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Spy, analyst, engineer... Could you join the French secret services?

“We want to recruit the best and we are in an extremely competitive world.

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Spy, analyst, engineer... Could you join the French secret services?

“We want to recruit the best and we are in an extremely competitive world.” You might think you're hearing the boss of a large consulting firm or a tech giant, and yet, it's not the case: the sentence was uttered by a human resources manager from the General Directorate of External Security, better known by the acronym DGSE. During an interview with Ouest-France, the head of the institution expressed the ambitions of the French secret service, which aims to recruit “more than 700 additional positions between 2024 and 2030”.

The new military programming law, passed last July, allocated nearly 60% additional budgetary credits to French intelligence, with the aim, in particular, of expanding its workforce. For the Ministry of the Armed Forces, the objective is clear: France must maintain its place in the leading ranks of global intelligence services. “The DGSE must be the technological locomotive for the entire intelligence community. We must be competent everywhere: analysis, major shared programs, foreign languages, cyber...,” proclaimed the Minister of the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, on May 11.

No more covert applications: to recruit new exceptional profiles, the DGSE has chosen to move forward openly. For several months now, “Centrale” has been posting dozens of job offers on traditional recruitment sites such as LinkedIn, JobTeaser and Welcome to The Jungle. Aficionados of the series The Bureau of Legends (Canal) will undoubtedly be disappointed not to find offers for “dealing officer”, the unofficial title of DGSE spies. Conversely, engineers have something to rub their hands with. On LinkedIn, the positions to be filled give pride of place to telecommunications and “cyber”: telecom network investigator, Pentester, big data engineer... The sample gives a glimpse of the diversity of skills sought by the DGSE. “We have more than 248 different professions,” indicates the HR manager interviewed by Ouest-France. These recruitments, which meet the technical needs of the secret service, are essentially carried out under contractual status.

Budding James Bonds can rest assured, the institution still needs handling officers, who constitute, in themselves, the hard core of French “human intelligence”. To hope to join this elite corps, you must pass the DGSE attaché competition. A particularly selective competition, since last year, it attracted 1000 candidates for 36 positions… The winners of the competition join the “Centrale” as an analyst: it is only after several years that they have the possibility of being sent on a mission abroad, and therefore, of becoming a spy, like the famous Malotru, played by Mathieu Kassovitz on screen. Like the character, “most of the analysts and officers involved are former Sciences Po”, according to Olivier Mas, former officer and ex-illegal DGSE. “These are training courses that go very well with what is expected of agents,” he adds. Hence a certain “monoculture” in the contingent of civilian recruits, who constitute 39% of the DGSE workforce, neck and neck with the military (32%).

Overall, “sensitive” positions require a very high level of qualification, including those on the technical side. “Among our agents, there are a lot of Sciences Po, graduates of Inalco, a lot of engineers, polytechnicians, normaliens…”, recounted the general director of the institution, Bernard Emié, to the magazine Emile in 2019. And this is not the only prerequisite for recruitment. “Once the candidate is selected, he is subjected to a series of psychotechnical tests, which he must pass. What follows is a 6-month investigation to validate the secret-defense clearance, during which the institution searches all the information available on the candidate, looking for the slightest flaw, including in the family circle,” reveals Olivier Mas .

According to the former “clandé”, not everyone is cut out to join the secret services. The first quality is, unsurprisingly, discretion. This is also what the institution recommends to potential candidates: “be discreet about your application”, we read at the conclusion of recently published job offers. We could see a touch of humor there. However, when it comes to recruiting the future leaders of French intelligence, the “Central” takes real precautions. “The DGSE ensures that recruits do not have mythomaniacal tendencies or even a tendency to be talkative,” says Olivier Mas. The slightest flaws in private life are tracked by the institution: “What is prohibitive are the problems of money, addictions…”, breathes the ex-spy. Other points, less obvious, may merit a “problematic” mention on the candidate’s file. “Having a journalist spouse, for example, can pose a problem. Likewise, you have to pay attention to nationalities. Having a family member who is Russian today, for example, would be seen as very sensitive,” assures Olivier Mas.

Having remained in the shadows for a long time, the DGSE benefited from an unexpected wave of popularity thanks to the Bureau des Légendes series. The “Centrale” has largely taken advantage of this television success to strengthen its communication and boost its attractiveness, particularly among young people. In the wake of the 2015 attacks, many French people spontaneously proposed their candidacy “in the service of France”. But it is not exactly these “general public” profiles that Boulevard Mortier covets. The DGSE is rather eyeing young, very high-level engineers and mathematicians. In this area, it is in competition with large private companies. “We must adapt to the strong tensions in certain specialties. In the field of imaging or cyber, it’s the jungle!” confessed the boss of the DGSE interviewed by parliamentarians last June. According to the manager contacted by Ouest-France, the remuneration offered to young talents remains at a “good level”.

“Engineering profiles are often chased away by the DGSE in major schools. To convince them, it offers interesting contracts,” underlines Olivier Mas, while admitting that salary is not the DGSE’s best argument. “It’s obviously the sense of mission that attracts, serving the State.” More than the salary gap, it is the rigidity of Boulevard Mortier which can slow down candidates, believes the ex-spy. “The younger generation likes to impose its demands on the employer and maintain a certain freedom to change. However, joining the DGSE involves complying with a strict protocol and staying a certain time in the institution, at least ten years, due to the training and accreditation time for positions.

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