Navigating National Intelligence in the Context of a Corrupt Nigeria

Navigating National Intelligence in the Context of a Corrupt Nigeria

Wednesday, August 29, 2018 6:49 am


Ademola Araoye

Ademola Araoye

There are discernible evidence of a crisis internal to the national intelligence community on the one hand and the relationship between that community and the political class on the other hand. The mandate and character of an externally focused intelligence agency is peculiar to it and the moral latitude associated with its operation is quite unique. These attributes conceptually are not shared by internally directed crime bursting intelligence gathering agencies in the service of maintenance of law and order. In more recent times though, these internally focused intelligence bodies operate to interface with externally derived intelligence to prevent surprises such as the attacks of September 11, 2001.

It is clear that the two have to interface and coordinate to identify the composite elements in building a comprehensive picture of the state of security challenges. Yet human and institutional factors can impede seamless inter-service collaboration because various services often acquire institutional interests and perhaps developed unique institutional personalities deriving from the nature of their mandate and the political contexts of the overall operating environment. This has often led to institutional rivalries.

The focus of this intervention is largely on external intelligence. The crises within the intelligence community and internal to each of the institutions have majorly been poorly handled by all sides; by the top management of the professional intelligence class and the highest hierarchy of the political class. As cold comfort though, this is not peculiar to Nigeria.

But in Nigeria, the crises come across as symptomatic of the extension of the corruption, in his instance political, of the very fabric of national life into the intelligence services. To be sure, professional managers of intelligence operations, as distinct from the political managers of intelligence outputs, of the intelligence structures are constantly faced with multiple dilemmas that are intrinsic to their unique calling. Resolving these challenges, including successfully negotiating the moral fuzziness associated with competitive engagement with and in a hostile universe of operations, is not helped by institutionalized corruption in the construction of the professional management, derailed mandate, a perception of suspicious motives and unwholesome character as well a contentious quality of political oversight of intelligence operations.

Wherever the intelligence community has found itself corralled into partisan politics, it has ended up badly compromised and disempowered from carrying out its core responsibilities. In mature democracies, intelligence agencies are able by dint of the sheer consciousness of the public, in particular an elite class consensually mobilized by the sanctity of the national imperative against particularistic interests of the status quo, to resist the temptation of the extant political regime or administration to compromise its operations. In the absence of strong institutionalized check and balances insulating the professional intelligence services from partisan domestic politics and a strong, clearly defined and protective operational charter, the intelligence professional in less developed democracies such as ours constantly remains at the mercy of manipulative political overseers seeking to impose narrow partisan definitions that far deviates from the national security that they are sworn to protect.

Under these circumstances, in the absence of tangible results expected from the community as a result of politicization, intelligence operations become merely partisan vacuous activity that is of no value to neither the compromising political agency nor the ultimate security of the state.

Recent scandals across the intelligence realm, including controversies around the code of conduct, fiscal management, internal operations and the deliberate partisan realignment in the construction of the highest echelon of the intelligence community are revealing of serious challenges that that sector faces. Intelligence institutions constitute the eyes, ears and nose of a total community to gather information with invaluable salience for policy making to assure the survival of the whole community. These institutions are so critical that their failure in mandate implementation poses a mortal threat to the integrity and ultimately to the security of that community or the state space. Accordingly, intelligence gathering is a secret activity that is principally aimed at deciphering the external universe in which the state is located.

The foundations of intelligence services are located in classic realist theory. The theory advances that the danger to the longevity of the state, lies in the fact that states live in a context of anarchy – that is, in the absence of anyone being in charge internationally. The international community is an unpacified Hobbessian jungle where angels fear to tread. This turbulent climate makes certain demands of those with responsibility to protect national interests. For the intelligence community, it demands that the state speaks and acts homogeneously with one voice. It is thus cardinal that the construction of the services must internally inspire the confidence of the totality of the community. Also, policy-makers are expected to act rationally since only rational decision-making leads to the pursuit of the national interest.

Leaders are therefore logically inclined not to pursue actions that would weaken or make more vulnerable the state through jaundiced politicking with the machinery of intelligence. Such a policy would not be rational. Realism suggests that all leaders, no matter what their political persuasion, recognize this as they attempt to manage their state’s affairs in order to survive in a competitive environment. The intelligence services responsible for the security of the state must enjoy the confidence of the total society.

Against this background, intelligence institutions are non-partisan at two levels. At a first operational level, intelligence officers are responsible for a policy neutral assessment of various situations. That implies that while the inputs of the intelligence sector is vital, even central, to credible policy making, policy formulation belongs to a higher echelon of statecraft. The President and his national security team determine how best to resolve dilemmas and the policy challenges thrown up by the facts on the state of the universe presented by the intelligence community. At a second level, intelligence institutions owe allegiance to the consensual and uncontroverted good of the community or state. Intelligence institution must have no allegiance to any individual or particular party. Its allegiance is to the Constitution and the constitutional order.

They are thus apolitical. This is an ineluctable code of operations and the ethics of a professional intelligence outfit. When conducted outside these parameters, intelligence structures go doubly rogue and become a danger to the very community they are intended to serve and protect.

Intelligence, especially the foreign espionage and covert action dimensions, is validated necessary roguery. It is roguery on behalf of the state. But the roguery is externally focused in the service of the internal public good. According to Richard Helms, a hold over from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the war time intelligence agency of the United States and predecessor of the modern Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who served as the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) of the United States from June 1966 to February 1973, espionage, basically operations to gather information, seeks to know the world. As a professional Helms highly valued information gathering (favoring the interpersonal, but including the technical, obtained by espionage or from published media) and its analysis. He also prized counterintelligence…

It is instructive that he is reputed to have severely hampered the investigations of the CIA by the Church Committee in the mid-1970s. He ordered the destruction of all files related to the CIA’s controversial mind control program in 1973..

Meanwhile, Frank Wisner, head of Office of Strategic Services operations in southeastern Europe in 1944-1945 at the end of World War II, and who was in charge of the Directorate of Plans (DDP) of the Central Intelligence Agency from August 23, 1951 to September 1958,. avers that covert action, or secret warfare, seeks to change the universe. Under him, the DDP controlled about 75% of the CIA budget and deployed about 60% of all CIA personnel. As head of Directorate of Plans, he was instrumental in supporting pro-American forces that toppled Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 and Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in Guatemala in 1954. With a chequered personal history in intelligence Wisner was diagnosed as a manic depressive and received electroshock therapy. Retiring from the CIA in 1962, he committed suicide in on October 29, 1965. According o Wisner, beyond information gathering, classic intelligence institutions also have an activist challenge, through the deployment of a mix of instruments, often but not limited to the use of soft power, of reorienting what goes on in the wider universe or abroad to advance the interests of the state. Intelligence services seek to save the country from surprises like Pearl Harbour and September 11. These are no mean tasks.

According to Major General Magruder who defined the operational challenges of intelligence, clandestine intelligence operations involve a constant breaking of all the rules. Putting it starkly, General Macgruder affirmed that clandestine operations are necessarily extra-legal and sometimes out rightly illegal. Consistent with this, when President Truman finally changed his mind to reinstate central intelligence after initially disbanding the OSS at the end of World War II, he presented to the first director of central intelligence Rear Admiral Sidney Souers with black cloaks, black hats and wooden daggers.

Paradoxically, credible intelligence structures are populated by decent, highly intelligent, incisive analytical minds even if trained and toughened to face a hardened universe of illegalities. In a permanently rapidly evolving global strategic landscape or even a frightening dynamic of this strategic space, the resilience of intelligence institutions through constant adaptation is key to continued relevance. The global and totalitarian character of the intelligence mandate and associated operational challenges have overwhelmed many world renowned intelligence services.

Even the most prominent intelligence institutions have failed to deliver at critical conjunctures of international life and systemic crises. This is more so in the age of asymmetric engagements of the state forces and non state, non sovereign global forces. The operational canvass is so dynamic and transformed as to challenge even conventional approaches to this cloak and dagger enterprise.

Accordingly, the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America is a foreign intelligence service tasked with gathering, processing, and analyzing information with a view to securing the overall interests of the United States. As noted earlier it emerged from the ashes of the Office of Strategic Services established during the Second World War. Yet for all its striving some experts have been reserved about the operational efficiency of the CIA. Tim Weiner, for example, notes that the CIA was rebuked and scorned by President Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. He adds however that the reports of th CIA were rejected by the Presidents if it did not fit the preconceptions of presidents. The Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) – otherwise known as MI6, is the foreign intelligence service of the government of the United Kingdom.

It was founded in 1909. It is tasked mainly with the covert overseas collection and analysis of human intelligence (HUMINT) in support of the UK’s national security. Intelligence structures also monitor, control and manage the internal space to secure it from destructive influences that may be homegrown or have penetrated the community. The external and internal dimensions of security are both specialized. There is often a central body to coordinate and synthesize outputs elicited as elements of state security policy making, given the political imperatives driving state policy at each point in time.

Political leadership is thus seriously constrained in the absence of a strong, smart, sharp intelligence service. Effective professional intelligence services are often the receptacles of the smartest analytical minds in society. Such services, aware of their critical roles in the survival of their communities, are ideally paragons of professional dedication, integrity and, above all, transcend the partisanship of every dynamic society, including the quotidian turbulence associated with robust democratic systems. They are thus above partisan politics. For many, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations in the United States, the motto: Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity sums up the driving motif of intelligence enterprises.

The temptation to politicize intelligence structures, especially in pursuit of partisan goals, is not a uniquely Nigerian virus. At the best of times, the world of professional intelligence is murky. A responsible political class managing its national intelligence must be sensitive to these potentially debilitating imperatives, if building an intelligence service is not just an expression of a mere fad.


• Ademola Araoye is a former Nigerian diplomat and a retired official of the United Nations. Currently a Visiting Professor associated with the SARCHi chair on African Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg, Araoye is author of critically acclaimed books including Cote d’Ivoire: The Conundrum of a Still Wretched of the Earth and Sources of Conflict in the Post-Colonial African State. He is a regular contributor to TheNEWS magazine

Join The Conversation

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.