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The Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action (French: [byʁo sɑ̃tʁal də ʁɑ̃sɛɲmɑ̃ e daksjɔ̃], Central Bureau of Intelligence and Operations), abbreviated BCRA, was the World War II-era forerunner of the SDECE, the French intelligence service. The BCRA was created by the Free French chief-of-staff in 1940, and it was commanded by Major André Dewavrin, who had taken the nom de guerre, "Colonel Passy".
Following the defeat of France in 1940, the Vichy France regime's intelligence service was organized within the Centre d’information gouvernemental (Center for Government Information, CIG), under the direction of Admiral François Darlan. According to Colonel Louis Rivet, head of the Deuxième Bureau since 1936, shortly following the defeat of France in June 1940, he, Captain Paul Paillole, and various members of the counter-intelligence service met at the Seminary of Bon-Encontre near Agen. With the assistance of General Maxime Weygand, they planned to revive French counter-intelligence against German domination. Colonel Rivet's memoirs remain controversial, but according to his account the official Bureau des Menées Antinationales (Bureau of Anti-national Activities, BMA), officially an organization opposing communist activities and resistance efforts and accepted by the Germans under the terms of the armistice, was in reality a cover for the pursuit of collaborators with the Germans. The main vehicle for such operations was "L’entreprise des Travaux Ruraux" (The Rural Work Enterprise), supposedly an agricultural engineering program, which performed clandestine counter-espionage under the command of Captain Paillole. In August 1942, the BMA was dissolved and recreated clandestinely as the Military Security Service by Pierre Laval and Admiral Darlan, who needed such an organisation to try to preserve Vichy French sovereignty. Paillole was given control of this new organization.
Meanwhile, on July 1, 1940, the Free French government-in-exile in London created its own intelligence service. General Charles de Gaulle assigned Major Dewavrin to command the organization. Initially known as the Service de Renseignements (SR), the agency would change its name to Bureau central de renseignements et d’action militaire (BCRAM) on 15 April 1941, and again change to Bureau central de renseignements et d’action (BCRA) on 17 January 1942.
Initially, it consisted of a single section:
Subsequently, other sections were added:
Upon the reconciliation between General Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle in 1943, the French national liberation committee ordered the fusion of the BCRA and the clandestine intelligence services of Rivet into a new structure, the Direction générale des services spéciaux (DGSS, General Directorate for Special Services). Louis Rivet resigned in opposition to the new organization.
In 1944 the DGSS became the Direction générale des études et recherches (DGER, General Directorate for Study and Research), which became the Service de documentation extérieure et de contre-espionnage (SDECE, Foreign Documentation and Counter-Espionage Service) in 1945.