Thursday, September 24, 2020

The spy who was left out in the cold

Andrew Sanderson likes to regale friends with stories of his near death experiences. In a favorite bit, he would unbutton his shirt; roll back his trousers and shirt sleeves revealing a roadmap of bullet scars here and knife scars there.

The dramatic show-and-tell provides a clue to how Sanderson sees himself ÔÇô one tough cookie who has been there and done that. However, when a team of plain clothes police officers barged into his apartment in Gaborone West Phase 4 last week, brandishing a search warrant, Sanderson dashed into his kitchen, took out a stake knife and slashed his wrists, attempting suicide.

“I know it was a stupid thing do, but I felt that it was all over with me,” said Sanderson curled up in fetal position on a Princess Marina Hospital emergency room stretcher, his legs in iron shackles and two police officers keeping a close watch.
Sanderson, a double agent of the Botswana Defence Force Military Intelligence (MI) and the Diamond and Narcotics Squad (DNS), is awaiting deportation to Canada in a Central Police Station holding cell accused of staying in Botswana without a valid passport and residence permit.

It is a story with implausible characters and plot twists. There is an internet service provider whose company petrol budget has been overrun by P1, 400. There is an impervious drug peddling cabal waiting to make heroes out of police and army officers smart enough to smash their trafficking business. There are MI and DNS officers flashing cash in a competition to attract the best agents. There is a string of failed police sting operations mounted to catch the drug peddlers red handed. And, at the heart of it all, there is Andrew Thomas Sanderson.

How the plot went awry and landed this unusual Canadian Englishman in manacles may come to be judged as the era of folly during which Botswana intelligence outfits threw all caution to the winds in a competition to attract the best agents.

Sanderson, who started his career as an officer in the Canadian army, came to Botswana as an envoy with the British High Commission in Gaborone. He comes up in the internet as a “tech guy” and is believed to have made quite a fortune as the founder and Managing Director of Intertswana, when Botswana’s pioneering Internet Service Provider was bought by UUnet. He squandered his fortunes, left UUnet and became something of an establishment deviant. He would spend most of his time in the murky world of crack houses and brothels in South Africa allegedly chasing after a girlfriend who, in unhappy moments, he referred to as a crack head. Sanderson who, by his own admission, dabbled in drug trafficking, decided to come clean two years ago and help The Sunday Standard and DNS investigate drug peddling and trafficking of prostitutes in Botswana.

During this time, he was allegedly in the DNS payroll and met a number of officers from the Attorney General’s Chambers who promised him indemnity from prosecution if he helped with the investigation and prosecution of Botswana big drug lords. This was around the time when the police were receiving a number of reports on the growing underground trade in drugs. There was a case in which a white woman was raped after her drink was spiked with drugs. In another case, a number of St Joseph’s College students were found high on ecstasy, a designer drug which they had allegedly bought from a street vendor at the Gaborone Bus Station. The Botswana Police, however, failed to catch the big shorts behind the drug business and Sanderson became their hope for a breakthrough in their investigation.

Somewhere during the course of the investigations after a number of failed police sting operations, the Botswana Defence Force Military Intelligence came into the picture and enticed Sanderson with a bigger paycheck.

A reconstruction of Sanderson’s life as a mole shows that he was an ingenious dealmaker who hatched interlocking deals that exploited the rivalry between the police intelligence and the Botswana Defence Force Military Intelligence and the media’s itch for a scoop.

Apparently he had genuine connections inside the underground drug trade but also puffed himself up with phony claims about his access.

For a time, all things seemed possible. Sanderson’s brash style often clashed with the culturally conservative world of intelligence, but both the DNS and the military intelligence were allegedly drawn to his moxie and claims of connections. “It seems everybody lost their minds,” recalls a police officer close to the case. “The military intelligence and the DNS could not get over their big catch. This white man with connections who would help them break the drug trafficking ring. They plied him with money and asking no questions about his background.”

Sanderson told The Sunday Standard this week that both the DNS and the military intelligence agreed to let him stay in the country with a passport that had expired because he was helping them with the investigations.

Sanderson’s handler at DNS, Miriam Kilano, admitted that Sanderson was their agent, but says she was not aware that he did not have a passport. Kilano has been in touch with the Central Police Station officers handling Sanderson’s case. She has even pleaded with them to keep him in a separate cell from other criminals. The BDF military Intelligence is, however, keeping a distance and have only been to see him one since he was arrested.

“Both the DNS and the Military Intelligence have disowned me.” Explaining how he came to work for the DNS and the Military Intelligence at the same time, Sanderson told The Sunday Standard, “It happens all the time. The BDF has a bigger budget, so they always poach agents from the police intelligence. I am just one of the many who have been poached.”

A source inside the police intelligence confirmed this week that this is a serious source of tension between the police and military intelligence.

“Although the police intelligence is better trained, it is losing a lot of its sources and informers to the BDF military intelligence who have a bigger budget and are able to pay informers better. This has frustrated a lot of our investigations.”

Few of those interviewed would agree to be quoted on record because of the strict police and intelligence code. But some who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they look back in amazement at the heady days of Sanderson’s appeal.

Last week Central Police Station officers received a complaint from Sanderson’s boss at BBI, known only as Bill, that Sanderson had misused company petrol to the tune of P1, 400. It is understood that about the same time the police also received a tip that Sanderson was still involved in the drug business and that he was a plant inside their investigations.

This week plain clothes police officers barged into Sanderson’s apartment at Extension 4 armed with a search warrant. They ransacked his house allegedly looking for drugs, but did not find anything.

Unraveling the riddle of Andrew Sanderson is not easy when even those close to him were kept ignorant of his activities. “I only really know as much as you,” said a friend who said she was shocked by the arrest.

But enough fragments emerge to build a picture of a complex character, part thrill-seeker, part lager lout and part deal maker whose loyalty was not for sale, but for rent to the highest bidder before coming unstuck last week.

Sanderson who is kept in leg irons is to be deported to Canada, but the British High Commission this week said they could only issue him a new passport but would not pay for his air ticket.

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