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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Minister Spy Scandal Grows

PARIS -- A scandal over reports that a former French defense minister, the late Charles Hernu, spied for the East Bloc early in his career widened Thursday with allegations that other officials were agents of Cold War foes.


Jacques Fournet, then chief of DST counter-intelligence, says Warsaw Pact secret services told France four years ago about Hernu, Socialist defense minister in 1981-85, who died in 1990.


Fournet passed the file to then-president Francois Mitterrand, Hernu's political patron, who ordered it shelved as a state secret.


The affair, revealed by the weekly L'Express, outraged Socialists. Right-wing parties reacted cautiously.


As calls for a probe mounted, the office of Gaullist President Jacques Chirac refused to comment on a request from Hernu's son Patrice that he shed light on the case.


"To my knowledge, it's the first time that a finger is pointed at a French politician on the basis of detailed elements," said Pierre Marion, former head of the DGSE secret service, which answers to the defense ministry.


Asked whether other officials had been suspected of serving Communists, Marion said: "From the 1960s to the 1980s, there were indications about people who were strategically placed. I don't know how many people were involved."


Roland Jacquard, president of the Paris-based International Observatory on Terrorism who has close ties to the secret services, said that at least 180 French nationals had been approached by Warsaw Pact intelligence.


"One 'suspect' close to Mitterrand could never be named minister because of a DST report urging the president not to take any risks," said Jacquard, who quoted Soviet KGB informers.


"The name of a senior official who worked at the finance ministry and then at the foreign ministry in 1990-95 appeared in several files. That prompted the DST to be wary of the foreign ministry," he told the newspaper France-Soir.


Another newspaper, Le Monde, has said British intelligence handed France in 1993 a list of 300 French foreign affairs officials alleged to have spied for East European countries.


According to Fournet, Mitterrand decreed the Hernu report secret since the ex-defense minister could not defend himself. "We cannot rewrite history," Mitterrand told Fournet.


"The DST was not able to verify what was in this report," Fournet said. "We can regard this file as somewhat suspicious." Le Monde said on Thursday that Mihail Caraman, head of the Romanian secret service (Securitate) in France in 1958-69, told the DST about Hernu in 1992. The daily said Caraman had retired and now lived in Bucharest.


Former Securitate captain Matel Haiducu, a refugee in France since 1982, told France-2 television that Hernu "supplied analyses of French politics, confidential remarks from political friends, and biographies of some of the figures he met."


In an editorial, Le Monde said the affair was too serious to remain a mix of rumor and suspicion.


"The status of state secret was no doubt inevitable under Mitterrand's presidency. His stature would have been deeply affected by revelations on one of his most faithful supporters. But it is no longer relevant today," the newspaper said.