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Le dictionnaire

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SERVICE DE DOCUMENTATION EXTÉRI-EURE ET DE CONTRE-ESPIONNAGE (SDECE)

The French foreign intelligence service that played a very important role in the war in Indochina. The SDECE was created at the end of 1945 at the national level to undertake counter-intelligence and conduct foreign intelligence outside of France. The SDECE effectively replaced the Direction générale des études et des recherches. The SDECE was unique in that it answered directly to the Présidence du Conseil and not just to the General Staff.

Sometime in early 1946, the SDECE began operating in Indochina under the direction of a certain Barada. Following his transfer in December 1947, Colonel Maurice Belleux took over and would direct SDECE’s intelligence operations in Indochina until 1956. While the Indochinese branch of the SDECE was attached administratively to the high commissioner’s office, the French central government was in charge of its personnel, financed an important part of its budget, and oversaw its grand strategy and organization. The SDECE in Indochina consisted of two main services. The “service technique de recherches” was vital in that it translated all coded intelligence intercepted by the Groupe de contrôle radioélectrique, and provided crucial intelligence for political, diplomatic, and especially military operations. The SDECE’s “service de renseignements” gathered intelligence outside of Indochina, mainly from China, Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, etc.

The SDECE was particularly successful in providing military and civilian leaders with invaluable intelligence on their Indochinese adversaries and was especially effective in intercepting and decrypting communications coming from lower and middle levels of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s political and military services. It sometimes reached as high as General Vo Nguyen Giap’s General Staff. Thanks to SDECE intercepts, the military was able to maintain remarkably accurate orders of battle on the adversary. However, this did not always mean that the French knew their enemy’s intentions. The Vietnamese Politiburo never had the intention of “taking” Laos in 1954, the reason for which General Henri Navarre justified sending troops into Dien Bien Phu. The real Vietnamese strategy was to disperse French troops as far across Indochina as possible, hoping to draw the French into a much-needed battle in the highlands.

The wartime SDECE apparatus was withdrawn from Indochina in 1956, though the listening station remained operational in Dalat until 1960. On 2 April 1982, SDECE became the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure. See also OFFICE OF STRATEGIC SERVICES.