DGSI, or why French rioters cannot defeat the state

Violent French rioters should pause in the face of their domestic intelligence services. Because if they are ordered to do so, those services can identify individuals with relative ease.

I note this in light of the ongoing riots afflicting France each weekend. Begun by the so-called “yellow vest” protesters who oppose planned gas tax increases by President Emmanuel Macron’s government, the protests have now descended into rioting.

But the rioters should be very cautious. Enter the DGSI, France’s domestic intelligence service. DGSI is far closer in operational character and nature to Britain’s Security Service, or MI5, than it is the FBI. But the simple point here is that DGSI works with France’s external intelligence service, DGSE, and a number of other agencies in confronting threats to the state.

That matters because the scale of violence in the French weekend riots is now paralyzing the effective function of government, commerce, and society.

Evidencing as much, on Thursday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned that 89,000 security officers, including 8,000 in Paris alone, would be deployed to contain rioters. France must now crush what has now morphed into a near insurrection.

That takes us back to the DGSI. While DGSI is primarily focused on counter-terrorism operations against organizations such as the Islamic State, it also has a significant operational focus against domestic political radicals. The nature and history of radicalism in French political society means that this intelligence focus is experienced and well-resourced.

In turn, if so ordered by Macron’s government, the DGSI can engage in robust human and technical surveillance of riot leaders who are turning French streets into war zones. It’s important to note here that the DGSI has far more latitude in its domestic surveillance authorities than its British, German, or U.S. counterparts. French intelligence services also have a penchant for ignoring rules that they do not like.

What does all this mean in practice? The French government has a pretty extensive means of identifying and tracking individuals who might travel to Paris to join the violence and then head home at the end of the day. Thanks to European Union counter-terrorism tools and authorities, the French will also be able to target violent anarchists from across Europe who are expected to travel into France to join the riots.

Is such aggressive intelligence monitoring justified? If targeted at specifically violent groups, I would say so.

Macron made a terrible mistake in backing down to the yellow vests earlier this week by canceling his ill-advised gas tax hike. That has only fueled other far-left and far-right fanatics to join the protests with their own demands. But now the president and his government must protect their people.

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