SOMALIA: THE NEW LEBANON OF THE SECRET INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY

“ I am not gone drink this bottle of water”, said Steve (not his real name, for privacy reasons), a Senior CIA Officer, and the Head of Delegation of the US Homeland Security, when offered a cold bottle of distilled water produced by a small Bosaso factory in Puntland State of Somalia. It was in June, 2002, when Puntland forces finally restored law and order in the City, after chasing away the Jama Ali Jama’s rebel group in May. The US Intelligence Delegation was meeting with top Officials of the State when Steve declined the kind offer of cold water, despite his burning thirst in the heat-scorched Red Sea “ Diraac” (extremely hot, humid, and dry season) weather of Bosaso. Some one from the Puntland Side, not suspecting a thing at all, pushed an imported, cold, and sweating Coca Cola bottle on the table towards Steve. “Have and enjoy this one, instead, Officer”, said the Puntlander, with a welcoming smile. Another Puntlander, who was keeping his curiosity in Steve’s refusal to drink the water, so far to himself, finally couldn’t resist asking Steve what was wrong with the water. “Some body with Islamic militant views used and dialled the telephone number printed on the factory label of this bottle last night” said Steve calmly, and in a matter of fact statement. Note Steve’s delegation had been just picked up from Bosaso Airport, and was in town in less than 25 minutes. I was at table as member of the Puntland Party. We, surprisingly, looked at each other. Each of us grabbed his bottle of water to read its label of Saafi Water Bottle Factory. Consequently, we advised our foreign guests that we would look into this matter and take appropriate action. Eventually, we located an Arab national with connections to militants in Yemen. Remember, this incident happened more than a decade before the NSA Contractor, Edward Snowdon, exposed the US global and massive surveillance programmes.

Historically, the young Republic of Somalia was an Ethiopian target of secret intelligence gathering, sabotage, and a major foreign policy priority since Emperor Haile-Sellassie. The Emperor, whose American Legal and Foreign Policy Advisor of forty years, John H. Spencer, described him, in the book, Ethiopia at Bay: A Personal Account of the Haile Sellassie Years (1984 edition) as “fundamentally as intensely self-centered person for whom the lives of others counted for little beside his own …His escape to Lalibella Church and to Europe during the supreme crisis of his country (Italian invasion of 1936) …. His willingness to sacrifice even the members of his immediate family”, slept no night without thinking about destroying Somalia. It had been confirmed that the long serving Chief Cook of Prime Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Egal was an Ethiopian intelligence officer, nicknamed Ahmed Gurey. Later, Ahmed Gurey was Qat trader, exporting it to Somalia, and perhaps, running the network he left behind in Somalia at the same time, as recently as 1989. I had met this man of late fifties in the village of Gallaadi in now Eastern Ethiopia (Dooloh).

The above story reminds me of another. In 1996, a late Somali veteran diplomat confessed in me that he was a member of a Somali Delegation led by Prime Minister Egal to Ethiopia, when Haile-Selassie received them at Imperial Palace in Addis Ababa. According to this career diplomat, and undoubtedly a patriotic one, Haile-Sellassie, during the course of the Royal audience, waved his hand towards one of his attentive servants, who crawled to the feet of the King. The King whispered to the ear of the servant. The servant turned out, eventually, to be the Royal Treasurer. Royal audience came to an abrupt end and the Delegation was driven back to their Addis Hilton Hotel. It was early in the evening, when the Royal Treasurer with Somsonite case, with the company of a beauty-model looking girl, knocked the door of the Prime Minister’s hotel room. At the time, the Somali diplomat and Prime Minister were together in the room. The diplomat quickly left the room for the privacy of his boss. As they sat for breakfast next morning, the Prime Minister handed an envelope, containing five thousand US dollars, to the diplomat, after having said, “It was a nice night”. I asked this diplomat whether he had reported the incident to the Somali Government, upon return to Somalia. “Which Government? – The Prime Minister is the Government”, he shouts back!

This diplomatic incident happened right after Arusha Declaration of October 28, 1967, when the Prime Minister allegedly conceded NFD dispute to Kenya, in a major diplomatic and foreign policy push under his Major and Minor Policy initiative with Ethiopia and Kenya.

Intelligence community, however, sometimes makes mistakes, and security lapses do occur in many situations. The Ethiopian Secret Services (including the External Research Service) are no exception. Berhane Selam Press in Addis Ababa is the Ethiopian Government printing and publishing house. Important Government documents, books, newspapers, magazines, .etc are, or were produced there. The house has a section dedicated to forging Somali Government documents. These include passports, postages, driving licenses, auto-plate numbers and circulation papers, and even personal identification papers. As a proof-reader of the Anti-Siyad Barre Regime SSDF Quarterly Journal, Midnimo, in the 1980s, I got access to the Somali Section of the Printing House by mistake, due to security lapse on the part of the personnel. Some even sought my counsel on whether I could tell the differences in feature, texture, and look of several Somali documents on display. Several weeks passed when they discovered the security breach, and I was advised to proof-read my magazine outside the premises of the Berhane Selam Press. I was bit worried for my personal safety for the next several years. It was dangerous times of the Mengistu Haile-Mariam DERG Red Terror.

Mengistu, the former DERG Leader currently living in exile in Zimbabwe, was sentenced to death in-absentia, for crimes against humanity by a court of the Government of Late Melez Zenawi and current ruling party of EPRDF. Despite his ostracized political position, Mengistu had, reportedly, congratulated Melez on the Ethiopian 2006 grossly mismanaged, and US financed military adventure into Mogadishu-once they reached Mogadishu, the Ethiopian army commanders under instructions from Addis Ababa, completely ignored the existence of nascent Government of Somalia, to run their own things in rampant corruptions, sex, and deal-cutting with anti-peace elements and organized groupings of Mogadishu, a favourable situation that helped Al-Shabab to regroup and re-gain strength, eventually enabling the militants to kick the Ethiopians out of Somalia. Ethiopian political leaders chose to cover up this military, political humiliation, and defeat by escape-goating on the lack of cooperation from the TFG leadership of Abdullahi Yusuf. To make it plausible to the international community, Melez, through his Foreign Minister, Seyoum Mesfin, pushed for “Regime Change” in Somalia, sacrificing a long time political ally and veteran of Somali politics. The Ethiopian move had taken most by surprise. In reality, it was a cover-up, for home consumption purposes, of a humiliating military fiasco, and justification for US military aid on invading Somalia.

(To be continued.)

Ismail H. Warsame

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