By Cyrus Ombati
The number of people paid to spy on you and perceived enemies of Kenya goes up by 1,500 ahead of coming elections and in midst of increased internal security threats.
The new force is expected to boost the country’s intelligence gathering capacity through shadowing politicians and potential target groups, suspected terror cells both local and external, as well as keeping the finger on the pulse of national and individual conversations.
The agency is the lifeline of intelligence given the President and top security chiefs so as to enhance their capacity to make informed decisions on local and external security threats to Kenya.
The number of spies working for National Intelligence Service (NIS) is classified information and the exact figure impossible to tell as many work under cover, but what is certain is the force is now recruiting at least 1,000 officers from its controversial Sh14 billion annual budget.
Also going up are the number of spies working for the special police unit, Criminal Intelligence Unit, whose latest recruitment is 500.
Sources revealed that the decision to enhance the country’s intelligence network was informed by increased terror threats to the country following the entry of Kenya’s Armed Forces into Somalia last October and the subsequent frequent violent attacks on civilians locally by suspected members of Al-Shabaab.
The fear of recurrence of post-election violence last seen in 2007-2008 as well as the rising security threat from the Mombasa Republican Council, whose consequence could be death of tourism, a key plank of Kenya’s economy, also necessitated the recruitment of the additional officers.
Already 500 recruits have joined NIS and are set to undergo training at the National Intelligence Academy before deployment to the field, and the recruitment process continues. On Tuesday, NIS conducted aptitude tests on those about to be taken aboard. Oral interviews follow next. The vacancies were advertised on March 30.
Police Spokesman Eric Kiraithe separately told The Standard that the police department had recruited 500 criminal intelligence officers to boost their operations nationwide.
“Our area of concentration is in Mombasa, Nairobi and North Eastern where Al-Shabaab remnants are emerging to be a threat to national security,” explained Kiraithe.
At Bomas, another batch of recruits were being inducted on how the agency operates and its code of secrecy and undercover operations.
With Sh13.4 billion budgetary allocation, NIS is among the biggest spenders in Government and its controversial enhanced funding could be a pointer to where it is headed in terms of presence across the country.
Authorities attribute the development on the need to enhance collection of internal and external intelligence in the face of emerging terror threats.
According to a notice published in the Kenya Gazette, a new centre to house the spy agency will be built in Coast Province on land set aside in Kwale County, South Coast.
“These are issues that have been pending and it is high time they are checked and monitored all the time through efficient and reliable intelligence mechanisms,” a NIS insider told The Standard.
It is believed NIS is being strengthened to cope with expanded roles under the new Constitution. NIS officers are some of the best-paid government personnel.
Office of the President, under which NIS falls, wants to ensure deployment of the personnel is done in all regions by August.
Acting Head of Public Service Francis Kimemia had earlier told The Standard he had directed Permanent Secretaries to deploy personnel to the counties by August.
Currently, there is an intelligence officer in each of the 278 districts across the country. Some officials are deployed in constituencies.
Some sources argued that with the recent increase in the number of
districts, the operations of the agency had been overstretched.
“No one wants to be caught off-guard,” added the source.
National Security Intelligence Service, which was later renamed NIS, came under criticism over its handling of post-election violence cases, particularly on surveillance and gathering of intelligence briefs that would have forestalled the bloodbath.
The recent spate of grenade attacks has also shone the spotlight on the agency with MPs claiming it was not effectively providing information to prevent the attacks.
The agency is among the institutions with the biggest budgetary allocation. In the 2012-2013 Financial Year, the NIS has been allocated Sh13.4 billion. But MPs want to slash that budget by Sh2.7 billion, arguing there is no justification for the huge amount.
In a report to Parliament, the House Defence and Foreign Relations Committee contends that Treasury allocated the spy agency more cash that it had requested.
The MPs said there was no justification to maintain the spy agency’s funding at last year’s levels arguing that NSIS got the enhanced budget for “modernisation”. But the MPs added it was not expected that the said programme would “be funded in perpetuity”.
Consequently, the committee chaired by Mr Adan Keynan suggested that the Sh2.7 billion be reallocated to the Department of Defence and Ministries of Foreign Affairs and East Africa Community.
However, NSIS is in the crosshairs of the committee because the Director General Michael Gichangi ignored summonses to appear before the team that was probing the alleged UK dossier on International Criminal Court.
Due to the icy relations, the committee did not invite the spy chief to defend the NIS budget. It recommended the budget cuts as punishment for what the team described as his “previous perpetual disobedience of committee summons”.