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The Pâques Affair

In 1962, the Cold War was in full swing.  NATO HQ, located in Paris, had recently moved from the Palais de Chaillot to a new building at Porte de Dauphine. Georges Pâques, a prominent French fonctionnaire, started work as Deputy Head of the NATO Press Service.

In his role as Deputy Head, Pâques attended numerous high level meetings, such as the North Atlantic Council ministerial meeting in Ottawa, May 1963.  His connections, both at NATO and through the French government, granted him access to important dignitaries and officials.  His public role also frequently put him in front of the press corps.

For almost 20 years, Pâques supplied French, and later NATO secrets, to the Soviet Union. Amongst the NATO documents were plans related to psychological warfare, force posture, military exercises and defense plans for Berlin. He also wrote extensive biographies of prominent officials at NATO and within Allied governments. The potential damage, at the time, was extraordinarily grave. 

The French Intelligence service apprehended Pâques in 1963 after receiving information the CIA gathered from a former KBG spy. His trial was a highly publicized affair, with press from around the world weighing in on the story. 

Pâques claimed that he was neither a communist sympathizer, nor motivated by money. Instead, he maintained that by providing defensive plans to the USSR, he was leveling the playing field and preventing the outbreak of a third world war. He was convicted in 1964 and sentenced to serve life in prison. Charles De Gaulle lowered the sentence to 20 years, and Georges Pompidou eventually pardoned him after only 7 years in jail.

Many of the documents, so valuable and potentially dangerous back then, have since been declassified and publicly disclosed. Head over to our experts’ corner to view the documents and decide for yourself!