Count Alexandre de Marenches (June 7, 1921, Paris - June 2, 1995) was a French military officer, former director of the SDECE French external intelligence services (6 November 1970 - 12 June 1981), special advisor to U.S. President Ronald Reagan and a member of the Academy of Morocco.
Family[edit | edit source]
Alexandre de Marenches was born in Paris in 1921, son of Captain Charles-Constant-Marie de Marenches, a French aristocrat from a very old family of knights of Norman origin, aide-de-camp to Marshal Ferdinand Foch and, together with Aldebert de Chambrun a representative of Marshal Philippe Pétain to General John J. Pershing. His mother Margaret Clark de Lestrade, (May 7, 1881 New York - May 3, 1968 Paris) was a U.S. citizen.
Early years[edit | edit source]
As a youth he met many of the Allied leaders of the First World War, such as Marshal Foch and General Pershing. Marshal Philippe Petain was a witness at his parent's wedding. In 1939 the then Count de Marenches joined the army —- the cavalry —- and entered the field of Intelligence by informing his relatives and contacts in the United States of German activities in France 1940. He narrowly escaped arrest by the Gestapo in 1942, crossing the Pyrenees mountains on foot and making his way to Algiers. He joined the French forces of liberation there and played a distinguished role in the Italian campaign. Wounded at the battle of Monte Cassino, he became aide-de-camp to General Alphonse Juin, the commander of the French forces in Italy (1943 — July 1944). In this role he helped coordinate the US military and French expeditionary corps, and the eventual successful Allied advance into Rome.
After the war he ventured into industry but remained in the Army Reserve, ultimately reaching the rank of Colonel. In 1962 he resigned in protest to Charles de Gaulle's Algerian policy.
The choice of President Pompidou[edit | edit source]
He was eventually chosen to head the French intelligence services by France's then President Georges Pompidou, two of whose main criteria for selection were de Marenche's perceived independence and integrity. Pompidou was aware that factions in the intelligence services had been circulating defamatory reports for the last six months of General de Gaulle's presidency concerning the conduct of his wife and himself, alleging involvement with the film star Alain Delon. Delon's bodyguard had previously been found murdered in September 1968.
Some agents had taken the opportunity to smear Pompidou in revenge for his previously having taken very firm action against some of their colleagues involved in the kidnapping of Ben Barka, the leader of the Moroccan opposition in 1965. De Marenches was brought in to clear up these factions; the fact that de Marenche had been close to de Gaulle's former comrade in arms, Alphonse Juin, may have also played a role in the original choice.
In 1970 he was installed as head of the S.D.E.C.E. (SDECK) — the forerunner of the current Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (D.G.S.E.) In this position he signally carried out the President's instruction to clean up the service and was indifferent to any protests that resulted. A natural activist, he began to travel and to meet with other governments, in order to pursue the interests of France in different parts of the world.
The Presidency of Giscard d'Estaing[edit | edit source]
Such was his authority that when Giscard d'Estaing succeeded Pompidou as President in 1974, he kept his position throughout both of their periods in office, ultimately occupying the post for 11 years. Tellingly, when Pompidou died and the key to his personal safe was deemed lost, de Marenches was found to be in possession of another.
Under Giscard d'Estaing, de Marenches tried to awaken interest in the former Portuguese colonies in Africa, and when Giscard protested that they were a long way away, he answered, "Yes, but they are getting nearer". Like many in the intelligence community, he resented Giscard's lack of concern about the Communist threat, and more generally about Giscard's deliberate ignorance that "History is tragic".
Achievements[edit | edit source]
It is difficult to assess de Marenches's achievements. There were those who believed that while he was one of the busiest figures on the intelligence circuit, some of his pronouncements (those on the Soviet Union for example) were based on slender information. Others noted how he successfully cultivated his contacts in the Middle East, pushing the sales of Mirage fighters and helping to establish a relationship with Iraq that has persisted. In Africa, sometimes working with the old Gaullist emissary Jacques Foccart, and sometimes behaving as his rival, de Marenches strengthened France's traditional strongholds.
He co-founded the Safari Club, a "private intelligence group [which was] one of George H. W. Bush's many end-runs around congressional oversight of the American intelligence establishment and the locus of many of the worst features of the mammoth BCCI scandal." The Club involved a number of states, including Saudi Arabia (which financed the operations), Morocco, Egypt and Iran, and was intended to counter Soviet operations in the Middle East and Africa.
Interlocutor of many heads of state in the world and close friend of King Hassan II of Morocco, he was elected member of the Academy of Morocco. After the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency of the United States of America, he would have become, according to the American journalist Colley, one of his closest advisers doing business in Afghanistan.
De Marenches is known to have predicted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to an American journalist who immediately reported his conversation to US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and left for Kabul, "arriving in the same time as the Soviet tanks did" (de Marenches in Dans le Secret des Princes). He also conceived Operation Moustique or Mosquito. In a meeting with President Reagan, at the White House, he suggested that the Drug Enforcement Agency take all the drugs confiscated and supply them covertly to the Russian army in Afghanistan. In a few months, he explained, they would be demoralized and their fighting ability would be gone. De Marenches added, according to his published memoirs, that a few trusted people could do all this, at a cost of approximately one million dollars. <John Cooley: Unholy Wars. Page 108. 1999>
Edouard Balladur knew him well when they were both working closely with President Pompidou. When Balladur was Prime Minister, he was due to preside over a medal-awarding ceremony. He was suddenly unable to attend and he asked de Marenches to take his place. Coming from Balladur this was a serious mark of respect as well as of friendship.
Standing at 6'4" and heavily built, he was called Porthos in reference to the character in The Three Musketeers. Charismatic and a colourful character, he was esteemed both for his valour and patriotism.
Resignation[edit | edit source]
With the coming of the Socialists to power, de Marenches resigned. The presence of Communists in the government formed in 1981 was unacceptable to him. He disapproved of the new organisation of security and was particularly scathing about the fiasco of the Rainbow Warrior (1955). He was offered however, and accepted, a seat on France's Constitutional Council
Publication[edit | edit source]
In 1986, along with journalist Christine Ockrent, he co-authored a book, Dans le secret des princes ("In the Princes' secret", published in English as The Evil Empire: Third World War Continues) regarding his days working in secret services. Claims were made that concealed archives contained evidence of collaboration with Germans by figures of the French Resistance during the occupation.
In 1992, along with David Andelman, he co-authored The Fourth World War: Diplomacy and Espionage in the Age of Terrorism, a book in which he predicted the rise of terrorism as a new form of warfare. This book was a great success among American elites following the events of September 11, 2001.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Michel Roussin, Alexandre de Marenches' chief of staff
References[edit | edit source]
- Phelan, Matthew (2011-02-28) Seymour Hersh and the men who want him committed, Salon.com
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