An interview with former French Spy: Jack Beaumont

In many countries, there are strict laws preventing spies from revealing their double lives, even after they leave the service and pursue something else.

One exception is in France, where members of the Directorate-General for External Security (known as the DGSE – France’s equivalent of the CIA or MI6) can come out of the shadows seven years after leaving the service.

One such former French spy has popped up in Sydney, Australia, a couple of years ago under the name ‘Jack Beaumont’, and he wrote a fantastic spy thriller called The Frenchman (we recommended it in a recent edition of International Intrigue!).

To our delight and surprise, Jack Beaumont made contact with us after our shout-out, and he has agreed to answer some questions from the Intrigue community.

You used to fly the Mirage fighter jet in the French Air Force – what were your thoughts on the aircraft?

Well, of course, because it was my jet, I would say that it is the best jet in the world!

Mirage is like a brand, right? So it’s just like if you say, “I’m driving a Porsche”, it can be the Porsche of the 1960s or the Porsche of today. So, for example, Australia had the old Mirage III, which is a very old plane. So when I tell people in Australia that I used to fly the Mirage, they say, “Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s a pretty shitty plane”. But actually, it’s not the same.

I was flying the Mirage 2000 C and the 2000-5. So basically the latest generation of Mirage, and much more powerful than the Mirage III, and a very, very good plane to fly.

But it was made and designed for air defence and air-to-air combat, whereas nowadays, jets are multi-role fighters. They’re made for air-to-air, air-to-ground, air-to-sea, and reconnaissance. Some also have nuclear strike capabilities, like the Rafale fighter jet. I’ve never flown on the Rafale, which arrived just after I stopped flying.

Can you share how you transitioned from the Air Force to the DGSE?

As a fighter pilot, I specialised in dogfights, and during basic training, I injured my back, pulling too many Gs [G-forces] while in a bad position (I was watching behind me). 

In a dogfight, you might pull nine Gs, and the plane can handle up to 12 Gs, but that means you have to pull 42 kilos, about 92 pounds, on the stick, and so with the adrenaline, I did pull those 42 kilos and went to a bit more than 11 Gs, but I was twisted in the seat so I really injured my back. I had three discs pop out on the lower back, so I had to stop flying ejection seats after that first surgery on my back. 

And then I said, okay, I have to stop flying ejection seats, but I want to be retrained in something as sexy and rock and roll as being a fighter pilot! And so they came back to me saying, well, there is a seat if you want to fly for the French special forces.

I had all the basic training of special forces because if you crash the plane, you have to be able to follow the guys. You can’t be the weakest link in the chain. And so I started to fly for them. 

I worked mainly on the hunt for Serbian war criminals in the Balkans for two years. It was very interesting. At first, I was transporting ‘guys in green’. And after a year, I started to see some other ones in the back wearing sneakers and jeans. And I understood they weren’t from the special forces; they were from French intelligence. And soon, they became mates of mine.

Then after two years doing that, I had survival training in the Alps – high altitude training to be able to go and do similar work hunting Bin Laden in Afghanistan. 

I was digging my igloo by myself up there, and the snow is very heavy on the spade. And I did this stupid movement of twisting myself while digging my igloo, and one of the discs popped out again. I had a second injury. I had to walk down the whole mountain by myself in quite a bit of pain. I had a second surgery. And then the military doctor said, “That’s it – you can’t fly in the military anymore. You can go and fly commercial.

I still have my commercial pilot licence. But I said – and no offence to commercial pilots – “After being a single-seater fighter pilot and a special forces pilot, I don’t want to go and drive a bus”. The French Mirage 2000 C. The French government reportedly considered transferring several of these planes to Ukraine last year. Source: French Armed Forces

The French Mirage 2000 C. The French government reportedly considered transferring several of these planes to Ukraine last year. Source: French Armed Forces

So I was a bit lost. I was at the Air Force headquarters in Paris for a few months, and I had lunch with one of my old intelligence mates who said, “Well, why don’t you try to join us?” 

And so I did the DGSE entrance test, which is a one-year test, and just in case I was unsuccessful, I also went back to do some studies in parallel. Ultimately, I was selected and joined. And when you join like this, you join the Intelligence Directorate as an analyst with the basic training, which is a few months. 

During those few months, it was going pretty well, so the Operations Directorate, which is the directorate in charge of the clandestine operations, called me – sometimes, they do some cherry-picking on the new recruits. And so I had a phone call after a few months saying, “Do you want to do the test to become an operative?” And I said yes. I did the test, and came back with a big black eye. Then I was selected, joined, and did almost eight years of clandestine operations using false identities.

Talk us through your decision to join the DGSE, and the clandestine division – did it feel like a tough decision?

No, no. Maybe I was still very young and I was looking for some thrill. And I had that same fighter pilot mentality of when you do something, you do it. You push it to the limit. So it was quite obvious to me that if I was joining the DGSE, I couldn’t be stuck behind a desk; I had to be on the field and be an operative. It was pretty obvious that I had to try.

Was there a point at which the excitement of the new life started to turn dark?

Yeah, it’s the same as anything else – for example, maybe you want to become a fighter pilot because you like Top Gun and The Right Stuff, and then you go and become a fighter pilot, and you realise that actually it’s not Top Gun, and it’s not The Right Stuff

So it’s a bit of the same. You realise it’s a very, very, very dark world. You see the worst of human nature. And when I say that, I’m not just talking about the adversary. Because to be able to fight the bad guys you have to develop your own dark side, and so you see the worst of human nature.

I worked mainly on the hunt for Serbian war criminals in the Balkans for two years. It was very interesting.

Sure, you see it in the people you meet – not always, but quite often – but you also see it in yourself. You end up discovering a part of yourself that is very dark and which is very hard to restrain after a while.

Did you feel you could ever really trust spies from other ‘friendly’ nations?

Well, from the moment a spy starts working for their country, their first priority will be their country. It’s very hard. You can’t give any secrets away thinking that as a human being, this person is going to keep the secret, particularly if this secret could be relevant to the interests of their country. In fact, that’s something you can’t ask a spy. You would lose your friend if you did ask. So it’s better not to say or ask anything.

Which foreign intel agencies did you like working with the most? And the ones you disliked or feared the most?

The thing is, being in the clandestine branch and doing undercover false identity missions, we don’t do much cooperation because, of course, you don’t want to give your legend away – your false identity or your face – because your friend of today might be your enemy tomorrow. So usually cooperation happens more at the Intelligence Directorate level. 

But yes, sometimes we do cooperate on offensive operations and some services are more naturally offensive than others. And sometimes it’s a bit scary to see how aggressive they can be and how cheaply they value life. So, for some of them, yes, you feel like you’re on the same wavelength; you have the same understanding of the world and the same feeling about the value of human life, which is reassuring. So you prefer to work with those ones. 

And yes, some others are pretty brutal and are ready to do some very mean or violent things to get what they want.

What threat concerns you most today, whether in your everyday life or a significant global threat?

Intelligence is like scuba diving or snorkelling. Before your first time, the ocean is just a horizon with boats on it. But once you’ve done some scuba diving or snorkelling and you’ve seen what’s under the surface, from then on, when you look at the ocean, you can’t help but always imagine what is under the surface. 

So intelligence is the same – you end up seeing the worst of everything everywhere and questioning everything. So, of course, I question everything happening in the world, and I understand what might be happening behind the curtains for sure. 

Now, at the personal level, yes, I’m always checking if I’m followed. When I meet someone new, I’m always worried about why this person is coming into my life or into my wife’s life. The paranoia is still there, less than before, thanks to writing my books, but it’s still there.

If you can say, was there a particular country/region/issue you loved working on the most?

I don’t know if you can leave any room for questions on whether you ‘like’ parts of the job or not. For me, the question was never whether I liked or disliked a job; it was more about the stakes for your country or the broader free world.

Sometimes, you feel that what you’re doing seems a bit useless in a way, and other times, there are big topics, and you know it could be a massive threat to the Western world and beyond, so you really feel like you’re doing something useful. So, of course, like everyone else, you like being useful in your job, but there’s not really any room for personal taste.

Was it a tough decision to leave?

It’s a part of that same continuity above. You have this yin and yang balance in your life, like everyone. Everyone on the planet has a dark side, which is more or less developed. And the thing is, when you do that job, you have to train yourself or develop it as much as you can. Because, of course, you have to lie, you have to manipulate, you have to befriend people you dislike. So it’s really like an acting game, having all those different identities.

And you can’t share that with anyone, and you reach a point where it’s just very hard to digest. You can’t talk to friends about it. You can’t talk to your wife about it. You can’t talk to your parents about it. So it piles up and piles up, and piles up, inside your own soul. It’s like poison.

You realise it’s a very, very, very, dark world.

And so, at some point, you become really dark, and you can’t share this darkness with anyone. 90% of us are married with kids because it’s seen as a sign of mental stability. And you end up playing the game of being your real self, in my case, a husband and a dad, the same way you’re playing the game of being a war journalist, or a consultant, or a diplomat, or whatever your false identity was the day before. 

And so your real identity becomes a sixth identity. And you look at yourself in the mirror and you can see in your eyes that only you know who you really are. And you can see how dark you’ve become. And then one day, your wife says, “I no longer recognise the man I married”.

When that happened to me, I knew it was a signal to say “You have to choose between me, or being a spy”.

What do you miss most about your former spy life?

There are some parts I miss, for sure. The life I have today, I mean, even being an author and writing my novels, what I describe in them – whether it’s The Frenchman or the new sequel Dark Arena – it’s all highly, highly realistic. Yes, it’s highly realistic, of course, on the spy plot itself, but more so on the family aspect and the psychological aspect and the psychological toll you have to endure when you do this kind of job. The DGSE Headquarters in Paris

The DGSE Headquarters in Paris

I don’t miss any of that, of course, because it was putting my family in danger. When I say “in danger”, I mean not just because of any external threat but also because of who I was becoming for my family. But the rest – the excitement, the spy plot, feeling like you’re part of the deep secrets of the world, and no one else knows about it? Yes, of course, I miss that. 

But unfortunately, this comes with a toll, and at some point, you have to make a choice.

What do you love most about your new post-spy life?

I guess it’s being in Australia. I mean, we are very lucky in Australia in terms of crime, security for our kids and so on. I have happy kids here. They’re taking the bus. They’re not scared. They’re going for a surf. They’re going to play rugby or soccer. They’re going to school. They’re catching up with their friends. They’re breathing nice air, and they have no stress. And so I’m very happy to be able to give them that life. 

So I now have this kind of peace of mind, not being highly involved in dangerous countries or having some potential direct threats.

Can you talk us through your decision to start writing?

It was because of the PTSD, basically. I was having beers with a friend of mine in Sydney, and I was telling him after a few beers that I was still walking around my place at 2 am with a knife in my hand, checking every door and every window, and then sitting on the couch, expecting someone to come in in the dark. It was what I did to others… why would no one else do it to me? 

So I was sharing this with my mate and telling him a story, which is actually now the opening scene in The Frenchman, which is pretty intense. Of course, I changed the names and places, but it’s a true story, and I was telling him that story because it was the one keeping me awake at night. And he said to me, ”You should write it down, it’ll help you”. And that’s how I started writing.

And then I had two options. The first one is to write an autobiography, and it’s usually not a good option. It’s very silly for several reasons. First, because it’s forbidden. Second, because by design in intelligence, you usually only have visibility of one piece of the puzzle. You rarely have the full picture. Because then, if you get arrested or interrogated, you can’t reveal the whole thing.

And so, when you write an autobiography saying “I did this” and “I did that”, it can, without you even knowing it, sometimes put people in danger – people who may still be in the field and all people who might’ve been recruited as human sources. So, for me, this was never an option. I didn’t want to take that path.

That leaves the second option, which is to write a novel. That allowed me to write in the third person, creating a character, and therefore allowing me to put more emotions, my emotions, into this character as the third person. So it was really a therapeutic process and a cathartic process for me. And that’s how I started writing, thinking that no one would read it except for a few friends, and it wouldn’t be published. 

But it became a bestseller in Australia and New Zealand, it was published in Japan, the US, and France, and then it started to attract some interest in Hollywood for a TV series. The ‘pope’ of espionage novels is John Le Carre and his sons actually reached out to buy the rights for The Frenchman. And that was amazing for me because they immediately had a deep understanding of what I was trying to achieve and what I was trying to write.

They grew up with a spy dad, and I’ve got two boys as well, so it was funny for me when they were talking about The Frenchman. They were describing exactly what I tried to write or express in the book. So The Frenchman became this best seller, and then I got deals to write books two, three, and four. 

Dark Arena is number two, and writing it was still a cathartic process, perhaps a bit less because The Frenchman really helped me so much initially. But again, I use a real plot (with different names and places) and express the feelings and emotions I had, which is still a part of this cathartic process.

Who are your writing inspirations?

Frederick Forsythe would be a very strong one for me, and I really loved the first novel by Terry Hayes, I Am Pilgrim. Sometimes, if I want a bit more action, I read some Jack Carr, which is about Navy SEALs – they’re different, though they’re also gathering intelligence. There are plenty of different jobs in the intelligence world, and what I was doing was a different job.

Other than you, who else has given the most accurate portrayal of the intelligence world in popular culture?

Well, some of them, unfortunately, wrote autobiographies. And of course, the company is really very unhappy with those people. You have to have your manuscript vetted. But when you write a novel, it’s a different story because it’s a novel. 

To be honest, I think that the family aspect – which was for me at the origin of writing my books – is rarely addressed as deeply as what I tried to do in my books because the reason we have false identities is not to just arrive in a five-star hotel lobby and say “my name is Bond, James Bond”. It’s actually to protect the family.

And then one day, your wife says, “I no longer recognise the man I married”.

And so, you know, every morning you check if you’re not followed, you do your ‘dry cleaning’, which is the term we have for the techniques we use to make sure you’re not followed, and then we become someone else. And then we do the dry cleaning again every night, to avoid bringing any bad guys home.

The main difference, even with the special forces or fighter pilots, is that in those jobs, when you come back from a mission, wherever it is, you have your holidays, you have your time off, you can rest, and the bad people you’ve been fighting far away aren’t going to come and chase you over the weekends. But when you’re in intelligence, the bad guys who are trying to identify your real ID, they’re not going to stop just because it’s Sunday. Or because you’re on holiday. So in intelligence, it just never, never, never stops.

So, in my seven years, it was basically seven years of a war mission in terms of the psychological toll because the threat can come from anywhere, anytime, during those seven years.

You mentioned Hollywood is working on a screen adaptation of The Frenchman – who would be your dream actor in the lead role of Alec de Payns?

I’ve got to make the joke myself before someone else does it, but maybe Peter Sellers because of Clouseau! All I wish for is an actor who can understand that world and bring to the screen those emotions, which is this yin and yang. So sometimes you have these ‘lights’, these nice emotions, and then, like any veteran, the very next second, you can be very dark. 

And actually, that’s the thing also with these books – I really hope they’ll potentially help other veterans with PTSD. First, just to see and read that all of us have our psychological issues after doing this kind of job, but maybe also to give them the idea to write and maybe it will help them like it helped me, and avoid some kind of accident. That’s what I wish for.

Final question – what can you tell us about your newly released sequel, Dark Arena?

It’s in the same series as The Frenchman – the same characters. Basically, the first one is about bacteriological chemical weapons in Pakistan and the broader region. The second one, Dark Arena, is about what might’ve happened behind the scenes to reach the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

It’s about the gas battle on the Red Sea, Nord Stream 1, North Stream 2, and the relationships between Libya, Israel, Gaza, Syria, Cyprus, Turkey, Ukraine, the European Union, the US, and Russia. All those influences, but with the same characters. So I talk about the Wagner Group (the Russian mercenaries), I talk about the Azov battalion, I talk about the Russian military. And number three will be about China.

Would you like to stay up to date with Jack and his work? Be sure to follow him on:

Can’t get enough of the DGSE? Check this out…

If you’re still thirsty for more French spy action, the Intrigue team wholeheartedly recommends the TV show “The Bureau” (Le Bureau des Légendes). It’s a fantastic look inside the DGSE and the missions they run, with a healthy dose of geopolitical drama. Check it out!