The debate over the recent Tanzania Intelligence and Security Service (TISS) amendment bill has opened up the agency to scrutiny and discussion in a way we have not seen in a while.
Due to the service’s secretive nature, discussions usually centre around myths and hearsay. However, with the TISS amendment bill, gazetted on May 15, 2023, the public got an insight into the service’s inner workings for the first time in a long time.
After having gone through the amendment, which has recently passed through the parliament, I would like to delve into some of the changes that have been proposed to suggest the service’s improvement.
However, I would like to caution the readers that I am neither a security nor intelligence expert; hence, any suggestions are from an observer’s perspective and might not be feasible regarding implementation!
For the sake of this article, I will limit my analysis to the sections of the amendment that have proven to be controversial to the public. I will put myself in the shoes of the public and the agency to see if a middle ground can be reached.
The amendment of section 10 removes the power of the minister in charge of the service. Whereby previously the minister in charge could override the decision of the Director General of the service, the amendment now makes the Director General answerable only to the President.
It also reduces the role of the Chief Secretary by removing the requirement that he or she be notified in writing of any directive changes initially issued by the minister in charge. However, the Chief Secretary remains the liaison between the President and the public service concerning the service.
Many in the public have complained that reducing the role of the minister in charge and the Chief Secretary in the service exposes the President to liabilities when things go wrong and give unchecked powers to the Director General of the service.
However, from my experience, the President has never been without blame regarding the service. Whenever anyone pointed out any shortcomings of the service in the past, be it real or perceived, the finger has always been pointed to either the Director General of the service or the President.
At no point has the minister in charge nor the Chief Secretary been blamed by the public regarding anything involving the service. Many in the public cannot even name the ministry in charge of the service or know that the Chief Secretary plays any role in the service.
Hence, with the new amendment, the onus regarding the service will be solely in the hands of the people that the public has always pointed to regarding anything concerning the services. And this structure has precedence everywhere else in the world.
For example, the Director of Mossad, one of Israel’s intelligence services, reports directly and only to the Prime Minister of Israel, the head of government. The Federal Intelligence Service, Germany’s largest intelligence service, also reports directly to the Chancellor, the head of government.
Although I agree that in some states, the intelligence services do not report directly to the head of government, those tend to be states with multiple intelligence services.
For example, in the United States, there is a Director of National Intelligence who oversees several intelligence services, including the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, Coast Guard Intelligence, the Defence Intelligence Agency and others.
In a state with one intelligence service (I exclude Military Intelligence which is a unit within our armed forces), there is no need for added bureaucracy between the director of that service and the President.
Another amendment that has caused much controversy is section 19, especially concerning section 19 (a) subsection 1. In principle, the amendment protects the Director General and any service employee from public prosecution concerning their duties with the service.
The amendment reads as follows, “(1) No action or other proceedings shall lie or be instituted against the Director General or officer of the Service for or in respect of any act or thing done or omitted to be done in good faith in [the] exercise or purported exercise of his function under this Act.”
The public fears service officers being given carte blanche to act as they please without worry of any retribution. The public fears that officers of the service may be given the green light by their superiors to take any unlawful action.
Due to the secretive nature of the service, I understand the public’s pessimism regarding any immunity granted to its officers. Indeed any suspicious activity without a clear explanation is usually blamed on the service.
Because of the nature of its work, the service itself cannot defend itself publicly. Some activities are blamed on the service that may not be the doing of the service. On the other hand, service officers perform their duties secretly, which may sometimes entail circumnavigating certain rules or laws.
For the officers to do their job properly, they must be given some leeway that others in public service are not granted. The danger of exposing officers to public prosecution is that you also risk exposing national secrets.
Hence, to ease public fear, one option is to borrow from the military with their own court system and create one for the service where officers who go beyond the line of duty can be punished without exposing national secrets.
Alternatively, we can adapt laws that protect national secrets even in the case of a public trial. An example we could use is the UK’s Public Interest Immunity Act.
According to UK’s Crown Solicitor’s Office, ‘Public interest immunity (PII)’ is a common law doctrine and the name given to the body of substantive and procedural rules whereby confidential information that is otherwise relevant to court proceedings is withheld on the ground that the public interest in its disclosure is outweighed by a competing public interest in its suppression.
The immunity applies to prevent the disclosure of information in various situations, including under a subpoena, discovery, or a call for a document in court and the course of a witness giving evidence.
Splitting the service
However, more practical changes will serve the service better. The government should split the service into two separate entities, one dealing specifically with internal intelligence and another with external espionage.
Both these agencies should operate independently, each having its own Director General and a separate reporting line to the President. A separate agency dealing exclusively with overseas intelligence will give our country the edge it needs regarding trade deals and technologies to adapt.
It’ll also help the country find where our focus should be geopolitically and internationally and, ideally, figure out other countries’ intentions concerning Tanzania and recruit officers entirely and exclusively focused on external affairs.
For example, in the case of the ongoing controversy with an inter-governmental agreement between Tanzania and Dubai that would allow the latter’s multinational logistics company DP World to operate the Dar es Salaam port, it would have been the job of the external intelligence service to come up with a brief on the company, how it operates and what it has done in other countries it is currently operating in.
With the new structure of two separate intelligence services, the organ focused on internal security would continue to report to the Minister of Defence, and the one focused on overseas intelligence would ideally be under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Both Director Generals would be independent members of the National Security Council. The two organs would have information-sharing mechanisms, but the collection of information and data analysis would be done individually and separately by each organ.
The separation of the intelligence service will allow for more specialisation and professionalism and allow recruitment and structure to be based on the needs of each service.
Placing the internal intelligence at the Ministry of Defence will make the service appear less like a law enforcement agency and purely as an intelligence and tactical agency.
Thomas Joel Kibwana is an international relations and business development expert with ten years of experience. He is available at email@example.com or on Twitter as @tkibwana. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.