Disclose has obtained hundreds of secret documents, circulated at the highest levels of the French state, which reveal the responsibility of France in crimes committed by the dictatorship of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt. Discover “the terror memos” in a long series of investigative reports.
Following the Disclose revelations, French MPs have called for a parliamentary commission of inquiry. NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called the French state to account for its responsibility in extrajudicial killings in Egypt. They have asked the UN rapporteur on judicial executions to launch an investigation following our revelations.
The government has acknowledged the existence of a secret military operation in Egypt since 2016. It announced the opening of an internal investigation in the Ministry of Defence into the information revealed by Disclose about the Egyptian army’s use of intelligence provided by France to repress civilians. But at the same time, the government announced that it was launching legal proceedings against Disclose for leaking secret state documents, in order to identify Disclose’s sources. This is an attack on the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and their freedom to inform citizens about matters of public interest.
In Egypt, despite the dictatorship’s censorship of the Disclose website, the investigation has been read and commented on by millions of people on social networks. It has liberated the word on the arbitrary executions of Abdel Fattah Al Sissi’s regime
Disclose obtained hundreds of secret documents by secure means from a whistleblower. We cross-checked information on the existence of a secret military intelligence mission in Egypt, using satellite imagery to identify the aircraft subcontracted by the French military to carry out this mission. We were able to confirm its presence on an Egyptian base from 2016 to 2021, thanks to satellite images cross-checked with secret documents. We also used aircraft tracking software to find the aircraft used by France.
We were able to cross-check and geo-locate, thanks to the analysis of hundreds of secret documents, 19 bombings against civilians in Egypt for which France is responsible.
In order to trace the responsibility of France in the extrajudicial executions in Egypt, we used the information contained in the secret documents and we used the 3D modeling of one of the strikes in a short video.
We scanned the hundreds of alerts issued by Amnesty International on the repressive actions in Egypt. This allowed us to create a chronology putting into perspective the arms sales from France to Egypt, the secret diplomatic cables obtained by Disclose, and the acts of repression carried out by the authoritarian regime.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The hardest part of this project was to work on this unprecedented leak of secret documents from the French state. During several month, Disclose journalists had to implement unprecedented digital security processes for investigate highly sensitive material in secret. We also had to protect and censor the hundreds of documents obtained in order to protect our sources but also the safety of the French military present in Egypt.
A source has sent Disclose several hundred “classified” documents. These reports from French military intelligence, the Ministry of the Armed Forces and the French military general staff reveal the existence of a secret operation by French intelligence in Egypt called ‘Operation Sirli’. Page after page, these documents highlight the abuses of an operation that began in 2016, and raise the question of France’s responsibility in the crimes committed under Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s dictatorship in Egypt. This brutality must have been known about at the highest levels of the French state. Dozens of classified reports show that several military departments tried to alert the government of the operation’s abuses, both during President François Hollande’s term of office and then under the current presidency of President Emmanuel Macron. But in vain.
Given that these “classified” documents involve a subject of major public interest, we have taken the decision to inform citizens of them. In our view this decision is further justified by the fact that this military cooperation project has taken place without any democratic scrutiny. This investigation is unprecedented in France because it reveals the secret relations with the Egyptian dictatorship. It reveals how the French government compromised itself in possible crimes against humanity, with the main reason being to sell arms to Egypt.
What can others learn from this project?
This project teaches how to investigate sensitive issues such as secret military operations, using both closed and open sources. It is an example of how to cover both a national issue – in this case military cooperation with Egypt and arms sales – while allowing readers to learn about the impact of cooperation with dictatorial regimes on the population of the country concerned.
This project also shows that investigations on sensitive subjects such as military operations can bring together field journalism, data journalism, digital security, OSINT and 3D modelling. This meeting only increases the strength of journalistic investigations and their impact.
The documents obtained by Disclose were not published without a filter. We have reproduced documents in their entirety, we have censored words, document numbers, signatures, names in all documents. It is the mission of journalists to protect information that could endanger the safety of the people appearing in these documents. But also on how to protect the sources behind such leaked documents.