Prior to World War II the principal French intelligence agencies consisted of the Deuxième Bureau, headed by General Gauché, and Col. Louis Rivet’s Service de Renseignements. After the collapse in June 1940, Charles de Gaulle created a new organization in London, the Bureau Centrale de Renseignements et d’Action, headed by André Dewavrin, alias Colonel Passy. It was amalgamated in January 1942 with Captain Lagier’s Service Action, and in November 1944 became the Direction Générale des Études et de Recherche. After the war Dewavrin was appointed the first chief of the Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (SDECE) but was arrested on embezzlement charges and replaced in 1946 by a socialist politician, Henri Ribière. In April 1982 the SDECE was renamed the Direction Générale de Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) following a series of scandals that implicated the Elysée Palace in high-risk clandestine operations and drug smuggling.
Top-level political interference in French intelligence operations has been a characteristic of the DGSE, and the two internal security agencies, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST) and the police Renseignements Generaux, have frequently undertaken illegal investigations of the political opponents of successive presidents. Such activities had become institutionalized to the point of establishing a secret telephone-tapping center, located under Les Invalides in Paris, which monitored targets nominated by the president’s private office.