After a series of scandals that rocked the French spying community in the recent months, the French external security service agency, DGSE, was once again in the spotlight this week.

According to the Turkish Daily Sabah, a recent operation by Türkiye’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) uncovered an espionage ring linked to France’s Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE). Led by Syrian national Ahmet Katie, the ring supplied false information and papers to French intelligence, which sought to defame Türkiye over the alleged mistreatment of refugees seeking to leave Türkiye.

The ring was linked to Paris-based Collectif des Amis d’Alep, a nonprofit organization they were introduced to through French intelligence. The captured suspects were also promised asylum in France, according to security sources. Three espionage suspects are currently in prison, preceding their trial.

This follows a recent demanteling of the network of DGSE in Azerbaijan as well. To remind, On December 26, French Ambassador to Azerbaijan Anne Boillon was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where she was informed that two employees of the French Embassy had been declared personae non gratae by the Azerbaijani government because of their activities incompatible with their diplomatic status and contrary to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. They were ordered to leave the territory of Azerbaijan within 48 hours.

In Burkina Faso, four French civil servants, intelligence agents according to a Burkinabè sources, and computer maintenance technicians according to the French diplomatic ones, were arrested in Ouagadougou at the beginning of December, in a context of very tense relations between Burkina Faso and France.

“The French government takes note of the ongoing legal proceedings, but rejects accusations that these technicians were sent to Burkina Faso for reasons other than their computer maintenance work. He requests their return to France without delay”, concluded this diplomatic source in response to the arrests.

According to a European diplomat who decided to speak anonymously, these French people “are known to their Burkinabe colleagues”.

Such a string of failures in the intelligence community are quite rare and it seems there was more to them as even prior to all of the problems the French security agencies experienced abroad, the French government decided to make a change.

In the end of decemeber, France’s domestic intelligence chief was appointed to head the country’s DGSE foreign espionage service. Nicolas Lerner replaced a career diplomat as head of the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE). It is the first time that a former head of the Directorate-General for Internal Security (DGSI) has become chief of the foreign intelligence agency.

Lerner, a 45-year-old civil servant, graduated from the elite graduate school ENA the same year as President Emmanuel Macron and is said to be close to the leader. Reputed to be hardworking and discreet, he has spent all his career within the interior ministry, essentially working on national security, becoming head of the DGSI in 2018.

He replaced Bernard Emié, a diplomat who had been French ambassador to Lebanon, Türkiye, the United Kingdom, Algeria and Jordan before being appointed to head the DGSE in 2017.

Emié launched reforms within the DGSE and saw the agency’s budget increase. He is said to have improved relations with the domestic security agency. But many have criticised the DGSE under him for failing to foresee the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine and a string of military coups in former French colonies Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

This follows a string of scandals that DGSE was involved in prior to the shake-up of its leadership. According to Le Monde, its former director general between 2013 and 2017, the diplomat Bernard Bajolet, was indicted by judge Claire Thépaut in Bobigny, on October 18, 2022, for “complicity in extortion” and “arbitrary infringement of personal liberty by a person holding public authority over the same case.”

Bernard Emié who was recently released from his position, was also asked to provide an explanation as a witness regarding the alleged embarrassing extortion methods used by the DGSE against a wealthy entrepreneur named Alain Duménil in March 2016. Mr. Bajolet and his former deputy are suspected of having allowed or authorized the blackmailing of this businessman, who fortuitously ended up managing the DGSE’s hidden funds in the early 2000s.

Before Ms. Thépaut, these three figures of France’s intelligence services were forced to lift the veil on one of the France’s best-kept secrets: What happened to the DGSE’s €23 million war chest, which it accumulated over a century before squandering it in risky investments? According to the three senior officials, Mr. Duménil was the man who snatched the service’s assets for his own personal gain through disloyal financial maneuvers. A version of the events he denies, complaining for years about the “pressure” exerted by the DGSE…