The French government has launched an investigation after a “senior French officer” was arrested and accused of a “security breach,” French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly acknowledged on Sunday. She went on to say that the officer in question is believed to have transmitted sensitive documents to a “foreign power” in this newest bout of high-level espionage.
“What I can confirm is that a senior officer is facing legal proceedings for a security breach,” Parly said. But she gave no further details.
According to various media reports, the accused officer was a lieutenant-colonel stationed with NATO in Italy. He is under investigation on suspicion of spying for Russia.
The French officer speaks Russian and was seen in Italy with a man identified as an agent of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service, the reports added. He was arrested on August 21 by the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) as he was about to leave for Italy at the end of his holidays in France. He is being held at La Santé prison in Paris, according to Europe 1.
The DGSI is charged with counter-espionage, counter-terrorism, countering cybercrime, and surveillance of potentially threatening groups, and organizations. It is similar in scope to the FBI.
The officer is suspected of having supplied sensitive documents to Russian intelligence. Parly said her ministry had informed government prosecutors about the case.
“We have implemented all the necessary safeguards,” she added.
A source inside the judicial branch later confirmed to France 24 that a senior officer had been indicted on charges involving “intelligence with a foreign power that undermines the fundamental interests of the nation.”
He is being prosecuted for “delivering information to a foreign power” as well as “collecting information harming the fundamental interests of the nation with a view to delivering them to a foreign power” and “compromising the secrecy of national defense”, the source said.
Reportedly, an investigation was launched in July after the Defense Ministry alerted the government that treasonous activity may have occurred. The Russian Embassy in France has not commented on the arrest of the French officer.
This arrest comes at a sensitive time for President Macron: He has been attempting to repair the E.U.’s tattered ties to Moscow and President Putin. Macron has accused Russia of interfering with the election he won in 2017. Yet, he has also stated that rather than ostracizing Russia, the E.U. needs to engage and work with it in resolving crises in Belarus, Syria, and Libya, among others.
Earlier this month it was reported that another NATO officer, a former U.S. Army Special Forces officer, Captain Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins of the American 10th Special Forces Group, was arrested in the United States on suspicion of conspiring with Russian intelligence and transferring data related to national defense.
According to a 17-page indictment, Debbins was recruited by Russian intelligence operatives. He considered himself a “son of Russia,” his mother was born in the former Soviet Union, and his wife was from Russia.