Editor of one of France’s leading newspapers was a KGB spy

‘He was, unbeknownst to anyone, one of the greatest Soviet spies of the Fifth Republic’, the current editor says

A view of political magazines at a news kiosk in France
L’Express is one of France’s leading political news magazines
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The editor of one of France’s leading newspapers during the Cold War was a KGB spy for 35 years, it has emerged.

Philippe Grumbach was editor-in-chief of the L’Express from 1956 to 1960, becoming managing editor in 1974.

Now, the current newspaper editor, Etienne Girard, has completed an investigation into the KGB archives, and revealed in Thursday’s (February 15) edition of the paper that Mr Grumbach was actually “a traitor to France, who, for 35 years, was sworn to the KGB”. He was known by the alias Brok.

Mr Girard said that Mr Grumbach did not use the newspaper to help with his KGB missions but used his position to distract from his real intentions.

Mr Girard explained: "It was during the 1974 presidential election. Within the L'Express editorial team, Philippe Grumbach appeared to be more sympathetic to the centre-right. [But] in secret, he had been told by the KGB to make the right-wingers lose to François Mitterrand.”

Mr Mitterrand’s bid was unsuccessful, the winner, Valéry Giscard-d’Estaing, beating him with a record slim margin of just 1.6%. Mr Mitterrand would go on to win the 1981 elections becoming the first left-wing president under the Fifth Republic.

Mr Girard has now written - along with Anne Marion, head of archives at the newspaper - a report on his investigation into the KGB archives, and said that despite being "a close friend of Mitterrand and Giscard, he was, unbeknownst to anyone, one of the greatest Soviet spies of the Fifth Republic”.

Mr Grumbach's family has confirmed the findings. He died in 2003 aged 79.

That its former editor was a spy for the KGB hits at the heart of the newspaper’s values, said Mr Girard.

Along with editorial director Eric Chol, he wrote in the latest edition: "It was impossible not to reveal this shadowy past within a newspaper which…has always been committed to combating totalitarian utopias and the ravages of communism."

Media roles

Mr Girard said that Mr Grumbach had managed to “infiltrate the highest levels of government and the media”.

As well as his editorship roles at L’Express, during his career Mr Grumbach was also editorial secretary at the AFP from 1946 to 1948, and worked at newspapers Libération and Paris-Presse-l'Intransigeant. He founded the now-defunct weekly magazine Pariscope in 1965, then ran the satirical (also defunct) magazine Le Crapouillot.

He was a member of the Haut Conseil de l'Audiovisuel (1977-1981), and became a film producer before joining Le Figaro in 1984.

The current editor has pondered if Mr Grumbach first became a spy “out of ideology”, and later remained so “for the money”.

Current threats

Mr Chol also used the editorial to draw parallels of Mr Grumbach’s actions with the political context of the present day.

He said: "This Soviet penetration of the spheres of power during the Cold War shows we owe a duty of vigilance.”

He referred to recent attempts at foreign interference in France, after Rachid M'Barki, a former presenter of the nightly news on BFMTV, was sacked after an investigation found external forces had influenced his work.

He was accused of favouring countries such as Morocco and Bahrain, and not following proper editorial guidelines by broadcasting stories that had not been approved by his editor bosses.

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