Are the two spears of MY BELOVED NATION breaking and the shield withering at the penetrating arrows of our enemies? Kenya is in what spooks at the CIA or the NIS would describe as a “volatile situation” where trying to get a handle of it would equally suffer the description of “the situation remains fluid”. My heart goes out to the people who have lost their lives since Kenya decided to play imperial master over the peoples of Somalia. Do not get me wrong; while I understand the delicacies of political matters and the intrigues of war, I still feel that Kenya should not have invaded Somalia, yes people were kidnapped, but still, war, really. And I still believe that when the powers that be up on that house on the hill gathered to plan the incursion, there was no proper plan in place, at least in the long-term, which would have been able to foresee the current insecurity events happening in the nation and make appropriate arrangements. Which I am quite convinced that there is sinister political machination a-foot, and I am not some conspiracy strait-jacket case, it’s just all these events tie up, not in some quaint apophenic or pareidolic consideration, but in a rational analysis of events with a touch of educated imagination.
Safaricom: The All-Seeing Eyes
So, Safaricom has been awarded the tender to install high-grade security cameras in the city that come with facial recognition software (is it me or are you reminded of the popular series Persons of Interest?). It is going to function as a command and control center for the government, yes, herein lays the problem- a private company working in such close contact with the government, especially matters with regard to security, that’s never an ideal situation. The contract will last five years as part of the national strategy for the modernization program for the police system in the country (my take, the whole curriculum at Kiganjo should be overhauled, dismembered and a whole next-generation police-education system be instituted, a few high-tech gadgets are not going to make the police suddenly start living in the twenty-first century). Everyone saw that coming, Safaricom is the only company homeland that musters the financial muscle, infrastructural, and technical capability to make the 1800 surveillance cameras a reality-1,500 in Nairobi, and 300 in Mombasa. It would make sense that those would be the High-Priority Areas, considering they are High-Impact Target Areas, especially in this fight against the onslaught of terrorism. But, here’s the thing with HPAs and HITAs-they shift to seemingly Low-Impact Target Areas such as in the Northern Kenya corridor, but still have the highest possible consequence ratio (okay I am starting to speak like a loon over at NIS) such as in the case of the Mandera Massacre. Given the current security situation, it only makes sense that a government will go to the largest company in the country which happens to carry a lot of data of consumers (coincidence, you think? Positively no), tracking the trends of the peoples of the Republic-the envy of many a company. Information, it is the currency of the Knowledge Economy. Safaricom has won over such companies as IBM and Google, of course they have, no government would dare give such a sensitive tender to such foreign companies, especially in the U.S. because ultimately, backdoors in the encryption systems do bring in unwanted guests, and suddenly you have Kenya’s Classified Information flying around in cyber space, seating pretty in servers where such information is of a critical importance. Safaricom has the largest fibre cable network in the country, so of course they are going to handle the large swaths of data coming in to the command center, question is, where is the line towed between security and company data, eyes-only personnel (the people that actually get to see that data, is there going to be a government representative from the office of the president, the NIS, the police, and the company itself? Critical questions that must be understood and possibly understand) and where and what will happen when conflicts of interest arise.
There are many murky areas that emerge in the security apparatus, because, however you look at it, Safaricom has joined the security structure and as such what are its obligations to data, liability with regard to Classified Information Procedures, not to mention discovery obligations for both Safaricom and government. You are probably wondering what discovery is, well, it is a process where in litigation disclosure of documents and interrogatories is required in subjudice proceedings- simply documents that help to build defense in case law, in this case, e-discovery or electronic discovery. In electronic discovery, we learn of the duty to preserve all relevant electronically stored information especially where a party anticipates litigation, a party who contemplates a claim against another or even one who anticipates a claim might be held against them, all of which can be expensive and shrouded in legal mambo jambo.
Additionally, Safaricom has enhanced its position as a Category-A Hack Potential, which only means that it is most liable to hacking, considering the large bulks of data and the additional data it will carry for the command centre that is of a sensitive nature. Eric Snowden, former CIA employee says that the U.S. has been on Kenya’s phone calls, of course it has and I don’t think it will stop anytime, particularly when you consider the collection of information that the command centre will hold, I shudder at the thought, but then again I would not be surprised, actually I anticipated Snowden’s remarks, why, well, because it is the US, dealer in information, and Kenya is a HPA (High Priority Area) and a HIC (High Interest Country)in Africa, it’s all a game of thrones, ones and zeros, really, knowledge, the double-edged sword with which power is gained or lost.
I am essentially worried about elicitation with regard to Safaricom’s high-data coverage, digital elicitation I call it, conversations between computers as a result of running decryption programs like Somalget or possibly even onsite acquisition, God forbid! What is it you ask, well, elicitation refers to the technique of acquiring secret information that is not readily available, a vital tool for intelligence departments of the government, without raising suspicion that you are gathering the information. It is usually non-threatening, easy to disguise, deniable and effective. To relate, you probably have watched the popular series 24 where we see the protagonist Jack Bauer employ remarkable skills of elicitation, well, here, we see the threat of life, but aided by his trusty cohort/friend who meticulously by-passes firewalls and acquires high-grade information to help Jack complete the mission, elicitation. I am worried that the information that Safaricom will acquire will be targeted as it will be sensitive information, not to mention the spill-over effects to other forms of data, virtual bridges might be built that will enable information to be passed between the two fronts which I can describe as Safaricom Telco and Safaricom Secco (as in security company) either internally or by malicious externalities.
Five-years of information gathering, that’s how long the contract will last between the government and Safaricom, as this is actually quite a first in Africa on a massive undertaking, government intends to make the most out it. I wish Kenya had a satellite-system, then things would be a whole easier, I believe the governments should be making comprehensive investments that cater for the future in its development agenda, and this includes restructuring the whole security system to reflect the changing tides in global security. Nevertheless, I am deeply concerned about Safaricom giving information willingly to the government (there is a historical relationship here, considering Safaricom is the largest purse-string for the government) as some global tech giants like Google have done who have admitted that they have cooperated with the authorities and even gone as far as altering their own computer systems to better monitor users who are under ‘targeted surveillance’, that some employees, according to the Times, at these large tech companies have been given national security clearance, which now the question begs, will Safaricom do the same, I had earlier alluded at the outset on Safaricom’s possibility having a seat at the security apparatus. The question in my mind is how these three, with two in Nairobi, command centers will be rationalized to ensure maximum efficiency for the five video conferencing facilities, internet services to over 195 police stations, 7000 devices, 80 base stations, 130 fixed desktop phones and the 600 vehicle-mounted systems, not to mention the personnel operating these capabilities, their skill and intelligence to extrapolate moving scenarios of the security play.
Evidently, the deal between Safaricom and the government looks good on the outside, and we applaud the move by the government of the date to improve the threatening situation, bravo! But Alas! If it does not fix the chronic systemic failures (the unraveling of the security in the country is only a by-product of this endemic risks that weave their way into the crevices of a crumbling security structure, stop-gap measures will no longer deal, this is real people) , then there is probable risk of destabilization, not to sound alarmist or paranoid, just a gaze through the crystal ball of rationality and logic, but the best way to predict the future is to make it, so let us make a bright future for all of us and generations to come.