Government targets houses, cars in new spy operation

Mechanics are individuals who are likely to be used in spy operations

What you need to know:

Privacy at stake. Human rights defender Livingstone Ssewanyana says the State’s right to obtain information about citizens must follow the law and not be abused.

Kampala. The government is bugging residential and office buildings, vehicles, electronic gadgets and business centres in at least 21 posh city hotels under a mass surveillance scheme, leaked details of the covert operation show.
Government on Friday denied the allegations raised by UK charity organisation, Privacy International, that it is using the Complete IT Intrusion Portfolio acquired from the London-headquarted Gamma International group, to extra-judicially collect Ugandans’ personal information.
According to intelligence briefing prepared for President Museveni, which Privacy International accessed to author its report, the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) launched the spy programme on December 5, 2012.
The agency is the intelligence gathering wing of the UPDF, constitutionally barred from inserting into partisan politics, and whose mandate is to protect Uganda’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Run by CMI’s directorate of technical intelligence, some 73 operatives at the programme’s command centre on Parliament Avenue in the heart of Kampala deploy a malicious ware to secretly intrude electronic gadgets of targeted persons.
The gleaned information, including past and real-time data, is then relayed to the command headquarters where it is analysed and, according to the seven-page CMI dossier, used to “crackdown” on criminals, political opponents and their sympathisers in government.
However, operatives expanded the programme to virtually intercept the communication of all citizens by bugging residential and office buildings, vehicles, phone handsets, cameras, computers and any equipment of interest.
Brig Charles Bakahumura, the chief of Military Intelligence, in the report to the President described the Fungua Macho or Open Eye operation as an “offensive against the rising defiance from both within and outside the government”.
It targeted mainly Mr Museveni’s political opponents in the wake of the post-2011 election walk-to-work protests that petered out in late 2012.
The programme’s objectives, the report notes, were to crackdown on government officials leaking information to Opposition actors and the media, defuse plans of the Opposition, strengthen capability of Intelligence agencies and “manage and control the media houses and Opposition politicians, which in the worst case scenario, may involve blackmailing them especially after personal information is in our hands”.
As such, all MPs, media practitioners, regime insiders and any citizens of interest were monitored without evidence that CMI obtained the requisite judicial authorisation.
This means the catchment of the spy programme was wider than initially reported; making every Ugandan a target for surveillance, something a human rights defender said amounted to a “clear violation” of citizens’ right to privacy.
The executive director for Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Dr Livingstone Ssewanyana, said whereas the State has a right to conduct surveillance to keep the country safe, the spies in the current manner are acting outside the law for political, not national security, reasons.
“[The] intention to spy one everyone is to preserve themselves in power. It is ill-motivated and designed to lessen competition, which sends a worrying signal in the [context] of the upcoming elections,” he said.
Uganda’s leaked spy programme, although unrelated, bears similarities with the US and British governments’ covert mass surveillance programmes whose details former American defence contractor Edward Snowden disclosed in 2013, infuriating citizens.
For the Ugandan operations to get started, CMI dispatched four of its officers for a one-month training in Germany and recruited 73 of required 150 operatives to man the intrusive IT programme that, among other things, allows it to intercept communication and manipulate its transmission.


According to the report by Privacy International, a UK charity organisation, the intrusion technologies are “designed and regularly tested to avoid detection by anti-virus programmes”, making it almost impossible for the targeted person to identify and deal with them.
The authors note that Uganda’s law regarding the interception of private communication, The Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, 2010, needs improvements in some areas.
They, however, call for a parliamentary inquiry into whether it was followed during this operation. The law allows interception of information by the State only when authorised by a High Court judge.

Target persons

Opposition figures

Government officials



CMI tells President Museveni that they use the spy programme to “manage and control the media houses and Opposition politicians, which in the worst case scenario, may involve blackmailing them, especially after personal information is in our hands.”


Mobile phones
Personal computers
Hotels and restaurants
Office buildings, vehicles, computers, cameras and other equipment, hotels (particularly their business centres) and residential houses

Who is likely to be used
Bar attendants
Bugging devices may be introduced by various people depending on the situation and the target.