Olivier Mas worked for the DGSE (Directorate General External Security) for fifteen years. As the war in Ukraine has been raging for 13 days, this former colonel-turned-youtuber recently devoted a video on his channel to the Russian invasion and the role ‘service’ can play in the conflict.
As an intelligence specialist, he agreed to answer questions from: 20 minutes to explain how the DGSE can obtain information intended to help Emmanuel Macron make the right decisions, to thwart Vladimir Putin’s plans and push him to end the conflict.
What kind of information can the DGSE bring to political power in a crisis like this?
A service such as the DGSE mainly works for the president, but also for the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense or Matignon. The President of the Republic, who is deeply involved in the resolution of the conflict, longs for information and intelligence from these services. I think there are probably daily meetings with his director general of intelligence. When Emmanuel Macron speaks with Vladimir Poutine who is a chess player and manipulates information, it is very important for him to have reliable information so as not to be fooled.
How does the DGSE work to obtain information? How is the work divided with the DRM (the military intelligence service)?
The DRM will be interested in the tactical situation: how are the fighting going, what are the troops present, what are the capabilities of the Ukrainian army to resist, what are the troops involved, what is the level of units committed . .. We’re not going to ask him what’s going on in Putin’s inner circle, what the decision-making is, who the men are who matter… That’s really the job of the DGSE, but also of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the French embassy in Moscow.
But the service has tools that diplomats do not have: it can pay for resources or intercept, for example, text messages from Russian soldiers who are depressed, who desert… The DGSE can know if it is a hoax from the Ukrainians. The latter could try to get more involvement from Europe by trying to prove that Russian morale is half-mast. The DGSE works on the credibility of intelligence.
Does the DGSE’s role also include providing the political authorities with an analysis of the situation, both in terms of the threat from Russia and the effectiveness of sanctions?
They are also expected here. Analyze the impact of the sanctions, propose targets, name certain oligarchs to target… There will be meetings on this subject with other countries, and all countries will propose targets. The work of an intelligence service is therefore central.
Will the DGSE continue to collaborate with other services?
More than ever, we will of course continue to work with our partners. When it comes to counter-terrorism, it’s easy to collaborate with others. This is a conflict in which the interests also intertwine. All major western countries will cooperate easily. The DGSE’s first partner is the US services, which are deeply involved in the conflict. So we’re going to work with them a lot, which will allow us to make progress in Russia, because it’s not easy to work on this country. This crisis, from a strictly technical intelligence point of view, will allow the DGSE to make a qualitative leap over the Russians.
Then everyone wants to work with Ukrainian services. You have to be smart enough to convince them that working with the French is the best way to get results. Emmanuel Macron is deeply involved in the resolution of the conflict, while the United States may seem a bit distant. I will be surprised and disappointed if France and the DGSE do not take advantage of this to cooperate with the Ukrainian services.
Why is it complicated for an intelligence agency to work in Russia?
It is one of the most closed and dangerous countries for a foreign spy, along with Iran, Pakistan and North Korea. This does not mean that nothing can be done about it. However, it is not like in the Legends Office† In the series, what the DGSE is doing in Moscow is not possible! They would be detected right away, it’s not realistic. The Russian services have a lot of resources, and everyone talks to everyone, brings the news, balances to be seen well.
In your experience, is there always an open line with the FSB, the Russian intelligence service?
The DGSE was one of the services most Russians spoke to, it had made this bet. But I think we have to show our bad mood now and that’s part of the attitude. And is it really useful to keep talking to each other? The decision maker is Putin. And Macron speaks to him.
Is DGSE intervention in Ukraine possible?
This is not necessarily helpful unless we are afraid of being led astray by the Ukrainians and see it necessary to see with our own eyes on the spot. We could then send clandestine agents with captions. On the other hand, directing the DGSE’s action service to conduct operations would be very risky as it could lead to an escalation.
† I was someone else and you didn’t know it” by Olivier Mas, Ed.de L’Observatoire, 5 May 2021, 256 pages, 19 euros.