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Spying on opposition by Museveni regime is decades old

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This story on Uganda Intelligence and surveillance was first published by CHANGE OF GUARDS BLOG on October 19, 2015.

In military context, technical intelligence (TECHINT) is intelligence about weapons and equipment used by armed forces of foreign nations.  It is intended to avoid technological surprise.  Knowing the characteristics and capabilities of enemy weapons helps develop effective counter measures.  Generally, TECHINT is intelligence derived from collection, processing, analysis, and exploitation of data and information pertaining to foreign nations’ equipment and materials for purposes of preventing technological surprises.

It also helps in assessing foreign scientific and technical capabilities so as to develop counter measures designed to neutralise an adversary’s technological advantage.  Given that scientific and technical information (S&TI) is an important part of a nation’s competitive positions in world markets, S&TI blurs into economic intelligence.  Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) involves the interception of communication between two parties. The interception of electronic transmitions is done by ships, planes, military communication gadgets or satellites.  Therefore, the communication intelligence (COMINT) falls under SIGINT.

Interception of communication involves listening to calls made on a telephone or opening and reading the contents of the target’s letters or emails.  Use of intrusive investigative methods such as eavesdropping in target’s home, office or vehicle.  Installation of covert surveillance devices in premises and devices of targets enhances accuracy and cuts on costs.  The method of surveillance is determined by the operative situation (OS) in particular circumstances.  Directed surveillance operations involve the covert monitoring of targets’ movements, conversations and other activities by highly skilled specialist surveillance officers who may either be mobile or stationary on fixed observation posts (O)

The recent revelation by the BBC that the Museveni regime had procured high-tech equipment to monitor the opposition has caused uncalled for uproar among Ugandans.  The regime has suspiciously hastily come out to deny the allegation.  A few years ago, the regime enacted a law on interception of communication and has since then been enforcing it by security agencies.  Though the legislation was enacted with the aim of strengthening national security and the fight against global terrorism, the regime’s priority was on its political opponents.  Interception of communication is as old as the regime itself. What may only be news is the upgrading of the means in line with technological advancement.  The said legislation only came to legalise the over two decades’ tradition.

All the regime intelligence outfits have since time immemorial been running surveillance programs against political dissenters.  They have within their organisational structures a department called Technical whose primary task is to carry out electronic surveillance on regime ‘enemies’ including the political opposition and dissenters. Under CMI and its predecessor DMI, the Technical department was headed by Eng. Michael Bossa. He had joined DMI around 1987 after joining the army through Kakoza Mutale’s political indoctrination in the forests of Wakiso.  In ISO, the technical department was for many years headed by a one Ndaula. Before the advent of mobile phones, electronic surveillance was mainly concentrated on landline telephone and premises bugging.

For landline telephones, security agencies had to work closely with Uganda Posts and Telecommunications (UTL).  DMI had had some of its technical staff trained at the UPTL training school in Nakawa before they went to London for another short course.  When Gen. Henry Tumukunde took over DMI and renamed it CMI, he transferred Eng. Michael Bossa to the army headquarters.  This was because Eng. Bossa was married to the sister of Nathan Byanyima who was then the Member of Parliament for Bukanga and was instrumental in censoring regime super Ministers.  More so, Gen. Tumukunde had taken over CMI at a time when relations with Rwanda were souring and both Eng. Bossa and his wife had worked at DMI during the time the Rwandese including Paul Kagame were dominating DMI.  Eng. Bossa’s wife was a long serving civilian secretary at DMI – since 1986.  Gen. Tumukunde intended to get rid of all those who had served the Rwandese dominated DMI.

Gen. Tumukunde then groomed a one Elias who has since been the devil behind much of CMI’s technical intelligence programs. In close collaboration with mobile telephone companies namely MTN and UTL, an electronic surveillance mechanism was devised.  CMI stationed its staff members in these companies for ease of monitoring.  On the other hand, ISO maintained a number of surveillance outposts in different places more especially in Kampala.  One of such outposts was on Balintumaj Road in Mengo in a house that had earlier housed the Human Rights Commission of Inquiry and now housing the Ndejje University – Kampala campus.  It was manned by, among others, senior ISO officers like Ben Rwabutara and Nyakairu.  Rwabutara’s wife even worked as a Secretary at the same office.

Under ISO’s Technical Directorate was now Col. Victor Twesigye who headed a special signal surveillance program dubbed ‘Operation Rabbit’ that was responsible for intercepting military radio communications of hostile countries.  He played a vital role during the Congo military expedition by monitoring the communications of both Rwanda and Congo.  This was the typical SIGINT and later the Congo mission Col Twesigye left ISO and is now the Chief of Communication in the Army.  A similar project to monitor Sudan military communications was housed below Sentema Road in Mengo and used defectors from Sudan.

The current ISO chief Balya had earlier been a Director of Information Technology (DIT) that was among others charged with the interception of LRA military radio communication and would use LRA Acholi defectors to break into the coded words that were being used. External Security Organisations (ESO) also runs its own surveillance programs mainly targeting Uganda’s foreign service officers by mentoring the associations, dealings, conversations etc. At one time, ESO was involved in a land row with Mr. Bwenje over his mansion on Mutungo hill the ESO claimed was obstructing its communication gadgets based in the neighborhood.

With the proliferation of intelligence outfits, the magnitude of electronic surveillance also escalated.  Different agencies are competing on how best to out manoeuvre each other and capture the attention of the sole sponsor – Museveni for increased funding.  Apart from Museveni, any other Ugandan is a subject of covert electronic surveillance.  His current Acholi ceremonial bodyguard is the most covertly monitored individual.  Senior army officers are also highly subjected to covert surveillance followed by opposition top leadership, religious leaders, human rights activists, civil society leaders, some diplomats and their diplomatic missions, State House staff, a few cabinet Ministers and other government officials. The same applies to some Judges whenever they are handling a case where regime stakes are high. Because of the Amama Mbabazi scare, much of the overt electronic surveillance is directed towards regime insiders so as to identify Mbabazi sympathisers.

Most of the opposition leaders more especially those who had been part of the regime know about the existence of this scheme but unfortunately some have gone ahead to repeatedly use telephones in communicating their sensitive messages in their endeavors to challenge the regime.  By giving out telephone numbers to his supporters, Dr. Besigye was not being serious with maneuvering against the regime.  To what extent did the NRA and the LRA rely on telephones during their wars?  Amama Mbabazi has to some extent avoided reliance on telephones for mobilisation thus why he has registered some level of surprise.

Whenever an opposition leader is held by security agencies, they use the opportunity to install surveillance software in the victim’s mobile phone sets, computers, cars etc.  All the opposition offices and residences of leading opposition figures are covertly electronically bugged.  Whatever the opposition alliance (TDA) was discussing would be relayed to the surveillance command posts for onward transmission to Museveni on top of what their hopeless mole Prof Bukenya would deliver in secrecy.  Even the proceedings of the opposition leaders’ meeting with Kenya’s Raila Odinga was electronically monitored.  Moreover, CMI and ISO agents have a bigger presence in Nairobi than any other capital in the region.  Security agencies use electricians, plumbers, house keepers, shamba boys, stage managed burglaries and house break-ins like was the case at Mbabazi’s residence sometime back when an intruder was shot dead, and other covert methods to plant covert surveillance devices.

There is a lot of covert surveillance on Journalists and media houses that are perceived as being hostile to the regime.  However, the advent of a robust social media is giving them sleepless night.  It is this upper hand in covert monitoring of his political opponents that partly contributes to Museveni’s arrogance.  However, care need to be exercised as the capabilities of these gadgets could be exaggerated in a move designed to scare political dissent.  Andrew Mwenda sometime back wrote a hoax over alleged procurement of sophisticated gadgets from Italy that hack into social media accounts and emails.  At that time, it was meant to instil fear in Ugandans who exercising their freedom of communication.

INFORMATION IS POWER.

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3 Comments to Spying on opposition by Museveni regime is decades old

  1. Estefana Thamann says:

    Very energetic blog, I enjoyed that bit. Will there be a part 2?|

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