“The Man from Tripoli”: secrets of a secret agent

Book. It is less and less rare to read testimonials from former agents of the Directorate General for External Security (DGSE). But that of Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-François Lhuillier, 69, now retired from the “Service”, is undoubtedly both one of the most original and most personal of recent years.

The Man from Tripoli details only part of the career of Jean-François Lhuillier, recruited by the “Box” in 1987. That of his years as head of the DGSE post in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, from 2009 to March 2011, then August 2011 to April 2012. But precious years, because this dive into his daily life, halfway between the official representation of the interests of the service abroad and clandestine work, is unprecedented.

The value of Jean-François Lhuillier’s testimony also has a date: 2011. The year of Operation “Harmattan”, where France was proactive, and which led to the death of the former master of Libya , Muammar Gaddafi. A year of changeover during which Jean-François Lhuillier is at the forefront and where he witnesses the beginning of the collapse of the security barrier that Libya constituted vis-à-vis its regional environment and the spread of jihadism towards the West Africa.

“Debt of truth”

Jean-François Lhuillier thus recounts the before and after 2011 very well. His initial mission first, which clearly consists of forging links with the highest echelons of the Libyan regime, including the sulphurous Abdallah Al-Senoussi, former head of military intelligence, and one of the main witnesses for the prosecution against Nicolas Sarkozy in the affair of the financing of his presidential campaign of 2007. Then the French reversal after the death of the Guide and the hunt launched against all the high Libyan dignitaries, in which he must finally participate. A hazard of the profession that Jean-François Lhuillier calls “the essential plasticity of the case officer”.

His story, in a flamboyant pen, often romantic, has nevertheless been carefully smoothed out so as not to infringe the secrecy of operations. The former head of post has just left enough roughness there for us to guess the special links maintained by the French authorities with the regime of the time. A way, according to Jean-François Lhuillier, to bail out its “debt of truth” with his grandchildren and children, who did not learn his real trade until adulthood.

Also read the review (2011): “At the heart of Gaddafi’s Libya”, by Patrick Haimzadeh: Libya from the depths

Formed at 1er marine infantry parachute regiment (1er RPIMa), the lieutenant-colonel finally takes advantage of this book to express his bitterness vis-à-vis the increasingly important recruitment, in recent years, of civilians within the DGSE, to the detriment, according to him, of the military profiles like his. An opinion which turns out to be an instructive and rough testimony on the “singular microcosm” of the service and its multiple internal reorganizations for thirty years, the last of which dates from 2022.

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