Alain Chouet, a former top ranking official with the French foreign intelligence service (DGSE), thinks one has to prepare in the future for adaptation or resistance systemic crisis inherent in globalization. If Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is severely weakened, he carries the flag of a local minority who is officially destined to genocide in a Middle East region that, explained Chouet, has never been stable since the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1920. Although Saudi Arabia and Qatar don’t publicly support any longer groups such as ISIS and AQIM, this is the whole infrastructure of the fundamentalist identity affirmation through the Muslim Brotherhood for instance that carries out the jihadist action. Lastly, there are neither friends nor taboos when it comes to intelligence, particularly competitive intelligence. This is “a costly zero-sum game,” concluded Chouet who answered our questions below:
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Alain Chouet graduated from the Ecole des langues orientales (Arabic) and from the University Paris II Panthéon-Assas in law and political science. Admitted in 1972 as a Delegate with the French Defense Ministry, and thanks to posts abroad, notably in Beirut, Lebanon, in Damascus, Syria and Rabat in Morocco, Chouet gained deep experience about security and terrorism issues. In 2000-2002, he has been the head of security intelligence at the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) – the French foreign intelligence service.
1) Recent years have been very tumultuous both from an economic standpoint with the global financial crisis and from a geopolitical standpoint with the war in Syria and Ukraine, the Arab Spring and China’s increasing power. What’s your viewpoint about the world’s overall situation? According to you, what will be the next years’ main trends and issues?
A.C.: Destabilization and violence that we’ve been confronted with for about twenty years are adaptation or resistance crisis to a new world order based on trade globalization, free movement of goods and people, communication universality against the background of military domination by the American hyper-power and its NATO allies. We’re at the middle of this process that can get out of control anytime towards occurrences of violence in relation to local conservatisms, identity affirmations, development imbalances and that could only express itself in weak against the strong strategies of which terrorism is a basic fact. Beyond these episodes this is rather systemic crisis inherent in globalization that one has to prepare for: resource depletion like precious metals, access to water, mass migrations, disintegration of Nation-States, increase in political power of globalized structures adapted to trade globalization and people and data open flow: multinationals and transnational criminal organizations.
2) The situation in Syria keeps deteriorating and the presence of extremist Islamic groups at Damascus’ doorstep make one think the Bashar Al-Assad regime and the region’s stability as a whole are at great risk. Do you share this viewpoint? Can we really let all this happen and maintain an anti-Assad official posture?
A.C.: The Middle East has never been stable since the disaggregation of the Ottoman Empire in 1920. Hence, the coexistence of countless ethnic, cultural, faith-based minorities which populate the region has been (badly) ensured for 60 years only through institutional violence of authoritarian regimes with whom the international community lived with very well. The need for legitimation and survival of the Wahhabi theocratic oil-monarchies in the face of the regional ambitions of Shiite Iran and the nationalist deviations of a number of Arab countries led them, since the 1980, to arouse Sunni fundamentalist identity reaction both hostile to democracy, nationalism and Shiism. In Syria, Bashar Al-Assad’s power is not of one sole man’s. The Syrian President, currently very weakened, is only the flag bearer of a 2 million people local minority who’s been oppressed for a thousand years and who’s officially destined to genocide by Wahhabi theoreticians. As agreed by the UN Special Representative, one cannot deny his existence as a symbol and none negotiated solution of the conflict will be possible without him being associated with it or at least represented.
3) Drying up terrorism financing is a counterterrorist priority. This has even become a news topic with political parties and/or figures who denounced the alleged “double game” by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. What’s the reality of this? Can these countries do more and why, while they’re officially unanimous about the seriousness of the threat, do they fail to obliterate it once and for all?
A.C.: What’s costly in terrorist violence, these aren’t the violent acts themselves. This is the setting up of the structures and the support of the people who achieve the emergence of all what leads to withdrawal, exclusion, violent rejection, fundamentalist identity affirmation: propaganda, mosques, Imams and Salafist agents of influence, “cultural and sport” centers, targeted “charity” actions. The oil-monarchies have ensured the financing for 30 years, in general through the Muslim Brotherhood. But this financing is nowhere considered as illegal. Finally there’s the case of financing and political-military support for fighting organizations such as ISIS, AQIM and others. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have officially assumed this support till summer 2013. For different reasons, they have since then halted any public support for these organizations, but the support from private institutions people from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait still exists in significant amounts as the US Treasury Department noticed. It seems clear that these jihadist movements’ action serves the strategic interests of the Sunni monarchies and one doesn’t see why they would give it up. The West’s silence and indulgence is, however, more peculiar…
4) Revelations according to which German intelligence (BND) has allegedly spied on French high-ranking officials for the US National Security Agency (NSA) underlined the absence of Europe’s unity as regards intelligence. Is that serious or is it simply the usual “spy game” between allies? Has French intelligence adapted itself to the growing challenges of “economic war”?
A.C.: In terms of intelligence, and particularly competitive intelligence, there can be allies but there are neither friends nor taboos. This is all the more true in Europe where none common policy as regards intelligence exists. To have one, common foreign and defense policies should first exist… One seems far from that. From that perspective, the intra-European cooperations on intelligence are being organized one at a time, in bilateral or small groups, on issues of limited and common interest: terrorism, military operations overseas, anti-organized crime operations, and so on. Most often this takes place with US services knowing about it in the name of NATO or “global war on terror” imperatives. Considering the countless training centers, think-tanks, public and private competitive intelligence consultancies which multiply in our country, France seems not lagging behind. Yet one should question their usefulness. I remember that with respect to competitive intelligence between developed countries, one is robbed on one side as much as one has managed to pilfer on the other side. In the end, this is a costly zero-sum game.