An Israeli media name and shame investigative story this week exposed the business- at- all-cost shady dealings of two Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) biggest suppliers with strong links to former Director General Isaac kgosi and the Khama brothers Ian, Tshekedi and Anthony.
The revelations have added to the fears that the discredited companies may offer Kgosi and the Khama’s a backdoor into the DISS multi-billion Pula surveillance complex.
Verint Systems and Elbit systems the two companies listed among five Israeli intelligence security companies with shady business ethics have a long standing relationship with the Khama brothers through Seleka Springs and former DIS boss Isaac kgosi.
The Khama brothers’ relationship with Elbit Systems dates back to the late 1990s when Lt Gen Ian Khama was Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Commander and Seleka Springs the army’s major supplier. At the time, Elbit Systems was called Tadiran Communications.
Tadiran is a pioneer of unmanned military aircraft for the Israeli army. In July 2008 Tadiran Communications and Elbit Systems merged. The Khama brothers have the sole rights to distribute Elbit Systems in Botswana which they secured at the time Ian Khama was BDF commander.
The BDF started building surveillance capacity under Lt Gen Ian Khama in the late 1990s, finally procuring the Hermes 450 in 2004, from Elbit Systems. Botswana at the time was one of only a few countries in Africa to operate the Hermes 450. According to the manufacturer, the Hermes 450 can be used for a variety of purposes, among them reconnaissance, surveillance and communications relay, and it is well suited for tactical long endurance missions.
The relationship between Elbit Systems and the Khama brothers continued during the Khama presidency and in the run up to the 2014 elections the BDF Military Intelligence assembled five mobile and fixed vehicle mounted electronic warfare equipment procured from the Israeli defence company Elbit Systems.
Intelligence agents from the Military Intelligence completed training on the new equipment and ran test runs jamming all three private radio stations: Duma fm, Gabz fm and Yarona fm for about ten minutes. There were fears that the equipment could be used against the media during the 2014 elections.
Three of the five state of the art pieces of equipment were to be deployed at relay stations in Gantsi, Thebephatswa air base in Molepolole and Selibe Phikwe while the remaining two were to be used in mobile electronic warfare attacks. The equipment which has data transfer, jamming and monitoring equipment can be used against landline telephones, fax machines, cellular telephones computer equipment and any piece of equipment that emits radio signals. The equipment was to be manned by MI personnel seconded to the DISS during special operations by the DISS.
Another DIS supplier in the Israeli name and shame list is Verint Systems which offers various communications and interception solutions for use by government agencies around the world towards security applications. The company has a long standing relationship with the DISS and former Director General Isaac Kgosi. The controversial Israeli company was engaged by the DISS a few years ago to supply a stealth and intrusive GSM mass surveillance system called Engage Gi2 Tactical Solution.
Confidential Verint Systems documents, which have been passed to the Sunday Standard including training manuals offer more detail than previously available on how intrusive the DISS acquisition is. The software manual offers step-by-step instructions on how to intercept communications with Verint equipment.
The Israeli company was also given a contract by the DISS to supply equipment that intercepts and monitor web communication.
The two companies were on Friday listed among five Israeli companies that have exported invasive surveillance technology to at least 130 countriesÔÇöincluding repressive regimesÔÇöand has been used without oversight to monitor human rights activists, suppress dissidents and track LGBTQ+ people.
An in-depth probe by Haaretz, published on Friday, revealed a number of secretive firms specializing in snooping on smartphones and laptops had sold systems to Bahrain, South Sudan, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Nigeria, Botswana, Mexico, AzerbaijanÔÇöand more.
Named companies included NSO Group, Verint Systems, Circles Technologies, Elbit Systems and Fifth Dimension. Haaretz, which said it relied on testimonies of 100 sources in 15 different countries, found that superpowered spying toolsÔÇöused to snoop on phone calls, texts, online activity, emails and audioÔÇöhad been used on civilians, often to grave consequence.
The remainder of the DISS Information Technology system was installed by Vlatacom, a Serbian company whose owner Managing Director Vladimir Cizeij is a personal friend of Kgosi and the Khamas. Cizeij has in the past also been accused of shady business practices.
When you Google Vladimir Cizelj the internet search engine mentions the name in the same breath with phrases such as “bribery” “bankrupsy mafia” and “suitcase affair”. While the internet presents a man with a chequered past, President Khama’s administration on the other hand described Vladimir Cizelj the man behind Vlatacom as, “an innocent service provider of international repute.”
The Khama administration has in the past issued a press statement defending the Vlatacom Managing Director stating: “From our perspective Vlatacom and its managing director, Vladimir Cizelj, have consistently shown themselves to be both highly professional and above board in their dealings with this government.”
Vladimir was accused of bribing Dejan Simi, former deputy governor of the National Bank of Serbia (NBS), and Vladimir Zagraanin of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). Simi was arrested in January 2006 on suspicion of having received a bribe of EUR 100,000 in his Belgrade apartment, while Zagraanin is suspected of helping give the bribe. Vladimir was the man with the briefcase in the case that came to be known as the “briefcase affair. “ Although the accused in the case where set free by the Serbian court, there was a hue and cry in Serbia about a miscarriage of justice which is believed to have contributed to the fall of the Serbian government.
Vladimir is understood to have been delivering the briefcase for former Director of the Kreditno-Eksportna Bank (KEB) Sekula Pjevevi, who was later indicted as one of the leaders of a criminal group known as the “bankruptcy mafia,” whose members were indicted of financial fraud worth millions of Euros.
Khama is believed to have come into contact with Vladimir for the first time when he was BDF commander.
Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information that the BDF Military intelligence in 2000 under the command of Lt Gen Ian Khama tried to do a background check on Vladimir Cizeij whom they code-named Mr V. In one detailed statement that has been passed to the Sunday Standard, a BDF informer states that, Vladimir Cizeij, “made it clear to me in our initial meetings that he was very well connected with the Israeli defence Industry, which of course was of great interest.”
By the time Khama became president, the relationship had developed to a stage where he appointed Vladimir Cizeij Botswana’s honorary consulate to Israel. Vladimir who was the biggest supplier of the BDF under Kgosi is reported to have paid close to P 1million towards the purchase of the DISS former boss’ farm in Sentlhane.
The close relationship between Kgosi, the Khama’s and former DISS major suppliers and its implications on the integrity of the multi-billion pula DISS surveillance complex has not been lost on the new DISS boss Brig Peter Magosi who switched off the spy agency’s system during his first few days in office while investigating that it has not been hacked into.
The report released on Friday questioning the integrity of DISS suppliers with strong ties to the former DISS boss and the Khama brothers comes at a time when the DISS is investigating a major hack on its system. The hack which is the country’s biggest security breach so far broke the cover of all Botswana spies in and out of the country and exposed for the first time the numerical strength of the DISS.