Securing the revolutionary state : the development of French counter-espionage, 1791-1794

Garcia de la Huerta, Carlos (2020) Securing the revolutionary state : the development of French counter-espionage, 1791-1794. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The history of counter-espionage during the early years of the French Revolution has been curiously overlooked by scholars and non-fiction writers alike. Until now, no single study has appeared, or indeed been published, charting the course of its development during the period in discussion. This thesis aims to fill this lacuna, not by offering an episodic account of its activities but by examining the precepts, perceptions and procedures that determined its conduct as it relates to la sûreté de l’état. Its objective, in other words, is to demonstrate how the pursuit and punishment of spies is not a simple cloak and dagger tale of hidden plots and secret agents but a fundamental question of national security. As this thesis will explain, the role that counter-espionage played is actually of central importance to our understanding of how the revolutionaries defended and securitized their embryonic state at a crucial juncture in its existence. Without the existence of a single state organ responsible for overseeing its operations, or a clandestine agency that conducted secret missions on the ground, this thesis will show that the measures to neutralize threats of espionage were not taken in isolation but formed part of a broader process that is otherwise known as securitization. In other words, it will attempt to demonstrate that, for all the overblown discourse of foreign plots and political conspiracies, counter-espionage played a significant role in not just attempting to neutralize the enemy within but also, in military and counter-insurgency operations. With several state and government institutions involved in its operations, from paramilitary organizations such as the gendarmerie and national guard to militant structures such as the comités de surveillance, it should be possible to reveal how counter-espionage played an overarching role in thwarting all threats that compromised the security of the revolutionary state.

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