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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Curious Case of DSK and French Intelligence

When this story broke in mid-May, I was attending the annual conference of the Organization of News Ombudsmen in Montreal.

It was grist for the journalistic mills of the attendees, naturally. Responses to the charges of sexual assault against an African chamber maid were fascinating and of course, culturally specific.

Our colleagues from France and Québec were openly skeptical of the charges, while Anglo-Americans saw it as another example of sexual politics and hypocrisy at their worst.

Having been in Guinea in June 2010 to do journalism training and consulting, I was aware that West Africa has a long and sometimes rocky relationship with French intelligence. I also saw first hand how French embassy staff actively engaged with journalistic and electoral outcomes.

The successful candidate in the first free elections since independence from France was Alpha Condé who also has had close relations with France throughout his political career. This did not stop various dictators from jailing Condé from time to time, despite whatever connections he maintained with France. His democratic bonafides appeared solid and his election was a logical outcome.

France has maintained a watchful eye on all of its former colonies in Africa, occasionally intervening militarily to oust dictators, rescue French nationals and always to defend its economic interests. A serious French politico-military presence is a fact of life in sub-Saharan Africa and it could be argued, done better than many similar attempts at influence by the Americans.

So in Montreal it came as no surprise to me to hear our French colleagues state that there must be a French intelligence link to the Guinean chamber maid. While the Anglos scoffed at the time, the idea has been revived today by a no less serious American journalist than Christopher Dickey writing in The Daily Beast.

It stretches credulity to think that the French president himself would try to undermine his most credible opponent from the Socialist Party in this way. But French politics have a rich history of conspiratorial thinking and activities going back to the 4th Republic (1947-1958) and beyond. Could the DGSE (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure) have been tasked to connect with Guinean expats in New York? Seems far-fetched but in these times, perhaps not.

And mid-level bureaucrats have a history in many countries (even in the US, Britain and Canada) of being "serviable," as the French say, while giving their masters "plausible deniability".

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