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Espionage and counter-espionage

Espionage and counter-espionage

The military secret service

The Intelligence Office was created in 1871; it was principally concerned with counter-espionage activities. From 1886 to 1894, Lieutenant Colonel Sandherr was the head of what was known as the "statistics section." Directly attached to the under-secretary of the General Staff Office for logistical matters, the Office principally reported to the War Minister. It was secretly funded, and kept lists of foreigners to be arrested in case of war, and also kept files on both foreigners and French nationals "suspected from a national point of view."

Through its network of spies-who were particularly numerous in Alsace and Moselle-and its military attachés placed in French embassies who sumitted valuable reports, the army attempted to uncover the secrets of its potential powerful enemies. Other agents were assigned to hunt out foreign spies in France; they also kept an eye on journalists, MPs and foreign embassies in Paris, whose coded messages were systematically decoded at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A culture of conspiracy

These activities overlapped those of the Direction de la Sûreté Générale at the Ministry of the Interior. Nevertheless, even though the Paris Prefect of Police used secret funds to finance agents in every department-and even outside of France, particularly in Berlin and Rome-, the army was the main vehicle of espionage and counter-espionage. This was a result of the Law of 18 April 1886, aimed at safeguarding "progress achieved in the various departments of the army" and the confidentiality "concerning subjects that the army's interests require to keep secret."

In compliance with clauses in France's penal code concerning offences against national defense, various convictions for passing information were pronounced against people who were in contact with Germany, as well as with the United States and other foreign powers.

Even though it justified the existence of these special departments, the information that was secretly gathered encouraged a conspiracy culture that, according to General Bach, encouraged those involved to not question information obtained from secret sources. This trusting attitude had an influence on the way in which anti-Dreyfusard sentiments were forged.


The former French spy testifies at Rennes

Floor plans of the offices of the military secret service



Cracking down on foreign spies in France

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