Thursday April 10 2014

Separate intelligence from rumour mongering

By Karoli Ssemogerere

Most adherents of the Roman Catholic Church and Church of Uganda spent Sunday in houses of worship celebrating the mystery of the resurrection of the body. The scriptures on Sunday marked the return to life of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Magdalene, Jesus’ close confidantes in the Bible at the prompting of Christ. But the worshippers must also have been nodding on revelations by leaked tapes roping in the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, the Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali, and the Archbishop of Kampala, His Grace Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, in the succession battles that have occupied the ruling party most of this year.

The leaked conversations rope in the two senior clerics in efforts to support John Patrick Amama Mbabazi as President Museveni’s successor. All parties involved have denied complicity although in politics, denials say as much as admissions. In this column, it has been said that where the other current and former contenders in the queue have shown propensity to stumble, or collapse under pressure, Mr Mbabazi’s methods of work are systematic and institutional. Mr Mbabazi himself has been battling secret recordings of personal conversations of a political nature and his wife and closest political advisor, Ms Jacqueline Mbabazi, promised to return fire with fire. She went on the warpath and in a breach of State protocol appeared at a criminal court as a surety for Mbabazi supporters accused of abuse of office even though they don’t as much hold a public office.

The war of words has been going on for weeks. In the one-party era of Kenya’s KANU, it was a favourite tactic of then president Daniel arap Moi to use a low ranking functionary to propel attacks on persons who had fallen out with him. The silent war against Mr Mbabazi has involved junior party members levelling attacks against the Prime Minister and additional “security language” from the Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura.

The communications security breach pinning Mr Kayihura thus becomes more insightful. First the leaks wisely do not attempt to compromise the position of the President dulling the prospect of two power centres. But they succeed in casting aspersions on the character of the IGP whose approach to intelligence gathering and legitimate security threats calls into question the wisdom of transferring billions of shillings of resources from the traditional intelligence community to the head of police.

Security organisations are a creature of statute with specific responsibilities. There are two civilian domestic intelligence agencies: Internal Security Organisation and External Security Organisation. The military has CMI. From time to time, specialised agencies of government may recruit task forces for specific purposes. Uganda Revenue Authority is one such agency. So are the National Forestry Authority, Bank of Uganda, National Citizenship and Immigration Board. But the proper practice is to have the traditional agencies to second trained personnel to perform these functions.

Intelligence is actionable after thorough analysis. Collection is one function; and data analysis and reporting is another function. People in the intelligence community carry great responsibilities to avoid creating political rifts between the principals. Intelligence is also very different from rumour mongering. Crime prevention sometimes relies on sieving rumours or “leads” to detect and prevent crime but that is very different from intelligence gathering. Intelligence budgets are classified. In modern societies, the likelihood of an intelligence cell residing in a university faculty or a banking hall or in the ranks of regular shopkeepers is high. For these reasons, intelligence personnel and the information they hold are never supposed to play the role of the principals they serve.

The police recordings show the worst risks of misuse of official state facilities for the wrong purposes. For a spell of time the Prime Minister was taunted on the basis of intelligence gathered from his private conversations with members of his family, a major breach of privacy. In a professional setting, such recordings should have remained classified. De-classification is an onerous process and can only happen in very limited circumstances. It is also very clear that the communications security operation of the IGP is similarly very weak. Official orders and conversations of a personal nature are all garbled through cell phones that are not “secure”. Any attentive person can write down the IGP’s cellphone number from the numerous public offices where he has posted in on a chart. The chart carries everyone’s cell phone number down the chain of command.

With this information, the cellphone can be tracked for location to reveal where each of his officers are at any given time using relatively simple and innocuous desk-top applications. A little bit more investment can then turn data packets into voice and transmitted using very simple receivers that today can now be placed in devices as simple as a wrist-watch or regular cell-phones that have an auto-record facility. The Mbabazi entourage seems to know all of this and it did not take long to strike.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.