A university in southern France has created the country's first university chair in "intelligence" and a master's degree in the dark arts of espionage.

The political sciences university of Aix-en-Provence will start with an intelligence certificate this September followed by its first master's degree next year.

The course will be run by General Serge Cholley, a military heavyweight who commanded France's operation against Isis (Islamic State) starting from 2014, which involved reconnaissance missions and air strikes, sometimes backed by UK forces.

"We want to make intelligence a subject that is no longer restricted [to spy services] but academic," said Rostane Mehdi, head of Aix's institute of political studies, IEP. "For that, we're putting in place a programme that is unprecedented in France and which meets a strong institutional demand."

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Espionage experts say France is playing catch-up with Britain and the United States in forging strong links between the intelligence community and academia.

In 2018, the heads of France's six main intelligence agencies convened for an unprecedented seminar at Sciences Po Paris on the "links between intelligence and university", issuing a plea for engineers, IT specialists, linguists and analysts to join their ranks.

"This academic chair will be a useful bridge between two universes that ignore each other too often - that of intelligence in all its complexity and that of the academic world in all its diversity," said Pierre Bousquet de Florian, France's national intelligence coordinator, cited by the university.

The new chairman and course are supported by France's intelligence academy, a school for intelligence agents working for the French state.

The course has appointed several senior intelligence figures as teachers, including Jean-Baptiste Carpentier, former head of Tracfin, the state body that fights money laundering.


Demand to work for France's intelligence services doubled after the 2015 terror attacks in Paris. The work of its directorate-general for external security, DGSE, has been in the spotlight thanks to the huge success of The Bureau, the television series on the spy agency starring Mathieu Kassovitz.

The first undergraduates will comprise 15 students and 15 professionals from the public and private sector. The idea is not just to train future secret agents but intelligence experts with wide skill-sets, including in culture and the environment.

In May, the technical director of the DGSE said that it was seeking to recruit "geeks" rather than budding James Bonds to adapt to the post-Covid world. Too many young tech-savvy French rule themselves out due to stereotypes of gung-ho agents, said the agency's technical director Patrick Pailloux.

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Young people "have James Bond and the special forces in their heads", he told AFP. "They think 'I am not Rambo, I am a geek', and it does not occur to them to enter the DGSE.

"If you are supercharged in science, then you can also serve your country."