Deuxième Bureau de l'État-major général ("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"
(French: [døzjɛm byʁo]), like "MI5" or "SMERSH", outlived the
original organization as a general label for the country's
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
cryptanalytical work, but it was 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.
1.1 19th century
3 20th century operations and agents
4 World War II reorganization
On June 8, 1871, the French Ministry of War authorized the creation of
a service charged with performing "research on enemy plans and
In 1872, the Ministry authorized the creation of a military
In 1876, a Statistiques et de reconnaissances militaires ("Military
Statistics and Recognition") section was added to the Deuxième
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
1 September 1899, when it was disbanded.
The name (literally, Second Desk) refers to the organization of the
French general staff in four desks: 1st for personnel, 2nd for
intelligence, 3rd for operations, 4th for logistics. This numerical
designation survives in the first four staff numbers of the
continental staff system practiced by most NATO armies: S1 for
personnel, S2 for intelligence, S3 for operations, S4 for logistics.
(See also the French version of this page.)
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
Deuxième 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
Deuxième 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,
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
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, 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
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.
Colonel Jean Sandherr, between 1886 and 1895
Georges Picquart, between 1895 and 1896
Hubert-Joseph Henry, from 1897 to 1898
Colonel Charles Dupont from 1911 to 1918
Colonel Maurice-Henri Gauché, from 1937 to 1940
Colonel Louis Rivet, 1940
20th century operations and agents
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 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
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
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
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
Geneva that produced millions of white and black pamphlets,
leaflets, cards, postage stamps, and other forms of printed
World War II reorganization
Main article: Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action
Following the defeat of France in 1940, the
Vichy France regime's
intelligence service was organized within the Centre d’information
gouvernemental (CIG), under the direction of Admiral François Darlan.
Under the command of
Colonel Louis Rivet, head of the Deuxième Bureau
since 1936, they set up the Bureau des Menées Antinationales (BMA,
the "Bureau of Anti-national Activities"), officially an organization
opposing communist activities and resistance efforts and accepted by
the Germans under the terms of the armistice.
Meanwhile, on 1 July 1940, the
Free French government-in-exile in
London created its own intelligence service. Under the leadership of
General Charles de Gaulle, Major
André Dewavrin was assigned to
command the organization. Initially known as the Service de
Renseignements (SR), the agency changed its name to Bureau Central de
Renseignements et d’Action Militaire (BCRAM) in April 1941, and
again in January 1942 to Bureau Central de Renseignements et
d’Action (BCRA) the name by which it was best known.
At the end of the war, in 1945, this became the modern French
counter-espionage service, the Service de documentation extérieure et
de contre-espionnage (SDECE, "Foreign Documentation and
^ Anciens des Services Spéciaux de la Défense Nationale (France)
Tournoux, J. R. (1962). L'histoire Secrete. Plon.
Nkouka, Alphonse (1980). Deuxieme bureau. Editions Cle.
Kitson, Simon (2008). The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in
Vichy France. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Intelligence agencies of France
Secret du Roi