While the number of “S” files was always classified, Prime Minister Manuel Valls put the total at 10,500 during an interview with RTL radio — a number so large that anti-terrorism officials say 15,000 extra full-time officers would be needed to cope.The numbers gameSarkozy contests the scale of the police cuts. Answering criticism about the police in January, after the Charlie Hebdo attack that left 17 people dead at the offices of the satirical weekly and a kosher supermarket near Paris, he said: “That’s false. That’s totally false. Between 2002 and 2011, we created 1,700 jobs.”Laurent Mucchielli, a sociologist who studies police and crime, said that even with the most generous accounting, police jobs had been cut under Sarkozy. While there were some 7,000 hires between 2002 and 2007, when he was interior minister, the total number fell by 2,000 between 2002 and 2012.In addition, the police and gendarmerie’s operating budget had declined, he said.“The result is that the police and gendarmerie are public administrations that are struggling,” said Mucchielli.In practice, diminished funding means police stations that no longer have the means to repaint their walls or pay for stationary, forcing many to carry out maintenance work themselves or tap local authorities for extra cash. Some of the worst hit are in the greater Paris region — where police launched a raid Wednesday against those suspected of involvement in the country’s bloodiest terrorist attack. “We do not have the human means to gather proof, to neutralize terrorists,” former anti-terrorism judge Marc Trévidic told Paris Match magazine in September. “The means have clearly become insufficient, and I weigh my words. In the past two years, I have myself noted that occasionally there were no investigators to conduct probes that we needed! We are doing the absolute minimum.”Trévidic, who spent a decade interviewing jihadists and dismantling terrorist networks, most of it under Sarkozy’s tenure, warned that France had become the “absolute enemy” for ISIL.Without naming the ex-president, Trévidic said Paris was no longer able to keep up with the threat largely because the state had drifted toward what he called an “American-style” intelligence culture which prioritized massive surveillance under direct executive control over investigating magistrates who tend to follow fewer suspects, but much more closely.“For the past 30 years, the French system’s strength was based on the power of judges…. We were effective because we intervened very early,” he said. Now, Trevidic said, the system was “spinning out of control” due to a glut of information that overwhelmed judges’ ability to follow up each lead.One direct consequence of the shift was a proliferation of so-called “S” files on suspected Islamists. These show up in searches of police databases but do not necessarily trigger a judicial investigation. Mohamed Merah, the Islamist gunman who in 2012 shot seven people in the southern city of Toulouse, had such an “S” file; so did Ismaïl Mostefaï, one of the Bataclan attackers.“But that did not stop them from acting,” said Trévidic, who criticized flagging dangerous people if the courts have no means to order investigations against them. Bad timing for former ‘top cop’As France deals with a national trauma and searches for answers, some of the blame for the policing failure is falling on former President Nicolas Sarkozy, a former interior minister and self-styled “top cop.” During his five-year term at the Élysée Palace, which ended with an election defeat in 2012, Sarkozy’s administration slashed the budgets of the police and gendarmerie.Sarkozy’s initiative to stop replacing police officers when they retire, which reduced police numbers by 9,000 during his term, may plague the tough-talking former president two weeks before a key regional election, and as he prepares to compete in a Les Républicains primary to select the party’s candidate for the presidency in 2017.Sarkozy, 60, has tried to outflank the critics by blaming President François Hollande’s government for what he called a “slow response” to the prolonged attack by the terrorists on the Bataclan concert hall, where 89 of the 129 victims died.Alain Juppé, Sarkozy’s chief rival in the party primary, isn’t joining that chorus of finger-pointing on the French right, pointing to the cuts that in his view brought on a deeper, structural problem with French police.“We were probably wrong before 2012 to have cut some 10,000 [police and gendarmerie] jobs,” Juppé told RMC radio Tuesday, referring to the year when Sarkozy lost his reelection battle to Hollande. “You need to be a bit humble: Not everything was perfect before 2012, and not everything was catastrophic after 2012.”France’s problem is a modern one. Rather than lacking information, the state is overwhelmed by a glut of data from phone-tapping, internet-monitoring and in-person interviews with radicalized individuals, more than 200 of whom have returned to France after stints in Syria or Iraq. PARIS — As police round up suspects linked to the November 13 Paris attacks, France has started to grapple with a vexing question: How could the security services have failed to stop such a massive terrorist operation?A decade ago, the country’s police, intelligence and justice services had a reputation for being among the world’s best in combating terrorism. Lengthy experience accrued during the Algerian War, a rigorous domestic intelligence service, broad powers for investigating magistrates, and the ability to detain suspects for up to four days without charge — they all helped authorities keep the country safe between 1995 and 2012.But things have changed, with major attacks bloodying French soil, including Friday’s attacks in which 129 people were killed. What’s missing is the ability to process that information efficiently. Police budget cuts have reduced the number of officers able to follow suspect individuals, while anti-terrorism judges are barely able to keep up with the dozens of cases piling up on their desks.In the aftermath of Friday’s attacks in Paris, Hollande has rushed to fill the gap in police ranks. On Monday, he announced 8,500 new hires in the police and gendarmerie over the next two years, an increase that would merely bring the numbers back up to the pre-2007 level, the president pointed out, in a dig at Sarkozy.The hiring boost might soothe anger in the police, who have held two major protests this year against what union leaders said was a lack of manpower and resources.“It’s time to tell the population that the police no longer has the means to ensure the security of the French,” Jean-Claude Delage, a spokesman for the right-leaning Alliance police union told Agence France-Presse in June. “We need a Marshall Plan over several years to protect the country’s interior, but today we see that nothing is forthcoming, nothing is happening in light of so-called budgetary constraints.”Backlash on the benchThe anti-Sarkozy backlash goes beyond the police.Potentially more damaging for the former head of state and party leader is the charge being led by investigating magistrates — the independent cadre of judges on France’s judicial frontline against terrorism, against whom Sarkozy battled throughout his tenure, frequently accusing them of bias.