We want to recruit the best and we are in an extremely competitive world." It sounds like the boss of a large consulting firm or a tech giant, and yet, it is not: the sentence was pronounced by a human resources manager of the Directorate General of External Security, better known by the acronym DGSE. In an interview with Ouest-France, the head of the institution shared the ambitions of the French secret service, which aims to recruit "more than 700 additional positions between 2024 and 2030".
The new military programming law, voted last July, has indeed allocated nearly 60% of additional budgetary appropriations to French intelligence, with the aim, in particular, of increasing its staff. For the Ministry of the Armed Forces, the objective is clear: the France must maintain its place in the leading pack of global intelligence services. "The DGSE must be the technological locomotive for the entire intelligence community. We must be competent everywhere: analysis, major shared programs, foreign languages, cyber...", proclaimed the Minister of the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu, on May 11.
Dozens of job offers on LinkedIn
No more applications under the cloak: to recruit new exceptional profiles, the DGSE has chosen to move forward with its face uncovered. For several months now, the "Central" has been posting dozens of job offers on traditional recruitment sites such as LinkedIn, JobTeaser or Welcome to The Jungle. Aficionados of the series The Bureau of Legends (Canal +) will probably be disappointed not to find offers of "treating officer", the unofficial title of the spies of the DGSE. Conversely, engineers have something to rub their hands on. On LinkedIn, the vacancies give pride of place to telecommunications and "cyber": Telecom Network Investigator, Pentester, Big Data Engineer... The sample suggests the diversity of skills sought by the DGSE. "We have more than 248 different professions," says the HR manager interviewed by Ouest-France. These recruitments, which meet the technical needs of the secret service, are essentially carried out under contractual status.
Let the budding James Bonds be reassured, the institution still needs treating officers, who constitute, in themselves, the hard core of French "human intelligence". To hope to integrate this elite corps, it is necessary to pass the competition of the attachés of the DGSE. A particularly selective competition, since last year, it attracted 1000 candidates for 36 positions... The winners of the competition join the "Centrale" as an analyst: it is only after several years that they have the opportunity to be sent on a mission abroad, and therefore, to become a spy, like the famous Malotru, played by Mathieu Kassovitz on screen. Like the character, "most of the analysts and dealing officers are former Sciences Po," according to Olivier Mas, a former officer and ex-clandestine DGSE. "These are trainings that go very well with what is expected of agents," he adds. Hence a certain "monoculture" in the civilian recruitment contingent, which constitutes 39% of the DGSE workforce, neck and neck with the military (32%).
Lengthy clearance procedures
Overall, "sensitive" positions require a very high level of qualification, including those in technical management. "Among our agents, there are many SciencesPo, Inalco graduates, a lot of engineers, polytechnicians, normaliens ...", listed the director general of the institution, Bernard Emié, for the magazine Emile in 2019. And this is not the only prerequisite for recruitment. "Once the candidate is selected, he is subjected to a series of psychotechnical tests, which he must imperatively pass. This is followed by a 6-month investigation to validate the secret-defense clearance, during which the institution searches all available information on the candidate, looking for the slightest flaw, including in the family circle, "reveals Olivier Mas.
According to the former "clandé", not everyone is made to join the secret services. The first quality is, unsurprisingly, discretion. This is also what the institution recommends to potential candidates: "be discreet about your application," reads the conclusion of the job offers published by the DGSE. It could be seen as a touch of humour. However, when it comes to recruiting future French intelligence pundits, the "Centrale" takes real precautions. "The DGSEensures that recruits do not have mythomaniac inclinations or even a tendency to be talkative," says Olivier Mas. The slightest flaws in private life are tracked down by the institution: "What is prohibitive are the problems of money, addictions ...", blows the ex-spy. Other, less obvious points may be worth a "problematic" mention on the candidate's file. "Having a journalist spouse, for example, can be a problem. Similarly, we must pay attention to nationalities. Having a family member who is Russian today, for example, would be perceived as very sensitive," says Olivier Mas.
Spontaneous applications and canvassing in the grandes écoles
Long remained in the shadows, the DGSE has benefited from an unexpected wave of popularity thanks to the series Bureau des Légendes. The "Centrale" has largely seized on this television success to strengthen its communication and boost its attractiveness, especially among young people. In the wake of the 2015 attacks, many French people spontaneously proposed their candidacy "in the service of the France". But it is not exactly these "all public" profiles that Boulevard Mortier covets. The DGSE is looking more at young engineers and mathematicians of very high level. In this field, it is in competition with large private companies. "We have to adapt to the strong tensions on certain specialties. In the field of imagery or cyber, it's the jungle!", confessed the boss of the DGSE during a parliamentary hearing last June. According to the manager contacted by Ouest-France, the remuneration offered to young talents remains of "good level".
Engineering profiles are often chased away by the DGSE in the grandes écoles. To convince them, it offers interesting contracts, "says Olivier Mas, while admitting that the salary is not the best argument of the DGSE. "It is obviously the sense of mission that attracts, to serve the state." More than the wage gap, it is the rigidity of the "boulevard Mortier" that can slow down the candidates, says the ex-spy. "The younger generation likes to impose their demands on the employer and keep a certain freedom of change. However, joining the DGSE implies complying with a strict protocol and staying a certain time in the institution, at least ten years, because of the training time and authorization of the positions".