “Anglo-Saxons”, the documentary cites agents who claim they provided photographic evidence that disproves American claims that the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was building missiles that could carry weapons of mass destruction. The agent said the Americans mixed up images of rolled-up carpets in a factory and petrol pipeline tubing with missiles.

Anglo-Saxons also tended to “throw more money at seeking to make contacts”, while the French rely more heavily on ulterior motives.

The documentary includes interviews with agents explaining why they joined, and sequences of them learning to handle firearms and self-defence.

New agents are sent out into Paris to try to make new contacts. One has to chat with an Irish rugby fan and get his email address with an offer of free tickets for the next game. The plan works.

French intelligence assumes that 90 per cent of attempts to create new foreign sources will end in failure, and 10 per cent success, “just like in real life”.

Surveillance techniques

Some surveillance techniques are shown. For example, one agent displays how he replaces an HDMI cable in an office with another including a small SD card that records all video coming through such as Zoom calls.

Another explains how she leads a double life running a real business with employees and clients but also carrying out a second mission via that company collecting intelligence.

Agents explain how hard it is to keep their jobs from their families, with one saying they learn not to ask questions.

One unnamed agent said: “Most secret agents of the DGSE are under diplomatic cover in embassies. It’s not James Bond. We don’t have a Walther PPK in our pocket. The odd vodka martini is possible.

“In general, we rely more on subtleness and discretion and rigorous handling of communications means than an M4 or a Glock [both types of guns].”

The documentary opens with members of the DGSE making a distinction between “secret agent” and “spy”, which is a narrower job title and only part of the activity of the agency. The secret agent’s role is to “gather information abroad to protect France”.

However, this often happens from behind a desk.

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