France’s spy service bulks up amid terror threats
PARIS: There's no French James Bond. But a new push may set the stage for one.
France's secretive international spy agency, the DGSE, is recruiting hundreds of people and getting a budget boost, despite frugal times, to better fend off threats like terrorism and nuclear proliferation. France's answer to the CIA is buffing its image as well, with its first-ever spokesman and a new website.
The move follows hostagetakings abroad, bomb scares at the Eiffel Tower and fallout from WikiLeaks' publication of secret U.S. diplomatic cables. France is also set to ban facecovering Islamic veils, which has roiled Muslim extremists around the world and drawn threats from Al-Qaida.
The DGSE changes have been long in coming, part of France's efforts to beef up its network of intelligence operatives as called for in a top-tobottom security review completed in 2008.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative government is sticking to the review's blueprint even as U.S. and British intelligence agencies are facing cutbacks, and despite the economic crisis that has pinched state pockets across Europe.
France's draft 2011 budget would give the DGSE a 13-percent funding hike - just a year after France hit a record-high 7.7 percent budget deficit. The agency is adding 500 staff jobs over the next five years, and the prime minister recently inaugurated a new national Intelligence Academy.
It's a big boost for an agency that's little known, despite having agents in hot spots around the world. -Ap