Time to get serious about establishing anti-terrorism strategy

Wednesday December 10 2014

Inspector General of police David Kimaiyo (Left) Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku (Centr)  and  Chief of general staff Julius Karangi during press briefing at Oshwal Centre on September 23,2013.It’s time to get down to serious business of establishing anti-terrorism strategy. PHOTO | FILE

Inspector General of police David Kimaiyo (Left) Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku (Centr) and Chief of general staff Julius Karangi during press briefing at Oshwal Centre on September 23,2013.It’s time to get down to serious business of establishing anti-terrorism strategy. PHOTO | FILE 

WACHIRA MAINA
By WACHIRA MAINA
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It took two terrorist attacks that killed 64 people in a fortnight in Mandera, northern Kenya, for Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo and Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku to finally be shown the door.

The tragedy is that it took so long.

It has been obvious since the Westgate terrorist attack that Mr Kimaiyo and Mr Lenku had no idea what to do, that Kenya does not have a coherent anti-terrorism strategy, and that the government has lost credibility by mishandling public communication.

Mr Lenku and Mr Kimaiyo were clearly the wrong men for the job. Weak leadership was compounded by lack of a coherent strategy.

The government’s big idea is to flush out and destroy the terrorists wherever they are.

Yet these interdiction measures are only one of three elements that should go into making an effective anti-terror strategy. The others are prevention, infiltration, and counter-intelligence.

Interdiction works best in stopping an imminent attack or sorting out an attack that has just happened.

PROFESSIONALLY PROCESSED

Prevention, on the other hand, is strategic. It means the things we do to anticipate future attacks, identify the sources of threat, and identify funding sources for terrorism activities.

Preventive measures require a wide range of skills and capabilities, the most obvious of which is intelligence.

Groups such as Al-Shabaab are regular users of the Internet and social media.

The people who run it have personal records somewhere. Their formative influences can be tracked, electronic-monitored for heightened activity that would signal an imminent attack, and electronic transfers of funds identified, monitored, and even cut off.

But collecting intelligence for an anti-terrorism strategy has to begin with the needs of the decision-makers, in this case the President and his Cabinet.

Once collected, intelligence needs to be professionally processed and analysed and its cogency and the judgment that it points to assessed against all available sources.

Only then may it be disseminated to the decision-maker. Intelligence gathering and analysis can fail in any one of these links in the cycle. The requirements of the government may be vague, the collection might be incompetent, the analysis may be weak, and the dissemination to the end-users may be late.

The first question that Mr Lenku’s proposed replacement, Mr Joseph Nkaissery, needs to figure out is where the lapses in the intelligence cycle in Kenya are. Even credible threat assessment is not enough: decision-makers need intelligence and threat assessment to be precise and actionable.

As we saw in Iraq it is important that one begins with credible information in the first place. In order to justify the second Iraq War, the US and Britain made illegitimate extrapolations from the evidence collected by the UN weapons’ inspectors.

In effect, the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction was taken as proof that Saddam Hussein had successfully hidden those weapons.

MIS-READING INTELLIGENCE

This points to an important caution: The government will not always have full intelligence on Al-Shabaab.

It is, therefore, critical that any intelligence gathered is not politicised.

This can happen in two ways: one, having been given a particular threat assessment and the intelligence to back it up, the government may then politicise the assessment for partisan reasons.

The second, which is more pernicious, occurs when the intelligence analyst second-guesses the government, in effect trying to meet the political objectives of that decision-maker.

Which of these two happened in Mpeketoni?

It was clear that the government was cynically suggesting that this was political violence, not a terrorist attack.

Was the government misreading the intelligence or was it the National Intelligence Service skewing the analysis? Whatever the case, such choices weaken the fight against terrorism.

In the case of Westgate, the government grumbled that even though intelligence had filtered through about an attack, it was not precise or actionable enough to permit interdiction measures.

Again, was this political passing of the buck for having failed to act? Or was it a case where the threat assessment was vague and not actionable?

The second part of this commentary will be continued on this page tomorrow.

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