The General Service Unit (GSU), was Uganda’s first para-military intelligence agency established in the country. Although it was established in the post-colonial era, the British and the Israelis were instrumental in its formation.
That’s why this intelligence agency, with a similar name, GSU, was established at the same time in the then three East African countries of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
Why GSU was formed
The reason for establishing the GSU in the East African countries were the same.
As the name suggests, the agency was a multipurpose intelligence unit. Among other roles, the GSU was formed to gather intelligence on elements intending or involved in subversion, conduct counter-intelligence, as well as gathering military intelligence (spying on officers and men of the national army).
In the awake of the February 1964 attempted simultaneous mutinies in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the three East African leaders, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Prime Minister Milton Obote of Uganda and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, learnt a lesson.
With the advice from the British and Israeli technocrats, they decided to establish a military intelligence unit that would spy on the soldiers to avoid a similar situation in future.
For fear of communism, the GSU was also to spy on elements in the country, who could be in contact with the communist states and try to avert communism ideology infiltration. In that case, the opposition was the target.
While the GSU was disbanded in Uganda by president Idi Amin and in Tanzania by president Nyerere, Kenya kept GSU as a para-military police. It is used in quelling riots.
Formation of the GSU
It was established on April 1, 1964 by an Act of Parliament. The debate to establish the GSU, which started in March 1964, was the second amendment of the 1962 independence Constitution; following the first amendment of October 1963, which led to the creation of the office of the president of Uganda, although with non-executive powers.
The debate to establish the GSU lasted about one month. The GSU lasted until February 1971, when Amin disbanded it and formed the State Research Bureau. Its headquarters were in the presidential lodge annex at Nakasero Hill in Kampala. The head of the GSU was reporting direct to the prime minister and not the president of Uganda since, according to the 1962 constitution, it was the prime minister who had executive powers.
Structural organisation of GSU
At the top was a director. His official title was Chief General Service Officer (CGSO), although he was commonly referred to as Chief. Dr Naphtali Akena Adoko was the GSU founding director and remained in office until 1971.
The CGSO was deputised by the Deputy Chief General Service Officer (DCGSO). Lucas Opira was the first and last DCGSO of GSU. In hierarchy, next to Opira was Ali Rufino Picho, who was the director of research in the office of the president and in cabinet office.
Why the director of research, Picho was assigned to the president’s office and not prime minister’s, is everyone’s guess. At the time, Sir Edward Muteesa, Kabaka of Buganda, was the president of Uganda. Anyway, what was Picho Ali researching in the president’s office and cabinet and not in the prime minister’s office?
GSU spies in universities
Adoko was an Israeli-trained spy and a genius, according to those who engaged him. Being a good spy, he planted spies in all “hot spots” he ever thought of. He had spies within student bodies such as the National Union of Students of Uganda (NUSU) and the National Union of the Youth of Uganda (NUYU), as well as at foreign universities.
It was Adoko who introduced student-spies at universities. Some students at foreign universities were required to make annual reports about political situations in those countries, as well as about the relation between those countries with Uganda.
The person who picked those documents after 1966 was from the president’s office. Most prominent was the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, because, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Tanzania was the “harbor” of many of political resistance movements in Africa. So, Ugandan students became GSU listening posts in Tanzania. That way, GSU was able to get “international political intelligence” from students who interacted with international students, academicians, and politicians and pundits in Tanzania.
GSU uncovers CIA in Uganda
One of the most famous intelligence busts the GSU unearthed was getting intelligence of how the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of America had funded the establishment of the Transition magazine published by Rajat Neogy in Uganda in 1962.
Neogy was a Ugandan of Indian descent. He studied in Britain and had returned at independence to establish the Transition, a monthly magazine in Kampala, which became an international magazine for the intellectuals. But after six months, funds started to fast dwindle.
CIA funds Neogy’s magazine
When Neogy lacked sufficient funds to publish the Transition, he approached Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), an American NGO operating in several Africa countries then. The CCF was sponsored by CIA, an American foreign intelligence agency and Neogy became a “blind spy” (unknowingly) for the CIA.
In June 1962, Neogy approached CCF director Ezekiel Mphahlele, a South African, who had come to Makerere University for a conference. In a few weeks, the CIA money arrived, which Neogy used to expand the magazine across Africa. Other works supported by the CIA money in Africa included the New Africa Black Orpheus and Africa South magazines as well as Chemichemi Centre in Nairobi, Kenya and the Mbari Writers Club in Nigeria.
After the GSU getting good intelligence on Neogy’s dealings with the CIA, president Obote started claiming some journalists were working for western countries to destabilise Uganda. Later, Adoko engaged Neogy about freedom and Africanism in Africa in a televised show hosted on Uganda Television. During the show, Adoko accused Neogy of subversion. He said the Transition was financed by the CIA.
Neogy shocked of CIA hand
On June 11, 1967, a British-Kenyan journalist working with the Sunday Nation interviewed Neogy in Kampala. Asked of his reaction when he heard that his magazine was financed by the CIA, Neogy said: “My first reaction was shock, later turning into a massive two-month long depression. The depression came out of a feeling of being smeared by something one neither knew about nor was prepared for. There was also a great and helpless resentment at seeing one’s work of more than five years tarred over by this CIA brush. There is something quite insane in the way this organisation was allowed to and is capable of penetrating anybody it wished to,” he said.
As Neogy regretted the CIA involvement in the indirect running of the Transition magazine, two international Directors at the World Assembly of the Congress in America resigned as a result of the scandal unearthed by the GSU under Adoko.
Neogy is arrested
In November, 1968, Neogy was arrested by the Special Forces and later taken to court. He was not accused of treason, but sedition. The magistrate granted him bail.
In January 1969, Neogy was re-arrested and sent to Luzira Maximum Security Prison without any charge. A few days later, his charge sheet was sent in prison.
Adoko, head of GSU, National Security Council, Secretary to the Cabinet and Chief Advisor to the President, made Neogy to be tried before a tribunal chaired by a High Court judge inside the prison. At the time, Adoko was said to be the most powerful Ugandan after president Obote. Eventually, Neogy was released and he fled to the US, where he died in 1995.
GSU in bars
Spying barmaids. Besides recruiting university students, the GSU also recruited barmaids as spies. This became a public secret in early 1968 when two Ugandans girls working for GSU as undercover agents were killed in Nairobi, Kenya by their prey.
Sarah Massa, 22, and Pretty Lillian Millie, 18, were sent to Kenya to spy on three Kabaka Yekka die-hards, who were also suspected of attempted assassination on then Uganda vice president John Babiiha on January 12, 1967, on the Luzira-Kampala city road.
The duo undercover agents had been assigned to spy on Balasio Lukyamuzi, Daniel Kiwanuka, Andrew Kyeyune and John Obbo.
The two were unfortunately captured and killed. Their bodies chopped to pieces, wrapped in a sack and thrown into Athi River. But eventually, Kiwanuka, Kyeyune and Obbo were arrested, prosecuted by the Kenyan court and sentenced to death. Obbo, who testified against his colleagues, was acquitted.
About GSU head Adoko Nyeko
Birth. He was born in 1931 in Lango sub-region in northern Uganda.
Education. He was a British-trained lawyer and American-educated anthropologist. He was an intellectual.
Career. In 1965, he was elected president of the Uganda Law Society. He was also the Director of Extra Mural Studies, Makerere University.
In January 1971, when Obote I was toppled in a coup, Adoko was in India where he had gone to attend the Commonwealth Lawyers Association summit for which he was the Secretary General. He died in a London hospital in January 2010. He was in his seventies.