The recent events in Paris have once again cast doubts on the ability of French intelligence to provide national security.
Following the attacks, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls did not hesitate to admit to a lapse in security. The two Kouachi brothers, responsible for killing 12 people, were well known to French intelligence agents and for a time closely tracked. Yet they managed to slip through.
This is particularly troubling since the French domestic intelligence services (DGSI) were reformed in 2008 and again in 2014 following the attacks carried by Mohamed Merah, a French citizen who gunned down several French soldiers and Jewish schoolchildren in three separate incidents.
The apparent recurrence of intelligence failures in France and elsewhere has long been debated by security experts, and ultimately begs the question: what can be expected from intelligence services?
French journalists recently pointed out in Le Monde that citizens expect 100% security. Yet intelligence services make very clear that such levels of security are not materially possible.
The British Secret Intelligence Service states on its website: “we are likely to see a more unpredictable picture in the future, potentially with more frequent, albeit less sophisticated attacks.” Similarly intelligence scholars have long agreed that “intelligence failures are inevitable.” In other words, citizens should not expect too much from their intelligence services.