French intelligence services have identified several Russian spies who have attempted to contact French lawmakers in recent months. In this regard, efforts have been made to raise awareness among parliamentarians about the risks of foreign interference, Politico writes, citing transcripts of parliamentary hearings released on Thursday.
Nicolas Lerner, the head of General Directorate for Internal Security (France’s national intelligence service), warned MPs at a hearing in February that “several dozen officers from three Russian intelligence services” were using diplomatic cover to infiltrate the French political system.
A parliamentary committee has been investigating foreign interference in France since December. The committee was initiated last year by the far-right National Rally party.
Dozens of pages of interviews with intelligence officials reveal the extent of Russian spying operations in France. They include, for example, information about an agent who posed as a student to get maths lessons from a French engineer, and another who used a Brazilian passport to get into the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“We regularly contact MPs at their request or on our initiative to raise awareness and, if necessary, to let them know who they are in contact with,” said Nicolas Lerner, head of the DGSI.
At the same time, he points to a “significant reduction” in the number of Russian spies operating in France since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. According to Lerner, Moscow’s operations in France were curtailed as part of the agency’s “most significant counterintelligence operation in a decade”, which led to the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, 6 spies and the closure of Russia’s representation to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
Foreign interference in the world of politics has become a hot topic of discussion in France since the outbreak of Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine when several politicians came under scrutiny for alleged ties to Russia. During his election campaign, French President Emmanuel Macron accused far-right leader Marine Le Pen of being “dependent on the Russian government” after her party took out a loan from a Russian bank.
When asked by a member of parliament from Le Pen’s National Rally party whether any French parties or politicians are under foreign influence, the head of the DGSI said he was not aware of a political party that was “the object of organised and systematic interference”. He added that the intelligence services rather deal with individual cases of “seduction” or “personal belief”.