There is a guy called Gabriel Oguda. If you don’t know him then you should. Among many other things, he is a prolific writer who mostly writes on Facebook – must read Facebook posts. He’ll write about politics (of course he is an ODM follower), sports, and topical issues affecting ordinary citizens. What he does different from the others is the insights he includes in almost all his Facebook updates, and one such update has everything to do with the recent national power blackout that sent Kenyans into frenzy against Kenya Power. In the update there were ideas, ideas that some saw as “giving terrorists ideas” on how best to attack Kenya. Here below is the post.
Many of Oguda’s Facebook friends lauded his insightfulness, thanking him for taking his time to share with us valuable information. A few however thought that by explaining just how vulnerable Kenya is through a publicly available Facebook post, and contrary to his intentions that terrorists shouldn’t know what Kenya’s high security risk installations are, what Oguda accomplished was giving terrorists ideas on what infrastructures the terrorists should attack to cripple Kenya economically. Here are two such comments:
“I laud your efforts sir, however by having us share and re-post this educative post serves to (-vely) heighten the risk of this information falling into the wrong hands i.e. via social media. Do omit such intrinsic details much as the damage may already been done by our institutions. It’s my hope too this is addressed by the relevant bodies”
“Gabriel Oguda, you’ve done exactly what you are ranting about. Until your rant, I didn’t have this all-powerful information. I didn’t even know this easy monkey business you’ve just taught. Fortunately, I’m a patriot to the core.”
This is not the first time a Kenyan is being accused of giving terrorists ideas. In January 2014, NTV aired an investigative feature that attempted to find out just how well Kenya’s security forces especially the police are prepared to respond to terror threats. The investigative feature received overwhelming social media reactions most of which were to the effect that NTV did nothing but to help terrorists gather ideas on how best to attack Kenya. The reactions led me to write the article Did Terrorists Playground by NTV give Terrorists attack ideas? in which I condemned those who criticized the investigative feature on the basis that it was a means of giving terrorists ideas.
I still stand by my condemnation even at the wake of Gabriel Oguda’s Facebook post. Those who criticized the NTV Investigative feature, and likewise those who consider Oguda’s post as aiding terrorists to plan attacks forget one thing; information available to journalists and public members like Gabriel Oguda is information available to the terrorists too.
You and me know or can know by simple Google steps which Kenya Power base stations that if grounded will send the entire country into a national power blackout. We know this because Kenya Power has put that information to the public. According to Oguda’s post, such information should be classified as is the case in the US. But when the Government hasn’t considered the consequences of availing such information to the public, once such information reaches my hands, how I handle and analyse such information cannot be questioned … it doesn’t matter whether I publish a detailed outline on how such information can be used by anyone to topple the Government.
The next thing the critics forget is that publicly available information is available to the Government too. This article for instance, including the NTV’s Investigative feature and the post by Gabriel Oguda are all accessible to Government personnel charged with ensuring that our security remains intact. If the Investigative feature revealed just how lax our security forces are in responding to terror threats, if Oguda magnified just how our power infrastructure is open to terror attacks, then the security personnel charged with ensuring our security should immediately respond by sealing the revealed loopholes. Actually, just like hackers who are always rewarded by Western Governments and high profile companies like Google when they reveal security loopholes in various software, NTV and Gabriel Oguda should be rewarded for highlighting the security loopholes in our national infrastructure.
Kenyans are not the only ones who have complained of those who analyse publicly available information in a manner that seems to give terrorists attack ideas. In September 2011 the US National Public Radio (npr.org) published an article by Edward Schumacher-Matos titled Loose Lips Sink Ships: Giving Terrorists Ideas. The article sought to find whether a complain by a Catherine Ross of Hammond that statements that give tips to terrorists on how to terrorise America should be left unsaid. The article left it open for other Americans to weigh in, and a comment by a one attracted my attention:
My reading of the situation which obtains concerning the relevance and or importance of different targets for terrorist exploitation is that: The terrorists, mostly US citizens among those who have worked in the USA, all ready have as much information as is possible to have. Anyone who watches tv, listens to radio or reads The New York Times knows what and where the useful targets are in the USA. Objecting to someone saying that shopping malls make good targets is really stupid. That is very much like arresting someone for taking pictures of military installations. The satellites overhead have all ready gotten all the detail needed. In practical terms, the only point to busting someone who takes photos of military installations or berating someone who says shopping malls and power plants make good targets is the chance to flex one’s authoritarian muscles and shout a bit. One is reminded of the Vogons. Douglas Adams would have a field day with the level of stupidity being displayed by those who advocate controlling what one can say about shopping malls and power pants. Ms Ross, do you also feel that the advertising for malls and power corporations should be censored?
Then decora decora wrapped it up thus:
she doesn’t have a point. terrorists are constantly dreaming up plans, and its pretty much guaranteed that the ‘breakthrough moment’ is not going to be one of them sitting listening to a radio station and smacking their head in a “my god, why didn’t i think of that!” moment.
now lets look at what happens when you start this self-censorship in a democracy. what else can’t we talk about? look at the Thomas Drake case – the government is always obsessed with secrecy, but often as a political tool instead of a legitimate means of protecting the nations security.
And beyond that, what happens in a ‘culture of overclassification’, where everything is deemed too secret to share? Consider the delibrate refusal of the CIA to pass along information to the FBI headquarters about al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar in 1999/2000, two of the hijackers that were actually living in the united states (at one point living just down the highway from NSA headquarters). If they had just shared that information, maybe those hijackers would have been stopped. After all, John O’Neill had been on Al-Qaeda’s trail since the mid 1990s, and helped stop the Millenium bomb plot in New York City. What if he had had that information?
As you and me can clearly see, there is nothing like “giving terrorists ideas”.