Sunday, January 16, 2022

My grain on Isaac Kgosi and Botswana’s teething intelligence organ

Though a foreigner, I am hoping that I will be allowed to air my expression. I will attempt to use the very basic language here so that I am able to drive my point home. Let me put it on record that I have 23 years in the Intelligence and Security field having first been recruited at the tender age of only 22 by my late uncle who also served as an intelligence contractor. I have observed with great interest the media reports on Colonel Seabelo Kgosi and his supposed abuse of power which some in the media circles have went on to term it corruption.

Some journalists have had the outmost audacity to refer to Kgosi as a man who has abused power. I was passing through Botswana enroute to South Africa where I will be attending the ISS (Intelligence Support Systems) World South Africa. ISS World South Africa is the world’s largest gathering of African law enforcement, intelligence and homeland security analysts as well as telecom operators responsible for lawful interception, hi-tech electronic investigations and network intelligence gathering. I had to spend a few days to enjoy the breeze of the Okavango Delta as I normally do and as within habits, immersed myself into the newspaper reports.

Relatively Botswana is a huge land country but with a very small population. News within such setups tend to travel faster than the wind. In my Intelligence and Security consultancy career, I have found out that countries within Southern Africa in particular suffer the same problem of not trusting the intelligence organisations. That is understandably so because of the nature of intertwined politics, royalty, political leadership inheritance which without fail end up not being able to be detached from money and power.

Sometimes in 2012 when I passed once more through this unique country I spent a few days again here at the Okavango Delta to wind up after a long assignment somewhere in Asia. It was then that I learnt through the media here that there was a wounded relationship between the head of intelligence in Botswana and his then Minister. It was at that time that there was some sort of transfer of the Intelligence Agency from that Minister.

In our risky Intelligence Security work we normally wish for such transfers because when they don’t take place the lives of security contractors and deployed officers get into a mass of danger. I don’t have to mention the many countries where the political differences and interferences in intelligence work have risked the lives of contractors, deployed officers and sources. Such transfers normally dominate the newly set intelligence agencies as when formed confusion rages as to what exactly the purpose is, mostly politicians, particularly opposition parties often see them as a threat to their existence.

Sadly opposition politicians are able to blind the ordinary citizen and present the intelligence as a monster and a devil. The journalists, as it appears to be the case with the media materials I am going through, often finds themselves caught up as ordinary citizens and media workers with trying to understand the role of the intelligence agency and at the same time trying to play child needing protection and explanation to the opposition politicians. I have though found out that it is interesting that in Botswana, a unique unfold is in play of the ruling party somehow being in the lead on castigating the local intelligence organ and as it comes out clean, using the agency to politically fight amongst themselves. It is inevitable that a head of intelligence will be caught in between.

I have learnt that Minister Seretse is a first cousin to President Khama and moving the Intelligence Unit from his care might have looked as over protection which possibly the Botswana Journalists have also erroneously labeled; nepotism, particularly given the open secret that the head of the Intelligence Unit has always been a trusted and loyal friend to President Khama since their days at the Defence Unit. This is a very important to note which I have observed Journalist in Botswana misrepresent; LOYALTY and TRUST are key to Intelligence and Defense. Botswana is lucky country and a rare breed to have both trust and loyalty.

Security of a lot of countries have been risked simply because for the lack of either loyalty or trust and sad cases the lack of both. This has particularly hampered the separation of politics and intelligence. It is unfortunate that Intelligence Units have a mandate to report all intelligence findings including political threats. This particular clause of responsibility is the boiling point of Intelligence Units to be seen to be favouring the ruling elites. There is a choice not to include this clause in responsibilities of the Intelligence Units, unfortunately, as in Serbia where it was attempted, the ruling political elites and their immediate families began resigning and leaving the country and no one with any sense of political strength and stability was willing to take political risk. The future of the country was then put at risk, until such a clause was returned. This is a devil that countries have had to live with and Botswana has a choice of taking the risk to be an exception. History from those who attempted may however prove useful.

Unfortunately trade and commerce are widely used in intelligence globally to protect citizens in various country setups. In discussing this topic, it is necessary to differentiate among economic intelligence, economic espionage, and industrial espionage. The term economic intelligence refers to policy or commercially relevant economic information, including technological data, financial, proprietary commercial, and government information whose acquisition by foreign interests either directly or indirectly would assist the relative productivity or competitive position of the economy of the collecting organization’s country.

Economic intelligence can be an important element in obtaining economic security for a nation. The vast majority of economic intelligence is legally gathered from open sources, involving no clandestine, coercive, or deceptive methods. In some cases, economic intelligence is collected through covert or illegal means. These activities are referred to as economic or industrial espionage. There often arises a problem of understanding by journalists in their quest to do their job, missing the point that some information will never be made public in the interest of the nation. Sadly when that comes to light, it normally appears as if states are hiding truth.

Yes, one might view it as hiding truth. But such hiding of truth is necessary as the idea is to protect sources, contractors and in many instances the heads of intelligence and security organisations. In reading the media reports on the issues of the Botswana head of the Intelligence Agency I cannot help but recall the many cases globally which unfortunately I will not be able to mention for obvious reasons. The intelligence heads often find themselves as having to sacrifice their dignity and space of professionalism to protect nationals. They end up in dealings that an ordinary citizen’s eye and a journalist in his quest to do her job will not see but that a seasoned intelligence operative will easily pick. I have observed that it is currently the case in Botswana that a very high possibility exists that the Botswana Head of Intelligence Agency does not own any of the commercials that are being said to be his, that those are possibly state acquisitions.

It is unfortunate that the head of state intelligence in Botswana will not be able to say that loud and clear because of his job and it continues and will continue to be unfortunate on his part as he will be seen together with the Intelligence Agency to be hiding something. Economic espionage is the use or facilitation of illegal clandestine, coercive, or deceptive means by a foreign government or its surrogates to acquire economic intelligence. Economic espionage activities may include collection of information, or acquisition or theft of a manufactured item through clandestine means with the intent of using reverse engineering to gain proprietary or classified data. Foreign intelligence services, intent on economic espionage, may use any of the intelligence collection disciplines to gather information. The most commonly used disciplines are HUMINT and SIGINT.

Industrial espionage is illegal or covert intelligence collection sponsored by an individual or private business entity to gain a competitive advantage. These activities are focused on collecting proprietary materials or trade secrets. This definition excludes legal collection activity, such as collecting open source data. Unfortunately intelligence and Security work derives much faith in it. Frequently, corporations engaging in industrial espionage are cooperating with their nation’s intelligence service or are conducting operations on behalf of their governments. The objective is to obtain the information on which these leads are based without investing the sizable amounts of money necessary to achieve technological breakthroughs. The company that can obtain such information can enjoy a significant competitive advantage, largely so because it is normally a state company in somebody else’s name.

I don’t have much time as I am getting ready to leave for the neighbouring South Africa but I am willing and questing to observe and continue looking closely at the Botswana situation. I will obviously come back to Botswana in a few years and something tells me that what I am saying here will have been a lesson learnt. I am also asking you the editor to possibly send me the contact details of the Head of Intelligence in Botswana so I could give him a call one of the good days and possibly pass by the country for a visit and share notes on how best to relate with the journalists and how best to create awareness platforms for the media because as it stands, there is just too much misinformation on the cards.

It is sad that corruption agencies are also held in lurch as they are supposed to do their jobs and expose illegal trading, these work space battles are all over newly established intelligence organisations which have not learnt how to share information with third parties. The corruption agencies are normally only just doing their jobs, except in few instances where they are also used by politicians to settle political scores. But mostly they are just innocently doing their jobs which sadly may be at the same time risking the security of concerned states as in instances where such cases ended up exposing contractors, deployed offices, sources and even commercial companies that have been used by such states and intelligence units to infiltrate commercial space in protection of the ordinary citizen. It appears Botswana is at that sad space.

*Kruger Simonvelt is a Private Security and Intelligence Consultant

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