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An agent of the Black Office

The Black Office (French: Cabinet noir) was a secret service in France responsible for scrutinizing letters sent by individuals held under suspicion by the state.


Operating as an official service since the reign of King Louis XV, the Black Office was responsible for censoring and inspecting mail through systematic espionage. Intercepted letters were placed in a small red leather portfolio and concealed under the neutral term "foreign gazettes".[1]

The premises of the Black Office were connected to the office of the post office director general, who oversaw the secret service. Letters that needed to be examined were pushed through a hatch to a specialized agent, who opened them and copied those of probable interest to the king. If necessary, he would also forward them to the king's ministers.[1]

After the French Revolution broke out, the National Assembly attempted to diminish the operations of the Black Office, although the institution's services proved too valuable. The Black Office went on to serve the Committee of Public Safety, notably keeping tabs on the activities of captain Napoleon Bonaparte.[1]

The Assassin Council of the Parisian Brotherhood took note of the organization, sending Arno Dorian to investigate the Place Vendôme post office in order to determine whether or not the Black Office even existed. Arno confirmed this and assassinated three of the service's spies.[2]

Around this time, the actress Mademoiselle Montansier also became an informant for the Black Office, using courtesans in her employ to secure valuable intelligence on powerful figures, including members of the Committee of Public Safety. Arno later stole Montansier's diary, in which the intelligence was kept, and gave it to Pierre Beaumarchais, who planned to use the information to influence the revolution in what he believed would be a more beneficial direction.[2] The Black Office continued to function as a spy service through the reign of Napoleon.[1]