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Magazine: Former French Defense Minister Spied for KGB

October 30, 1996

PARIS (AP) _ A former French defense minister and confidant to the late Socialist President Francois Mitterrand spied for the KGB in the 1950s and ’60s, a newsmagazine reported Tuesday.

Charles Hernu, defense minister from 1981 to 1985, earned hundreds of thousands of dollars spying for the KGB and Eastern European intelligence services between 1953 and 1963, according to the respected weekly l’Express.

Hernu died from a sudden illness in 1990, five years after he was forced to resign as defense minister over the sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand.

Hernu’s son, Patrice Hernu, told television network LCI that his father could not have worked for the Soviet Union. ``It seems to me totally implausible,″ he said.

Yves Bonnet, a legislator and former head of French counter-intelligence, said that during Hernu’s tenure as defense minister, ``nothing in his behavior, and in particular his manner of treating a certain number of delicate affairs concerning our security vis-a-vis the Soviets, justified such an accusation.″

But l’Express said the French counter-intelligence service told Mitterrand in 1992 that Hernu had worked for the KGB. Shocked, Mitterrand ordered the information to be kept a state secret, according to the report.

Hernu was recruited by a Bulgarian diplomat, looking to contact ``Frenchmen in key posts who could furnish confidential information,″ l’Express said. Hernu’s code name was Andre-Dinou. At the time, he worked for Socialist leader Pierre Mendes-France.

The Bulgarians asked Hernu to write reports on the French political situation and portraits of political leaders, including Mitterrand, who would later take Hernu as a close friend, l’Express said.

The magazine did not say whether Hernu had passed any sensitive state secrets, but it suggested that Hernu’s relationship with the KGB may have continued after 1963.

Hernu was originally paid $550 a month by the Bulgarians and later the KGB, but his monthly salary grew to $3,000 after he was elected to the French Parliament.

In 1958, Hernu was given $60,000 by several intelligence services, including the Romanians, to help finance his election campaign, l’Express said.

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