French newspapers clamored Monday for the identity of the officials who ordered the sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, but the difficulty of unraveling the truth was demonstrated by a report that the French intelligence agency had destroyed most of its file on the affair.
Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, quoting what it called “a good source,” said that Defense Minister Paul Quiles, soon after taking office on Saturday, had discovered that “the essential elements” of the file on the Greenpeace mission had been destroyed. No confirmation of the report could be obtained.
Quiles, according to the news agency, ordered the General Directorate of External Security to fully reconstitute the file. The news agency did not say if the intelligence directorate had complied.
But, despite obstacles like this, political analysts believe that the French government must eventually name those responsible for ordering French intelligence agents to blow up the anti-nuclear protest ship 10 weeks ago in a New Zealand harbor.
“On Whose Order?” the Paris newspaper Liberation demanded in a large front-page headline. The answer to that question, analysts agree, will determine the true extent of the Greenpeace affair’s political damage to President Francois Mitterrand.
Call for Parliamentary Probe
Premier Laurent Fabius, who admitted France’s guilt Sunday, has proposed a parliamentary commission to investigate the incident and presumably determine who ordered the sinking of the ship and who ordered the attempt to cover up French guilt.
Since all political parties take part in parliamentary commissions, such an investigation might help take the issue out of partisan politics. Perhaps for this reason, the conservative opposition parties have been lukewarm to the proposal by the Socialist premier.
The main issue is whether senior officials of the government ordered the ship’s destruction to prevent it from sailing into the French nuclear testing site at Mururoa Atoll in the South Pacific or whether the intelligence agency, which is part of the French military establishment, acted on its own.
Whatever the results of an investigation, Mitterrand could not hope to escape all political damage. Former Premier Jacques Chaban-Delmas, for example, told a news conference in Bordeaux that “the affair has harmed the credit of France and equally harmed the credit of the president who represents France.”
In the meantime, Fabius moved to try to repair some of the damaged relations with New Zealand. A government spokesman said that Fabius has asked the French ambassador in Wellington to inform Prime Minister David Lange of New Zealand that Fabius was distressed at how the affair had hurt relations between the two countries. But Fabius did not make the apology that was initially demanded by Lange.
Apology No Longer Sought
Lange said Monday in New Zealand that an apology is no longer required. “An apology pales into insignificance compared with the enormity of a government in a civilized world acknowledging, first that it had spies in another country and then . . . announcing that those spies were ordered to sink a peaceful ship in a New Zealand harbor.”
Lange also criticized France’s decision not to punish the agents directly involved in the sinking because they were acting under orders. He said this was a “complete reversal of earlier French assurances” that France would bring “these people to justice if it was shown that they were French.”
A flurry of leaks and rumors started quickly in Paris on Monday, evidently part of a campaign to lay part of the guilt on Fabius himself. A French radio station, for example, claimed that the premier was informed about the French involvement soon after two French agents were arrested in New Zealand in July but turned down a suggestion from the intelligence agency that he try to negotiate a settlement with New Zealand.
Fabius, according to the radio station, insisted that France must not acknowledge its role. An aide of the premier, however, denounced the broadcast as “a tissue of lies.”
More accusations and counteraccusations are expected in Paris as intelligence sources try to fight back against what they see as an attempt by the Socialist government to put most of the blame on the General Directorate of External Security.
Refused to Answer Question
That seemed to be the pattern set by the premier Friday when he forced Defense Minister Charles Hernu’s resignation and dismissed Adm. Pierre Lacoste as director of intelligence. Lacoste was fired for refusing to answer questions about the exact number and assignment of agents in New Zealand at the time of the sinking. Hernu, in his letter of resignation, said that he now knew that military and intelligence officers had lied to him.
But any attempt to make scapegoats of the French military and intelligence establishment would be resisted strongly by the conservative opposition parties, which have often bristled at any attempt to weaken this establishment. The leading officers are looked on as followers of the rightist parties.
Quiles, in his first communique to the military Monday, tried to reassure the officer corps by stating his determination “not to allow multiple and insidious campaigns to harm the honor of our armies.”
In a long editorial, Serge July, editor and publisher of the Paris daily newspaper Liberation and a journalist close to Mitterrand, wrote during the weekend that “the political cost of this affair is incalcuable.” July said the fact that the president felt forced to sacrifice his old friend Hernu is “the exact measure of the catastrophic situation in which Mitterrand found himself.”
Several political commentators believe that the affair could cripple Mitterrand’s political plans for the the last two years of his seven-year term.
Public opinion polls consistently predict that the conservative parties will take control of the French National Assembly from the Socialists in the legislative elections coming up in March. Since Mitterrand’s term does not expire until 1988, this would mean that France, for the first time under its present constitution, would have a left-wing president and a right-wing Parliament.
Although some conservatives want a right-wing Parliament to refuse to cooperate with Mitterrand, thus pressuring him to resign, other conservatives have said they would work with the president in an effort to keep a stable government for two years. Former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing has hinted that he would be willing to serve as premier in such a government.
Some political commentators, however, now say that the Greenpeace affair, if it gets any worse, could so besmirch Mitterrand as to make it politically unwise for any conservative politician to cooperate with him or, as the French put it, “cohabit” with him for the last two years of his administration.
Although some of the most prominent leaders on the right did not comment on the government’s role in the Greenpeace bombing, some rightists insist that the Socialist government must accept full responsibility for what happened. Jean Lecanuet, president of Giscard’s party, said that “it was implausible to believe that Mitterrand and Premier Laurent Fabius were not informed of what was going on.”
Jacques Toubon, the secretary-general of the Gaullist party known as the Rally for the People of France (RPR), which is more right-wing than the Giscard party, said that the affair has proved that Fabius is “incapable of running the affairs of France.”
‘Heavy and Long Procedure’
These parties showed no enthusiasm for the Fabius proposal for a parliamentary investigation. The secretariat of the RPR described such an investigation as “a heavy and long procedure” that “did not relieve the government of responsibility for shedding all light on the affair in the next few days.”
Future political damage to Mitterrand depends on how high responsibility goes for the Greenpeace affair.
According to Le Monde, France’s most influential newspaper, the decision to bomb and sink the Rainbow Warrior, an act that caused the death of a Portuguese-born photographer, was made earlier this year by Hernu, Gen. Jeannou Lacaze, who was armed forces chief of staff at the time, and Gen. Jean Saulnier, who was then Mitterrand’s military aide. Any proof of Saulnier’s participation in this kind of a decision might bring Mitterrand directly into the scandal.
Hernu, Lacaze, and Saulnier have all denied ordering the French agents to put the mines on the hull of the ship.