French intelligence services in crisis following Paris attacks

Following the attacks on Paris on Friday, the French government is scrambling to upgrade its intelligence capabilities which have suffered from under recruitment.

Bataclan Theatre where at least 89 people were killed (Wikimedia Commons/Maya-Anaïs Yataghène)
Bataclan Theatre where at least 89 people were killed (Wikimedia Commons/Maya-Anaïs Yataghène)

The jihadist attacks in Paris on Friday have jolted the French government into action amid accusations that the intelligence services are understaffed and not sufficiently connected to the international intelligence community.

The sheer scale of the attack has shocked everyone and the reaction of the Government this week has been different than its response to the attack in January against Charlie Hebdo.

Then, French President Francois Hollande promptly rejected extraordinary measures. On Friday night, after having summoned a special council of ministers, the President declared a state of emergency, reintroduced checks at the EU borders and required the presence of 1,500 soldiers in Paris.

The day after the attacks, Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, stated once again his willingness to take all the necessary measures to face the threat, including the deportation of the radical imams, the withdrawal of citizenship for all those who have dual nationality and have been sentenced by a French court. 

"More than ten thousand persons are under investigation,” the French Prime Minister said.

They have been filed by the Intelligence with the letter S, which stands for “threat to state security”.

He also highlighted that “the recent intelligence law shall allow the public security forces to follow the movements of the most ‘problematic' elements”. 

Only last month, Valls announced an overarching cyber-security strategy for France. 

Last Monday, before the Congress, Hollande asked for the amendment of Articles 16 and 36 of the Constitution, stating they are not suitable for a state of war. He also reaffirmed the adoption of all the measures already planned, disclosing the allocation of new resources to the public security forces, with the recruitment of 5,000 soldiers from both the police and the gendarmerie, 2,500 units in the area of justice and 1,000 intended for the border guard officers.

In this framework of special measures, the intelligence service will also enjoy more powers and freedom of action.

Hollande kept things vague in his speech, but some target measures are likely to round off the solutions already provided for by the intelligence law approved last April, so far rarely applied.  

They shall mainly aim at giving the intelligence service the ability to monitor all individuals suspected of being involved in extremist activities - a goal they failed to meet so far due to skills shortages caused by a delayed recruitment of the resources needed, resources that today are described as absolutely essential.

According to the services' estimates, more than 1,500 French citizens went to Iraq and Syria in the last months, among whom at least 250 returned to France.

Furthermore, the names of 11,000 suspected persons are listed on the database of the French intelligence services. This figure is too high for the limited armed forces of the French intelligence, which, according to a report of Le Monde, are overwhelmed by warnings.

"The current structure of the services is not appropriate to the threat," Olivier Hassid, head editor of Sécurité & Stratégie, said during an interview given to SudRadio.

“It is necessary to enhance the local intelligence structures, in terms of both technical and effective means," Philippe Dominati, senator and member of the Finance Committee, added.

Also for these reasons, the services are facing harsh criticism. Valls, who did not hesitate to defend their actions, extended a helping hand, stating, “they have not failed anyway.”

According to The Guardian, in the last months the French services have foiled at least six attacks planned by Islamic militants. However, the French services are scared by the rapid organisation and execution of the attacks, together with the involvement of several French citizens in violent actions both in France and abroad.  

In this scenario, the willingness of the intelligence services to test their skills on the field cannot be excluded. Also on the international level, this situation could foster a greater intelligence cooperation among the European allies and the USA.

The WSJ reports that the US has supplied its intelligence support to coordinate the French bombing on Raqqa, the headquarters of ISIS in Syria, the place where the attacks in Paris were conceived and planned.

France, moreover, could also put greater pressure on the US, asking it to accept its request to join Five Eyes, the post-war intelligence alliance comprising the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

As the country adopts stricter security measures, observers try to understand what the new policies might bring.

According to Le Monde,Hollande repeatedly recalls the values of the Republic and the respect for fundamental freedoms and rights, but at the same time he is tightening the country's security laws. This erosion of civil liberties currently has few opponents.