French spy chief Bernard Squarcini. (Boris Horvat/AFP/Getty Images)Investigators have launched an inquiry targeting Bernard Squarcini, the powerful head of France's domestic intelligence agency, who is facing allegations that he may have illegally spied on journalists.
Squarcini, the chief of the Direction Central du Renseignement Intérieur, is alleged to have "obtained the Le Monde reporter's telephone records to uncover a mole feeding the newspaper information about a political scandal," Kim Willsher of the UK Guardian reported Tuesday.
Squarcini apparently wanted to know who in the government was leaking information from a sensitive campaign finance investigation concerning alleged payments to allies of President Nicolas Sarkozy. The French inquiry was looking into allegations that elderly French L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt may have "given Sarkozy allies wads of cash in brown envelopes to fund the presidential election campaign," Willsher noted. Stories about the case apparently with internal details from the investigation were published by Le Monde reporter Gérard Davet and some of his colleagues.
To that end, Squarcini--a close Sarkozy ally of Corsican descent nicknamed "requin" or "the shark" for his perceived ruthlessness in engaging in the spycraft dark arts--is accused of having "even obtained Davet's GPS locations from his mobile phone records," Willsher reported, while allegedly also keeping tabs on two other Le Monde journalists.
Under questioning from a judge Monday, Squarcini reportedly denied engaging in any illegal activities. The powerful spymaster who heads what used to be two rival French intelligence services insisted that his intended target had not been the journalists at all, but rather the government official suspected of leaking information to them--apparently an employee in France's Justice Ministry. The judge's investigation seeks to determine if Squarcini violated French laws on "breaching communications privacy," "unlawful data gathering" and "violating the professional secrecy," Willsher wrote.Read More »from French spy chief investigated for spying on journalists