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Kenya listed top of US spying targets

By Geoffrey Mosoku | June 10th 2013

By Geoffrey Mosoku

Nairobi, Kenya: Kenya tops the list of US intelligence’s most-watched countries in Africa, according to top-secret documents published on Sunday.

A ranking of countries by the number of interceptions of Internet communication places the country first in Sub-Saharan Africa and second only to Egypt on the continent.

Kenya is marked out in yellow on the so-called “world heat map”, alongside oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Germany, and the United States with tens of billions of interceptions between them.

Sunday’s disclosures are the latest in a series that begun last Thursday when the British newspaper, The Guardian, revealed that the US has been carrying out a top-secret government data surveillance programme in which it routinely obtained millions of phone records from technology companies.

The programme, code-named Prism, has enabled national security officials to collect e-mail, videos, documents and other material from at least nine US companies over six years, including Google, Microsoft and Apple, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. According the Post, most of the intercepts are carried out in the US because the bulk of Internet traffic travels through American-based systems.

The Guardian reported on Sunday that the US National Security Agency had developed a powerful tool for recording and analysing where its intelligence comes from.

The Guardian said it had acquired top-secret documents about the NSA data mining tool, called Boundless Informant, that details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks.

A snapshot of the Boundless Informant data, contained in a top secret NSA “global heat map” seen by the Guardian, shows that in March 2013 the agency collected 97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide.

India is fifth

Although no figures have been provided, Kenya is estimated to be in the league of top 10 globally as it is marked yellow, a colour shared with Jordan, which is rated third in the world at 12.7 billion pieces of intelligence in one month.

Iran was the country where the largest amount of intelligence was gathered, with more than 14 billion reports in that period, followed by 13.5 billion from Pakistan.

Jordan, one of America’s closest Arab allies, came third with 12.7bn, Egypt fourth with 7.6 billion and India fifth with 6.3 billion.

Analysts traced the high level of US interest in Kenya to several factors, including growing Chinese influence as well as the fact that Nairobi is a business and communication hub for the entire region.

According to Prof Munene Macharia, America’s interests are informed by geopolitics and the strategic position that the country holds in the region.

Macharia, an expert in international relations and political science, argues that the American embassy in Nairobi is the largest in the region that also acts as the communication headquarters for east and central Africa region.

“It’s possible that all intelligence to the US from the region passes through Nairobi as this is the communication command for east and central Africa,” he adds.

The don also added that the strategic position of Kenya also attracts US interest as other competing countries like China who want to set base in Africa usually use Nairobi.

Apart from geopolitics, Kenya is strategically placed near conflict-ravaged countries like Somalia and South Sudan where Americans usually are interested to be ahead of the interest in knowing what is taking place.

The country has also been cited as a safe haven for those dealing with narcotics, another area that the US spies are heavily involved in gathering information on the drug cartels and their operations.

Kenya is also a key ally of the US in the fight against terrorism and the fact that some of the most wanted terrorists have set foot in the country may also inform America’s close interest.


Experts also says that the US could be deeply involved in obtaining intelligence on President Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto who came to office through an election in which the US was controversially embroiled with the warning that “choices have consequences” as the two face charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Nairobi is also as a diplomatic hub in its right as host of a United Nations agency, UNEP.

According to The Guardian, the focus of the internal NSA tool is on counting and categorizing the records of communications, known as metadata, rather than the content of an email or instant message.

The Boundless Informant documents show the agency collecting almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013.

An NSA factsheet about the programme, acquired by The Guardian, says: “The tool allows users to select a country on a map and view the metadata volume and select details about the collections against that country.”

Iran was the country where the largest amount of intelligence was gathered, with more than 14bn reports in that period, followed by 13.5bn from Pakistan. Jordan, one of America’s closest Arab allies, came third with 12.7bn, Egypt fourth with 7.6bn and India fifth with 6.3bn.

The disclosure of the internal Boundless Informant system comes amid a tussle between the NSA and its overseers in the Senate over whether it can track the intelligence it collects on American communications. The NSA’s position is that it is not technologically feasible to do so.

IP address

Other documents further demonstrate that the NSA does in fact break down its surveillance intercepts, which could allow the agency to determine how many of them are from the US. The level of detail includes individual IP addresses.

That approximation has implications for the ongoing oversight battle between the intelligence agencies and Congress.

On Friday, in his first public response to the disclosures this week on NSA surveillance, Barack Obama said that that congressional oversight was the American peoples’ best guarantee that they were not being spied on.

“These are the folks you all vote for as your representatives in Congress and they are being fully briefed on these programmes,” he said.

Obama also insisted that any surveillance was “very narrowly circumscribed”.

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