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BELLEUX, MAURICE (1909–2002)

High ranking French intelligence officer during the Indochina War between December 1947 and April 1956. Graduated from Saint-Cyr in 1931, Belleux simultaneously trained to become a fighter pilot in the French Air Force. During World War II, he was deeply involved in intelligence operations against the Germans in France. Until May 1944, he served as a leading member of the “Hunter” network in charge of following German aviation operations on behalf of the Bureau central de renseignements et d’action (BCRA). He then transferred briefly to London where he joined the Free French air force. He also entered the section des études within the Direction générale d’études de renseignements (DGRE) transformed into the Service de documentation extérieure et de contre-espionnage (SDECE) in November 1944 under the control of the French Council Presidency.

For unclear reasons the SDECE dispatched Belleux to Indochina on a six-month mission. Shortly after his arrival, he became the director of the SDECE’s operations in all of Indochina. Named colonel in 1949, he was one of France’s top intelligence officers during his eight years in Indochina. Under his direction, the SDECE became particularly effective in intercepting and decrypting many of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s lower and mid-level radio communications inside and outside Indochina. This allowed the SDECE to provide detailed and highly accurate information on the adversary’s troop movements and orders of battle. In the early 1950s, Belleux also played a pivotal role in the creation of the Service Action and the Groupement de commandos mixtes aéroportés. In 1956, on his return to France, he became head of the French Security Services of the National Defense and Armed Forces. Belleux had bitter enemies and devout servants in official and non-official circles in Indochina. His attempts to interfere in or even control a variety of intelligence operations outside of the SDECE’s purview created an adamant enemy in the person of General Roger Blaizot, who contested the SDECE’s legal right to exist in Indochinese territory – not technically an independent country, he said. Others worshipped the man, not least of all those involved in the SDECE’s commando and Service Action operations. British diplomat and spy, Trevor-Wilson, was a frequent guest at the Belleux residence. Far from being the stereotypical spymaster, Belleux was perhaps best immortalized by Lucien Bodard in the following terms: “Au contraire, il est rosé, poupin, les yeux un peu gros, la figure bien ronde, avec une bonne maison, une bonne cave, un jardin exotique, beaucoup de chiens et de serviteurs, et une dame très bien … Toujours un verre ou un dossier en main, indifférement, ce personnage respire la franchise et la bonne humeur, avec quand meme un air de mystère masquant son importance et son métier … Tout le monde le soupçonne de tout, mais sans prevue, et il dure”. See also EDWARD LANSDALE; MARCEL BAZIN; OFFICE OF STRATEGIC SERVICES; PIERRE PERRIER; SERVICE ACTION; TRAN QUOC HOAN.