French security services scurry to boost fight against terrorism. Leadership changes, lack of coordination are main problems
Just as the French have gotten up the courage to take a stand against terrorism, many are questioning whether they have adequate weapons in their arsenal. At France's request, interior ministers of the European Community are meeting tomorrow in London to discuss what assistance they can offer to combatting the terrorist attacks that have rocked Paris. British officials report that the French have asked for help from their elite Special Air Services.
These measures emphasize French determination in fighting back. They also reveal a sense of desperation, according to analysts here. In a series of recent disclosures, former French secret service officials claim that years of neglect have left France's secret services rundown and demoralized.
One factor in the disarray in the secret services may be the frequency of leadership changes in recent years.
In 1981, when Fran,cois Mitterrand took over as President, he wanted to clean up what he considered an amoral and overly powerful security apparatus. He replaced the head of the secret services, Alexandre de Marenches, with Pierre Marion.
Mr. de Marenches has just published a bestselling memoir. In it, he says that Mr. Marion ``never showed the slightest desire to see me nor to hear how the organization I had built up and run for 11 years worked.''
On hearing these charges, Marion went public to show thathe, too, was a hard-liner. In an interview with the magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, he said he wanted to assassinate six major terrorist contacts in France in 1982. ``I proposed to Fran,cois Mitterrand to have them elimated physically by my services,'' Marion said. ``The President refused.
Mitterrand replaced the aggressive security chief in 1983 with Adm. Pierre Lacoste. Two years later, Lacoste was sacked in the wake of the bungled French bombing of the Greenpeace flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, in the harbor ofAuckland, New Zealand. It is in this atmosphere that the new director, Gen. Rene Imbot must try to restore morale.
The confused state of intelligence-gathering is evident in the recent attacks. As French police searched for the culprits, their suspicions zeroed in on the brothers and cousins of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, an alleged Lebanese terrorist serving time in a French prison for a minor offense.
But it soon became clear that the French had little knowledge of the Abdallahs. After putting out 200,000 ``wanted'' posters for three Abdallah brothers, all of them showed up in their native village of Kobyat in Syrian-controlled northeast Lebanon.
One Western anti-terrorism expert says that the problem in this case is between France's two secret-service agencies. France's internal security service doesn't have any background on the Abdallahs because they represent a Middle Eastern group, he says. The external security service doesn't have information on any activities of the Abdallahs operating inside France.
Now the French are scrambling to close up the gaps. In addition to deploying troops at the the borders and forcing most foreigners to obtain visas to visit France, Prime Minister Jacques Chirac has ordered other ``secret'' measures. Some analysts speculate that these may even include assassinations by secret service agents.
French security officials have met twice in Paris during the last week with their British counterparts. More formal international cooperation will be discussed Thursday by the European interior ministers. According to French sources, the ministers will attempt to tighten European border controls.
``There is no easy recipe for fighting terrorism,'' warns Daniel Hermant, associate director of the French Instute of Military Studies. ``It takes slow, painstaking, methodical police work.''