Alexandre de Marenches

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Alexandre de Marenches (right) in a 1983 meeting with US President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office.

Count Alexandre de Marenches (June 7, 1921 in Paris – June 2, 1995) was a French military officer, former director of the SDECE French external intelligence services (6 November 1970 - 12 June 1981[1]), special advisor to U.S. President Ronald Reagan and a member of the Academy of Morocco.


He was the son of Captain Charles-Constant-Marie de Marenches, a French aristocrat from a very old family of knights of Norman origin, an aide-de-camp to Marshal Ferdinand Foch and, together with Aldebert de Chambrun a representative of Marshal Philippe Pétain to General John J. Pershing. His mother, Margaret Clark Lestrade, (May 7, 1881 New York - May 3, 1968 Paris) was a US citizen of distant French descent.

Early life[edit]

In his youth, he met many of the Allied leaders of the First World War, such as Marshal Foch and General Pershing. Marshal Petain was a witness at his parents' wedding. In 1939, then Count de Marenches, he joined the cavalry of the army and entered the field of intelligence by informing his relatives and contacts in the US of the German activities in France 1940. He narrowly escaped arrest by the Gestapo in 1942, crossing the Pyrenees on foot and making his way to Algiers. He joined the French forces of liberation there and played a distinguished role in the Italian Campaign. Wounded at the Battle of Monte Cassino, he became aide-de-camp to General Alphonse Juin, the commander of the French forces in Italy (1943 — July 1944). There, he helped coordinate the US military and the French expeditionary corps and the eventual successful Allied advance into Rome.

After the war, he ventured into industry but remained in the Army Reserve, ultimately reaching the rank of colonel. In 1962 he resigned in protest to Charles de Gaulle's Algerian policy.

Choice of Pompidou[edit]

He was eventually chosen to head the French intelligence services by French President Georges Pompidou, mainly because of his perceived independence and integrity. Pompidou was aware that factions in the intelligence services had been circulating defamatory rumours for the last six months of de Gaulle's presidency on his wife and himself. Other rumours alleged Pompidou's involvement with the film star Alain Delon, whose bodyguard had been found murdered in September 1968.

Some agents had taken the opportunity to smear Pompidou in revenge taking very firm action against some of their colleagues involved in the kidnapping of Ben Barka, the leader of the Moroccan opposition in 1965. Marenches was brought in to clear up the factions; the fact that de Marenche had been close to de Gaulle's former comrade-in-arms, Alphonse Juin, may have also played a role in the original choice.

In 1970, he was installed as head of the SDECE), the forerunner of the current DGSE. He deliberately carried out the President's instruction to clean up the service and was indifferent to any protests on his actions. A natural activist, he began to travel and to meet with other governments to pursue the interests of France in different parts of the world.

Presidency of Giscard d'Estaing[edit]

Such was his authority that when Giscard d'Estaing succeeded Pompidou as president in 1974, Marenches kept his position for 11 years. Tellingly, when Pompidou died and the key to his personal safe was deemed lost, de Marenches was found to be in possession of another one. In chapter 7 ("Serving Two Masters") of his autobiography, and The Fourth World War, Marenches says that Pompidou's safe in Elysee Palace was opened by one of the Secret Services' safecrackers only after Marenches summoned the late president's son and his chef du cabinet as witnesses to its contents. Op. cit. at 147.

Under Giscard d'Estaing, he tried to awaken interest in the former Portuguese colonies in Africa, and when Giscard d'Estaing protested that they were a long way away, he answered, "Yes, but they are getting nearer". Like many others in the intelligence community, he resented the president's lack of concern about the communist threat and, more generally, about Giscard's deliberate ignorance that "History is tragic".


It is difficult to assess Marenches's achievements. There were those who believed that while he was one of the busiest figures on the intelligence circuit, some of his pronouncements (those on the Soviet Union, for example) were based on slender information. Others noted how he successfully cultivated his contacts in the Middle East, pushing the sales of Dassault Mirage fighters and helping to establish a relationship with Iraq that has persisted. In Africa, sometimes working with the old Gaullist emissary Jacques Foccart and sometimes behaving as his rival, Marenches strengthened France's traditional strongholds.

He co-founded the Safari Club, a "private intelligence group [which was] one of George H. W. Bush's many end-runs around congressional oversight of the American intelligence establishment and the locus of many of the worst features of the mammoth BCCI scandal."[2] The Club involved a number of states, including Saudi Arabia (which financed the operations), Morocco, Egypt and Iran, and was intended to counter Soviet operations in the Middle East and Africa.

An interlocutor with many heads of state in the world and a close friend of King Hassan II of Morocco, he was elected member of the Academy of Morocco. After the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency of the United States, he would have become, according to the American journalist Colley, one of his closest advisers doing business in Afghanistan.

Marenches wrote in Dans le secret des princes that he predicted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to an American journalist, who immediately reported his conversation to US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and left for Kabul, "arriving in the same time as the Soviet tanks did". He also conceived Operation Moustique or Mosquito. In a meeting with Reagan at the White House, he suggested for the Drug Enforcement Administration to take all the drugs confiscated and supply them covertly to the Soviet army in Afghanistan. In a few months, he explained, they would be demoralized, and their fighting ability would be gone. Marenches added, according to his published memoirs, that a few trusted people could do all that at a cost of approximately a million dollars.[3]

Edouard Balladur knew him well when they were both working closely with Pompidou. When Balladur was prime minister, he was due to preside over a medal-awarding ceremony. He was suddenly unable to attend and so asked Marenches to take his place. That was a serious mark of Balladur's respect and friendship.

At 6'4" and heavily built, he was called Porthos in reference to the character in The Three Musketeers. Charismatic and colourful, he was popular for his valour and patriotism.


After the coming of the Socialists to power, de Marenches resigned in 1981 because of presence of Communists in the government. He disapproved of the new organisation of security and was particularly scathing about the fiasco of the Rainbow Warrior. He accepted, however, a seat on the French Constitutional Council.


In 1986, along with journalist Christine Ockrent, he co-authored a book, Dans le secret des princes ("In the Princes' Secret", published in English as The Evil Empire: Third World War Continues) about his days working in secret services. Claims were made on concealed archives with evidence of collaboration with Germans by figures of the French Resistance during the French Occupation.

In 1992, along with David A. Andelman, he co-authored The Fourth World War: Diplomacy and Espionage in the Age of Terrorism, a book in which he predicted the rise of terrorism as a new form of warfare. That book became very popular in American countries elites after September 11, 2001.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Phelan, Matthew (2011-02-28) Seymour Hersh and the men who want him committed Archived 2011-03-02 at the Wayback Machine,
  3. ^ John Cooley: Unholy Wars. Page 108. 1999