Billionaire boss of Le Monde newspaper was a teenage spy

Billionaire boss of Le Monde newspaper, 52, admits he was a teenage spy who once hacked the mobile phone of President Mitterrand for his security service bosses

  • Xavier Niel, 52, was caught hacking Canal Plus aged 17 after quitting education
  • The Directorate for Territorial Surveillance hired him to harvest data on Renault
  • He also hacked the phone server of President Mitterrand in 1986
  • He left his hacking role to run erotic sites on France’s internet forerunner Minitel 

A newspaper mogul ranked among France’s richest 25 people has admitted he was a teenage spy who hacked the mobile phone of President Mitterrand.

Xavier Niel, 52, is the co-owner of Le Monde newspaper and the 21st richest person in France with an estimated fortune of €8 billion.

Speaking to the Parliamentary Channel, Niel admitted that he was hired by the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DST) in the mid-1980s.

The security service run by France’s interior ministry called Niel in after he was caught hacking the French channel Canal Plus aged 17 having dropped out of education.

Xavier Niel, 52, (left) has admitted that as a teenager he worked as a spy for the French interior ministry after being caught hacking Canal Plus. Pictured: Niel and his wife Delphine Arnault, 45, attend the French Open on June 9, 2019

Niel quit his hacking job aged 20 to run erotic sites on Minitel, France’s precursor to the internet. Pictured: Niel and his wife Delphine Arnault attend the state visit of Grand-Duc Henri of Luxembourg, Grande-Duchesse Maria Teresa of Luxembourg on March 19, 2018

He said: ‘I wasn’t in the secret service. I was a sort of part-time correspondent who would tell them regularly what we’re finding, what we were seeing, in our world of hacking.’

The security service wanted Niel to set up a group of hackers made up of other bright young individuals who could help explain the world of cyber security to them in an age when the technology was still brand new.

This even involved hacking the mobile telephone of President Mitterrand in 1986.

President Mitterrand’s administration later caught up in a phone hacking scandal dubbed the ‘French Watergate’ where he had the phones of hundreds of French personalities tapped.

Niel was also tasked with hacking car manufacturer Renault. His group learned that the company was being hacked by people from Australia who were downloading large chunks of data.

Though for Niel, it was all just a bit of fun.

‘We were doing all this for ourselves as a game and we would pass on the information,’ he said. ‘It was just fun. It was thrilling to get around the system. They told us it was impossible.’

Niel did not say how the information he gathered was used by the DST.

Niel even hacked the mobile phone of French President Mitterrand (pictured) as well as car manufacturer Renault. Pictured: President Mitterrand (middle) opens the channel tunnel in 1994 alongside Queen Elizabeth II

Aged 20, Niel retired from his hacking job and began running erotic sites on the French forerunner of the internet, Minitel.

Niel said that he wanted to share details about his teenage hacking years ‘as an example for kids today to show how you can do silly things and come good.’

He has also spent some of his fortune trying to help give young people a helping hand at the start of their careers.

In 2013 he spent £41million on a free coding school in Paris as well as nearly £250million on Station F, the world’s largest start-up laboratory that houses 1,000 start-up companies.

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