Previous: The Long War, Part XV - The Enemy Within
The French Connection
In May 2016 the Western intelligence world was shocked by the revelation that France was exporting arms and supplies to the jihadists in Syria and Nigeria. The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, shared these allegations with the US, who later passed it on to General Bradford at X-Com. German-US relations had cooled somewhat after it was revealed in 2014 that the US had CIA moles in the BND, but the scale and nature of their discovery overrode any differences between the two NATO partners. A clear chain of custody was compiled through German surveillance which showed arms being taken from French bases, stockpiled in ports on the Mediterranean Sea, before finally being smuggled onto container ships bound for Nigeria. There was also inconclusive evidence that French shipments were also being routed to Syria by way of Turkey, with shipments crossing the northern border of Syria to end up in the hands of ISIS and al-Qaeda groups. What made these revelations even worse was the apparent complicity of the French government - surveillance footage showed the weapons being packed and loaded in plain sight in French bases, although there was much debate as to whether or not the base commanders were aware of the final destination of these weapon shipments. These claims were so shocking and controversial that intelligence officers did not know what to do with the bombshell on their hands. If these claims were validated then the French government was responsible for supplying the worst terrorist organizations of the 21st century, responsible for numerous deaths and atrocities all over the world.
|The French carrier Charles De Gaulle carried out hundreds of air strikes against fundamentalist Islamic groups in Syria and Iraq.|
This revelation was a complete turnaround for French policy, which up to the latter part of 2015 had been to actively oppose and combat terrorism all over the globe. France had one of the most forwardly deployed militaries in the world, and maintained several bases in Africa due to the painful legacy of French colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries. France was instrumental in peace keeping and anti-terrorism operations in sub-Saharan nations such as the Central African Republic, Mali, Chad and the Ivory Coast. France was also one of the coalition leaders in the battle against al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria, having launched over 200 air strikes against terrorist strongholds from the carrier Charles De Gaulle in the Persian Gulf since 2014. For these reasons, France's actions in the early 21st century baffled and mystified the international community. US Secretary of State John Kerry stated: "Since late 2015 French policy has been unpredictable and inconsistent. President Hollande refuses to engage in meaningful dialogue anymore, and French officials obfuscate, delay and sometimes outright lie when dealing with us. In the UN they have been unreliable and dishonest partners, pledging to stand with us on resolutions, only to back out later without giving us the courtesy of telling us." Kerry's statement was in reference to France's flip flopping with regards to the establishment of X-Com in 2015-2016. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council France had vetoed the original X-Com resolution, but then voted for it when the amended resolution went before the UN General Assembly. France sent a company of soldiers and technical staff to Tanegashima in February 2016 when the X-Com unit was first constituted, only to have them withdraw one month later after France left the Council of 16. President Hollande's dramatic about faces exasperated and infuriated world leaders, while domestically it merely confirmed the French people's dim view of their incumbent President, who possessed the lowest approval ratings of any French leader in modern history. Nonetheless none of France's backflips in the UN compared to the shocking revelation made by German intelligence, and crisis meetings were convened in secret to discuss what was to be done in the light of these findings.
Official French opposition to the X-Com project had grown since their withdrawal from the Council of 16 in March 2016. The newly appointed French ambassador to the UN, Jean Pétain, publicly lambasted the UN and the X-Com project in a series of speeches and interviews. Pétain's actions publicly exposed X-Com as a nascent military organization, and laid bare before the global public details of its operations. The details were so explicit that they could have only come from the French personnel initially deployed with X-Com back in March 2016, or from an insider currently serving in the task force. "X-Com has gone far above and beyond its original mandate," said Pétain in a fiery interview on CNN. "It was supposed to be a research team, not some paramilitary unit wilfully ignoring sovereign borders. There are over 10,000 soldiers in Tanegashima. What possible purpose do they serve? More importantly, who do they serve? Who do they answer to? X-Com is basically the Secretary-General's own private army, answerable only to him, and what baffles me is how all these nations are willing to let him do whatever he likes with it." Ban's response was typical of the man. "If the X-Com unit only answered to me," he stated ruefully. "Then why do I have to make so many phone calls every time they need to go anywhere?" Realistically the X-Com unit was under no threat of being disbanded, despite the strident objections put forward by Pétain. As long as it had the support of the superpowers it had manpower, material and funding. The decisive intervention in Nigeria also earned it a great deal of international good will, although its global mandate did raise many questions among the nations in the General Assembly. In the spirit of cooperation and inclusion Ban accepted small donations of men and material from nations not represented in the Council of 16 in order to sooth and placate the odd murmurs of dissent. In return he promised greater transparency and consultation from the X-Com unit in future operations.
The Advent Acts
France's anti-terrorist stance up to the end of 2015 earned it the ire of global terrorist organizations, and the country was the subject of numerous terrorist attacks in the early years of the 21st century. The single deadliest attack in French history took place on 13-14 November 2015, where a coordinated series of suicide bombings and mass shootings in Paris killed 130 people and injured 368. The attacks were a retaliation by ISIS for France's involvement in the Syrian civil war. In response to the attacks President Hollande instituted an état d'urgence (a state of emergency) which was originally scheduled to last only three months after the attack, but was never subsequently lifted. On 17 November 2015 Hollande convened a Congrès du Parlement français and addressed both houses of the French Parliament, laying out his plans for constitutional and legislative reform. There was widespread support for a tough law and order stance after the November attacks, but that support evaporated almost instantaneously after Hollande's dramatic proposals were made public. The proposed new laws expanded police powers to hold and detain suspects without a warrant, and temporarily suspended habeas corpus, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press while the state of emergency persisted. The most controversial proposal was an amendment to the French Constitution which would give the President plenary power to institute or maintain a state of emergency. Under existing law the President could only institute a state of emergency for 12 days, after which the consent of Parliament would be required to extend it. Under Hollande's proposal the President could unilaterally decide when to begin or end the state of emergency, and taken with the expansion of government powers effectively gave Hollande dictatorial control over the country.
Hollande's attempt to pass what later became known as the Advent Acts was the spark that lit the powder keg in France. These acts were so-called because they were drafted during the Advent period before Christmas, and also as a way of mocking Hollande, whom popular media labelled as an aspiring tyrant with a Messiah complex. An editorial in the Le Nouvel Observateur wrote:
Monsieur Flamby has finally lost his mind. In these proposed acts we not only see a mind swimming in delusion, but also the power hungry aspirations of a would-be tyrant. No one in his right mind would even consider proposing, never mind ratifying these acts, which take away all the freedoms fundamental to democratic society. Even Herr Hitler's Enabling Act appears benign by comparison.
Opposition leaders were similarly stupefied at the audacity of Hollande's proposals. Unlike American or Australian bipartisan governments, France had a multi-party system and governed through the creation and dissolution of ever-shifting coalitions. Hollande's constitutional proposal would have to navigate a political quicksand to even have a chance of being heard, and early indications were that it would be impossible. Virtually every political party in the political spectrum, including the Republicans and the National Front, did not waste the chance to denounce and ridicule the President. Members of Hollande's own Socialist Party and their coalition were horrified at the draconian provisions of the acts, and begged Hollande and his advisors to radically alter them, lest they destroy any miniscule hope of winning re-elections in 2017. Defections from the Socialist Party began en masse. "Hollande no longer speaks for the Socialist Party," said one disaffected member. "He only speaks for himself now." French and international media were equally merciless in pouring scorn and derision, and popular opinion was almost universally in opposition to the acts. The numerous calls for a vote of no confidence were drowned out by louder calls for the President to resign.
Despite massive opposition Hollande did not waver. Hollande became the first President in nearly a decade to invoke Article 49 of the French Constitution, which allowed the Advent Acts to bypass the National Assembly. Under the French constitution the opposition was entitled to raise a vote of no confidence, and this was done on 10 May 2016. No one expected Hollande's government to survive the vote, but in an amazing and complete reversal of fortunes the opposition was only able to raise 246 out of the 288 votes needed to dissolve Hollande's government, much to the consternation and bafflement of every political analyst. In the days before the vote Hollande had conducted a series of one on one talks with influential party leaders at the Élysée Palace. While the content of the talks were kept confidential, party leaders exited the Palace with a seemingly new found respect for the President, and tried to influence their party members to vote with the incumbent. The confusion engendered by this about face muddied the voting waters tremendously, allowing Hollande to squeak by on the thinnest of margins. Hollande had also somehow managed to unify the Socialist Party - even dissenters from the back benches appeared to have recanted their misgivings, and voted with the President. This new solidarity, along with the disarray in the ranks of the opposition, allowed Hollande to call for a Congress of the French Parliament to vote on the constitutional amendment giving him plenary powers on 24 May 2016.
The French Congress was a special body composed of both the Senate and the National Assembly, and it met at the Palace of Versailles to vote on the amendment. Constitutional change required either a national referendum, or a three-fifths majority in Congress, and it was almost universally believed that the bill stood no chance of being passed despite the miracle wrought by Hollande in surviving the vote of no confidence. Laurent Wauquiez of the Republicans attacked Hollande for wasting the Parliament's time, a sentiment which was echoed by Marine Le Pen of the National Front. Prior to the vote the Palace was surrounded by heavy security and closed to the general public for over a week. Arriving reporters and political commentators were shocked to find that the proceedings were to be closed from the media. Aside from a select group of "approved" reporters (mockingly known as Hollande's "stooges"), reporters were not allowed to enter the building during the Congress and had to wait outside behind heavily patrolled cordons of French security. Reporters noted that there were large numbers of police clad in riot gear present, ostensibly as a precaution against terrorist attacks. Since the November attacks Hollande's security detail had tripled in size, and large numbers of tall, thin men wearing dark suits and glasses were becoming a common feature in the President's increasingly infrequent public outings. After three hours, members of the Congress began leaving the building, and news began filtering out that the impossible had happened - the bill had passed.
The news stunned the nation. Politicians leaving the building appeared dazed and confused by what had just transpired. Wauquiez, one of the most adamant critics of the amendment, looked lost and discombobulated. Mobbed by the media all he could offer was a weak statement:
Hollande gave an amazing speech, one of the best I've ever heard. At the time it seemed so convincing - so inspiring - that I couldn't help but vote aye. Now, though, I think - what have I done?
Similar stories emerged from other politicians, all of whom displayed signs of confusion and incoherence upon leaving the building. Not all present were similarly affected. Le Pen launched a blistering attack on the rest of Congress, calling them "slack-jawed idiots" who "were taken in by a confidence trick." Her anger was also reserved for members of her own party, who could not explain why they voted the way they did. In a public display outside Versailles Le Pen lambasted members of her own party, who could only stand shame-faced and apologetic as their leader vented her wrath. Similar stories emerged of party faithful across the political spectrum talking to their colleagues in bewildered confusion, unable to explain what had just happened. "It would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic," said Le Pen bitterly. "This is a national catastrophe."
The accounts which interested X-Com observers the most were ones similar to that given by Greens senator Marie-Christine Blandin:
I felt a very, very strong compulsion to vote yes - I don't know why I did, or where it came from, but it didn't feel like it was coming from me. So I fought it, and fought it, and suddenly the compulsion was gone. I was free again. I looked around and saw my colleagues in a similar stupor. I shook Desessard beside me, and all he did was look through me, before returning his gaze on Hollande. I did the same to Placé , and he looked at me like I was a stranger. I shook him again, and this time he recognized me and snapped out of whatever it was. We looked around the room, and it was the same everywhere. Hundreds of faces staring at Hollande like he was God or something. Here and there, people like me and Jacques, looking around, wondering what the hell was happening.
Blandin's description rang true for many X-Com operatives, many of whom had first hand experience of such compulsions during their battles against the sectoids. When quizzed by Bradford and Doorn as to whether such compulsions could compel someone to vote, Nigeria's "Syp" Mayumba could only shrug: "When it happened to me I would hallucinate and see things that weren't there. But I never felt compelled to do anything. I could still choose how to react, even to disbelieve what was in front of my eyes. I don't believe the sectoids could control us in the way you are suggesting." Hungary's "Gevlon" Kovács disagreed. "In England, when Scholz died, I could feel something compelling me to run. I've never felt terror like that before, even when we were fighting the chryssalids. The fear was completely irrational - most of the sectoids were dead, and we were just mopping up the last two or three. There was no reason to be afraid, but I was." The Hungarian soldier was emphatic. "It's only the scale that is different. In my view it is completely possible." Accounts like these only added to the growing suspicion within X-Com that the French government had been compromised by the aliens. It was a suspicion borne out of their experience fighting the sectoids, but one they could not readily share with the world, which remained largely ignorant of the capabilities of the visitors.
For the rest of the world and France in particular, the result of the Congress was solely attributable to the politicians who voted yes for the amendment. Questions as to the irregularity of the proceedings were subordinated to outraged calls for the whole sale resignation of those who ratified the amendment. "We have been betrayed," cried the L'Express. "These so-called guardians of the Republic have handed the keys to Monsieur Flamby, of all people." Politicians baffled by their own behaviour during the Congress regrouped swiftly to campaign against the amendment, partly as a means of damage control, and also out of shame over what had happened. When quizzed by reporters on the validity of the Congress' result, Wauquiez was adamant:
There is only one way to satisfactorily answer this question. President Hollande decided to forego a referendum, knowing full well that the French people would never stand for such an amendment. It is time for the French people to decide. We must have a referendum, and we must have it as soon as possible. Let the people decide if this is really what they want for France, because if we let this result stand we make Hollande the first despot of France since Napoleon the Third.
The call for a national referendum was a battle cry taken up by virtually all of France. France in the 21st century was an active democracy, with an almost 80% voter turnout compared to the US's 48%, and massive demonstrations, strikes and protests erupted all over the nation. There was immense public pressure on Hollande to resign. His political opponents recognized the hallmarks of a coup d'état, but were confident that Hollande lacked popular support to maintain his new government. No coup survives long without popular support unless backed by powerful police or military regimes, and Hollande did not appear to possess these, either.
Or so they thought. Once Hollande had the authority of the amendment behind him he immediately created a task force called ADVENT, perhaps as a jab against those who labelled his legislative proposals as the Advent Acts. ADVENT was granted wide spread powers mirroring that and superseding traditional police, including the ability to arrest people without warrants and to hold them indefinitely. Hollande never had to appeal for police or military support because he used ADVENT troopers to implement his policies within the capital. No one knew where ADVENT was recruited from or where they were trained but soon there were thousands of well-armed and well-disciplined black clad troopers in Paris and their numbers swelled daily. Traditional law enforcement like the police nationale and the gendarmerie nationale were more or less left alone to complete their duties, but their chiefs and leaders were summoned by Hollande to the Élysée Palace for high level briefings and subsequently became as reclusive as the President, rarely leaving their offices and issuing puzzling and contradictory decrees to their mystified and increasingly concerned subordinates. The Compagnie Républicaine de la Sécurité (CRS) or the French riot police, was merged with ADVENT and compelled to undergo "re-training" in several newly-established facilities all around the nation. French military units were also deployed overseas and garrisons emptied, ostensibly to pursue the war against terror - in reality, Hollande was dispersing and breaking up power blocs which could conceivably create organized resistance while he consolidated control domestically. ADVENT forces began arresting and detaining journalists and reporters, and the sight of heavily armed riot police armed with rifles and batons became more common place. They were invariably led by thin men in dark suits, marking them as part of Hollande's own private security detail.
If Hollande expected the French people to roll over meekly while he seized control he would be sadly mistaken. The birthplace of one of the earliest explicit enunciations of human rights (the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen), France had a robust history with democracy and dictators, occupation and resistance, and its people were no strangers to revolution. Incensed by the increasing presence of ADVENT troops in the capital, French citizens began to adopt extra-legal means to combat the growing repression. They hid political dissidents from the prying eyes of ADVENT, and when faced by the shut down of Internet service providers (ISP) throughout the nation, reverted to handing out pamphlets and leaflets and passing news through word of mouth. Guerrilla radio stations sprang up in the absence of the Internet, and soon the air was alive with insurrectionist talk of revolution. These stations did not survive for long - somehow government forces could locate and triangulate these ad hoc broadcast networks swiftly, and squads of heavily armed ADVENT troops would shut them down. Undeterred resistance radios went mobile, and learned to displace from place to place from broadcast to broadcast. Protests became more violent as ADVENT responded with increasing brutality. The question of where political prisoners were being detained was the largest and most incendiary topic - no one knew where they went, and many of the massive protests racking the country were composed of furious and distraught citizens looking for their missing loved ones. In the meantime the rest of Europe could only sit back and watch in disbelief as one of the Western world's more stable democracies imploded into anarchy and totalitarianism.