Le Monde reveals how Israeli espionage agency allegedly exploited a successful chemical weapons operation to get French counterparts to become sources; former head of French counterintelligence agency being questioned as suspect in case.
PARIS – An internal report written by French intelligence, parts of which were published in the daily newspaper Le Monde on Sunday, reveal efforts by the Mossad to develop relationships with French spies, “to the point of crossing the line of turning them into double agents.”
The audit report recommends investigating Bernard Squarcini, the head of the General Directorate for Internal Security until 2012, on suspicion of maintaining unauthorized and unreported ties with the Mossad’s Paris bureau chief at the time (identified in the report only by his initials, D.K.).
The background to all this was a joint operation launched by the Mossad and French counterintelligence agency in 2010 to collect intelligence about Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chemical warfare plans. The operation, code-named Ratafia, aimed to recruit a senior Syrian engineer, who was meant to come to France to do additional training in chemistry and also to help recruit other engineers.
The Mossad and French agents would hold work meetings using assumed names, as is customary. The French agents, who belonged to three different counterintelligence units, were responsible for the operation in Paris, while the Mossad agents were responsible for the plot that would enable the Syrian target to leave the country for studies and to recruit others in the French capital.
But according to the report, the Israelis exploited the operation to persuade an unknown number of French agents to also serve as intelligence sources for Israel.
One of the French agents under surveillance was seen going up to the apartment of the Mossad’s Paris chief for dinner one Friday night. Later, he reported to his superiors that he was going to Dubai on vacation, when in fact he flew with his family to Israel, where he spent time with Mossad agents without permission and without reporting the meetings afterward.
In addition, according to the report, suspicious sums of money were deposited in the bank accounts of those French agents who were involved in the Ratafia operation.
The internal report calls for further investigation to understand what damage was done to the French intelligence service.
Le Monde also published details about the Ratafia operation. The paper claimed that the Mossad succeeded in recruiting the Syrian engineer and extracted information from him about Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal.
The French daily said the operation enabled Israel to prove that the scientific cooperation between the European Union and Syria was being used to boost Assad’s chemical weapons program, which led to the cancellation of the agreement with the Syrians in 2011.
According to Le Monde, the Mossad’s interest in building relations with French spies was exposed because a different French espionage agency, responsible for information security, was keeping the agents under surveillance and photographed them with Mossad agents.
The paper said that all the Mossad agents involved were identified by their real names. The French filed a formal complaint, and two Israeli diplomats in the Israeli Embassy in Paris left their posts and returned to Israel. The Mossad chief, D.K., also returned to Israel following the French complaint.
According to the report, the two Mossad agents suspected of contacts with the French have left the service and are now private businessmen in Tel Aviv. But during 2016, the report noted, they made contact with Squarcini (the counterintelligence head they’d worked with) in Paris.
Squarcini, who is now being questioned as a suspect in the case, told investigators he met the two “totally by chance.”
A short time before the suspicions came to light, Squarcini himself launched an internal inquiry into whether the Mossad was trying to recruit French agents as sources. However, the agents he put under surveillance did not include those involved in the Ratafia operation, even though Squarcini was fully aware of the close ties that had developed between his people and the Mossad operatives, the report said.
An investigating judge appointed by the French filed an official request with Israel to question the two ex-Mossad agents who made contact with Squarcini in 2016. It isn’t clear if he received a response.
The judge is seeking to build on the internal investigative report and broaden the investigation into whether the Mossad infiltrated French intelligence under Squarcini.