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"Voyage sous les jupes de la République": la France et l'espionnage
Yves Bertrand was the French spy chief for 12 years. His private and embarrassing notebooks from this period were seized by judges recently as part of an investigation. Extracts were published in Le Point, a French magazine last week.
A loyal supporter of Chirac’s clan, fired by Sarkozy in 2004, Yves Bertrand could be sued for invasion of privacy, malicious accusation, forgery and use of forgery and concealment. However he continues to claim he was only doing his job.
So, these notebooks are the cause of much embarrassment in France and especially in the elite which is directly concerned. For instance Bertrand has written that Nicolas Sarkozy had an affair four years ago with a woman who is the wife of one of his current minister. Rather awkward...
A former minister is qualified as “hooked on sex and cocaine”, another one as "gay" and another one as a "pedophile"? A lot of personalities are suddenly realizing that they have been watched for quite some time now.
On an other note, the way with which the French media has delt with all this gossip should be appreciated. Most of the time, names are kept secret and big scandals aren’t aired. Think about what our invassive UK press would be doing in the same situation. Contrary to traditional stereotypes, the French appear to be much more coy... Moreover these notebooks are not only subjet to gossips but to deep concerns too. In fact they point out a burning issue: To what extent are French people watched in their daily lives? Does the French Republic really need to know what’s going on in the bedroom to ensure its safety?
In fact it seems that it remains more of a Nixonian bad habit than an issue of national security. This case appears to confirm RG’s reputation (“Renseignements Généraux”, secret intelligence) for being a tool for the President to get rid of his opponents.
Yves Bertrand was actually Chirac’s right-hand man. Critics have always claimed that he was running a “dark cabinet” to eliminate rivals at all costs. For instance Lionel Jospin’s past as a Trotskyist had been revealed by Yves Bertrand to weaken him. Nicolas Sarkozy and all his entourage had been spied on, looking for something to torpedo his career since Chirac and his clan hate him. When Johnny Halliday had been accused of rape by Vo, her lawyer had been taken under surveillance since, as Bernadette Chirac reminds us: “ French people don’t like it when Jonnhy is attacked.” Maybe it is just unproved rumours but they could certainly have been used for blackmailing some people or to weaken some careers. The Republic may have a darker side than previously imagined under its surface of "insoussiance and joie de vivre".
And what about your average person? Can they be spied on too? It’s obvious that France has a strong surveillance culture: French people were spied on not only during the Nazi Occupation but anytime. Nowadays this is made possible by the 1991 law which allows the French spy agency to put under surveillance any person who “plays a significant political, economic, social or religious role.” So the RG alone is supposed to hold files on at least 2.5 million people. Moreover, recently Nicolas Sarkozy’s government wanted to extend the number of people and the subjetcs which can be spied on (health and sexual preferences). However there was a major outcry: French people have their limits and are becoming increasingly aware that spying could be turning more professional. Is this possible? Who could imagine that the RG was looking through bedroom keyholes instead of taking care of France and preventing terrorism?