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Bernard Squarcini: “The Reform of Intelligence is Paramount”

January 9, 2015

Arcanum Senior Advisor Bernard Squarcini Interviewed by Corse Matin

Translated from French

The former head of Internal Intelligence provides informed analysis on the current political situation. For a long time, he has been publicly calling for the implementation of a law that would allow services to act effectively in advance of specific situations.

He had for a long time held the reins as director of Homeland Security before having been named, in 2008, head of the Central Directorate of Internal Intelligence (DCRI). Bernard Squarcini published with Etienne Pellot in November 2013, a book called French Information: New Challenges (Ellipses), in which he outlined its roadmap for fundamental reform of the French intelligence services and create a framework law on to the business intelligence and specific offenses to fight against radical Islam. With his knowledge of terrorist workings and experience (he had neutralized a network including the GIA, the armed Islamist group, responsible for a wave of bombings in the country in 1995), the former head of the French intelligence appears as one of the most appropriate experts to provide his perspective on the current tragedy.

Given current evidence, this situation is not the isolated act of a visionary, but a carefully planned killing. 

Indeed, this is a targeted action that was intended to create chaos in a time of political transition and in both national and religious arenas. An action that has obeyed a very determined military modus operandi, with the knowledge of locations and the knowledge of the organization of the newspaper. They were able to penetrate a building that was under surveillance and already in a protected area in Paris, in the proximity of police headquarters.

The burning question is this: was it possible, in your opinion, to have the intelligence to prevent this massacre?

Yes, everything is possible. The question was never whether a large-scale attack would take place on French soil but of when. Now, faced with a resolution and a determination of the intensity and given the dramatic toll of the attack against the press and freedom of the press, we can always say that everything is insufficient. It was only after the flight of these heavily armed gunman that the perimeter was secured, since the gunmen could always launch another attack – a gunman could be near a truck bomb to target political, legal, religious, media that came to the premises after the attack. 

In November 2011, the office of Charlie Hebdo was destroyed in an arson, cartoonists and newspaper editors were subjected to threats. The system in place to protect did not work and that’s what is very disturbing.

There are people who are improperly protected, others who should be and those that have none. I know that there is an ongoing debate in the Interior Ministry to update the procedure currently in place, but it’s still not enough. We need additional resources, we need to create – as I have been saying for nearly three years – a framework law dedicated to information and services that will give them the legal means to fill the gaps that exist today and act more effectively. I even spoke of a national pact between citizens and political power. It is essential to tackle it face the murderous fanaticism, today more than ever.

Where do you think the killers are from – are they foreigners or from the Ile-de-France itself?

The investigation will determine that. Referring to witness testimonies, they did not have accents, which may mean that we are dealing with French converts to radical Islam. We are witnessing the return of jihadists in France. Before there were a handful that would leave for terrorist-held lands. Today, there are 1,200 departures per year, often entire families and we know that 5 to 10% return with the intent to harm our Republic. In the face of this ever-changing threat, we need a high degree of international cooperation that will combat this threat effectively. But this cooperation – though strong with Algeria – is nonetheless low with countries such as Morocco and Tunisia and has become non-existent with Syria and Libya. This is an initiative that needs to be reconstructed.

In the immediate term, are there all means available to stop the killers?

This is all the work of the judicial police that have triggered the scientific investigations at the scene. The escape route is very commonplace and there are the testimonies and video images that need to be screened. There is a whole arsenal of logistics that is likely to quickly mobilize advanced and in-depth research. It is a painstaking job.

The interior minister has raised the Vigipirate Plan stage “warning attack.” We can not do anything more?

No, not easily anyways. We must protect schools, public facilities, ports and airports, places of worship, department stores, etc., all potential targets. We must raise the level of sandbags, so to speak.

Should we fear more pre-planned attacks?

One must always fear them. It is likely that the first attack has been attributed to a certain group; and when the group in whose name the killers acted is known, we can assess the danger of recidivism. Highest vigilance is obviously needed on the entire territory. 

The Muslim community obviously does not have to justify itself in the face of such carnage; but is it necessary to protect them to prevent other violence?

Of course, one can fear a stigma that has no place to be there. It is a serious and grave time right now; it is a solemn appeal to the national consensus.

In conclusion, do you think that France is well-equipped to deal with this type of indiscriminate killings?

I said just now, faced with these terrorists who are not afraid of anything, the state still lacks legal means to allow services to prevent attacks by focusing on a mission to conduct pre-emptive work. Here, we are still in the mouth-hole patching. I explained at length with Manuel Valls. We must seize this moment of great national unity to develop a real legislative project. This is technical, not political.