Ailing President Bouteflika dissolves once-mighty Algerian spymaster agency

Ailing President Bouteflika dissolves once-mighty Algerian spymaster agency
The powerful state intelligence service will be replaced with a new restructured agency, as 78-year-old Bouteflika bids to shift the balance of executive power to the presidency.
3 min read
24 January, 2016
President Bouteflika has pushed through major changes in Algeria's intelligence and security apparatus [Getty]
The once-dominant Algerian state intelligence service, the DRS, has been dissolved following a decree by President Abdulaziz Bouteflika on Sunday. It will be replaced by a new service consisting of three security departments.

The decree detailed the organisation of the reformed intelligence services and named Major General Osman Bachir Tartag as its new head.

The dissolution of the DRS is a major milestone in Algerian politics, the latest step in a gradual process that has seen the transfer of authority away from once powerful intelligence services towards the presidency itself.

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The intelligence service known by its French acronym DRS [Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité] will now come under the direct jurisdiction of the presidency - and not the Ministry of Defence as before, clipping its wings and bringing the country's former spy chiefs under the scrutiny of the executive.

The decree also names a number of officials and senior intelligence officers who will be excluded from the new service.

The move is the latest by the ailing 78-year-old president to strip the military and intelligence communities of political power.

The domination of the DRS reached its zenith during the 1990s, following the outbreak of civil-war against Islamist opponents of the state.

Last year, several army and intelligence generals in Algeria were arrested, dismissed or forced into early retirement as Bouteflika made a bid to curtail the influence of the military over politics.

Since his election to a fourth term in April 2014, Bouteflika and his aides have pushed through major changes in Algeria's shadowy intelligence and security apparatus, which some considered a parallel state.

Reacting to doubts raised by prominent public figures over the president's abilities, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal insisted last month that Bouteflika remained in full control.

Bouteflika has ruled the oil-rich nation since 1999, but a 2013 stroke has raised questions about how long he can remain in power - and a battle for the succession is widely seen as being under way.

While questions remain as to who is truly at the helm of the country's presidency following Bouteflika's stroke, the dissolution of the DRS indicates an increasingly powerful presidential office.