NASA: Brutal intelligence agency formed to freeze Museveni rebels

Sunday December 31 2017

Many of those arrested by Nasa were murdered, tort

Many of those arrested by Nasa were murdered, tortured, maimed, robbed and incarcerated at different detention centres in central Uganda. ILLUSTRATION BY DANNY BARONG 

By Faustin Mugabe

The National Security Agency (Nasa) was established in early 1981 shortly after Mr Museveni started the Luweero bush war. A decision was made to disband the the short-lived National Security Service (NSS) and it was replaced by Nasa. The NSS had been formed in April 1979 to replace the State Research Bureau (SRB), which existed from 1971 to 1979. Then little known James Namisolo was its founding director.
Namisolo’s tenure in office was to be short-lived too after he was replaced with Kasendwa-Ddumba, a Muganda from Rakai District whose appointment, by his own admission in 2005, “took many by surprise”.
Kasendwa-Ddumba, a UPC stalwart, was deputised by Amon Bazira, another UPC stalwart from Kasese District. In the 1980 general election, both Kasendwa-Ddumba and Bazira contested on UPC ticket in Rakai and Kasese central, respectively. They both lost.

Why Nasa was formed
Nasa was established to, especially, gather intelligence on those involved in subversion, particularly the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebels and its collaborators.

However, Democratic Party (DP) members who supported the NRA rebels or openly opposed UPC brutality, would become victims of the brutal Nasa operatives, which was headquartered at the then notorious Nile Mansions (Now Kampala Serena Hotel). This also housed the offices of the President and Vice President.

Its director reported directly to president Obote. Information about Nasa’s operational structure was hard to access because we could not readily identify individuals who worked with it.

Nasa at work
Because of Nasa’s work, many individuals suspected to be linked to the NRA rebels were captured. One of the prominent ones was President Museveni’s personal friend and former Front for National Salvation (Fronasa) activist and Uganda National Liberation Front chairman Kampala branch, Abbas Kibazo, who was picked from his home in Bukoloto, Mukono District.

He, according to the international rights body Amnesty International’s Uganda report 1981-1982, was murdered. Amnesty International researchers interviewed Kibazo’s former in-mates at the Nile Mansions, according to a personal archive Sunday Monitor has seen.
Nasa was effective in spying on enemies of the State. For instance, on November 24, 1982, about 20 Nasa and Special Force operatives stormed then Makerere University lecturer, Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere’s home at Katalemwa on Gayaza Road and searched it.

According to the intelligence Nasa had, Prof Kabwegyere was an NRA collaborator and it was suspected that he had supplies for the rebels at his home. But nothing was found. Prof Kabwegyere and his wife were not at home.

Speaking to the press a day after, the Kabwegyeres denied any contact with the NRA rebels and condemned the act. But in the New Vision of January 26, 2017, Prof Kabwegyere’s wife proudly mentions of how they supported the NRA war.

Rukungiri District in south western Uganda was a stronghold of the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM), the vehicle through which Mr Museveni had challenged for the national leadership in 1980. When Mr Museveni went to the bush, some of the rich UPM adherents kept their support for him.

Nasa spies tracked them down for alleged involvement in rebel activities and a number were arrested. Among those arrested were prominent businessmen Steven Tukahirwa, Obadiah Babumpabwire, Karakyire and a one Sebituzi.

They were arrested and brought to the torture chambers, the Nile Mansions in Kampala but were released after Amnesty International met with president Obote in early 1985.

Common faces of Nasa
Nasa undercover operatives, whose job was to identify and track down the enemies of the State, were not well known to members of the public.

But a number of operatives involved in the arrests of the culprits were known, especially by the relatives, friends and colleagues of those kidnapped, arrested or killed.

Because they often travelled in vehicles of Golf brand, they were nicknamed the “Golf boys” by members of the public. In those days, it was common to hear statements such as, “they, he or she was taken by the Golf boys”.

The Golf cars used by these Nasa operatives had tinted glasses, while their occupants wore dark glasses to avoid easy identification by the public.

The computer spies
Another common feature of Nasa was the “computer spies”. The computer spies were often converted Nasa operatives, who were formerly NRA rebels taken as Prisoners of War or had surrendered to the government. They were used in public identification of suspected NRA rebels or collaborators.

The “computers spies” became public knowledge in 1983 when they were used to identify NRA collaborators who had come to watch a football match at Nakivubo stadium.

The Nasa undercover agents had intelligence that the NRA rebel collaborators would be meeting at Nakivubo during a football match but could not physically identify them.

So when the matched ended, Nasa operatives commanded by Bazira himself and UNLA soldiers sealed off the gates of the stadium. Everyone inside the stadium would only exit through one gate that was left open.

It was at this gate that the “computer spies” helped Nasa arrest NRA collaborators who they knew or had seen in the bush. About 50 were arrested and many were never seen again to-date.

Panda gaari operation
A similar but more drastic step was taken on March 16, 1982. The UPC government issued an order that all unemployed young men in Kampala should vacate the city immediately. The infamous panda-gaari operation was conducted to deny the NRA of Museveni recruits.

Nasa’s Bazira claimed in a press statement that the NRA guerrillas operating in Luweero were recruiting idle young men in Kampala while at the same using some as undercover operatives to spy on the government.

Panda gaari is Kiswahili for “board the vehicle”. Hordes of people were forced on to vehicles and driven away to different places. Many were murdered, tortured, maimed, robbed and incarcerated at different detention centres in central Uganda.

During the operation, when those rounded up asked why they had been arrested and where they were being taken, the response from the soldiers was “panda gaari”.

Nasa is reputed to have operated illegal prisons. Some of the most dreaded ones were Argentina House, Basiima House and Nile Mansions. Makindye, Malire, Mbuya, Katabi and Bombo barracks were the most infamous barracks for torture and death by soldiers and security operatives.

Rwakasisi “jail” in Mbarara

In an attempt to root out the Opposition and rebellion, sometimes Chris Rwakasisi (pictured), then a minister of state in the office of the president, personally commanded operations to arrest DP and NRA supporters from south western Uganda. The suspects were always incarcerated at Kamukuzi Local Government cell, Mbarara Town.

In mockery, people named the Kamukuzi cell “Ekihome kya Rwakasisi’, meaning “Rwakasisi’s prison”. Many are said to have been tortured badly, some to death, in this prison.

Witnesses who testified before the Commission of Inquiry into the Violation of Human Rights between October 1962 and January 1986 in Uganda accused Rwakasisi of arresting and incarcerating his victims at Kamukuzi. It was said that Rwakasisi as an individual was the “Ministry of Security”.

It is also said that he headed the little known Presidential Intelligence Unit (PIU), which operated from the president’s office premises. The PIU was equally deadly. It had a specific role – to identify and eliminate Obote’s political opponents.

Since the security docket fell in the president’s office, Rwakasisi was charged with supervising it, hence the direct supervision of the operations of Nasa also fell on him.
After the July 27, 1985 coup when the Okellos led a coup against Obote, Rwakasisi, one of the most powerful and feared UPC functionaries, was arrested on the evening of July 28 in Jinja as he attempted to escaped to Kenya.

For the man who wielded power as much as president Obote, it was game over for Rwakasisi at a military road block staged at Milo-Mbili near Bugembe Township in Jinja on the Jinja-Kenya border highway. He was pulled out of the car by the UNLA soldiers and eventually taken to Luzira prison.

Gen Tito Okello Lutwa, who became the president after Obote fled, during his inaugural speech on July 29, 1985, accused Rwakasisi of wielding excessive powers and confusing president Obote. Rwakasisi was in prison until 2009 when he was finally pardoned by President Museveni, who also made him his political adviser.