The first images are accompanied by a certain excitement, at the idea of ​​entering “the Box” for the first time, a nickname given to the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE). Unprecedented fact, Bernard Emié, who was its general director from 2017 to 2023, authorized Jean-Christophe Notin, Théo Ivanez and their team to film inside the buildings on Boulevard Mortier, in the east of Paris, in the 20th district. This is phase 1.

The only condition is the total anonymization of the twenty or so agents interviewed. Also director Théo Ivanez had to show creativity, with blurred shots, modified voices and faces of the agents, pixelation of silhouettes. Only Bernard Emié appears “in real life”: “The DGSE is ordinary people carrying out extraordinary missions with exceptional means. »

Not so ordinary, we say, while they decode for us some “episodes”, such as that of the weapons of mass destruction allegedly possessed by Saddam Hussein, which allowed the United States to justify the invasion of Iraq, in March 2003. But “a Scud is a metal tube 88 millimeters in diameter”, which looks, in an aerial view, like a section of pipeline (80 millimeters), indicates Anne, “senior counter-proliferation officer.”

Practical exercises

The camera frames as closely as possible a piece of window, a door. We are far from the futuristic premises hidden in the hollow of a paradise island. “We’re not James Bond. We don’t have a Walther PPK in our pocket,” quips Lionel, director of administration.

The documentarians were also able to recreate practical exercises, such as “transmission of objects” or “counter-shadowing”, with a real situation in the streets of Paris. With such efficiency that the viewer gets caught up in the game – this is phase 2. We therefore listen attentively to the training “how to approach a target” and “get people to betray their countries” thanks to the “famous MICE: Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego”.

Another notch is taken at the mention of the special section, “armed arm of the DGSE”, whose actions are not assumed by the French State. How far can they go? “It’s up to you to imagine,” says Jean – in introduction to phase 3. The closer the stories get to today, the more the dramaturgy increases.

One case is highlighted: the fatal attack on a French family on December 24, 2007 in Aleg, Mauritania. The agents then detail the long hunt for the four terrorists which followed. “It was the first anti-French attack since Algeria: we wanted to mark the occasion,” points out Jean. At the same time, other “problems” – that’s their word – are emerging: coups in Burkina Faso, Niger, invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, test firing of a nuclear missile by Korea in March 2022, Hamas attacks in Israel on October 7, 2023, followed by Israeli bombings of the Gaza Strip…

“The world is more and more at war,” Jean said. But we will adapt. We are very efficient. We were again recently. » We will not know where or when: the “Box” of secrets is closing.