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The Deuxième Bureau de l'État-major général (English: Second Bureau of the General Staff) was France's external military intelligence agency from 1871 to 1940. It was dissolved together with the Third Republic upon the armistice with Germany. However the term "Deuxième Bureau", like "MI5" or "SMERSH", outlived the original organization as a general label for the country's intelligence service.

French military intelligence was composed of two separate bureaus prior to World War II. The Premier Bureau was charged with informing the high command about the state of French, allied, and friendly troops, while the Deuxième Bureau developed intelligence concerning enemy troops. The Deuxième Bureau was celebrated for its cryptoanalytical work, but criticized for its involvement in the Dreyfus Affair and its consistent overestimation of German military formations prior to World War II.

Its final director was Colonel Louis Rivet.


History of the Deuxième Bureau

On June 8, 1871, the French Ministry of War authorized the creation of a service charged with performing "research on enemy plans and operations." [1]

In 1872 the Ministry authorized the creation of a military counter-espionage service.

In 1876 a Statistiques et de reconnaissances militaires ("Military Statistics and Recognition") section was added to the Deuxième Bureau.

In 1886 a law was passed penalizing espionage activity (another would be passed in 1934).

In October 1894 the Dreyfus Affair occurred and proved so politically divisive that, in May 1899, the government shifted responsibility for counter-espionage to the Ministry of the Interior. A small intelligence section remained within the General Staff, but the Service de surveillance du territoire (Territorial Surveillance Service, SST), an agency of the Sûreté générale, became responsible for the pursuit of foreign spies on French soil. Counter-espionage was to be handled by special Sûreté police chiefs. The Deuxième Bureau's statistical section remained in operation until September 1, 1899, when it was disbanded.

In 1906 Georges Clemenceau became Président du Conseil. With complete control of Interior Ministry funding, he created special counter-espionage units, the "brigades du Tigre", a reference to Clemenceau's nickname. Commanded by police commissioner Célestin Hennion, the mobile brigades were to handle special operations of the judicial police related to counter-espionage.

In February 1907 the 2ème Bureau was reactivated and was reassigned some of the contre-espionnage responsibilities it had had prior to the Dreyfus affair. Commanded by General Charles-Joseph Dupont, the 2ème Bureau worked with the Interior Ministry, and especially Commissioner Hennion's mobile counter-espionage brigades, which worked closely with France's border patrols.

In August 1911 the oversight of counter-espionage activities was assigned to the administration of the judiciary police that supervised the mobile brigades. In 1913 the government officially assigned counter-espionage operations on foreign soil to the Ministry of War, with the Ministry of the Interior being responsible for border security and prosecution.

In May 1915 the Section de Centralisation du Renseignement ("Central Intelligence Section", SCR) was created and assigned to Commandant Ladoux. It was attached to the 2ème Bureau, which also administered the operations of the Bureaux centraux de renseignement (BCR). Altogether the organization was known as the 5ème Bureau. The SCR was attached to the Section de renseignements (Intelligence Section, SR) in April 1917.

In February 1917 the Président du Conseil put a commissioner of the Sûreté Nationale in charge of the criminal police, general intelligence, and counter-espionage. His command included a filing and archiving section, a section devoted to propaganda (propagande révolutionnaire, PR) and the SR and SCR. The SR provided a clearinghouse for centralized intelligence-gathering while the SCR was a small team of specialized counter-intelligence officers reporting to the Ministry of War, while a team of police officers were in charge of the arrest of suspects and judicial enquiries.

In April 1934 the Direction Générale de la Sûreté Générale was changed to the Direction Générale de la Sûreté nationale, with a post of Controller-General in command of Counter-Intelligence. In March 1935 the position was given authority over the territorial police, the police de l’Air, the TSF, and the police carrier-pigeon service.

In June 1936 Colonel Louis Rivet succeeded Colonel Roux as head of the intelligence service and a new organization the Service de centralisation des renseignements (Central Intelligence Service, CE). The CE, headquartered at 2 bis avenue de Tourville, Paris, was run by Commandant Guy Schlesser.

In March 1937 the government decreed that territorial surveillance was the responsibility of the police alone, and was to be executed by strictly legal means. A new organization, the Bureau central de Renseignements (Central Intelligence Bureau, BCR) was established the same month and a special section devoted to "preventative defence" was created within the SCR.

In July 1939, at the prompting of military intelligence, a counter-intelligence charter was established and the National Council amended the penal code (article 75 and following) to integrate all 1810, 1886, and 1934 counter-intelligence laws.

Directors of the Deuxième Bureau

  • Colonel Jean Sandherr, between 1886 and 1895
  • Georges Picquart, between 1895 and 1896
  • Hubert-Joseph Henry, from 1897 to 1898
  • Colonel Maurice-Henri Gauché, from 1937 to 1940
  • Colonel Louis Rivet, 1940

20th Century operations and agents

The Deuxième Bureau developed a reputation as Europe's top cryptoanalytical service in the early 20th century. It scored a notable success at the outbreak of World War I when it cracked the German's diplomatic cryptographic system. The French cryptoanalysts were able to decipher the lengthy telegram containing the German declaration of war before the German Ambassador in Paris could decipher it.

In June 1918 Captain Georges Painvin, a DB cryptoanalyst, was able to crack part of the Germans' ADFGVX cipher. These intercepts allowed an effective response to the movements of the German Army's 15 division-strong advances under Ludendorff at Montdidier and Compiègne, about 50 miles north of Paris.

Prior to World War II, a Deuxième Bureau agent codenamed 'Rex' made contact with Hans-Thilo Schmidt, a German cipher clerk, in the Grand Hotel of the Belgian town of Verviers. Schmidt, who worked at Defence Ministry Cipher Office in Berlin, sold the French the manuals explaining how to operate the top secret Enigma cipher machine being used by the German Army. Schmidt ultimately provided all the information necessary to crack the complex ciphers, which would play a key role in the Allied victory.

In September 1939, when France declared war on Germany in response to Germany's invasion of Poland, Josephine Baker was recruited by the Bureau and provided them with information as an "honorable correspondent."

Raymond Arthur Schuhl, a French propagandist who had served in the 6th Section of the Deuxieme Bureau until the fall of France, became the OSS Chief of Morale Operations in Switzerland and was its principal forger through the war. Schuhl operated for the OSS under the cover name Robert Salembier (code name "Mutt"). He oversaw a prolific print shop in Geneva that produced millions of white and black pamphlets, leaflets, cards, postage stamps, and other forms of printed propaganda.

World War II reorganization

See also


  • J. R. Tournoux, L'histoire Secrete, Plon, 1962
  • Alphonse Nkouka, Deuxieme bureau, Editions Cle, 1980
  • Simon Kitson, The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2008


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