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21 Jan 2019

The Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) has not escaped public scrutiny this week especially on social media that they stage-managed the arrest of the former spy chief, Isaac Kgosi. Sceptics have taken to Facebook to show that the institution that should carry out its operation in a clandestine manner went crazy when they planted hordes of reporters in perfect timing to welcome the arrest and subsequent detention of Kgosi. The repeated question that brought the directorate’s credibility into sharp focus dealt with the expediency by which media practitioners were snapping shots of Kgosi as the agents from the Directorate, the police and the taxman interrogated him. While I know nothing completely about intelligence work, I know everything there is about journalism, and it is from this angle that I am making a case that journalists were not planted by the directorate of intelligence, except reporters have sources across sections of society. If at all there is a journalist who was taken into confidence by the intelligence officers, I dare him to come out that he was invited to camp at the international arrivals terminal that night. To grant such school of thought a slice of credence – the reporter might have known of the possible “high profile incident happening at airport” that Thalefang Charles talks about in his article; “The arrest, the breakpoint”, but I disagree that such reporters would have come at the invitation of the spy agency. I have ample reasons why I disbelieve any claim and share anecdotes in this paper.

A well-known attorney, Mboki Chilisa asks a critical question that those inside the intelligence community use – “But why would one blow cover?” Mboki’s question is critical in that if indeed the intelligence directorate choreographed the arrest of Kgosi in the presence of the press, such a move would have been foolishly suicidal for many reasons. News gatherers when pursuing a story of this magnitude might not be your best ally because they worry about who is going to break the story before the rest of society hears of it. Telling newshounds about ‘arresting Isaac Kgosi’ is like auctioning your soul to the devil for the lowliest price. The reluctance to share with the media does not suppose that journalists cannot be trusted. Simply put, the meaning of blowing cover means that should the reporter handle such a tip-off with recklessness, which happens more often than we may want to admit; then the operation would have been compromised. Say, if truly the intelligence directorate had tipped the media by inviting them to the airport, only to misplace the trust, the probable meaning could be that Kgosi would have known at least while he was in South Africa to divert his itinerary. Inside the media circles, there are those media practitioners who love him as a person, those who hold me high as a person of influence and certainly there are those within the media who would be motivated by many reasons to let the lid off! Perhaps Kgosi would as a result of the signals from the media quarters, fly into Francistown and rent a vehicle that he could then use to reach his house without being detected.

Going by the extent of the search in the past days, it sounds like the sleuths have been trailing Kgosi for some time and pieced together the dots that made their arrest credible. Mmegi of Friday talks of a warrant of arrest signed by a Mahalapye magistrate. That in itself shows thoroughness in that they wanted to as much as possible eliminate the likelihood of judicial officers who might criss-cross into Kgosi’s paths or his close associates to give him heads-up while he was outside the country. The fact that the warrant of arrest was obtained within hours before the arrest, and from outside town shows that the intelligence directorate must have stepped in by advising the taxman to move in swiftly and quietly if the operation should bear the desired results. The move to obtain a warrant from Mahalapye does not diminish all probabilities but surely brings them down significantly. Kgosi is a well-known figure especially in Gaborone, where almost every courthouse would have had something to consider in the past with respect to the countless charges. If you add to that the continual presence of media reporters in the courts, it makes sense that it was obtained from outside.

What is even more unbelievable that the media might have been assembled at the instigation of the intelligence directorate is the fact that at 21:44, The Voice Editor; Emang Bokhutlo in her haste to dial Sonny Serite; placed a call to me.

“Sorry, I meant to call Sonny and confirm. It is rumoured Isaac Kgosi has been arrested at the airport,” she said before hanging up.

That was how sheer accident offered me a fraction of the biggest event (so far) unfolding that night. As I waited anxiously for Emang’s feedback; I decided to call Sonny 40 minutes later, but he was in the middle of things at the airport to answer, as he would respond an hour later on my Facebook wall. I rang up Emang just three minutes down, and like her colleague, she did not pick my call because, by that time, she had arrived into “an emotional atmosphere”. I dialled the spokesperson of the intelligence directorate, only to find Edward Robert at 23:09 was in a deep sleep. Breaking the ice was my congratulations on how he handled Don Seberane of DumaFM in the morning show that same day, where he explained what the spy agency is doing to improve [on] the quality of life of the ordinary citizen. Robert and I go a long way back as journalists and as neighbours, where both our spouses were housed as school teachers here in the capital. When he did not share the Kgosi arrest, I prodded him.

“Is there anything unusual that’s happening?” he responded to me.

“Haven’t you heard that Isaac Kgosi is being arrested at the airport?”

He was in complete darkness and needed his sleep so badly I had to release him. If it was important for the intelligence directorate to choreograph a media presence upon the arrest of a man that the nation has watched with a degree of amusement over the last decade, shouldn’t that have been coordinated by the public relations officer of the DIS? Robert was kept in the dark by his bosses, not because they don’t trust him. But the ‘blow cover’ theory would have prevented his bosses to let him in on their plan for the night. I can’t speak authoritatively for Brigadier Peter Magosi, but having served as a public relations officer for several public agencies that have nothing to do with national security; I have always found that the executive management views the public relations specialist with some scepticism as a member of the media. It gets worse if indeed the employer hired you from the media as a news reporter. Thus it would not surprise if Brigadier Magosi for this particular operation decided to skip Robert – mainly to avoid ‘blowing the cover’, if by chance, Robert was to let in one of his news buddies and the scribe trusted someone else with the same secret and so it went, spreading like bush fire!

Notwithstanding the above, news reporters have reliable sources whom they have taken into confidence, and between them exists mutual trust that allows for newsgathering to be smooth.

“I did not get there until Kgosi had already landed. My source just phoned me, and I rushed off to the airport. I found one media house. But the reason I broke the story was that unlike me, they depended on the photographer taking pictures with the camera, loading them and sharing on Facebook. In fact, my source said DCEC boss - Bruno Paledi was being arrested,” Sonny who was the first journalist to break the story explains.

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