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Mitterrand OK'd sinking Greenpeace ship, report says
The New York Times
PARIS — Twenty years ago, two French secret-service frogmen attached mines to the hull of a ship owned by the environmentalist group Greenpeace as it lay anchored in a New Zealand harbor, and the explosions ripped large holes in it.
The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior before it could set off to protest French nuclear tests in the Pacific killed a Greenpeace photographer on board, provoking much embarrassment in Paris and the resignation of top officials.
Much has become known about the government's deliberate sabotage of the vessel thanks to the tenacious pursuit of the case by the French press. But yesterday, exactly 20 years after the operation, the newspaper Le Monde added another intriguing chapter by publishing what it called the account of the events written by the man in charge of the plan.
Adm. Pierre Lacoste, the former head of France's General Directorate for External Security, the French foreign-intelligence agency, said in a 1986 report that he personally obtained approval to sink the ship from the late president Francois Mitterrand.
French press reports and books have previously said Mitterrand was informed of the operation in advance, but cited no sources. Le Monde has now published long verbatim excerpts from what it calls a 23-page handwritten report written by Lacoste that had remained secret until now and was never even circulated within the government.
The text provides a rare insight into the hatching of a secret operation, the subsequent attempts to cover it up and, not least, the pleas of ignorance by high officials, including Mitterrand himself.
Devoting an entire page to the affair, Le Monde started the story on the front page with a large cartoon of Mitterrand, dressed as a frogman, a snorkel on his head and a bomb under one arm, telling schoolchildren studying history: "At that time, only presidents had the right to carry out terrorism."
Le Monde does not say where it got the document, but Lacoste, now 81, has given several newspaper interviews in recent days.
His report says he discussed the plan with Mitterrand — it is customary in France that the head of the secret service reports directly to the president — in a meeting on May 15, 1985. "I asked the president if he gave me the authorization to put into action the neutralization plan [for the ship] that I had prepared at the request of Mr. Hernu," Lacoste wrote. At the time, Charles Hernu was the minister of defense.
"He gave me his agreement while stressing the importance he attached to the nuclear tests. I did not go into greater detail on the plan because the authorization was sufficiently explicit," Lacoste wrote.
Afterward, he said, the top officials and the president denied any knowledge of it. "I would have never launched such an operation without the personal approval of the president," he wrote in the report.
The sinking of the ship led to the arrest of two French secret agents, posing as Swiss tourists, in New Zealand, while the defense minister and Lacoste were forced to resign. France also paid large sums in compensation to New Zealand and to Greenpeace, which has since replaced the ship.
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company