Open Source Information Sharing and indigenous ISR in Africa

The spread of militant groups and illicit networks such as Boka Haram, Al-Shabab and Al-Qaida has prompted the US and other partner nations to step up their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) activities in Africa.  ISR activities have been growing across Africa since 2007 but have recently intensified due to the 2012 March coup in Mali and the US embassy attack in Libya.  Effective and efficient ISR technology has also been recognized to be a key component of providing information that would help mitigate suffering to civilians. Civilians are constantly under physical threat brought on by: drought, natural disasters, food insecurity and terrorism.  ISR activities in Africa are carried out by the US, the EU, African military, African regional organizations and private military contractors.

The US has established close to half a dozen bases all across Africa from Ouagadougou in the west to Arba Minch in the east.  There is continuous surveillance on groups such as: Al-qaeda in Mali and Niger, Boka Haram in Nigeria and Niger, Lord Resistance Army (LRA) in Central Africa Republic, Sudan and South Sudan, Congo and Uganda.  Surveillance is overseen by US Special Operations forces that rely heavily on private military contractors and support from African troops.  One such mission is the Operation Enduring Freedom Trans Sahara (OEF-TS).  OEF-TS is a the six year Congress approved $500 million Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative (TSCTI) to support African countries involved in counterterrorism activities against alleged threats of al-Qaeda.  OEF-TS operating in the Trans-Sahara region encourage intelligence sharing, collaboration and joint training to respond to the regional Islamist/extremist ideology and terrorism threats in the region. Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) is a training and counter-terrorist mission based in Djibouti with more than 2,300 US personnel.  The mission of CJTF-HOA supports partner nation military operations in in Somalia to defeat Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabab militia groups and conducts crisis response and personnel recovery in support of U.S. military, diplomatic, and civilian personnel throughout East Africa and defend the national security interests of the United States.

The EU’s training mission to Mali (EUTM)’s task is to train and advise the Malian Armed Forces in order to restore their military capacity to restore human security, neutralize organized crime and terrorist threats, protect the EU’s strategic interests, including the security of energy supply and the fight against human and drugs trafficking.  Private military companies operating in the continent are both local and internationally based and include Eatontown, New Jersey-based R4 Inc. and the Herndon, Virginia-headquarter Northrop Grumman Technical Services.  Private military contractors provide the ISR missions personnel (pilots, sensor operators, intelligence analysts, mechanics and linguists), equipment (MC-12 Beechcrafts, single-engine Swiss-made Pilatus PC-12s,  unarmed turboprop aircraft disguised as private planes, hidden sensors that can record full-motion video, track infrared heat patterns, and vacuum up radio and cellphone signals, Jungle Advanced Under Dense vegetation Imaging Technology (JAUDIT) Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) sensor, foliage penetrating radar and other  SIGINT capabilities) and the also process intelligence collected.  Private contractors have been linked with the operations of Tusker Sand, Creek Sand, and Aztec Archer.  Tusker Sand and Creek Sand are continuous manned airborne ISR platforms operating in East Africa and West Africa respectively.  They have teamed up with existing efforts from Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans Sahara to counter terrorism in the region. Aztec Archer is a data transfer and ground control intelligence fusion service linked to Creek sand and Tusker sand.

Even though efforts have been made to set up early warning systems and equip African military and government with sustainable technology, the continent has been fraught with challenges that limit their effectiveness.  These challenges include the lack of effective use of information for human security, because African states are unwilling to collaborate to share opens source intelligence and information throughout institutions within their own country and across borders.  The second challenge is that faced African leaders have a pervasive mindset towards ISR and they are unwilling to change from a belief that ISR and information sharing should be used for regime protection to one that uses ISR tools to avert conflicts and protect the community. The final challenge is that Intelligence technology and the systems for its utilization in Africa are often not developed within the continent and there is minimal understanding of how it is utilized and translated into policy.

The Centre for Technology and National Security Policy “Open Source Information Sharing and Indigenous ISR in Africa” forum to be held later on this year at the National Defense University is a unique opportunity that will address the pressing issues of today and in the future concerning indigenous information sharing and open source technology in the context of sustainable ISR in Africa.  The forum will bring together subject matter experts from the US and Africa intelligence community, academics, students and ISR technology developers to panel discussions across four key areas:

·         What is the role of intelligence (HUMINT, SIGINT and other intelligence information management processes) in human security?

·         Developing effective institutions: How should African institutions be developed to capitalize on the enduring advantage of indigenous and open source ISR technology?

·         Open versus secret intelligence: Which would be more beneficial? Confidentiality vs. Secrecy Issues? and

·         How can information sharing & open source technology be used to predict and mitigate instability and conflict In Africa? How has intelligence affected the human behavior in the age of digitalization?

The forum culminates with a rigorous action plan workshop facilitated by a Human-Centered Design expert aimed at creating new  solutions  emanating from the needs, dreams, and expectations of the workshop participants.


About startides

TIDES Research Assistant Intern
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