From the Cold War to hybrid threats
The history of the State Intelligence Service (Service de Renseignement de l'État, or SRE) dates back to 1960, although it has evolved in response to the challenges of the past six decades. Its remit, operating methods, capabilities and resources as well as oversight mechanisms have all been adapted to changes in the nature of the threats to the country, technological developments and the SRE's legal framework. To fulfil its mission to anticipate risks and protect the security of the state and its citizens, the SRE must today deal with threats that are increasingly scattered and diverse, hard to identify and extremely volatile.
1960: first steps
In 1960 the global order was characterised by 'the balance of terror' between the Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), with their more or less comparable military capabilities.
In the middle of the Cold War, on July 30, 1960, Luxembourg's membership of NATO prompted the government to set up a genuine intelligence service, active on Luxembourg soil to protect the state's external security. Initially, the intelligence agency's role consisted of checking whether individuals with access to sensitive information were trustworthy, accrediting them according to NATO criteria, uncovering any foreign spies active in the Grand Duchy, and liaising with the secret services of other alliance member countries.
In its early years the agency used the same intelligence methods as other allied countries at the time, obtaining information through surveillance, phone tapping and recruiting informers. During this period the agency unmasked several spies operating for Eastern European countries in Luxembourg.
The highly secret Stay Behind network
Following the launch of the intelligence service, a special section was given responsibility for overseeing the activities of the Luxembourg branch of the Stay Behind network, which consisted of local units throughout the countries in Western Europe and who each set up their own framework for the actions of the members of their network. They were responsible for providing information from behind enemy lines in the event of an invasion by Warsaw Pact forces. The Luxembourg unit consisted of a dozen civilians unconnected to each other who were trained by the service in handling encrypted telecommunication equipment and in intelligence techniques, as well as in smuggling people into and out of occupied territory. (For further information please refer also to the booklet "La Guerre froide au Luxembourg" edited by the Musée national d'histoire et d’art - ISBN 978-2-87985-389-5.)
Luxembourg's Stay Behind unit was dissolved in 1989. However, it resurfaced in the public eye in Luxembourg as a twist in the Bommeleeër affair, the still-unsolved series of 20 bomb attacks in the country between 1984 and 1986, mainly targeting public infrastructure.
On February 27, 2008, then Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker wrote to Charles Goerens, chairman of the parliamentary committee in charge of oversight of the State Intelligence Service, reminding the committee of its powers under Article 15(3) of the law of June 15, 2004 to examine specific cases of the Intelligence Service.
Juncker invited the committee to examine the following issues:
- Management by the SRE of the Stay Behind unit from launch until its disbanding.
- The bomb attacks of 1985 and 1986 and the role played by the SRE in the investigation into the identity of the bombers.
- The truth or otherwise of allegations of links between the Stay Behind unit and the bombings.
The committee, which had full access to the SRE's archives, also heard testimony from former Prime Minister Jacques Santer and chief state prosecutor Robert Biever, as well as SRE director Marco Mille, his predecessor Charles Hoffmann, and members of the Stay Behind network in the 1980s.
Following its investigations, the committee issued a report concluding that “no evidence exists of any link whatsoever between the series of bomb attacks in Luxembourg between 1984 and 1986 and the activities of the Stay Behind network (…)”.
1982: new controls over surveillance
The law of November 26, 1982 complemented the code of criminal procedure through articles 88-1 to 88-4, regulating the use of technology to monitor all types of communication, whether postal, telephonic or other. The SRE's use of special investigative methods was henceforth subject to a procedure detailed by the legislation.
2004: first major reform of the intelligence service
At the beginning of this century, the geopolitical context changed. Relations between the US and its Western allies with the Russian Federation, successor to the Soviet Union, broadly eased following the fall of the Berlin Wall. In contrast to the threat posed by a hostile bloc of states during the Cold War, those arising since the beginning of the 21st century have been much more diverse.
The spectre of Islamic terrorism has haunted the world since the attacks in the US of September 11, 2001. The political authorities sought to involve the intelligence service in the efforts to prevent terrorist attacks on national territory and foster the creation of "a modern secret service adapted to the demands of our era and compatible with foreign and allied services". (see also the Report by the Committee of the Institutions of the constitutional revision of the Chamber of Deputies, May13, 2004 on the draft law 5133 on the organisation of the State’s Intelligence Service)
The legislation of June 15, 2004 sought to:
- adapt the responsibilities of the agency to the changing threats to the country;
- better define its resources, its staff and its access to information;
- describe operational methods without compromising the secret nature of its missions;
- and institute a parliamentary oversight system to complement the service’s existing governance provisions.
Through the law, the government implemented an in-depth reform of the agency and strengthened its resources, especially in terms of staff.
The law of July 5, 2016: ethics, resources and oversight
In November 2012, the media revealed the existence of a secret recording by the then director of the SRE of one of his meetings with Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker. The Chamber of Deputies reacted by creating a committee of inquiry to "examine the operational methods of the Intelligence Service since it was set up, in order to verify their legality under the legislation in force at the time to report to the Chamber of Deputies and to draw the conclusions as soon as possible (…)".
Parliament subsequently expanded the remit of the committee of inquiry to the agency's organisation and working methods. In its report, published on July 5, 2013, the committee called for urgent reform of the legislation underpinning the SRE's organisation.
The episode prompted public debate about the scope of surveillance conducted by the SRE during the Cold War, and a significant number of individuals demanded to know whether the agency was holding files on them and, if so, what they contained. Between December 2012 and August 2018, more than 700 requests for access were addressed to the former supervisory authority set up under the article 17 of the legislation of August 2002 on the processing of personal data.
The parliamentary committee recommended commissioning experts to analyse the SRE's historical archives in order to provide a better understanding of the material they contain. A team of two researchers was appointed to examine the archives following the call for tender in 2016 which was launched on the basis of article 3 of the law of July 23, 2016 putting in place a special status for certain personal data processed by the SRE.
The programme of the new government that took office at the end of 2013 stated that the SRE’s legal missions should be redefined in line with the conclusions of the parliamentary inquiry committee's report, with all forms of surveillance with a political connotation being banned and a detailed legal framework put in place to govern the agency's operational methods.
The aim was to provide the reformed agency with a more effective legal foundation, as well as resources capable of meeting existing and future operational requirements, and governance and oversight provisions appropriate in a democratic state.
The law of July 5, 2016 was broadly based on the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry committee, establishing a national intelligence service with a clear legal framework and appropriate supervision mechanisms and procedures. (More information on the various levels of supervision of the SRE appear in the section, Oversight of the Intelligence Service).
The legislation defines the methods to be used for the collection of intelligence, subject to strict conditions and precise criteria, and following the principles of legitimacy, proportionality and subsidiarity. (For more details on these principles, see the section, The SRE).
Directors of the State Intelligence Service
|Jean-Pierre Brasseur||First director of the State Intelligence Service following the entry into force of the law of 30 July 1960
||March 9, 1962-March 17, 1978
||August 1978-April 30, 1985
||April 26, 1985-October 1, 2003
||December 17, 2003-February 28, 2010
||March 1, 2010-December 31, 2015
||January 1, 2016-present (see CV)