It is bad times for spy agencies across the world, including Nigeria’s Directorate of State Security, (DSS). The DSS’s hassles at home are coming at a time of multiple challenges for that realm of statecraft generally. The most potent of the apparatuses within the panoptic industry has been unraveling even as capitalism relies more and more on the surveillance machinery to protect the establishment from what Ken Jowitt calls the movements of rage. These could include any groups from those left out of the benefits of modernity on account of race, gender, ethnicity, location, language, religion, numerical disadvantage and physical challenge to terrorists, the greedy and crusaders for one cause or another such as Edward Snowden and even the professional protesters.
Two, technology is making spy agencies and their operatives to lose sleep because it is badly empowering bad guys. The social media in particular is making open source intelligence an attractive area than good old human and signal intelligence. There is now even SOCMINT, (social media intelligence).
Badly groomed political leaders who cannot ‘read’ and/or use intelligence reports is becoming a big problem. Going through Christopher Andrew, the Cambridge Historian’s massive For the President’s Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush tells only half the story. The experience might be global as apolitical leaders are sprouting all over the place.
This is the age of surprise attacks. Intelligence sharing is becoming a risk because what guarantee is there that the other guy isn’t going to trade with sensitive information. Agitators for civil liberty have since the end of the Cold War let it be known that they are not in the mood to accommodate any autocratic claims about the citizen as a threat. American activists showed how far this could go in their battle with the CIA over its war on terror. Accountability agitators follow on the heels of guardians of civil rights protection community. Spy operatives are coping badly with the moral crisis of the profession.
The challenges are many. Perhaps, as the head of one of the British spy agencies told the Financial Times in late 2014, the intelligence community can overcome the challenges confronting it in the 21st century by going back to the drawing table after Wikileaks and Edward Snowden shattered intelligence. But how fast that works when intelligence has crept into the arena of academia is something to think about. Degrees are being awarded in Intelligence across universities in Europe and North America. How much of the secrecy around intelligence will remain at the rate books and other reading materials are being published is better imagined than mentioned.
Even some Nigerian universities have advertised courses of such nature or are running them under MA, MSc and PhD programmes in Security Studies. Whether a university that has not a single scholar of Michel Foucault ought to mount any programme in Intelligence is a different matter. It would certainly be a very flawed degree in Intelligence in a university that lacks such a specialist because Foucault remains the most important voice in that realm. Mastering Foucault does not make anyone an expert in the craft of intelligence but the craft is not what an academic programme in Intelligence or Security Studies offers. But even then, those who aspire to work with DSS or MOSSAD or CIA as professional spies or those who want to set up security outfits with such a degree must first settle accounts with Foucault before they can be productive in such a career.
Anyway, the totality of the pressures on the intelligence community must be much, seeing as they have all abandoned the ‘No comments’ disposition and are now comfortable maintaining image makers, including the CIA which took that option long ago when it was on the verge of being scrapped before Reagan came to find it necessary tool for handling collapsing communism. Even the new helmsman of Nigeria’s Directorate of State Security, (DSS) is speaking to that. How the DSS heads off some of these problems could be very interesting in a paradoxical way.
This is the time when the state as the referent object of security is being academically and practically rolled back in favour of the security of the human being. The idea that everybody else is safe when the state is safe has hit a cloud of doubt not only because the security of some states has turned out to be the insecurity of some citizens but also because threats have no address anymore, given the way the internal and external dichotomy is disappearing fast, demanding more and more vigilance. Threats could come from anywhere, inside as much as outside in a much more complex world. In fact, so complex that woe betides the state that has a lousy attitude to intelligence. This is the dilemma: to love or to hate the DSS?
It is unlikely that intelligence agencies would disappear so soon. States are still central actors across the world and they would continue to need an agency that serves the function of plausible deniability for state power, carry out some of the things the military cannot get involved without controversies but which diplomacy cannot accomplish either. Perhaps the dynamics have worked out to a moment of truth for intelligence services.
Perhaps, the moment of truth should be defined by a deliberate demystification of intelligence as a state activity. Perhaps, there is no mechanism by which intelligence agency can be popular. But even then, is there any purpose that the current situation whereby even well enlightened elements shrink at the thought of intelligence services serves? Are there not intelligence agencies that are embracing the broadening and deepening movements in security politics? That would seem to be the only way intelligence agencies can serve the higher purposes of state survival but without risking the fate the CIA barely missed – the popular discourse of the agency as a rogue elephant that implied its disbandment at a point.
If the CIAs could get into such storm, twice in a decade, why can’t an even worse fate befall the domestic spy agency of a medium power such as Nigeria? After all, whether one calls it NSO or SSS or DSS, this agency keeps having fatal accidents since 1985. Why is it possible for a professional to get there as DG and begin to do things he or she is not paid to do when the assumption is that the DSS will be there for Nigeria even when all else fail? Is the problem essentially political or a typical Nigerian problem without origin?
At the rate corruption goes on in Nigeria and appointees scale through DSS screening with non-existent qualifications and still many more things happen in Nigeria, no one would be surprised should the next president mete out something more drastic than 1985 treatment for the DSS’s ancestor.