FRANCE the height of international intrigue; Pais copes with a new kind of spy
Paris — The ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu said there were five kind of spies -- ordinary, local, internal, expendable, and double agents. At one time or another, the city of Paris seems to have had to cope with all of these. Now it must counter a new variety: the terrorist.
The Chinese strategist, whose writing amounts to the first systematic study of spying, does not, of course, talk much about terrorists. But terrorists, too , mut spy to survive.
It is the terrorists who are making the headlines in the French capital these days. Because of France's long tradition of grantingk asylum to political dissidents and its liberal immigration laws, Paris holds "the gold medal for terrorism in all categories," according to the french magazine l'Express.
For men working in intelligence and counterintelligence, the ultimate fear is tht one of the terrorist groups, somewhre, someday, will seize a nuclear weapon and then use it as blackmail, threatening what would amount to a suicidal act of war. The other nightmare would be terrorist-instigated sabotage in a time of crisis. But France's counterespionage men are also preoccupied with what they consider to be two more subtle, but perhaps equally significant, threats. These are the quiet, but relentless, efforts of the Soviet Union and its East european allies to: (1) steal French military and technological secrets and (2) mislead French public opinion through "disinformation" -- deceptions and propaganda designed to pass for the truth and for legitimate journalism.
The men charged with coping with this "quiet war" conducted by Soviet and east European spies are the inspectors of the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST), France's internal counterespionage organization. These overworked gentlemen have had a checkered past. They are widely believed to be some of the world's leading phone tappers and bugging experts, and officials of most foreign embassies in Paris assume that the DST is listening in on them.
France's leading satirical newspaper, Le Canard Enchaine, has written numerous articles about the DST's wiretapping. The paper's writer's speak from personal experience. When they moved into their new offices on the Rue ST. Honore not long ago, they ferreted out dozens of microphones, presumably installed by the DST.
What is less well known is tht the men of the DST have nabbed an impressive number of Soviet and East European diplomats engaged in "improper activities" -- namely spying. France believes it has a special relationship of detente with the Soviet Union, and it does not like to publicize the spy war. No one wants to be accused of revving cold-war sentiment, or cold-war rhetoric. Were France to publicize all that is going on, the Soviet Union would surely accuse it of doing just that.
France and other Western countries also fear tht the publicizing the depredations of Soviet and Eat Euopean spies might result in retaliation against their own spies or other citizens. Since the French are believed to have few spies in the Soviet Union or in East Europe, the retaliation would more likely come against innocent officials or citizens who happen to be stationed in those communist nations.
Figures released by a source in touch with the DST are worth noting, even if they fail to get much attention in France: Over the past six years, the French have expelled some 40 Soviet and East European diplomats because of spying. Among them was the Soviet KGB chief in Paris, a big fish indeed, who apparently got himself involved in the dangerous business of gathering intelligence from several French businessmen with defense contracts. Then there was the Soviet consul in Marseilles who tokk a special interest in plans for the latest model of the Mirage fighter plane as well as in French nuclear missiles and submarines.
Even if all of this were given more publicity, however, much of the French public might remain indifferent.
When the former chief of staff of the East German Air Force was arrested in the northern French city of Lille recently, and the DST found him to be carrying documents pertaining to French tanks and anti-tank weapons, it meritd no more than a few lines in most French newspapers. The French have seen it all. And perhaps they feel there are no secrets left anyway.
One afternoon in September 1978 Igor Kouznetsov, a Soviet diplomat based in Paris, seemed to be taking extra precautions to avoid surveillance. The French counterespionage officers of the DST who had been following him for days knew they were finally on to something.
Kouznetsov changed from the Paris Metro to a bus, and then finally took a taxi to an intersection where a white-haired man waited. But first the Soveit diplomat strolled down a side street, reappeared, and then took a last look around before deciding there was no danger of being followed.
Kouznetsov then crossed the street to shake hands with the white-haired Frenchman. The DST inspectors knew a great deal about Kouznetsov, a KGB officer working under cover at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. But on this September afternoon they were more interested in the septuagenarian Frenchman.
When Kounetsov and the Frenchman emerged from a restaurant, the men of DST moved -- at a discreet distance -- behind, in front, and to the side of their man. One of them was behind him when, he arrived at his home. The man was Pierre-Charles Pathe, son of one of the founders of the French cinema industry. The DST began to look into Pathe's background. Ten months later, they were ready to make an arrest.
This time Kouznetsov and Pathe met at the small and nondescript cafe "Au Rendez-vous des amis" not far from the Place Gambetta.
After leaving the cafe, the two men entered a side street. Thinking they were alone, Pathe took an envelope from his portfolio and handed it to Kouznetsov. As the Soviet slipped it inside his coat pocket, the DST swarmed into the street shouting "police." The Russian raised his arms, letting the envelope drop to the ground, swearing all the time that it did not belong to him.
This is how the magazine Paris Match described the arrest of Pierre-Charles Pathe, "agent of influence" for the Soviet Union for 20 years. Pathe, a journalist and publisher of the small bimonthly bulletin, "Synthesis," had been paid by the Soviets to provide them with analyses, reports on political personalities, and lists of subscribers to his review. In addition, he had readily agreed to weave Soviet-provided ideas and analyses into his bulletin.
The "biographies" Mr. Pathe gave the KGB detailed the social, moral, and psychlogical state of industrialists, journalists, and politicians whom he knew. The analyses covered everything from french arms sales to China to the probable state of Franco-Soviet relations in the event of a political takeover by the left. According to Paris Match, Mr. Pathe had also supplied the Russians with information about a member of france's secret intelligence service, the Service de Documentation Exterieure et de Contre Espionnage (SDECE).
Pathe moved in interesting circles. Aman of the world, he was widely liked and respected, according to French press accounts. His articles had appeared in a number of French papers and magazines. Nearly 300 copies of his bimonthly bulletin went to deputies of the French National Assembly.
As far as anyone knows, Pathe never stole any defense secrets for the Russians. But the political intelligence he provided must have been of interest. He hd ben a member of a Gaullist-controlled political movement that aimed at a rapprochement between West and East Europe.
Although his father, the French film industry pioneer, had been a great admirer of the United States, the son, Pierre-Charles had become an admirer of the Soviet Union. Some of his work had been published there and he had had a short-lived marriage with a Soviet beauty queen.
On May 22 of this year, a state security court sentenced Pierre-Charles Pathe to five years in prison because of his work over the years on behalf of nine successive KGB officers. According to the DST, he was part of a Soviet "disinformation," or black propaganda, effort -- a plan aimed at discrediting the reputations of certain persons and institutions while shaping opinion in directions favored by the Soviet Union.
But eventually hte SDECE began to get some compliments. In the past decade, french diplomats say, the service's economic intelligence has improved to the point where it is no longer laughable. A former American military intelligence officer says, with undisguised admiration, that the French have made "remarkable strides" in what would appear to be industrial and technological espionage.
The biggest compliment comes from James R. Schlesinger, former CIA director, who earlier this year told the journal "Politique Internationale, that the French intelligence services "represent something of a model in my mind."
The SDECE is small in comparison to the CIA or the Soviet KGB. Its reach is not global. The focus of its intelligence gathering is first on West Africa, and second on the Middle East. Its headquarters in Paris -- nicknamed "La Piscine" after a nearby swimming pool -- lie behind a yellow brick wall on the Boulevard Mortier.
The SDECE has a staff of only about 2,000 persons. An additional 800 or so are believed to be engaged in monitoring of radio and other communications signals. The organization's budget seems to keep up with inflation and in some years has been reported to have grown at a rate higher than the overall defense budget, from which its funding comes. Parliamentary oversight of the secret service is virtually nonexistent.
Col. Alexandre de Maranches was appointed to reorganize the SDECE 10 years ago. it had been shaken by suspected communist infiltration, links between some of its agents and crime networks, and a purge ordered by Charles de Gaulle after it was revealed that the SDECE had played a role in the kidnapping of a Moroccan dissident.
An acquaintance of the aristocratic, moustachioed Count de maranches said that the SDECE chief is a great admirer of the wisdom contained in "The Art of War," believed to have been written in the 5th century BC by the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu. The book, which happens to have been a favorite of Mao Tse-tung, was also admired by the founder of the West German foreign intelligence service, Reinhard Gehlen. sun Tzu's highest stratagem consists of breaking an opponent's will without fighting.
Colonel de Maranches does not recommend that this aim be adopted by the Western nations against the Soviet Union and its friends. But he apparently belives that this is the approach the Soviets and company have adopted against France and other nations of the West.
As head of the SDECE Colonel de Maranches has tried to bring more professionalism into the service. He has apparently restored once-damaged relations with the CIA. But the secret service has not been able to offer the prestige or salaries needed to attract top-flight French university graduates to fight France's "invisible wars." It has attracted some dedicated militry officers, and they constitute much of the leadership of French intelligence.
But the SDECE still appears to be plagued by infighting. Only two weeks ago, col. Alain de Gaigneron de Marolles, head of intelligence gathering in the service, quit after only one year in that key position. A leading French daily, Le Monde, said that Colonel de Marolles was the fifth officer to leave that post since de Maranches took over the service a decade ago.
Le Monde indicated that de Marolles may have left the service largely as a result of differences over French policy toward North and black Africa. It cited an unnamed Israeli secret service source as saying that de Marolles had helped coorinate Egypt's border clash with libya in 1977 and that in his latest position he had favored forming a Libyan government in exile: (Throughits oil wealth and sometimes through military aid, Libya has worked against French interests in black Africa.)
According to le Monde, de Maranches has long wanted to give higher priority to intelligence gathering, with the implication that secret "action," such as de Marolles was reported to be advocating, ought to be given lower priority.
Indeed, there are indications that the French leadership has relied less in recent years that it used to on the French secret service for intervention in black Africa. A turning point may have come after several coup attempts in the 1950s and '60s against Guinea's President Sekou Toure were badly bungled. In 1979, when French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing decided to oust Central Africa's Emperoor Bokassa I, he is reported to have turned to a new intelligence group inside the French Army to do most of the job.
Jean Mauricheau-Beaupre, Gaullist, critic of President Giscard d'Estaing, and adviser to theIvory Coast's President Flix Houphouet-Boigny, contends that the SDECE is not capable of clandestine action. Mauricheau-Beaupre is no stranger to coups. He said that among other things he had advised an Army regiment which revolted against Ghana's President Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. (In essence, his message to the Ghanaian Army unit was simple: "Rise, and march.")
"As for the SDECE, you are making a mistake to treat them as a serious subject for serious study," declared Mauricheau-Beaupre. "They are clowns, monsieur, Clowns!
"You say they are supposed to have improved their economic reporting? Fine. They would make good commercial attaches. But not a serious secret service, monsieur. Never!" East-bloc assasins at work
The assassination attempt against Vladimir Kostov in 1978 did not cause much of a stir in Paris, where such events have become almost a regular occurrence. But the Kostov case could have broader significance.
Kostov, a Bulgarian newsman, thinks he has three good reaons why Bulgarian attakers came after him and his compatriot Georgi Markov two years ago.
* The Bulgarian leadership was clearly stung by the broadcasts mace by the two men following their defections from Bulgaria. They had criticized the Sophia regime on Radio Free Europea, an organization that broadcasts to East Europe and is largely funded by the US Congress. (Radio Free Europe used to get financial support from teh CIA, but that support is said to have ended some time ago.)
* The attacks were meant to warn others not to follow the examples of Markov and Kostov.
* Markov, a writer of distinction, and Kostov, a leading television newsman, were in a sense members of a family: the Bulgarian communist elite. Mr. Markov, who was killed in London in September 1978, had once known Todor Zhivkov, first secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party and chairman of the state council. The defection of the two men created something of a family feud.
Another Bulgarian defector, Stephans Sverdlev, formerly of the Bulgarian police, is convinced that the attacks on the two Bulgarians could not have occurred without the knowledge and endorsement of the Soviet Union. Bulgaria is tied to the Soviet Union more tightly than any other East European nation.
Kostov said he once had a friend in the Bugarian secret service who told him there was an understanding that the Soviets had a right to recruit their own agents -- directly from the Bulgarian service.
The newsman described the Bulgarian organization as well financed and said its special training school near Sophia produced men who were better prepared to work overseas than were regular diplomats.
After being assigned to paris, Mr. Kostov himself had been asked to cooperate with the secret service whenever necessary. he was require to report in detail all contacts and conversations he had with foreigners. He said that men who made it to the top of the secret service as well as other government services in Bulgaria were for the most part cynical rather than ideological in their outlook. Some he said, were disillusioned. But onece they reached the top, the privileges they received were considerable.
Toward the end of the 1950s, Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev apparently ordered a halt to assassinations of dissidents -- at least overseas. If the attacks on Messrs. Markov and Kostov mark a revival of such action, their significance is greater than the limited press coverage would suggest. 'Disinformation' -- a personal note
Having been the intended conveyor of at least one piece of "disinformation," I must admit to a strong prejudice against such operations.
In February 1973, when I was working as a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor in Saigon, a Vietnamese was introduced to me as a person who had information about two colleagues of mine missing in Cambodia.
The man professed to be in touch with someone connected witht he communist-dominated provisional revolutionary government of South Vietnam. He claimed to be a in a position to know what had happened to Dana Stone, free-lance photographer then working for CBS news, and Sean Flynn, then working for Time Magazine.
I had my doubts about the man but listened to what he told me and passed it on to another reporter who was trying to locate the missing newsmen. I had been witht the two only minutes before they were captured in April 1970 next to a burning automobile in the Parrot's Beak region of Cambodia. It was assumed that Vietnamese communist troops had captured them, then perhaps turned them over to Khmer Rouge guerrillas. My Vietnamese informant said the two were still alive.
One day the Vietnamese arrived with a new story to tell. He had it written out in longhand on several sheets of paper. It was a sensational story: There had been a battle at the communist headquarters near the Cambodian border, with one faction of communist leaders -- allof them South Vietnamese -- pitted against a northern faction. North Vietnamese troops were called in to fight the southerners. A top leader was wounded. Another purged.
It seemed unblievable that the communist leadership, which had shown extraordinary unity throughout the war, would suddently be torn by such dissension. But the story seemed too hot to ingnore. I checked key aspects of it, but got nowhere.
Within a week or two I learned that a respected colleague from a prestigious West European newspaper had published the story. It was picked up by the British Broadcasting Corporation, and it created a sensation in Saigon. I later learned that my European colleague had been presented with a tape recording of a communist official describing what had happened.
When it turned out that most aspects of the story were wrong, however, my European colleague was devastated. Having first been congratulated for his scoop, he was now besieged with anxious queries from his newspaper.
Years later, a communist defector indicated to another colleague of mine that there had, been an incident near communist headquarters at that time -- but not of such sensational magnitude.
Whoever planted that story -- and I suspect it was "black propaganda" specialists of the South Vietnamese government -- must have been delighted with the result. A left-of- center European newspaper of considerable standing had run a story about a major split in the communist leadership. The BBC had picked the dissension story up and played it back to Vietnam, and the BBC had great credibility among the Vietnamese.
Even onece the story was denied, doubts might have been created among some of the men who were fighting for the supposedly divided communist leadership. Damage to a reputable newsman's credibility might have been a secondary aim of the operation. The man who tried to give the story to me never showed up again.
Fomer CIA men whom I have interviewed recently said that their propaganda specialists would not have tried to plant such a story. For one thing, they said, the CIA's propaganda efforts were more sustained in those days.
But one should perhaps recall ex-CIA man John Stockwell's account of how the Washington Post once unwittingly published a CIA-planted story to the effect that Soviet advisers were operating inside Angola during that country's civil war. A dissllusioned spy moves West
For Ladislav Bittman, spying began as a game of wits but ended in disillusionment.
Mr. Bittman, a Czech now living and working in the United States under a new name, was at one point deputy chief int he Department for Black Propaganda and Disinformation in Prague. Under the cover of press attache in Vienna, he later ran agents for the Czech secret service. According to Bittman, East-bloc spies had deeply penetrated Austria.
One of his disinformation service's greatest coups came in 1964 when it planted Nazi documents in a lake in Czechoslovakia, knowing that they would be found and would create the impression that many Nazis held high positions in West Germany.
"I'm still a little proud of that one," he said, recalling what was known in the Czech secret service as Operation Neptune.
But in 1968, after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Bittman called it quits and drove from Vienna to the West German border, where he told the German police he was seeking asylum in the United States.
"In the disinformation business, you are trying to misuse peope, and all your thinking is negative," he said. "You are not building human beings up. You are tearing them down."
He said that quite a few members of the Czech secret service whom he knew became "paranoid" and that there were at least 10 to 15 suicides among them in the 1960s.
"Many of my colleagues suspected every second person in Prague of being a West German or an American intelligence agent," he said.
Bittman said he became a member of the Communist Partyat the arly age of 15. His mother and his father, a welder, ahd been party members. He felt honored when asked to become a member of the Czech intelligence service. Disillusionment began about the time the Soviets moved into Hungary in 1956.
In Austria, he said, the Czech secret service was successful to the point where it knew of a few decisions before Austrian Cabine ministers did, in the fields of counterintelligence and foreign trade. Czech trade negotiators knew in advance what their Austrain counterparts' bargaining tactics would be.
"There were no secrets in Austria," Bittman declared.
None of the austrian agents who were recruited to work for him in the 1960s were Marxist-Leninsts. "They were either bought, blackmailed, or doing it for adventure."
The former secret service man said his best agent in Austria was a wealthy businessman who held dinner parties for important people and played the role of a conservative. At the same time, according to Bittman, the agent did not believe in communism.
"He was one of those agents who enjoyed the danger and the intrigue," Bittman said. "It helped to maintain his vitality."
Within hours after Bittman made his escape to West Germany, the Czech secret service arranged to bring the Austrian agent to Czechoslovakia.
The adjustment was difficult for Bittman when he first came to the United States. For a few years, he said, he had recurring nightmares in which Czech secret service men chased him. He later learned that the Czech service was, indeed, trying to find him and had devised a plan to have Cubans kidnap him and bring him to Czechoslovakia by way of Cuba.
How can one spot a communist intelligence officer?
"The intelligence officer is much more tolerant and unorthodox than a regular diplomat," he said. "He will feel far less threatened if he id detected doing something unusual . . . . He can just say it's just part of the tactics.
"The intelligence man will be more willing to make mistakes, and from time to time he might criticize the government as a means of drawing people out and gaining their friendship."
Third in a six-part on spy wars. Next: The two Germanys meet head on.