Februry 7, 2023

National Intelligence and Security Service

The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) is an intelligence agency of the Ethiopian federal government tasked with gathering information of national interests. It does counter-terrorism in the country by informing the federal police, gathering intelligence for the Ethiopian National Defense Force, and information for local law enforcement. The NISS is under the provision of the Ministry of Peace. It reports to the ministry on its tasks and missions. It has been in existence since 1935 and was re-established in 2013 and renamed the National Intelligence and Security Service.

Organisational History

  • Ethiopia’s first Intelligence and Security Institution was established after the Invasion Of Italy (1935).
  • From 1935-1953 the Security and Intelligence Institution was led by Lieutenant Workneh Gebeyehu.
  • In 1955, it was divided  into National security and Emperor Haile Selassie’s Special cabinet.
  • After the attempted Coup-d’état   in 1955 till 1966  the security and Intelligence institution remains under the Emperor’s  Special cabinet.
  • When the Military Derg Came to power it re-established the security office with the name Committee for peoples Security and Peace.
  • In August 1972 it was established in an  institutionalized format as Ministry of Security Protection for the Country and the People
  • In 1980 following the establishment of Ethiopia’s People Democratic Republic  it was re- established as Ministry of Internal Affair.
  • In 1983 When EPRDF came to power the office of Security and Intelligence was made dysfunctional.
  • From 1983 -1987 it was included under Ministry of Internal Affair
  • From 1987-1995  under the name  Authority for Security, Immigration and Refugees Affair it was re-established under the Office of the Prime Minister.
  • From 1993-2010 it was led by Getachew Asseffa
  • In 2005 it was re-established and named National Intelligence and Security Service.
  • After the recent Changes from June 2010 –June 2011 the agency was re-established in 2013

Ethiopia’s modern intelligence landscape has its routes in institutions formulated under the communist regimes of the late 1970’s and 1980’s. After the deposition of Haile Selassie on the 12 September 1974, the Leninist military dictatorship that replaced him, “the Derg”, began establishing intelligence networks in reaction to external military threats on its boarder, predominantly from Sudan and Somalia, and internal insurgent and dissident groups tied to the Eritrean independence movement.

The Public Security Organization (PSO) was established in 1978 with guidance and training from the East German State Security Service (STASI). The PSO was responsible for both external and internal intelligence gathering, counterintelligence actions, surveillance and direct intervention. In part, this took the form of developing an elaborate network of civilian informants both within and beyond Ethiopia’s boarders.

Running in parallel to the PSO was the Military Intelligence Department (MID), responsible for analyzing and mitigating foreign military against Ethiopia and its’ allies. Much of the MID’s action concerned aggressions by Sudan and Somalia, culminating in the Ogaden war in 1978 in which Ethiopia’s territorial integrity was only maintained by a significant injection of military resources and troops by it’s Soviet and Cuban Allies.

The Derg government has been accused of conducting a genocidal campaign of suppression against its opponents in the 1970s known as the “Red Terror” in which an estimated 500,000 people were killed. However, it is unclear to what extent Ethiopian intelligence bodies were party to or directly involved in the violence.

After the withdrawal of Soviet support for the regime in the early nineties, the Leninist regime was replaced by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and in 1995 democratic elections were held. Ethiopia’s contemporary agencies are notoriously opaque and discrete. However, the WikiLeaks dump of US Embassy Cables in 2009, provided a brief insight into the work of National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) chief Getachew Assefa in which he describes a relatively unchanged set of geo political and security priorities – such as the monitoring and investigation of actors in Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia.

Duties and mission

The National Intelligence and Security Service mission is regarded to deal with counter-terrorism, and gathering information for the public safety.

Together the police, defence forces and intelligence services make up the Ethiopian Task Force for Counterterrorism. This encourages information sharing, coordination and collaboration between all branches of Ethiopia’s national security apparatus.

Legal authority

The National Intelligence and Security Service in 2019 showed legal authority and imposed a travel ban on 3,000 individuals from moving out into other countries. This was disclosed after MP’s had visited the headquarters of the institution.

Cooperation in counter-terrorism with foreign law enforcement and spy agencies

Cooperation with foreign law enforcement and spy agencies has extended to countries like the U.S, Russia, and Israel. In August 2019, the NISS and the U.S Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly combat terrorism.  In November 2020, the NISS and Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, had agreed to fight in counter-terrorism operations jointly. And on 9 June 2021, the Russian government and NISS had agreed to strengthen cooperation in joint counter-terrorism.

Training with Republican Guard

The NISS also is tasked with graduating and training Republican Guards in the University of National Intelligence and Security. “The Republican Guard students must graduate The National Intelligence and Security University College, which is administrated by NISS. This University which is operated by the National Intelligence and Security Service is meant to train them in their disciplinary duties, after they finish and complete their physical trainings in Ethiopia.”

The Information Network Security Administration (INSA)

The Information Network Security Administration or INSA is the national signals intelligence and cybersecurity agency of Ethiopia. The agency was founded by the then senior military intelligence officer and current Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was the ruling party of Ethiopia.

The legal basis of creating INSA in 2006 was the Council of Ministers Regulation No.130/2006, with goals including defence of Ethiopian information infrastructure. Among the initial activities of INSA was spying on dissidents among the Ethiopian diaspora using “sophisticated intrusion and surveillance software”, and to lay legal charges against journalists and opposition activists and politicians of “treason” and “terrorism”. In October 2018, responsibility for INSA was given to the Ministry of Peace. It was reverted back to the office of the prime minister in October 2021.

Ethiopian refugees protest “kidnapping” of 25 Oromos in Kenya

Sudan Tribune

Dec 26, 2005

Close to 1,000 Ethiopian refugees are camped at the offices of UN High Commission for Refugees in Westlands – Nairobi – protesting against the kidnapping of 25 of their members.

The refugees, all of Oromo origin, claim that the Ethiopian government has sent spies among their midst and is scheming to repatriate them back to Ethiopia.

But Ethiopian Ambassador Murad Musa blames the kidnapping on the Oromo Liberation Front militant group, some of whom are said to be operating in this country.

The refugees do not want to be associated with the group that opposes the Ethiopian government.

An Oromo elder, Geleta Aboye, told the enyan KTN TV “we have a community, there is the Oromo community in this country, in Nairobi and the government of Ethiopia has planted its spies from Oromo community.”

Ambassador Musa said “I have sent my diplomat to verify this thing on what’s going on there. And this country as you know is a sovereign country, it has its own structures, security structures. It knows what’s going on here.”

An embassy’s function is not kidnapping, embassy’s function is having a direct relationship with its community, Musa said.

Oromo: Abductions Cause Panic Among Refugees in Nairobi

Nation Media Group

Jan 03, 2006

Having fled persecution in their country, the refugees were astonished last month when certain members of their community were allegedly picked by people suspected to be linked to the Ethiopian Government and taken to unknown destinations.
Aware of the nature and the history of the conflict, the Oromo would not take the matter lightly. About 500 of them staged a demonstration outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Nairobi, demanding assurances on security.
Tracking down Oromo people in Kenya may not be a fresh undertaking, going by past reports and statements by analysts of the conflict.

According to a US Department of Homeland Security document, an Oromo liberation leader by the name Jatan Ali was shot dead in Nairobi in 1992 by suspected agents of the Ethiopian government.

The 1999 document, posted on the internet, states that an outfit called Hager Fiqir, made up of Government agents, had been deployed to track down political opponents in exile, particularly in South Africa and Kenya.

“An ethnic Oromo resident in Johannesburg was kidnapped, detained, and beaten up at a Hager Fiqir office in January 1999 after attending a meeting in which speakers denounced human rights violations against Ethiopians,” says part of the US paper that quotes an Indian Ocean newsletter published that year.

A Horn of Africa conflict analyst, requesting anonymity, says the recently reported harassment of Oromo refugees in Kenya is not an isolated affair. “Picking and arresting Oromos has been going on for the past 14 years,” he says. This is the period the current regime has been in power.

Most victims of the persecution are suspected to be sympathisers of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the movement that has been in conflict with the Government since 1991.

The row between the ruling Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the OLF has made the latter demand self-determination in Oromia state, which borders Kenya to the north.

The Oromo have been suppressed politically, economically, socially and culturally by successive ruling regimes in Ethiopia.
The minority Abyssinians, composed of Tigreans and Amhara, are said to have colonised the majority Oromo with the help of European powers.

Occupying the richest part of Ethiopia, the Oromo make about half the population of Ethiopia. They had to be tactfully suppressed for the colonisers to gain access to Oromia resources.

It is in Oromia that coffee was first discovered, according to historians. It is also here that large reserves of minerals like gold, platinum and nickel are found.

These resources are a bone of contention. The Government wants to control the state, while the Oromo insist on self-determination. They have been subjugated for about 120 years.

Recent claims of heightened atrocities in Oromia, especially after the May 2005 General Election in Ethiopia – in which European observers accused the Government of interfering with the results – have only heightened the conflict.
An Oromo uprising over the elections has been going on in several parts of their region since November. The Government has responded with strong force.

On December 24, OLF’s external information division claimed that three Oromo students in Qiltu Karaa of Western Oromia were killed on December 20 by Government agents. Five others were allegedly injured, one of whom died later in hospital.
“Oromo students have been killed and detained all over Oromia because of taking part in peaceful protests against Government policies. Torture and rape of prisoners has become routine in secret detention centres,” says the statement.

Other reports by independent rights activists have frequently expressed concern over arbitrary arrest and detention of Oromo people because of their opposition to the Government.

The Ethiopian Government has often exonerated itself from blame, counter accusing the OLF. Says a statement from the Ethiopian Embassy in Kenya: “In fact, the OLF should be the last to speak about harassment, being spied on and abduction of its members.

“It has been established by an independent commission of inquiry that it (OLF) committed ethnically motivated atrocities against innocent civilians during the time of the new administration in different parts of Ethiopia, and has been responsible for a series of attacks in the country in recent years.”

In Kenya, where a big number of Oromo refugees live, the TPLF is said to be targeting Oromo refugees. If true, this could explain the alleged disappearance of some of them from their houses in Eastleigh and elsewhere recently.
The conflict expert who spoke to us said Kenya should not take the Oromo matter lightly. He added that Ethiopian Government operatives are in constant pursuit of targeted Oromo refugees.

“Many are the times when Oromo leaders have been arrested and released on the intervention of Western diplomats in Kenya,” he said. Kenya, he says, is constantly being drawn to the OLF-TPLF conflict. It should take advantage of recent peace interests expressed by the two groups to initiate discussions.

“Kenya has a big stake in peace between the two groups – mainly regarding stability in its northern region. The Kenyan Government cannot turn a blind eye. It is in its interest to intervene,” says the official of an international conflict research organisation.

He added that five Ethiopian security agents suspected to have orchestrated the arrest of seven Oromo refugees mid last year were themselves arrested and returned to Ethiopia by Kenyan authorities. This could strengthen the claims by Oromo refugees that they are being persecuted in a foreign land, against the principles of non-refoulement.

No refugee should be sent back to a country in which his or her life, or freedom, will be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership to a social group or political opinion. This is provided for in Article 33 of the Convention of the Status of Refugees, 1951.

The Ethiopian Embassy denies pursuing Oromos in exile, saying such claims are “defeatist propaganda by groups wanting to tarnish Ethiopia’s image and its embassy in Nairobi, or to draw international attention”. “We wish to categorically deny that this Embassy or any other authority of the Ethiopian Government has ever been involved in such unlawful activities in a country it fully respects as sovereign,” said a communication from the embassy.

US embassy spy cables: Ethiopian intelligence chief gives rare interview

Monday, 08 June 2009

EO 12958 DECL: 06/07/2019

Classified By: Ambassador Donald Yamamoto for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).



1. (S) In a rare meeting with the elusive head of the Ethiopian National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and main hardliner within the powerful executive committee of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party, Ambassador and NISS chief Getachew Assefa discussed a wide range of regional and bilateral issues. Getachew made clear during the four hour private meeting that Ethiopia sought greater understanding from the U.S. on national security issues vital to Ethiopia, especially Ethiopia’s concerns over domestic insurgent groups like the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). He spoke at length about former Addis Ababa Mayor-elect Berhanu Nega XXXXXXXXXXXX; VOA’s biased reporting; the dangers of former defense minister Seeye Abraha’s growing authority within the opposition; Ethiopia’s views on democracy and human rights; Eritrea’s role as a rogue state in the region; and regional issues including the importance of supporting the Transitional Federal Government and a rapprochement with Alhu Sunna Wal Jama’a (ASWJ) as the only option for Somalia’s survival; and the need for U.S. reconciliation with Sudan. End Summary.



2. (S) Through the arrangements of former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Irv Hicks, Ambassador met with Ethiopia’s national intelligence chief, Getachew Assefa, for a four hour private meeting on June 4. Getachew, noted for his eccentric behavior and elusiveness, explained to the Ambassador that he welcomes greater dialogue with the U.S. Embassy, but underscored the importance of deeper U.S. understanding of Ethiopia’s security concerns. Characterizing the U.S. relationship as sound and expressing appreciation for the cooperation with the U.S. on special projects on counterterrorism, Getachew emphasized that Ethiopia shares U.S. views on high value targets (HVT) like Robow and al-Turki as threats to regional stability. But domestic insurgent groups, like the OLF and ONLF, should also be treated as terrorists because they have safe haven camps in extremist-held areas in Somalia and receive support and assistance from the very same HVTs that the U.S. and Ethiopia are trying to neutralize. Such support makes the ONLF and OLF accomplices with international terrorist groups, Getachew argued. Just as Ethiopia would not meet with domestic U.S. insurgent groups, referring to individuals and groups who would conduct bombings of U.S. government offices, abortion clinics and advocates of racial and gender hate, Ethiopia would not want U.S. officials to meet with Ethiopia’s domestic insurgents who bomb and kill Ethiopian officials and citizens.

3. (S) Getachew added that the GOE does conduct talks with the ONLF and OLF and there are groups, like the Ethiopian elders, who reach out to the membership in an effort to end the violence. Getachew stressed that this is an Ethiopian process by Ethiopians and should remain an Ethiopian-led, Ethiopian-directed and Ethiopian-coordinated process. Ambassador made clear that the U.S. Administration does not meet with the ONLF and that the U.S. is in close consultations with Ethiopian authorities on their views on the ONLF and OLF, and that the U.S. supports the work of the Ethiopian Elders to end the violence. Getachew noted the visit to European Capitals and Washington of ONLF senior leaders and said they met with staffers in the U.S. Vice President’s office. The Ambassador said that we had no evidence that a meeting took place with the Vice President’s staff and stressed that the State Department did not meet with the ONLF group. Further, the U.S. military no longer meets with alleged ONLF supporters in the volatile Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia because of security concerns. The Ambassador stressed that such meetings in the past was for force protection of U.S. military civil affairs team working in the dangerous Ogaden region near Somalia, but in the last few years there has been no contact. The Ambassador added that there should be closer discussion between he U.S. and Ethiopia on this issue.



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4. (S) Getachew complained pointedly that Voice of America (VOA) is biased and gives a platform for extremist elements. XXXXXXXXXXXX

5. (S) Getachew also discussed the VOA reports covering former State Department official Greg Stanton of Genocide Watch, who charged Prime Minister Meles of crimes against humanity as a result of Ethiopia’s incursion into Somalia in 2006. Getachew complained that VOA Amharic reporting was biased and not even handed. He did note that VOA English was fine. VOA Amharic service does not interview Ethiopian officials who can refute “false assertions” espoused in the VOA interviews. Getachew praised Germany’s Deutsche Wella service for its balanced and yet hard hitting reporting. Getachew underscored that if the GOE is doing something wrong or does not have the support of the people, news services have an obligation to highlight such problems. Getachew said VOA, however, seeks to report only what is anti-government or lend support for the opposition. Getachew concluded that the U.S.G., because of VOA Amharic service is an official arm of the U.S.G., lacks neutrality in its support for the opposition and this undercuts relations between the two countries. The Ambassador replied that VOA is a very independent media and the U.S.G. does not have oversight and control over the content of the reporting.




7. (S) Getachew commented on Ethiopia’s opposition leadership underscoring that he wishes to see a vibrant opposition movement, but currently, the NGO community and foreign missions support the opposition blindly without critical analysis. XXXXXXXXXXXX

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9. (S) Getachew echoed common themes advocated by the ruling EPRDF party stalwarts from the Prime Minister to the party faithful. He stressed that the EPRDF supports democracy and that it is the goal for the ruling party to eventually give way to other parties of common vision in fighting poverty and a commitment to support the process of democratization. Getachew said he would support opposition parties if they have a better message to help Ethiopia overcome poverty, improve health care and education, and raise the standard of living of the Ethiopian people. He added that the U.S. and others should look at Ethiopia’s democracy efforts and human rights record as a work in progress. It will take time but Ethiopia is moving in the right direction that will make Ethiopia a democratic state.



10. (S) Getachew described Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki as “no martyr,” who sought to survive and establish himself as the predominate leader in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia stands in the way of Isaias’ grand design and it is his goal to divide Ethiopia and weaken it through terrorism. Getachew remarked that one of Isaias’ bodyguards was in Dubai and then defected to Ethiopia. The bodyguard remarked that Isaias was a recluse who spent his days painting and tinkering with gadgets and carpentry work. Isaias appeared to make decisions in isolation with no discussion with his advisors. It was difficult to tell how Isaias would react each day and his moods changed constantly. Getachew added that Eritrea trains over 30 rebel groups at Camp Sawa near the Sudan border and graduates are infiltrated into Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia to enhance instability and target Ethiopian interests. Getachew expressed dismay with Kenya in allowing Eritrean intel officers and military trainers who support al-Shabaab in Somalia, to bribe their way out of Kenya and return to Eritrea. He explained the activities of Abraha Kassa, Eritrea’s elusive intel chief who directs Eritrea’s Somalia operations.

11. (S) On Somalia, Getachew said the only way to support stability was through support for the ASWJ which attracts a wide range of support from all the clans, especially those groups in conflict with each other. The ASWJ has been effective in countering al-Shabaab and is ideologically committed to Sufism and the defense of Islam against the extremist salafists which form al-Shabaab. Getachew said the U.S. can best help by supporting the ASWJ and TFG to cooperate, to pay salaries of TFG troops and support the IGAD and African Union which are seeking to sanction Eritrea, implement a no fly zone, and close ports used by extremist elements.

12. (S) On Sudan, Getachew urged the U.S. to engage Bashir and the Sudanese leadership. Sudan, more than Somalia, poses the greatest threat to regional security and stability, Getachew argued. The prospects for a civil war which destabilizes the region would be devastating. The only country that would benefit would be Eritrea.



13. (S) It is interesting that Getachew’s description of President Isaias mirrors Getachew’s own character, as well.

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Getachew avoids speaking with foreigners and few foreigners really know him. He is not well liked within his own agency for decisions he makes in isolation which, at times, make little sense and are not discussed in consensus with his staff. His apparent hot temper and reclusive habits have made it difficult for his staff to gauge his moods and understand his thought process. The Prime Minister himself and other EPRDF leaders have remarked to the Ambassador that it is difficult to talk with Getachew and to meet with him, but that his loyalty to the EPRDF is never in question. Despite his poor reputation, Getachew is regarded as a strong EPRDF hardliner and commands considerable authority and influence within the powerful EPRDF executive committee which lays down the policy for the ruling party and the government. While relations with NISS officials below Getachew’s rank are extremely cordial and, depending on the unit, very close, the Ambassador has met with Getachew only twice in the past three years, and other Embassy staff have also met with little success in engaging him. Even visiting senior U.S. intel officers have not been successful in meeting Getachew. Ambassador will pursue future meetings with Getachew but he will never be a close contact. End Comment. YAMAMOTO

Kenya Investigating Claims of Kidnapping By Ethiopia Agents

October 30, 2009


Kenyan police are investigating allegations that Ethiopian government agents are kidnapping and harassing Ethiopian refugees of Oromo-origin living in Kenya, a charge the Ethiopian government denies.

An official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Rosella Pagliuchi, tells VOA that the nervousness many Ethiopian refugees living in Kenya feel is a big problem.

“Obviously, the fact that they feel so insecure needs to be taken seriously and needs to be addressed,” she said. “And this is what we’re trying to do with the government of Kenya, trying to ensure that people can enjoy safety in asylum.”

Hundreds of refugees from mostly the Oromia region of Ethiopia gathered outside the U.N. refugee agency’s Nairobi offices Tuesday, saying that they are the target of spies sent by the Ethiopian government.

They claim that government agents kidnapped about 25 Oromo refugees living in Nairobi with the intention of bringing them back to Ethiopia. They say agents have even killed some of the Oromo refugees.

The chief of Gigiri Police Station, Patrick Lumumba, who was at the demonstration, tells VOA police are looking for the people accused of kidnapping the refugees, and has asked the refugees to come forward with specific information to aid the investigation.

The Oromo people, who are traditionally pastoralists, number some 30 million, a little less than half of Ethiopia’s population.

For decades, they have been protesting what they say is domination and marginalization of their society by the northern ruling elite.

Many Oromos have been calling for an independent state. The Oromo Liberation Front was created in 1973 to lead a national liberation struggle.

Human rights groups have accused the Ethiopian government of repressing the Oromo people. For instance, in May of this year, the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch said that, in the run-up to national elections, authorities had tortured, imprisoned, and harassed many critics in Oromia.

Ethiopia’s ambassador to Kenya, Murad Musa, would not take VOA’s call.

He was quoted in Kenyan press as saying that the Oromo Liberation Front is responsible for the kidnappings, and that the function of an embassy is not to kidnap people.

Meles Zenawi: 5 things to know about the Ethiopian leader’s death and legacy

The Washington Post

August 21, 2012

Ethio­pian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died late Monday while being treated abroad for an undisclosed illness. He was part of a coalition of rebel groups that overthrew former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991, and he became Ethiopia’s president soon after. Meles became prime minister in 1995 and had been in power since.

Meles leaves behind a mixed legacy: His government was at times a strategic ally of the United States in the region, but his autocratic style garnered scorn from human rights groups. Here are five things to know about the late ruler:

View Photo Gallery: Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s long-time ruler who held tight control over this East African country but was a major U.S counter-terrorism ally, died of an undisclosed illness after not being seen in public for weeks.

He was a pseudo-communist doctor-in-training:

Meles dropped out of medical school to join the revolution and, after becoming president, distanced himself from his self-described “intellectual communist views,” leading the international community to begin describing him as a “mellowed Marxist.”

“The … provisional government unwaveringly believes that it can solve all the present problems together with the broad masses of Ethiopia. However, we can do this only if all the people come out in unison to implement our planned undertakings. Above all, let us contribute our share in our respective areas for the prevalence of absolute and complete calm, in towns and rural areas,” Meles said in a 1991 address to the nation.

He oversaw significant economic growth:

Ethiopia’s GDP grew from 3.8 percent in the ’90s to 10 percent in 2010, and officials expect 11 percent growth this year, Reuters reported, thanks to rising agricultural output.

Much of the boom can be attributed to foreign investment and the leasing of land to China and India, but the country also embarked on new energy and infrastructure projects under his rule.

Meles was a key ally of the U.S. in the Horn of Africa

His government allowed the United States to deploy Reaper drones into Somalia from a base in southern Ethi­o­pia, according to reports by The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock. Between 2006 and 2009, he also sent Ethio­pian troops into Somalia to fight Islamist militants.

… But he has an ugly human rights record

One Ethio­pian critic, Assefa Seifu, called Meles “a devil incarnate,” the BBC reported.

Human rights groups condemned him for sweeping crackdowns on dissent, including the deaths of 193 political protesters in street demonstrations during the 2005 election and a 2009 antiterrorism law that some rights organizations believe could be applied to any and all opposition groups.

More than 10 journalists have been charged under the law, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and two Swedish journalists were jailed for 11 years on charges of entering the country illegally and aiding a rebel group, according to Reuters.

He leaves behind somewhat of a power vacuum

Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will take over as acting prime minister, per Ethio­pian law.

“I would like to stress, nothing in Ethiopia will change,” said information minister Simon Bereket. “The government will continue. Our policies and institutions will continue. Nothing will change in Ethiopia.”

There is a chance, however, that Meles’s passing could lead to instability in the region. Several writers who follow the country have speculated there’s a chance Ethiopia’s political parties could struggle for power, or that Eritrea, which seceded in 1991, could seize the moment to weaken Ethi­o­pia.

“I think the threat about the instability that many are referring to is actually connected to the idea that he has been in charge of the country for so long and that he’s had an opportunity to make himself, or his personality, stand out to many of the goings on in the country,” Andrew Asamoah, a senior Horn of Africa researcher at the South Africa-based Institute of Security Studies, told Voice of America. “So [there’s] the fear that his sudden exit has the capacity of dislocating the arrangements of the quality of the country.”

“They Know Everything We Do”: Telecom and Internet Surveillance in Ethiopia

25 March 2014

Human Rights Watch

One day they arrested me and they showed me everything. They showed me a list of all my phone calls and they played a conversation I had with my brother. They arrested me because we talked about politics on the phone. It was the first phone I ever owned, and I thought I could finally talk freely.

— Former member of an Oromo opposition party, now a refugee in Kenya, May 2013

Since 2010, Ethiopia’s information technology capabilities have grown by leaps and bounds. Although Ethiopia still lags well behind many other countries in Africa, mobile phone coverage is increasing and access to email and social media have opened up opportunities for young Ethiopians—especially those living in urban areas—to communicate with each other and share viewpoints and ideas.

The Ethiopian government should consider the spread of Internet and other communications technology an important opportunity. Encouraging the growth of the telecommunications sector is crucial for the country to modernize and achieve its ambitious economic growth targets.

Instead, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of ethnically-based political parties in power for more than 20 years, continues to severely restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. It has used repressive laws to decimate civil society organizations and independent media and target individuals with politically-motivated prosecutions. The ethnic Oromo population has been particularly affected, with the ruling party using the fear of the ongoing but limited insurgency by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in the Oromia region to justify widespread repression of the ethnic Oromo population. Associations with other banned groups, including Ginbot 7, are also used to justify repression.

As a result, the increasing technological ability of Ethiopians to communicate, express their views, and organize is viewed less as a social benefit and more as a political threat for the ruling party, which depends upon invasive monitoring and surveillance to maintain control of its population.

The Ethiopian government has maintained strict control over Internet and mobile technologies so it can monitor their use and limit the type of information that is being communicated and accessed. Unlike most other African countries, Ethiopia has a complete monopoly over its rapidly growing telecommunications sector through the state-owned operator, Ethio Telecom. This monopoly ensures that Ethiopia can effectively limit access to information and curtail freedoms of expression and association without any oversight since independent legislative or judicial mechanisms that would ensure that surveillance capabilities are not misused do not exist in Ethiopia.

All governments around the world engage in surveillance, but in most countries at least some judicial and legislative mechanisms are in place to protect privacy and other rights. In Ethiopia these mechanisms are largely absent. The government’s actual control is exacerbated by the perception among Ethiopia’s population that government surveillance is omnipresent. This results in considerable self-censorship, with many Ethiopians refraining from openly communicating on a variety of topics across the telecom network.

This report is based on research conducted between September 2012 and February 2014, including interviews with more than 100 people in 11 countries. It documents how the Ethiopian government uses its control over the telecommunications system to restrict the right to privacy and freedoms of expression and association, and access to information, among other rights. These rights are entrenched in international law and frequently touted by the government as part of Ethiopia’s constitution. In practice, they are undercut by problematic national laws and practices by the authorities that wholly disregard any legal protections.

Websites of opposition parties, independent media sites, blogs, and several international media outlets are routinely blocked by government censors. Radio and television stations are routinely jammed. Bloggers and Facebook users face harassment and the threat of arrest should they refuse to tone down their online writings. The message is simple: self-censor to limit criticism of the government or you will be censored and subject to arrest.

Information gleaned from telecom and Internet sources is regularly used against Ethiopians arrested for alleged anti-government activities. During interrogations, police show suspects lists of phone calls and are questioned about the identity of callers, particularly foreign callers. They play recorded phone conversations with friends and family members. The information is routinely obtained without judicial warrants. While this electronic “evidence” appears to be used mostly to compel suspects to confess or to provide information, some recorded emails and phone calls have been submitted as evidence in trials under the repressive Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.

The government has also used its telecom and Internet monopoly to curtail lawful opposition activities. Phone networks have been shut down during peaceful protests. Some high-profile Ethiopians in the diaspora have been targeted with highly advanced surveillance tools designed to covertly monitor online activity and steal passwords and files.

In rural Ethiopia, where phone coverage and Internet access is very limited, the government maintains control through extensive networks of informants and a grassroots system of surveillance. This rural legacy means that ordinary Ethiopians commonly view mobile phones and other new communications technologies as just another tool to monitor them. As a result, self-censorship in phone and email communication is rampant as people extend their long-held fears of government interference in their private lives to their mobile phone use. These perceptions of phone surveillance are far more intrusive than the reality, at least at present.

Ethiopia has acquired some of the world’s most advanced surveillance technologies, but the scale of its actual telecom surveillance is limited by human capacity issues and a lack of trust among key government departments. But while use of these technologies has been limited to date, the historic fear of ordinary Ethiopians of questioning their government and the perception of pervasive surveillance serves the same purpose: it silences independent voices and limits freedom of speech and opinion. Human Rights Watch research suggests that this may just be the beginning: Ethiopians may increasingly experience far more prevalent unlawful use of phone and email surveillance should the government’s human capacity increase.

While monitoring of communications can legitimately be used to combat criminal activity, corruption, and terrorism, in Ethiopia there is little in the way of guidelines or directives on surveillance of communications or use of collected information to ensure such practices are not illegal. In different parts of the world, the rapid growth of information and communications technology has provided new opportunities for individuals to communicate in a manner and at a pace like never before, increasing the space for political discourse and facilitating access to information. However, many Ethiopians have not been able to enjoy these opportunities. Instead, information and communications technology is being used as yet another method through which the government seeks to exercise complete control over the population, stifling the rights to freedom of expression and association, eroding privacy, and limiting access to information—all of which limit opportunities for expressing contrary opinions and engaging in meaningful debate.

Court warrants are required for surveillance or searches but in practice none are issued. Intercepted communications have become tools used to crack down on political dissenters and other critics of the ruling party. Opposition party members, journalists, and young, educated Oromos are among the key targets.

The infrastructure for surveillance was not created by the Ethiopian government alone, but with the support of investors in the Internet and telecom sector, including Chinese and European companies. These foreign companies have provided the products, services, and expertise to modernize the sector.

Ethiopia should not only ensure that an appropriate legal framework is in place to protect and respect privacy rights entrenched in international law, but also that this legal framework is applied in practice. Companies that provide surveillance technology, software, or services should adopt policies to ensure these products are being used for legitimate law enforcement purposes and not to repress opposition parties, journalists, bloggers, and others.

Targets of Surveillance

While the Ethiopian government has legitimate national security concerns, government’s use of surveillance puts a significant focus on individuals deemed to be a political, rather than a security, threat.

According to former intelligence officials who spoke to Human Rights Watch, the selection of some surveillance targets is not necessarily based on the security threat they pose, and the actual methods of surveillance are sometimes unlawful. More intensive surveillance is undertaken on individuals who are connected with opposition parties—whether registered political parties or those that the government has listed as criminal or terrorist organizations. Individuals who speak to journalists or opposition figures are also often targeted, and in the past few years those associated with the Muslim protests have come under increased monitoring.

Former intelligence officials told Human Rights Watch that prominent individuals suspected of being connected with opposition political parties and armed movements, especially Ginbot 7 and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), are frequently the focus of targeted telecom surveillance. Intelligence officials also said that officials from registered political parties including the Union for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) are also frequent targets of surveillance. The security services may also target individuals due to their ethnicity or family connections, irrespective of whether they belong to a banned organization.

The Ethiopian government considers Ginbot 7, the OLF, and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) to be terrorist organizations under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Ginbot 7 was formed by some former members of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) party who fled Ethiopia after being detained and convicted of “outrages against the constitution,” among other charges, following the controversial 2005 elections. Ginbot 7 is based outside of Ethiopia, has not contested any of Ethiopia’s elections, and some of its leaders have been convicted under various laws. It is not a legally registered political party.

The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) is one of the oldest ethnic Oromo political organizations, founded in the 1960s as part of Oromo nationalist movements fighting against the Haile Selassie government. The OLF’s fragile alliance with the TPLF splintered early in the 1990s and it withdrew from elections and government. Since then it has waged what most observers view as a fairly limited and ineffectual armed resistance against the EPRDF. However, the government uses the specter of an ongoing OLF “armed struggle” to justify widespread repression of Oromo individuals. Regional government and security officials routinely accuse dissidents, critics and students of being OLF “terrorists” or insurgents. Thousands of Oromo from all walks of life have been targeted for arbitrary detention, torture and other abuses even when there has been no evidence linking them to the OLF.

Human Rights Watch interviews suggest that a significant number of Oromo individuals have been targeted for unlawful surveillance. Those arrested are invariably accused of being members or supporters of the OLF. In some cases, security officials may have a reasonable suspicion of these individuals being involved with OLF. But in the majority of cases, Oromos were under surveillance because they were organizing cultural associations or trade unions, were involved in celebrating Oromo culture (through music, art, etc.) or were involved in registered political parties.

Like the OLF, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) was initially a political party, but began a low-level armed insurgency in Ethiopia’s Somali region in response to what it perceived to be the EPRDF’s failure to respect regional autonomy, and to consider demands for self-determination.  In 2007, the ONLF scaled up armed attacks against government targets and oil exploration sites, triggering a harsh crackdown by the government.  As with the government’s counterinsurgency response to the OLF, the Ethiopian security forces have routinely committed abuses against individuals of Somali ethnicity, including arbitrary detentions, torture, and extrajudicial killings, based on their ethnicity or perceived support for the ONLF.

Since the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation in 2009, Ethiopia has used its overly broad provisions to target individuals and organizations that express opinions contrary to government policy or positions, often claiming that they are members or supporters of these banned organizations. While the government may have legitimate security interests in monitoring individuals who support armed anti-government movements, there are two serious concerns with the manner in which the authorities conduct surveillance activities. One is that even where an individual may be a legitimate target, the methods used to monitor and investigate their activities can be unlawful, for instance disregarding the need for judicial warrants. A second concern is that the Ethiopian security forces have repeatedly targeted a broad spectrum of individuals based solely on ethnicity, participation in lawful activities, or family connections. One former intelligence official said:

Former intelligence officials also described the gathering of intelligence on international NGOs. Information was often collected about the individuals employed, the finances of the organization, and the NGO’s foreign connections. It is not known how widespread NGO surveillance is in Ethiopia. Most of the intelligence was gathered from individuals employed by the organization who were acting as informants or from intelligence officials who were hired as employees in some other capacity in the organization. Use of telephone or email surveillance was minimal according to former intelligence officials. However, one former intelligence official involved in the monitoring of several foreign NGOs told Human Rights Watch that, “We have the potential and there is nothing to stop us from doing that.” The Prevention and Suppression of Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism Proclamation 657/2009 gives security officials broad powers of surveillance over the financial activities of NGOs.

Former officials also described to Human Rights Watch being involved in gathering intelligence on Ethiopians living in the diaspora. This involved “old-school” techniques of infiltrating diaspora communities and gathering information on the key diaspora players and the extent of their involvement in Ethiopian politics or media. There is no evidence that emails or telephone calls are monitored in any substantive way. There are increasing reports of Ethiopian embassies in various capitals putting more and more effort into recruiting informants within diaspora communities. Former government officials report that the government facilitates individuals acquiring scholarships to study abroad in order to recruit those individuals as informants. Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials play a significant role in this and, according to several former employees, maintain records of financial transactions from the diaspora to Ethiopians in-country. Ostensibly this is part of Ethiopia’s efforts to combat the financing of terrorism and money laundering but information is kept that goes far beyond that.

With a young population, many Ethiopians know nothing other than extensive government control over their lives, and it is through this lens that many view the opportunities that enhanced access to mobile and Internet services may bring to their lives. A refugee currently living in Kenya summed up the situation:

They have complete control. I was a teacher and was told I needed to join [EPRDF], I refused and was fired. My family [members] were farmers, because of me they did not receive seeds or any benefits from the kebele. “That is for government” they were told. Everyone I know is angry with our government, but people are fearful for their lives if they get involved in politics. There are thousands of people here in [refugee location] who have fled because they dared question government. Mobile phones came to my kebele [village] several years ago. At first we were excited but it hasn’t made any difference to us, it’s just another way they control us. They listen to our calls and arrest us if we talk to people they don’t like. All this so-called development hasn’t changed anything—they still have complete control, we can’t say anything, we are still poor, and if you don’t support their ways you end up living here [as a refugee].

The opportunities that these technologies provide to increase freedoms of expression, access to information, and freedom of association are greatly diminished for those living in fear as they are afraid to use these technologies to their full extent. As one man said, “We have no choice in the matter. They run the phone service. They know our phone number and where we live. They know everything about us.”

How Ethiopia Spies on Its Diaspora in Europe

The Wall Street Journal

1 April 2014

Many Europeans are upset over revelations that the United States government spies on them. But European companies are selling surveillance tools and know-how to other governments, allowing them to spy abroad. Their customers include some of the world’s most abusive governments and at least one of them—Ethiopia—is targeting its diaspora population in Europe. The results extend beyond outrage over privacy violations: They put people in danger.

The global trade in this powerful “spyware” is virtually unregulated and that needs to change. Using digital technology to monitor the Ethiopian diaspora in Europe, the regime in Addis Ababa has brought its abuses right into Europe’s midst. The EU needs to regulate the sale of such technology, at least to governments with such questionable human-rights records.

Inside Ethiopia, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s government abuses mobile and Internet networks to monitor opposition groups and journalists, and to silence dissenting voices. Using Chinese-made telecom equipment, the Ethiopian security agencies have nearly unfettered access to civilians’ phone records and recorded calls. Taped calls have been played back to people being interrogated by security officials and used against them in trials under the government’s deeply flawed antiterrorism law.

For mobile or Internet users in Ethiopia, the violation of the right to privacy is not an abstract harm. One Ethiopian man, who asked only to be identified as “Jirata,” was once a member of a registered political party; he now struggles to survive as a refugee in Kenya.

“I was becoming well known and respected in my political party and one day security officials came and arrested me and showed me list of phone calls I had made,” Jirata recalled to me in a recent interview. “They demanded to know who the foreign numbers were. I told them everything—I had nothing to hide. They began to beat me with a rubber whip, demanding I confess to belonging to the [banned] Oromo Liberation Front. I was kept in solitary confinement for three months and pulled out each night to be beaten.”

His story is too common. Thousands of Ethiopians have fled threats to their lives and security, and many have found asylum in Europe. Now Ethiopian spy agencies are trying to silence any independent criticism of government policy by extending their reach abroad, with the aid of advanced surveillance tools designed and sold by several European companies. These tools give intelligence officials access to files, emails and activity on a target’s computer. They can log keystrokes and passwords and remotely turn on a device’s webcam and microphone—effectively turning a computer into a listening device.

Yohannes Alemu, a former refugee and now a Norwegian citizen who supports an Ethiopian opposition party that the government has banned, found out too late about the spyware. In late 2012, when Mr. Alemu’s wife and two children were visiting family in Ethiopia, security officials detained and questioned her about her husband’s political connections. They sent Mr. Alemu emails demanding more information about his opposition-party associates. He refused, and after 20 days his wife was finally released and returned to Norway.

That was not the end of the incident.

One of the government emails Mr. Alemu received contained an attachment infected with spyware known as FinFisher. FinFisher GmbH, based in Munich, did not respond to Human Rights Watch’s requests for comment regarding the use of its product by Ethiopian authorities.

Once Mr. Alamu’s computer was secretly infected, the Ethiopian security agencies had unfettered access to it. After Mr. Alemu unwittingly forwarded the infected emails to other people, the spyware gave Ethiopian security agencies potentially unfettered access to their computers, too. Researchers at Citizen Lab, a Toronto-based center focused on security and human rights online, confirms that at least one of Mr. Alamu’s contacts’ computers was monitored as a result. Different spyware developed in Italy has been used to target the computers of others in the diaspora.

Such sales are currently perfectly legal, but European companies nonetheless risk complicity in human-rights abuses when they provide products and services that facilitate Ethiopia’s surveillance. Ethiopians living in the U.K., the U.S., Norway, and Switzerland are among those known to have been targeted with Addis Ababa’s spyware. Citizen Lab has documented evidence of use of these tools in over 25 countries.

In December, the 41 member states participating in the Wassenaar Arrangement—a multilateral export-control regime for dual-use technologies—agreed to regulate the export of “intrusion software” and “IP network surveillance systems.” This development signals growing consensus that the trade in powerful surveillance tools being used to violate rights should be reined in.

But much more is needed. The European Commission should lead efforts to regulate the export of such technology to governments with poor human rights records, and to implement the new Wassenaar controls without delay. Until then, Yohannes Alemu will not be the last victim of Ethiopian cyber-surveillance.

Spy cables reveal African Union assassination threat

Al Jazeera Investigative Unit

Published On 25 Feb 2015

Secret intelligence documents leaked to Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit reveal that spies in Addis Ababa were alerted to a plot by “an unnamed state” to kill a top African Union diplomat.

Ethiopian agents later accused Sudan of involvement in the plan to assassinate African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who had previously served as South Africa’s foreign minister.

Dlamini-Zuma allegedly faced “an eminent threat” to her life in the Ethiopian capital which also hosts the headquarters of the African Union in October 2012, just days after she was appointed.

The documents show that South African and Ethiopian intelligence agencies had been unprepared for the threat, for which they blamed Sudan. The agencies admitted they did not have enough time to “neutralise the operation” or apprehend those involved.

The documents also describe how unarmed African Union (AU) bodyguards “slept in corridors for four days without food or water provided,” because the AU “did not arrange accommodation and resources for food”.

‘An eminent threat’

On October 22, a week after Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma became AUC chairperson, the Spy Cables show that South African intelligence headquarters received information about a possible assassination attempt.

It quickly relayed the details to the embassy in Addis Ababa, and that evening, the South African ambassador briefed Dlamini-Zuma, telling her “there might be some changes in the protection arrangements”.

He had expected an attack within the following two days.

South Africa’s top spy in Addis Ababa then called Ethiopia’s intelligence chief. He left a message, and an hour later got a call back.

Just before 10pm, Ethiopia’s spy boss was informed of the threat, and the two men agreed to beef up the South African diplomat’s security. Four extra bodyguards were sent to her hotel the following morning.

Crisis meeting

On the day the attack was expected, all the spies could do is watch, wait and hope that the security they had deployed could protect the life of the chairperson.

Amid the crisis, South Africa’s security chiefs held an emergency meeting, also chronicled in the Spy Cables. The acting head of South African military intelligence, General T Nyembe, told his colleagues that “an unnamed state” was behind the plot, and warned that there had been “another alert which further pointed out a potential assassination plot… to be carried out at a different venue.”

The South Africans discussed the need to make “an overall intervention for the security of the AUC Chair”, but doing so in a diplomatic manner to “avoid creating the impression that South Africa was declaring a vote of no confidence on the handing of AUC Chairperson’s security” by Ethiopia.

The day passed without any attack.

The following morning, the South Africans meet their Ethiopian counterparts and were told, for the first time, of Sudan’s suspected involvement in the plot.

The Spy Cables report that the Director of Foreign Service at Ethiopia’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), Hadera Abera, explained that his service has crosschecked the names of the plotters with “all entry points especially those bordering Sudan”.

They found no matches, and the Spy Cables do not reveal the names of the plotters.

Another secret document recorded Hadera saying that in his service’s assessment, Sudan “would not carry out such operations” as it had “paid dearly in the attempted assassination of Egypt former President Mubarak.”

There is no explanation of how Sudan had “paid dearly,” but the state was linked to the attack on Mubarak that took place in Addis Ababa in 1995.

‘Slept in corridors’

Hadera reassured the South Africans that “there has been never [sic] a threat that developed into a situation where a diplomat is killed in Addis Ababa with the exception of the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak whose life was threatened in 1987.”

Ethiopia uses a different calendar to most of the world, by which its 1987 corresponds to 1995.

Hadera asked for more help from South Africa and to share intelligence to help foil “terrorist activities.”

However, the same document shows that AU security chief General Egziabher Mebrahtu swiftly contradicted Hadera’s reassurances about diplomats’ security in Addis Ababa. He “lamented” the situation for his unarmed men, who have a “poor capacity to provide and protect”.

The AU security man also explained that confusion between his agency and Ethiopian intelligence, who provide security for the AUC chairperson, resulted in the situation where the “AU did not arrange accommodation and resources for food” for the bodyguards.

“The protectors slept in corridors for four days without food and water,” one spy cable records. “This created a gap since they have to go out of the hotel to get food and water, leaving the Chairperson unattended, therefore vulnerable.”


A final secret document on the Addis Ababa security crisis, dated October 29, assesses developments since the threat a few days earlier, and outlines South Africa’s security arrangements in Ethiopia. It reveals that the country maintains “two ‘Safe Havens’ to which South Africans can be taken to in the even of any emergency situations”.

It also shows just how underprepared both the South African and Ethiopian security services had been in the face of the threat.

The SSA admits it was not able to foil the plot, writing that “the available time would not allow the host service to neutralise the operation” despite treating the information “with the utmost seriousness”.

“Follow-up is being done to clear all potential possibilities on the potential assassination of the Chairperson of the AUC.”

“So far no new information has been received regarding the assassins,” the secret spy cable concluded.

“The developments on the situation will be monitored and a close liaison with NISS on the matter will be carried out on a daily basis.”

Clarification The only previously reported attempt on Mubarak’s life had been in 1995. It’s not clear if Hadera has mistaken the date or if there had been another, previously unreported assassination attempt in 1987. Mubarak did visit Addis Ababa in 1995 for talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.


Global Security Organisation


Agazi is a shadowy semi- autonomous paramilitary group accountable only to a select few senior echelon members of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The group is named after one of the founding members of TPLF called Zeru Gessesse nicknamed Agazi. The group in real conventional military standard could be categorized as a private army resembling a mercenary group that is hired by war lords to protect their interest. It’s operational command and control is outside of even the Tigray ethnic group dominated national defence structure. It’s main purpose of existence is to ensure the regimes hold on power remains unchallenged.

Wherever there is popular discontent or revolt against the regime in any part of the country, Agazi appear to crush it. People in Ethiopia talk about Agazi with an understanding of some kind of foreign occupying army. The actions of the group according to those who encountered or witnessed say Agazi’s “are a killing machine. Indiscriminate killers who do not distinguish between children and adults, the elderly and the youth, men and women, armed and unarmed. They just kill, and it is fair to say that they appear to be enjoying killing.”

In December 2006, the Ethiopian military launched an intervening attack into Somalia after the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) overtook the fledgling Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Perhaps unknown to the ICU, DoD has been on a quiet campaign to capture or kill al-Qaeda leaders in the Horn of Africa since the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. For several years, DoD has been training Ethiopian troops for counterterrorism operations in camps near the Somalia border, including Ethiopian Special Forces known as Agazi Commandos. According to US officials, the U.S. military also used “an airstrip in eastern Ethiopia to mount airstrikes against Islamic militants in neighboring Somalia,” launching two AC-130 gunship strikes on January 6 and 23, 2007.

Among investigative reporters Jeremy Scahill, the National Security correspondent for The Nation magazine, is the most prominent and inquisitive. On December, 9, 2010 he testified before Congress and outlined his findings. According to Mr. Scahill “US forces … struck multiple times in Somalia and have used the Ethiopian Army as a proxy force to cover the role of US Special Operations troops in a shadow war against al Shabaab and other militant groups. In the years leading up to the December 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, the Pentagon trained Ethiopian forces—including the notorious Agazi special forces unit. The US role continued well into the Ethiopian offensive.”

On December 21, 2015 high level members of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), who held an extraordinary meeting to discuss on the ongoing protest in Oromia, condemned the massacre of Oromo students who protested the Integrated Master Plan by the Agazi Special Forces and the Ethiopian Army. The members also demanded that the Agazi and Ethiopian Army to immediately leave the Oromia Region.

The Making Of TPLF’s Paramilitary Death Squad: Agazi Murder Inc; A Mother’s Tears

February 24, 2016


She looks much older than her actual age. One could guess she is sixty or even older. The truth is that she is only forty-four. “I was born two years before the military took power” she says referencing history. Her wrinkled face, discolored skin, and greying hair tells a story of a women who endured unimaginable tragedy. Living has been hard for her over the last decade or so. “I lost my first born 10 years ago, when we the opposition won the election and they refused to relinquish power” she says her sight disappearing into the horizon as if she is expecting someone to emerge from behind the hills.

“How did he die?” I asked following her into the house from the cool evening breeze outside where we spent the last fifteen minutes. “They killed him in a broad day light along with his best friend. They were killed at the same spot the same day in Addis Ababa.” She said, tears streaming over her wrinkling face. The depth of her anguish is too strong for words. I got up and sat close to her holding her hands. “who killed them?” I asked. She took a long pause, walked a few steps to close the door and whispered “Agazi, Agazi killed them” and handed me the pictures of her dead boys after kissing them couple of times. They were school graduation pictures. Smiling, aspirational and full of hope. The pictures were wet with her tears. Each drop spreading on the smiling faces of her children as if they were sharing a grief, crying together so to speak. I felt their presence in the room. May be the connection between a mother and child transcendence mortality, I don’t know, but their spirits were palpable in the house where they grew up in before their lives were cut short. I took a sheet of tissue paper out of my pocket and wiped both pictures gently. As I looked at them, with an imploring look, I thought they would have been my brothers, nephews, cousins even children. They looked so familiar to me; even if I have never met them. Perhaps, they reminded me of my own youth.
Fearless, committed to and in love with the concept of democracy, freedom and justice. It is unfulfilled dream of my generation, the generation before me, and the current generation. “What a curse.” I murmured to myself.

As I stood up to leave, the mourning mother gave me a warm hug and gently asked me to come and visit her again. I promised to return and left fighting my tears. On my way out I couldn’t help but to think of her loneliness, the eerie quite in the house once full of playful energy with two handsome boys. I tried to understand and even feel a mother’s sorrow. I can only pretend.
I have heard the name Agazi before, many times in fact. People in Ethiopia talk about Agazi with an understanding of some kind of foreign occupying army. The actions of the group according to those who encountered or witnessed say Agazi’s “are a killing machine. Indiscriminate killers who do not distinguish between children and adults, the elderly and the youth, men and women, armed and unarmed. They just kill, and it is fair to say that they appear to be enjoying killing.”
I spoke with one elderly man who was in the resistance against the occupying forces of Benito Mussolini during World War II and he equates Agazi with the Carabinieri of the fascist forces. “They don’t speak our languages, they don’t care for our culture and values. They come anytime they wish, they sometimes snatch our men and boys; at other times they kill them on the spot. They occupy our villages, towns and cities. You see, that is exactly what the Carabinieri and Italian forces did.” His long white beard, wrinkled forehead and twinkly little eyes appear to be corroborating his story. “We never had a government in our history with this level of cruelty against its own people. “You know what we did with Carabinieri? He says with a sense of pride and honor tangible in his voice. “With the help of God and our resistance fighters, we kicked them out.” He said. I can clearly hear his fierce patriotic fire. “We will do the same against these Agazi’s. The new generation have our spirit of resistance. It is a matter of time. Our country will be free.” He said holding firm into his walking stick. It is a tragic irony of historical comparison but this is not the first time I have heard such a comparison. It attests to the unparalleled nature of the regimes violent behaviour.
Where ever there is popular discontent or revolt against the regime in any part of the country Agazi appears from nowhere to crush it. I have heard numerous general stories in the past, about the group’s brutality and its utter disregard to human life. Having the opportunity to speak with a grieving mother who lost two of her beloved sons to Agazi sniper gave me a different perspective. A sorrowful curiosity. A desire driven by a tragedy to know and expose more about this notorious paramilitary group.

The name Agazi strikes fear and terror in Ethiopia the same way Caravana de la muerte (Caravan of Death) a Chilean Army Death Squad terrorized the country following the 1973 coup lead by Augosto Pinochet. Or General Jose Alberto Medrano’s Organizacion Democratica Nacionalista (ORDEN)-the first paramilitary death squad in El Salvador involved in kidnaping, assassination, and torture of dissidents. Agazi as it is called, is a shadowy semi- autonomous paramilitary group accountable only to a select few senior echelon members of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The group is named after one of the founding members of TPLF called Zeru Gessesse nick named Agazi. The group in real conventional military standard could be categorized as a private army resembling a mercenary group that is hired by war lords to protect their interest. It’s operational command and control is outside of even the Tigray ethnic group dominated national defence structure. It’s main purpose of existence is to ensure the regimes hold on power remains unchallenged even if it means burning a village, massacring civilians and terrorizing entire communities. The group established in the early days of TPLF have a mask of “fighting terrorism” to appease western donors for resources, training and armament. In reality, most of Agazi’s work has been crushing domestic opposition against the regime.
A few investigative journalists have attempted to inquire about Agazi and the role of foreign countries in the training and arming of this notorious group. Among these investigative reporters Jeremy Scahill is the most prominent and inquisitive in his search to find US’s role of training similar groups in Afghanistan, Mali, Somalia and Yemen. On December, 9, 2010 he testified before Congress and outlined his findings. His testimony covered wide range of issues including drone operations, US engagement with war lords in Somalia among many other related subjects.

He questioned the US role in helping and enabling military units in these countries to terrorize their own civilian population under the guise of “fighting terrorism” According to Mr. Scahill “US Special Operations teams had long been in Ethiopia training its notorious Agazi Commandos.” His investigative work shades light on the dangers of collaborating with regimes such as TPLF and its long term consequences both for the US and the people under the iron rule of authoritarian regimes.
Keeping my promise, I returned to visit the mother of two murdered young boys. It was a misty cool evening. She was puttering around her back yard. “I have to stay busy to keep my mind off from my children. I miss them.” She says wiping the dirt from her hands. Her hug has a motherly embrace and warmth. I followed her to the house. “God bless you for coming to visit me.” She says walking into the kitchen. “I am going to make you tea” she said. “Thank you!” I replied. In a few minutes she returned with a cup of tea and a few biscuits on a small handmade basket. Our conversation waded into various subjects. She told me that many mothers these days wear black for their murdered children. She mentioned some by name. “My friends, members of our community, and people in the cities have someone killed in their families, these are dark days.” She said.

I returned to know more about her murdered children and also to see how she is holding up. She looked tired as if she hasn’t slept for days. I asked her if she is getting enough sleep. “Every time I close my eyes I see my boys. Coming back from school, helping me with some chores, or doing their homework.” I can’t sleep. I don’t remember the last time I had a good night sleep” she says. The depth of her pain, layers of the trauma resulting from the cruelty of state violence has taken a toll on her.
“Where were they buried?” I inquired. “Oh not far from here it is a short walk. I go there every Sunday to talk to my boys.” “Would you take me today?” I asked “Yes, I’ll take you.” She quickly put her black shawl over her black dress and asked me to follow her “this way” she said, I followed her. We walked for about 15 minutes through a dry grass land with a narrow country side road. From a distance I see a few animals grazing. After a short walk we reached the church compound. There were a few worshippers praying outside the church and others are just arriving. She kneeled before the main gate and said a few words of prayer. I followed suite. After a few steps she lead me to the graveyard where her two boys lie. As we get closer I can hear a soft voice followed by weeping. “Here” she said.

“They are sleeping here the same way they slept together at home when they were little boys, next to each other, my beautiful boys” said, wiping tears from her face. I tried to comfort her. Fighting my own tears. She told me the youngest only sixteen was shot and killed when he was taking part in a peaceful protest. “There are many mothers like me in this country, thousands, who lost their children to Agazi bullet.
“I heard they were trained by the American’s. Is it true?” She asks me. There is some sense of forcefulness, even anger in her voice. “Yes, I have heard the same story” I replied. “Why would they train and arm a group who will kills our children? I thought American’s were good people. Caring people.” “It is not the American people; it is the politicians who make these kind of decisions. I said trying to give her rational explanation. It meant a little comfort to her. “May be educated people like you should take our message to the American politicians and ask them to stop helping the Agazi kill our children.” I promised her I will make sure her message gets to the US policy makers, the US public and the wider world.

As I got up to leave she looked into my eyes with a plea that says “please let the world know our suffering. Please let those who train and arm Agazi know that they are training indiscriminate killers. Let them know the sorrow of a mother who lost not just one but two of her children.” “What do you call a childless mother? I am childless because my children were murdered by the Agazi.” she said. I have no answer to all of her questions. I am not even sure she was expecting any answers from me or she was simply expressing her sorrow out loud. May be both, but the truth is these are questions that I grapple with every day. I know also, that these are questions thousands of mothers across this country are asking.
As we drove away, my eyes wondered through the country side, there are no children playing, no farmers on the field, no travellers on the roads. There is an eerie feeling of life under siege. From a distance I can hear a gun fire. Another young man, young women, an elder, who would be the victim this time? Who would be Agazi’s prey? I wondered.

Lying in bed that night, I struggled to make sense of this brutality, the savagery of industrialized and institutionalized violence against innocent and un armed civilians. My mind roamed from place to place, from a mother’s tears to a father’s anguish. I tried to close my eyes with a hope of getting some sleep, but I couldn’t turn my mind off. I kept hearing “every time I close my eyes I see my boys.” I wondered if my visit made things even much worse for her emotionally. After numerous toss and turns, I gave up on falling asleep and I pulled a folded paper which I keep in my note book. It was a poem by the Roman lyric poet Gaius Valerius Catullus (C. 84 – 54BC) which he wrote for his dead brother.
“By strangers’ coasts and waters,
Many days at sea,
I came here for the rites of your unworlding,
Bringing for you, the dead,
These last gifts of the living
And my words — vain sounds for the man of dust.
Alas, my brother, you have been taken from me.
You have been taken from me
And by cold hands turned to shadow and my pain.
Here are the foods of the old ceremony appointed Long ago for the starvelings under the earth.
Take them.
Your brother’s tears have made them wet.
And take into eternity my hail and my farewell. ”

I read the poem a few more times in memory of men and women young and old who are murdered by Agazi forces since TPLF came to power. The more I read it, I wanted to travel across this land, and talk to every single mother whose child was murdered by Agazi forces. I wanted to somehow feel their pain or at least listen to it. Beyond my emotional upheaval and ambition, the practicality of my desire I realized, is almost impossible. Given the sheer number of murders carried out by Agazi, I may have to travel for the next few years to reach only a small portion of mothers who wake up every morning with an empty chair at the table. Their children absent from their class rooms, young men and women who will not plan their weeding’s and give them grandchildren.

In the end, my mind settled on a rational reasoning while my heart wanted to travel across the country and listen to all the mothers. Perhaps, it has a selfish ulterior motive of my own desire to reconnect with this beautiful land of my ancestors. The time and the place, the date and the season, or the person who fired the gun certainly might be different. The truth is that the story of mothers who lost their children, the degree of their pain, the trauma and the anguish they experience is the same whether they live in and around the northern mountains or near the western tropical forest, the central plains or the southern grassland, the east, the country side or the cities. It is all the same. Profound sorrow and unending pain.
For now, I have decided to tell the story of a mother that I know about. A mother, to whom I have the privilege and a great honor of meeting. A mother who I cannot name for now. Her two boys, their names and images permanently etched in my mind. With every rising sun they besiege and challenge me to continue to be on the side of justice and truth not power and privilege. It is the least I can do.


The Intercept

September 13 2017

“A WARM FRIENDSHIP connects the Ethiopian and American people,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced earlier this year. “We remain committed to working with Ethiopia to foster liberty, democracy, economic growth, protection of human rights, and the rule of law.”

Indeed, the website for the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia is marked by press releases touting U.S. aid for farmers and support for public health infrastructure in that East African nation. “Ethiopia remains among the most effective development partners, particularly in the areas of health care, education, and food security,” says the State Department.

Behind the scenes, however, Ethiopia and the U.S. are bound together by long-standing relationships built on far more than dairy processing equipment or health centers to treat people with HIV. Fifteen years ago, the U.S. began setting up very different centers, filled with technology that is not normally associated with the protection of human rights.

In the aftermath of 9/11, according to classified U.S. documents published Wednesday by The Intercept, the National Security Agency forged a relationship with the Ethiopian government that has expanded exponentially over the years. What began as one small facility soon grew into a network of clandestine eavesdropping outposts designed to listen in on the communications of Ethiopians and their neighbors across the Horn of Africa in the name of counterterrorism.

In exchange for local knowledge and an advantageous location, the NSA provided the East African nation with technology and training integral to electronic surveillance. “Ethiopia’s position provides the partnership unique access to the targets,” a commander of the U.S. spying operation wrote in a classified 2005 report. (The report is one of 294 internal NSA newsletters released today by The Intercept.)

The NSA’s collaboration with Ethiopia is high risk, placing the agency in controversial territory. For more than a decade, Ethiopia has been engaged in a fight against Islamist militant groups, such as Al Qaeda and Shabab. But the country’s security forces have taken a draconian approach to countering the threat posed by jihadis and stand accused of routinely torturing suspects and abusing terrorism powers to target political dissidents.

“The Ethiopian government uses surveillance not only to fight terrorism and crime, but as a key tactic in its abusive efforts to silence dissenting voices in-country,” says Felix Horne, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Essentially anyone that opposes or expresses dissent against the government is considered to be an ‘anti-peace element’ or a ‘terrorist.’”

The NSA declined to comment for this story.

Addis Ababa is the capital city of Ethiopia. It is the largest city in Ethiopia with a population of 3.4 million. (Photo from March 2014) | usage worldwide Photo by: Yannick Tylle/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Addis Ababa is the capital city of Ethiopia. 

In February 2002, the NSA set up the Deployed Signals Intelligence Operations Center – also known as “Lion’s Pride” – in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, according to secret documents obtained by The Intercept from the whistleblower Edward Snowden. It began as a modest counterterrorism effort involving around 12 Ethiopians performing a single mission at 12 workstations. But by 2005, the operation had evolved into eight U.S. military personnel and 103 Ethiopians, working at “46 multifunctional workstations,” eavesdropping on communications in Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. By then, the outpost in Addis Ababa had already been joined by “three Lion’s Pride Remote Sites,” including one located in the town of Gondar, in northwestern Ethiopia.

“[The] NSA has an advantage when dealing with the Global War on Terrorism in the Horn of Africa,” reads an NSA document authored in 2005 by Katie Pierce, who was then the officer-in-charge of Lion’s Pride and the commander of the agency’s Signal Exploitation Detachment. “The benefit of this relationship is that the Ethiopians provide the location and linguists and we provide the technology and training,” she wrote.  According to Pierce, Lion’s Pride had already produced almost 7,700 transcripts and more than 900 reports based on its regional spying effort.

Pierce, now a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and a lawyer in private practice, had noted her role with the NSA’s Ethiopia unit in an online biography. When contacted by The Intercept, she said little about her time with Lion’s Pride or the work of the NSA detachment. “We provided a sort of security for that region,” she said. The reference to the NSA in Pierce’s online biography has since disappeared.

Reta Alemu Nega, the minister of political affairs at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C., told The Intercept that the U.S. and Ethiopia maintained “very close cooperation” on issues related to intelligence and counterterrorism. While he did not address questions about Lion’s Pride, Alemu described regular meetings in which U.S. and Ethiopian defense officials “exchange views” about their partnership and shared activities.

Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam militants take a break at a front-line section in sanca district in Mogadishu,  on July 21, 2009. Somalia's hard line Shabab militia yesterday raided the offices of three UN organisations hours after they banned their operations on accusation that they were "enemies of Islam and Muslims. The armed group stormed the United Nations Development Programme, UN Department of Safety and Security and the UN Political Office for Somalia in two southern Somalia towns and impounded office equipment. The above foreign agencies have been found to be working against the benefit of the Somali Muslim population and against the establishment of an Islamic state in Somalia," the Shebab said in a statement. AFP PHOTO/ MOHAMED DAHIR        (Photo credit should read MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/GettyImages)

Shabab and Hizbul Islam militants take a break at a front-line section in Sanca district in Mogadishu, on July 21, 2009. 

Lion’s Pride does not represent the first time that Ethiopia has played a vital role in U.S. signals surveillance. In 1953, the U.S. signed a 25-year agreement for a base at Kagnew Station in Asmara, Ethiopia (now the capital of Eritrea), according to a declassified NSA report obtained by the nonprofit National Security Archive. Navy and Army communications facilities based there were joined by an NSA outpost just over a decade later.

On April 23, 1965, the Soviet Union launched Molniya-1, its first international communications satellite. The next month, the NSA opened STONEHOUSE, a remote listening post in Asmara. The facility was originally aimed at Soviet deep space probes but, in the end, “[its] main value turned out to be the collection of Soviet MOLNIYA communications satellites,” according to a 2004 NSA document that mentions STONEHOUSE.

STONEHOUSE was closed down in 1975 due to a civil war in Ethiopia. But its modern-day successor, Lion’s Pride, has proved to be “such a lucrative source for SIGINT reports” that a new facility was built in the town of Dire Dawa in early 2006, according to a secret NSA document. “The state of the art antenna field surrounded by camels and donkey-drawn carts is a sight to behold,” reads the NSA file. The effort, code-named “LADON,” was aimed at listening in on communications across a larger swath of Somalia, down to the capital Mogadishu, the Darfur region of Sudan, and parts of eastern Ethiopia.

At a May 2006 planning conference, the Americans and Ethiopians decided on steps to “take the partnership to a new level” through an expanded mission that stretched beyond strictly counterterrorism. Targeting eastern Ethiopia’s Ogaden region and the nearby Somali borderlands, the allied eavesdroppers agreed on a mission of listening in on cordless phones in order to identify not only “suspected al-Qa’ida sympathizers” but also “illicit smugglers.”

“It is very troubling to hear the U.S. is providing surveillance capacities to a government that is committing such egregious human rights abuses in that region.”

From the time Lion’s Pride was set up until predominantly Christian Ethiopia invaded mostly Muslim Somalia in December 2006, the U.S. poured about $20 million in military aid into the former country. As Ethiopian troops attempted to oust a fundamentalist movement called the Council of Islamic Courts, which had defeated several warlords to take power in Somalia, Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter said the two nations had “a close working relationship” that included sharing intelligence. Within a year, Ethiopian forces were stuck in a military quagmire in Somalia and were facing a growing rebellion in the Ogaden region as well.

“While the exact nature of U.S. support for Ethiopian surveillance efforts in the Ogaden region is not clear, it is very troubling to hear the U.S. is providing surveillance capacities to a government that is committing such egregious human rights abuses in that region,” says Horne, the Human Rights Watch researcher.  “Between 2007-2008 the Ethiopian army committed possible war crimes and crimes against humanity against civilians in this region during its conflict with the Ogaden National Liberation Front.”

For the U.S., “the chaos” caused by the invasion “yielded opportunities for progress in the war on terrorism,” stated a top secret NSA document dated February 2007.  According to the document, the Council of Islamic Courts was harboring members of an Al Qaeda cell that the NSA’s African Threat Branch had been tracking since 2003. After being flushed from hiding by the Ethiopian invasion, the NSA provided “24-hour support to CIA and U.S. military units in the Horn of Africa,” utilizing various surveillance programs to track Council of Islamic Courts leaders and their Al Qaeda allies. “Intelligence,” says the document, “was also shared with the Ethiopian SIGINT partner to enable their troops to track High Value Individuals.” The NSA deemed the effort a success as the “#1 individual on the list” was “believed killed in early January” 2007, while another target was arrested in Kenya the next month. The identities of the people killed and captured, as well as those responsible, are absent from the document.

As the Council of Islamic Courts crumbled in the face of the invasion, its ally, the militant group Shabab, saw Somalis flock to its resistance effort. Fueled and radicalized by the same chaos exploited by the NSA, Shabab grew in strength. By 2012, the terrorist group had formally become an Al Qaeda affiliate. Today, the U.S. continues to battle Shabab in an escalating conflict in Somalia that shows no sign of abating.

The first batch of Ethiopian troops leaving the Somali capital Mogadishu hold a departure ceremony 23 January 2007 at Afisiyooni Air Base. Ethiopian troops began withdrawing from Mogadishu nearly four weeks after they helped oust Islamist forces from the Somali capital. A special departure ceremony was held for the pullout of the first batch of around 200 soldiers at the former headquarters of the Somali air force in the southern outskirts of the capital. AFP PHOTO/STRINGER        (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/GettyImages)

The first batch of Ethiopian troops leaving the Somali capital Mogadishu hold a departure ceremony Jan. 23, 2007 at Afisiyooni Air Base. 

At the time the NSA set up Lion’s Pride, the U.S. State Department had criticized Ethiopia’s security forces for having “infringed on citizens’ privacy rights,” ignoring the law regarding search warrants, beating detainees, and conducting extrajudicial killings. By 2005, with Lion’s Pride markedly expanded, nothing had changed. The State Department found:

The Government’s human rights record remained poor. … Security forces committed a number of unlawful killings, including alleged political killings, and beat, tortured, and mistreated detainees. … The Government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights, and the law regarding search warrants was often ignored. The Government restricted freedom of the press. … The Government at times restricted freedom of assembly, particularly for members of opposition political parties; security forces at times used excessive force to disperse demonstrations. The Government limited freedom of association. …

A separate State Department report on Ethiopia’s counterterrorism and anti-terrorism capabilities, issued in November 2013 and obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act, noted that there were “inconsistent efforts to institutionalize” anti-terrorism training within Ethiopian law enforcement and added that while the Ethiopian Federal Police use surveillance and informants, “laws do not allow the interception of telephone or electronic communications.” The readable sections of the redacted report make no mention of the NSA program and state that the U.S. “maintains an important but distant security relationship with Ethiopia.”

A 2010 NSA document offers a far different picture of the bond between the security agencies of the two countries, noting that the “NSA-Ethiopian SIGINT relationship continues to thrive.”

In an after-action report, a trainer from NSA Georgia’s “Sudan/Horn of Africa Division” described teaching a class attended by soldiers from the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and civilians from Ethiopia’s Information Network Security Agency. He praised the Ethiopians for “work[ing] so hard on our behalf” and wrote that his students were “excited and eager to learn.”

According to the documents, analysts from the Army’s 741st Military Intelligence Battalion were still detailed to Lion’s Pride while the Ethiopians they worked beside had increased their skills at analyzing intercepted communications. “More importantly, however,” the American trainer noted, “is the strengthening of the relationship” between NSA and Ethiopian security forces. NSA Georgia, he declared, was eager to continue “developing the relationship between us and our Ethiopian counterparts.”

The NSA refused to comment on whether Lion’s Pride continues to eavesdrop on the region, but no evidence suggests it was ever shut down. There is, however, good reason to believe that U.S. efforts have strengthened the hand of the Ethiopian government. And a decade and a half after it was launched, Ethiopia’s human rights record remains as dismal as ever.

“Governments that provide Ethiopia with surveillance capabilities that are being used to suppress lawful expressions of dissent risk complicity in abuses,” says Horne. “The United States should come clean about its role in surveillance in the Horn of Africa and should have policies in place to ensure Ethiopia is not using information gleaned from surveillance to crack down on legitimate expressions of dissent inside Ethiopia.”

‘We Are Everywhere’: How Ethiopia Became a Land of Prying Eyes

Takele Alene in his home in Fendika, Ethiopia. Besides being a farmer, Mr. Alene is a senior village official, serving as both an informant and an enforcer for the country’s governing party.
Takele Alene in his home in Fendika, Ethiopia. Besides being a farmer, Mr. Alene is a senior village official, serving as both an informant and an enforcer for the country’s governing party.

5 Nov 2017

The New York Times

FENDIKA, Ethiopia — When he is away from his fields, Takele Alene, a farmer in northern Ethiopia, spends a lot of his time prying into the personal and political affairs of his neighbors.

He knows who pays taxes on time, who has debts and who is embroiled in a land dispute. He also keeps a sharp lookout for thieves, delinquents and indolent workers.

But he isn’t the village busybody, snooping of his own accord. Mr. Alene is a government official, whose job includes elements of both informant and enforcer. He is responsible for keeping the authorities briefed on potential rabble-rousers and cracking down on rule breakers.

Even in a far-flung hamlet like Fendika, few of whose 400 or so residents venture to the nearest city, let alone ever travel hundreds of miles away to the capital, Addis Ababa, the government is omnipresent.

In this case, its presence is felt in the form of Mr. Alene, a short, wiry man wearing a turquoise turban and plastic sandals. As a village leader, he said, his duties include serving as judge, tax collector, legal scribe for the illiterate and general keeper of the peace.

But one of his most important roles is to watch who among the villagers opposes the government and its policies, including a top-priority program encouraging farmers to use fertilizer. When a neighbor refused to buy some, Mr. Alene pointed a gun at him until he gave in. He has had others jailed for a similar offense.

In a country whose rugged landscape is larger in area than France and Germany combined, Ethiopia’s ruling party — which, with its allies, controls every seat in Parliament — relies on a vast network of millions of party members like Mr. Alene as useful agents and sources of information, according to current and former government officials and academics who study the country.

This army of on-the-ground operatives, who push the government’s policies, help purvey its propaganda and act as lookouts, is especially valuable at a time when the country is being rocked by protests over access to jobs and land, and a failure to advance democracy.

Security forces in Ethiopia cracked down on protesters last year, some of whom had attacked domestic and foreign businesses, which had resulted in hundreds of deaths. The authorities recently lifted a state of emergency after almost a year, but tensions continue to simmer, particularly in Oromia, a region traditionally neglected by the central government.

Mr. Alene’s loyalty to the governing party has earned him handsome rewards. He was given the title of “model farmer” and has been granted plots of land and other benefits like farm animals, a cellphone, the gun he turned on his neighbor and a radio, which he keeps under lock and key.

“I am No. 1,” he exclaimed recently in the village pub, sitting against a wall stacked with sacks of fertilizer and drinking home-brewed beer poured into what used to be a can of chickpeas. “I feel great happiness,” he added.

Ethiopia is unlike many countries in Africa, where the power of the state often reaches beyond the capital in name only. More organized, more ambitious and more centrally controlled than a lot of governments on the continent, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (a coalition of four regional parties), which controls this mountainous, semiarid but spectacularly beautiful land of just over 100 million people, intends to transform it into a middle-income country by 2025.

Achieving that goal, in a country that 30 years ago was a byword for famine, means realizing a plan of rapid industrial and agricultural growth modeled on the success stories of Asia. Ethiopia is relying on state-driven development rather than the Western-style liberalization that in the 1980s and 1990s hurt many economies across Africa, like Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

Farmers working in a sorghum field in Fendika.
Farmers working in a sorghum field in Fendika.

It also means, in the government’s view, exercising control down to the level of neighborhoods in cities and villages in the countryside.

Many Western donors have praised Ethiopia for its advances in health, education and development, all made in a single generation. The government recently opened Africa’s largest industrial park, with plans for more, and is building what is expected to be the continent’s biggest hydroelectric dam.

But the government’s economic agenda often goes hand in hand with control over people through party membership and surveillance, a strategy modeled on China, somewhere officials have gone regularly for how-to training, according to former government members.

“Everyone is suspicious of each other,” said Ermias Legesse, an ex-government minister who left the country in 2011. He spent three weeks in the Chinese countryside in 2009, he said, learning about party indoctrination.

“You can’t trust your mother, brother, sister,” he said about his homeland. “You can imagine what kind of social fabric is formed out of such a system.”

Party members across the country are assigned five people to monitor, whether in households, schools, universities, businesses or prisons. Called “one-to-five,” it is a system so pervasive, Mr. Legesse said, that it even existed in the Ministry of Communications, which he headed.

“The one-to-five’s major objective is to spy on people,” Mr. Legesse said.

Being a party member and a participant in those networks gives you jobs, promotions and even access to microfinance, some of which is funded by international institutions, Mr. Legesse said. “But if you’re against the system, you’ll likely be miserable.”

The government network is so entrenched that many in the country, which suffered years of repression under the previous, Marxist government led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, which fell in 1991, are deeply suspicious of talking to strangers and avoid discussing politics for fear of who might be listening.

“They are the person you least expect,” a shopkeeper in Addis Ababa said in a low voice, his eyes darting around the store. Like many Ethiopians, he asked not to be identified because he was afraid of the consequences of talking openly to a foreign journalist. “It could be the shoeshine boy or the waiter serving you coffee.”

Because most Ethiopians are struggling financially, they are easily brought into the network, said Tsedale Lemma, an Ethiopian journalist currently living in Germany, adding that teachers who joined got salary raises, businesspeople got easier access to loans and high-school students got pocket money. “Ethiopians think this is shameful,” Ms. Lemma said, even though they found it difficult to resist. “It’s a moral rock bottom.”

Habtamu Ayalew Teshome, a prominent opposition leader who was tortured for months and jailed for two years, discovered that even in prison, he was assigned to a group with a leader who watched his activities.

Twice a day, this monitor would organize meetings, and Mr. Teshome said that when he refused to participate, he was denied communication with his lawyers and family. He was repeatedly beaten, mentally tortured and taken to solitary confinement for months, he said. “We are the police, we are the prosecutor, we are the judge,” a prison commander told him. “We are everywhere.”

Spying is not the only purpose of the one-to-five system. It is also a way to recruit new members and push policy objectives.

The ruling party has “a great will and vision to transform the country and realizes that it needs to mobilize the grass roots in order to succeed,” said Lovise Aalen, a political scientist and longtime observer of Ethiopia at Chr. Michelsen Institute, an independent research organization in Norway. “It’s impressive, but it also exhibits a very authoritarian state present on the ground to an extent unseen in Ethiopian history.”

The priest of this village church in Fendika, Ethiopia, tells his congregants that they will “benefit in heaven and on earth,” if they join the governing party.
The priest of this village church in Fendika, Ethiopia, tells his congregants that they will “benefit in heaven and on earth,” if they join the governing party.

In rural areas, “one-to-fives” allow a designated model farmer, like Mr. Alene, to teach best practices, including the merits of using fertilizer, and be rewarded when output increases.

Village women also organize themselves into groups to prevent other women from falling into prostitution or to teach each other about health issues.

Some of this has yielded positive results, government officials say. Ethiopia’s economy has been growing at 10 percent for more than a decade, according to official figures. Agricultural output has risen dramatically, they say, although critics say that has not been enough to offset the food aid that Ethiopia continues to receive.

Khalid Bomba, a former investment banker who leads the government’s Agricultural Transformation Agency, said “one-to-fives” were all about empowerment. “It’s participatory deep democracy,” he said.

The networks have played a significant role in expanding membership to about seven million, mostly in the countryside, in the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, the ruling party that critics say is controlled by Tigrayans, an ethnic group that makes up just 6 percent of the population.

Fendika, where Mr. Alene keeps watch, was largely insulated from riots last year, partly thanks to his diligent work of converting half the village, made up of ethnic Amharas, to the ruling party.

“Even in these violent times, this kebele has been peaceful,” Mr. Alene said recently, referring to his village. When a person makes trouble, “we know who he is,” he added. “We send the elders, the priest, to try to sort it out with him or the group and persuade them not to do anymore wrongdoing. If that doesn’t work out, we report to the police.”

Mr. Alene, who has been a member of the ruling party since it swept to power in 1991, recruits villagers to join. He even recruited the local priest, who in turn, has preached to his congregation about the party’s virtues.

“When I’m recruiting, I tell them, ‘If you’re a member, you can have different rights,’” Mr. Alene said. “The right to ask questions, the right to have whatever they want.”

For his efforts, he owns three hectares of land (most farmers have less than one) and livestock.

He has enough savings, unlike many other farmers, to send all nine of his children to university. Being a party member is “very good,” he said, though he added with candor: “You have to stand with the government. There’s no choice.”

Mr. Alene had made amends with the neighbor he forced to buy fertilizer at gunpoint, and the two men recently sat next to each other at the village pub. The neighbor, who is missing a leg, clucked disapprovingly as Mr. Alene talked about serving the community.

“The kebele is not good! It doesn’t support the poor people. He’s lying!” the neighbor finally shouted, hobbling furiously out the door.

Also in the pub was the village priest, Adugna Asema, draped in a traditional white cloak and wearing a white turban, who said he encouraged congregants to join the party.

“I preach peace,” he said, as he periodically stood up to bless villagers wandering into the pub with a large wooden cross.

“You’ll benefit in heaven and on earth,” he tells them, “if you join the party.”

Ethiopia is using Israeli spy technology to target its dissidents abroad


December 14, 2017

Ethiopia’s government has been doubling down on its efforts to surveil its critics, bringing the long arm of the state into the foreground and its resolve to sabotage opposition figures and media outlets.

A new report published by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs notes that dissident journalists and academics based in 20 countries received emails containing commercial spyware asking them to click on links to an Eritrean video website or download Adobe Flash updates or PDF plugins. If users clicked on the email, the spyware operators in Ethiopia would be able to monitor and extract virtually any information on the device including emails, audio, and video files.

The malware attacks, carried from 2016 to the present, was enabled through surveillance tools from Israeli cybersecurity company Cyberbit, a subsidiary of defense contractor Elbit Systems. The spyware system, known as PC Surveillance System (PSS), targeted opposition figures in Canada, US, and Germany, along with Eritrean companies and government agencies besides a researcher from Citizen Lab itself.

Through their analysis, the lab said it was able to monitor “apparent demonstrations of the spyware in several other countries where leaders have exhibited authoritarian tendencies, and/or where there are political corruption and accountability challenges, such as Nigeria, Philippines, Rwanda, Uzbekistan, and Zambia.”

Telecom and internet surveillance are not new in Ethiopia with the government manning large surveillance mechanisms for years, especially in the digital media context. This is especially augmented by the government’s monopoly over all mobile and Internet services through the state-owned Ethio Telecom. The current surveillance efforts are also increased by the climate of fear and worry that has pervaded the country following protests by the Oromo community in 2015 and 2016. During the protests, the government killed over 1,000 protesters and arrested tens of thousands of people in a wide purge criticized by human rights organizations. And despite having low internet and mobile connectivity, it also shut down the internet and banned posting updates about anti-government protests on Facebook.

During the protests, diaspora media outlets like OPride, Ethiopian Satellite Television, and Oromia Media Network (OMN) continued to shed light on the crisis and advocate for social justice. Ethiopian officials responded by banning the networks, and labeling them as “belonging to terrorist organizations.” Citizen Lab said the first attack they identified was aimed at OMN executive director Jawar Mohammed.

The new evidence also revives the discussion about the export of commercial spyware abroad, and how nation-states are using them to undermine entities they deem as political threats. Ethiopia, which has been accused of human rights violations, previously acquired surveillance systems from Germany-based Gamma International’s FinFisher and Italy-based Hacking Team’s Remote Control System. In a recent response to the allegations, Cyberbit said that as a vendor, its customers “are the sole operators of the products at their sole responsibility and they are obliged to do so according to all applicable laws and regulations.”

Abiy Ahmed sworn in as Ethiopia’s prime minister

Al Jazeera

2 Apr 2018

Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization (OPDO) Abiy Ahmed
Abiy is the first Oromo to lead Africa’s second-most populous country

Ethiopia’s parliament has elected Abiy Ahmed as the new prime minister, a week after the ruling coalition nominated him to succeed Hailemariam Desalegn. 

Abiy was sworn in on Monday shortly after his election to become Africa’s second-most populous country’s 16th prime minister and the first Oromo to hold Ethiopia’s top seat.

Hailemariam resigned in February, following months of protests in the Oromia and Amhara region that led to the deaths of hundreds of people.

The protests, which initially began over land rights, but later broadened to include calls for greater political representation at the national level, met a harsh government response.

Abiy, 41, a former lieutenant-colonel in the army and head of Ethiopia‘s science and technology ministry, has a reputation as an effective orator and reformer.

‘Historic moment’

Ahmed Adam, a research associate at University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), told Al Jazeera on Monday that he believed things would change under Abiy.

“This is a very historic moment for Ethiopia and for the ruling coalition in the country. He is the first Oromo PM. This will pave the way for the stability and unity of the country,” he said.

“Abiy is a part of the establishment of course, but he’s a reformist and came from a mixed religious background with a Christian mother and a Muslim father. “

Merara Gudina, a prominent opposition leader, expressed cautious optimism over Abiy’s election.

“What he aims to achieve depends on what his party allows him to do,” Merara said, adding that Abiy was elected by Ethiopia’s ruling party and not directly by the population through a general election.

“But still it goes without saying that a change in personalities within the leadership may bring changes in terms of bringing better ideas that may ultimately lead to national reconciliation.”

Ethiopia in February declared its second state of emergency in two years amid the ongoing protests that effectively crippled transportation networks and forced the closure of businesses.

On Saturday, Ethiopian officials said that more than 1,000 people have been detained since the latest emergency rule was put in place.

Ethiopia: PM Abiy Ahmed dismisses Army Chief of Staff and Intelligence Director in a major military shakeup

June 9, 2018

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Thursday made a major facelift to the country’s national security apparatus by dismissing two of the longest-serving stalwarts, army chief of staff, Gen. Samora Yunis, and the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) Director General, Getachew Assefa.

The duo, both veterans of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), were part of the guerrilla fighters in the 1970s. Both have been active in the upper echelons of Ethiopia’s military and intelligence institutions since TPLF and its coalition partners deposed the communist regime in 1990.

Over the past two decades and a half, the Ethiopian army under Samora killed thousands of civilians and are implicated in serious human rights violations, including rape, extrajudicial killings of government opponents, as well as massacres of civilians and demonstrators.

Similarly, NISS under Getachew’s stewardship served as the critical engine behind the ruling party’s efforts to stifle dissent. The agency oversaw mass surveillance of the population, which it then weaponized to clamp down on outspoken activists, journalists and opposition leaders. Human rights groups say NISS routinely engages in brutal interrogations tactics, torture and killing of dissidents.

Whether or not Thursday’s moves were an attempt at starting afresh and cleaning up the security sector’s image isn’t clear. But Abiy had promised to usher in an age of reform when he took over the reins of power in April. The shakeup in the military and intelligence comes weeks after a host of veteran government officials were forced to retire.

Despite this, the security sector was thought to be immune and out of reach of the new administration’s axe. Many predicted that the stalwarts of the military might prove to be the biggest challenge for the new leader, a stumbling block if he were to go after them. But Gen. Samora was given a ceremonial send off at the national palace. The PM thanked him for his service before decorating the outgoing chief with the country’s national medal of honor.

Gen. Samora has been replaced by Gen. Seare Mekonnen, who became a full General and Samora’s deputy only last February. The aging Samora appears at least publicly to have accepted his removal with grace.

Elusive character

Despite his involvement in the country’s national intelligence services for well over two decades, Getachew Assefa is a little known character, who has gone to great lengths to protect his privacy. He has never made a public appearance or spoken to media, and there are no confirmed contemporary photographs of him. In a 2009 diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks, then U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Yamamoto described the NISS chief as a party hardliner and  an eccentric and elusive character, who typically avoided speaking to foreigners.

In a press release announcing Gen. Adem Mohammed’s appointment as the new NISS Director General, state-funded Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC) made no mention of the outgoing NISS chief.

Although there is little to no public information on him, Getachew was renowned for being an authoritarian who was hot-tempered and disliked by colleagues. He has been accused of targeting powerful individuals and businessmen if he felt they ran astray of his own interests, including the country’s former Communications Minister Bereket Simon. Frequently named among the most powerful members of TPLF hardliners, he was a key lynchpin to the party’s old guard that could still mount a bitter resistance to Prime Minister Abiy’s reform.

Abiy, himself a former member of both the Ethiopian army and the intelligence service, last week gave high-ranking military officials a virtual scolding in a meeting that was also attended by Samora. He called on military officials to serve their country free of political bias and criticized members for amassing wealth and wasting resources.

Former intelligence chief became fugitive as Ethiopia issues arrest warrant

Intelligence Chief _ Getachew Assefa


August 21,2018

As the ruling coalition (EPRDF) 36-member executive committee (it is the highest government body of the party) continues its meeting for a second day, reports emerged today that an arrest warrant has been issued on Getachew Assefa.

He was head of National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) for many years until he was removed from his position months after the ruling coalition picked Abiy Ahmed as prime minister.

In a breaking news coverage today, US based Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) cited sources to report that Getachew Assefa is not attending EPRDF executive committee meeting and has left the country.

ESAT added that the former intelligence chief spent about a month in hotel in Mekelle, which is not named, before he fled the country to Sudan.

Some members of Tigray regional police reportedly facilitated his escape. Yet, the source did not publish further details as to how and when he fled Ethiopia.

From the report, arrangement was also made for his family members to leave Ethiopia earlier.

Getachew Assefa, who is one of the nine executive members of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and a member of EPRDF executive committee, is implicated in numerous serious crimes including ethnic based violence in different parts of Ethiopia.

On July 31, about 45 Federal police members were detained up on arrival at Mekelle international airport tasked with arresting alleged criminals and it was this week that Tigray regional government released them.

Former spy chief retains TPLF executive committee membership

October 1, 2018 

Ethiopia Observer 

Former spy chief retains TPLF executive committee membership

Getachew Assefa, the former director of the National Intelligence and Security Services, whose future seemed precarious for some time, has managed to retain his position as member of the political bureau of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the EPRDF’s executive committee. Getachew who reportedly fled the capital to Mekele to escape arrest after he was removed from his position as spy chief happened to be among the 9-Tigray TPLF executive members elected on Monday as the TPLF concluded congress meeting.

Getachew, who keeps a low public profile, first joined the TPLF’s Central Committee on September 2015 at the 12th TPLF congress. His access to the politburo committee meetings gave him a wider remit to be involved in more strategic issues than his previous portfolio, which focused on intelligence, making him one the most influential men in the government. In some quarters, he was even viewed as more powerful than the then Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

However, after the coming of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on April, Getachew’s political fortunes suffered downs. He was replaced by Adem Mohammed as the director of the intelligence service in early June. He has been absent from the ruling party’s meeting held in early September and other gatherings, prompting a flurry of speculation over his whereabouts. Yet his inclusion in the powerful executive today indicate his survival and strong support base in his own party, observers say. Others see a potential for political storm. “TPLF appears stuck between continuity and change, stubbornly choosing the former to resist the fast-paced reforms being ushered in by PM Abiy Ahmed,” founder and editor of, Mohammed Ademo tweeted. “By re-electing the notorious Getachew Asefa to EC instead of purging him and handing him over to federal authorities TPLF has clearly indicating intention to renew conflict,” Jawar Mohammed, an influential Oromo activist commented.

Predictably, Debretsion Gebremichael was re-elected chairman of TPLF.  Fetlework Gebregziabher was also re-elected deputy chairwoman, the pro-government Radio Fana reported. Getachew Reda, Asmelash Woldesilassie, Abrham Tekeste, Keria Ibrahim, Addisalem Balema and Alem Gebrewahid are also elected to Executive Committee.

Ethiopia arrests military and intelligence officers for failed attack on PM, corruption, torture

 Daily Sabah

NOV 12, 2018

Ethiopiau2019s Attorney General Birhanu Tsegaye speaks about the corruption and human rights violation reports in the country following the detention of 63 military and intelligence officers in Addis Ababa on Nov. 12, 2018. (AFP Photo)

Attorney General Birhanu Tsegaye speaks about the corruption and human rights violation reports in the country following the detention of 63 military and intelligence officers in Addis Ababa on Nov. 12, 2018.

Ethiopia’s attorney general accused members of the security service of carrying out a grenade attack on a rally attended by the prime minister, as he announced details of a string of investigations that struck at the heart of the establishment.

Members of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) were involved in the blast that killed two people in June, soon after newly-elected reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed left the stage, Attorney General Berhanu Tsegaye told reporters on Monday.

While other officials implicated in the plot have fled the country, the former intelligence chief is now residing in northern Ethiopia and should turn himself in to authorities, he said.

Meanwhile, 63 senior military and intelligence officers accused of corruption and human-rights abuses has been arrested, Berhanu said.

The arrests are a rare move against the country’s powerful security apparatus.

They represent a further flexing of power by reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is seeking to break with Ethiopia’s authoritarian past, analysts said.

“Twenty-seven officials have been arrested for alleged corrupt practices, while 36 have been detained for alleged human rights abuses, with a manhunt underway for remaining suspects,” Berhanu said at a press conference.

Tsegaye said that “the crimes against humanity” were committed by high ranking officials and operatives of National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), which operated dozens of secret prisons throughout Ethiopia.

“People were being detained without trail for long time in the prisons,” he alleged.

“Inhumane torture, bodily harm, forced disappearances, sexual attacks against men and women inmates were committed in those prisons,” he said.

“Detainees were subjected to various abuses including gang rapes, sodomy, prolonged exposure to extreme heat and cold, waterboarding and deprivation of sunlight,” he added.

According to him, the violations had been “institutionalized” and also victimized family members of the incarcerated citizens.

Berhanu did not name any of the suspects but said some had already been taken to court.

He said the suspected corruption occurred at the military-run Metals and Engineering Corporation (METEC).

“METEC officials were involved in purchases of $2 billion (1.8 billion euros) worth of goods without any bidding process,” Berhanu said.

He said METEC officials made their family members as middlemen in their own bidding processes.

He pointed out that the company had been involved in the construction of Ethiopia’s immense, signature Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Abiy made an unusual public admission earlier this year that security officials had engaged in abuses and torture with impunity.

Former Deputy Intelligence Chief Arrested in Ethiopia

November 14, 2018


Ethiopia’s Attorney General Birhanu Tsegaye speaks about the corruption and human rights violation reports in the country, following the detention of 63 military and intelligence officers in Addis Ababa, Nov. 12, 2018.
Ethiopia’s Attorney General Birhanu Tsegaye speaks about the corruption and human rights violation reports in the country, following the detention of 63 military and intelligence officers in Addis Ababa, Nov. 12, 2018.


Ethiopia’s former deputy intelligence chief has been arrested, Attorney General Berhanu Tsegaye said Thursday, in the latest move targeting security officials for human rights abuses and corruption.

“Former deputy of NISS and Federal Police Commission Commissioner General Yared Zerihun has been apprehended by police,” Berhanu Tsegaye said Twitter early Thursday.

He did not disclose any details, but the arrest followed that of dozens of security officials on charges of human rights abuse and corruption.

On Monday, the wife of Yared Zerihun was also arrested.

Sources told Reuters that she was trying to hide him. Yared was moved from that role to head the federal police in April but resigned three months later.

Series of arrests

On Tuesday, Ethiopia arrested the former head of a military-run industrial conglomerate and flew him in handcuffs to the capital, a day after authorities announced investigations targeting senior members of the security forces.

Kinfe Dagnew, a brigadier general in Ethiopia’s army and former chief executive of METEC, was taken into custody close to the border with Sudan and Eritrea. Kinfe is expected in court Thursday, after appearing there briefly Wednesday and requesting a lawyer.

On Monday, Berhanu said investigations had uncovered corruption at METEC (Metal and Engineering Corporation), which makes military equipment and is involved in sectors from agriculture to construction.

Promised reforms

Kinfe and Yared’s arrests are the most high-profile since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in April promising to rein in the security services and tackle what he called economic mismanagement, corruption and rights abuses.

He has pushed through reforms that have upended decades-old policies and hierarchies in east Africa’s economic powerhouse, including moves to let private investors have stakes in the huge conglomerates run by the army and other state bodies.

In August, Ethiopia removed METEC from the $4 billion Grand Renaissance Dam project on the River Nile because of numerous delays in completing the project.

US could sanction Ethiopia ex-Intelligence chief

The East African

27 November 2018



Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

The US is considering imposing a travel ban and assets freeze on the fugitive former Ethiopian Intelligence head Getachew Assefa.

The move follows the House of Representatives (HR) 128 Bill before the US Congress against Mr Getachew’s violation of human rights.

The request to the State Department was made by the House of Representatives’ Mike Coffman, who sponsored the HR 128 bill and finally got it sent to the Congress.

Gang rape

Mr Getachew is accused for orchestrating the assassination attempt on the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa during the rally called in support of the reformist leader. The charges against him also include crimes against humanity on thousands of prisoners across the country such as allowing gang rape of both males and females, torturing and killings using different techniques in secrete jails.

The Ethiopian federal prosecutor recently indicated that many secrete prisons used for torturing inmates had been found in Ethiopia, seven of which were in Addis Ababa.

While about a dozen former intelligence officers were arrested recently, Mr Getachew, whose face was not known by the public, was reportedly hiding in Tigray region.

Reports show that billions of dollars have been stolen from Ethiopia and stashed abroad over the past few decades, mainly by officials who run political party mega businesses and their affiliates, including holders of foreign passports.

Illicit money

Over $2 billion was reportedly stolen from Metal Engineering Corporation, owned by the military.

Ethiopia lost $11.7 billion in illegal capital flight from 2000 through to 2009, according to Global Financial Integrity report released in 2011.

More worrying, according to the study, is that Ethiopia’s losses due to illicit capital flows were on the rise. In 2009, illicit money leaving the economy totalled $3.26 billion, which was double the amount in each of the two previous years and more than its $2 billion annual export earnings at the time.

As Ethiopia went through political crisis and instability over the past few years, the amount of money that left the country was estimated to exceed far more than was the case in 2009.

Ethiopia: 15 arrested for links to assassination group

Suspects accused of coordinating civilian killings in Oromia region, says official statement


Anadolu Agency


Ethiopian authorities arrested 15 suspects for their alleged links to a clandestine group carrying out high-profile assassinations in Oromia region, security officials said on Monday.

According to the communication bureau in Oromia, the largest and most populous region in central Ethiopia, the suspects were identified as the members of Aba Torbe, a hit-and-run group.

“They were arrested in a joint operation carried out by the National Intelligence and Security Service and security officials,” Fana Broadcasting Corporate, the local media outlet, quoted the bureau as saying in a statement.

According to the statement, the group has been engaged in assassinating government officials and members of security forces.

Among the suspects were Gadisa Negasa Chala, Merga Tefera Bulchu and Anisa Getachew — who were accused of coordinating the killings of civilians in Dembidolo, Nekempt and North Shoa zone in the region.

The suspects were arrested in the capital Addis Ababa, where they were plotting assassination of senior government officials, prominent individuals and activists.

Security forces also seized numerous pistols, hand grenades and weapons in the operation.

The arrests came just a day after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed inaugurated a special army group named “the Republican Guard” — a highly-trained, multi-task soldiers that prevent senior government officials from assassination attempts and protect their families from possible abductions.

NISS lifts travel ban imposed on over 3,000 individuals

The Reporter

January 19, 2019

The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) disclosed that it has lifted the travel ban it has imposed on over 3000 individuals. This was disclosed on Thursday after Members of Parliament made an official visit to the headquarters of NISS for the first time.

Member of the Foreign Affairs and Peace Standing Committee, led by the chairman, Tesfaye Daba, made their first visit to the institution located off Menelik II Avenue.

The Standing Committee members made their way to the HQ on Wednesday and were welcomed by the Director General and other senior officials of the institution whereby the latter briefed the MPs their overall activities as well as the Service’s 100-day performance.

During the visit, it was said that the individuals, whose travel ban was lifted, were barred from any movement outside the country.

After the visit, Tesfaye told reporters that he had never visited the institution during his six-year chairmanship tenure in the Standing Committee.

Apart from briefing intelligence activities, Adem Mohammed (Gen.) told the visiting MPs that as part of the ongoing reform, “the institution has removed the names of over 3,000 individuals who were banned from foreign travel for years.” However, officials did not disclose the identities of those individuals.

The NISS HQ and other facilities have never been accessible to any government officials for a long time until Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) came to power last year. Especially, for the past two decades, NISS, which was headed by the former Director General, Getachew Assefa, has been a very secretive place.

Now, however, the new leadership has already pledge to turn the secretive institution to a more transparent and publicly trusted institution instead of a facility feared by its citizens. It has also been repeatedly accused of committing serious abuse of human rights. Currently, dozens of intelligence and security officials are detained and their trial process underway at the Federal High Court.

Newly minted Intelligence officers told to kill any form of affiliations but Ethiopia

Intelligence officers who graduated today from the country’s intelligence officers training institute encouraged to kill religious,party or ethnic affiliations.

Intelligence Officers_ Ethiopia


February 5,2019

Intelligence Officers graduated from Kinfe National Security Studies Institute. Abiy Ahmed attended the graduation ceremony today.

He told the graduates they need to be free from political, ethnic or religious affiliation as their only allegiance is to Ethiopia and Ethiopians disclosed the office of the Prime Minister.

“Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed provided direction to the graduates to perform their duties with utmost professionalism and devotion to security of the nation, bearing in mind that their allegiance is to the country and its people.”

He also told the graduates that the graduates have a role to play a role in terms of making the institution free from all forms of allegiance except Ethiopia and Ethiopians.

The officers have been trained for months as part of the reform process at the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), Defense Force and INSA.

It was in June 2018 that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed replaced former chief of NISS, Getachew Assefa, with Adem Mohammed with the aim to bring about an end to partisan operation of the agency.

The former spy chief is currently a fugitive and is believed to be in Tigray regional state.

In addition being implicated in egregious human rights’ violations as director of NISS, he is believed to be the master mind of some of the violence that Ethiopia experienced in the post TPLF era.

Report: Ethiopian INSA Agents Hacked: 142 agents chose the predictable password ‘P@$$w0rd’

30 May 2019

Safety Detective

SafetyDetective’s research lab discovered a leak online regarding the Ethiopian National Security Agency (INSA).

The hackers managed to easily scrape a few hundred of INSA agents’ email addresses and passwords, allowing them to potentially log in to INSA’s email server (and personal emails using the same credentials).

INSA notoriously monitors and intercepts all Ethiopian citizens’ communication, in an attempt to ‘safeguard the country’s information and information structures’, according to their website’s mission statement…

Report: Ethiopian INSA Agents Hacked: 142 agents chose the predictable password ‘P@$$w0rd’

Political hacking is nothing new: While the fact that hackers could so easily hack a security agency – and the Ethiopian INSA especially – is alarming, what was even worse was that the passwords we discovered in use by INSA were basic (and hackable) beyond belief. Basically, they weren’t salted and hashed. While big databases usually have their data protected and encrypted (in case someone breaks in), this one didn’t and had common passwords easy to decrypt.

Just take a look for yourself:

Report: Ethiopian INSA Agents Hacked: 142 agents chose the predictable password ‘P@$$w0rd’

Screenshot of 42 of the 300 secure email addresses and passwords of Ethiopian INSA employees

Of the 42 passwords screenshotted above (of 300 overall), 9 of those are ‘p@$$w0rd’ – AKA, one-step above ‘password’ which we also saw 3 uses of in total (of 300). That’s really secure, security agents!

In fact, out of the 300 agent email addresses we scraped, we counted 142 uses of ‘p@$$w0rd’ (that’s almost half), and 62 passwords containing a `123’ sequence, similar to another surprising set of unchanged default passwords that were discovered by our team. It goes without saying that, even had the server not been hacked, the passwords we saw post-scraping were easily hackable.

As the most tech-savvy people in Ethiopia, whose entire careers literally revolve around online and national security, their lack of secure passwords is absolutely shocking, although major security breaches affecting ordinary citizens are nothing new.

That and the fact that, when we tried to verify the hack, we were able to use these leaked login credentials again and again.

Since the data was scraped a while ago, it now seems that these credentials no longer work, meaning INSA has either reset these passwords or changed the internal email server.

But, sensitive INSA data is still available to even the most low-level of hackers: taking the leaked usernames and using a brute-force attack on the new email server would still easily hack agents’ new passwords especially if they are as insecure and hackable as they were previously.

We suggest the agents set new, stronger passwords that are as secure as their employment requires them to be: Safety Detective’s Password Checker will allow INSA agents to strengthen their preferred passwords (other than ‘p@$$w0rd’) to prevent any further hacks.

It is recommended that databases encrypt sensitive info, then if the worst happens, attackers will be left with useless hashes.

How Ethiopia dismantled its network of surveillance


18 December 2019

DEBARK, Ethiopia – Rahmat Hussein once inspired fear and respect for the watchful eye she cast over her Ethiopian neighborhood, keeping files on residents and recommending who should get a loan or be arrested.

Now she is mocked and ignored.

Her fall – from being the eyes and ears of one of Africa’s most repressive governments to a neighborhood punchline – illustrates how Ethiopia’s once ubiquitous surveillance network has crumbled.

“My work is harder now,” she said, wistfully. “People don’t listen anymore.”

Rahmat worked for a system set up by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition in the early 2000s, officially to help implement central policies across the country of 105 million people.

But the system, which detractors say was twisted into a tool to silence government critics, began to unravel with the outbreak of deadly protests in 2015 which undermined the EPRDF’s authority.

The election of reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has vowed to make society more open and took office in April 2018, has accelerated its decline.

That has been welcomed by many.

“People were afraid and could not speak up,” said Agenagnew Abuhay, Rahmat’s colleague at a local women’s affairs office.

Others, like Rahmat, mourn its loss, saying the network drove advances in health, education and agriculture.

It is widely acknowledged among Ethiopians as having played a significant role in society, although many are still too nervous to speak openly about it.

Some officials and academics question whether Abiy can control a restive population, amid outbreaks of deadly ethnic violence, and deliver promised economic and political reforms without the system he has allowed to fray.

“The local administration is collapsing in some places,” said one civil servant in the capital Addis Ababa, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak with journalists.

“The government doesn’t seem to have much control.”

Abiy holds regular public meetings and is active on Twitter, said an official in the prime minister’s office, when asked how he would communicate with people now the old network has weakened. Most Ethiopian households do not have the internet.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman referred Reuters to the civil service commission for comment.

Its head, Bezabih Gebreyes, said the system was formed for the “noble rationale” of development but acknowledged that ultimately it had been a failure.

“The structure was very active for at least five years,” he told Reuters. It failed, he said, because workers did not like taking orders from political appointees.


Stacked on top of Rahmat’s kitchen cabinet in the town of Debark, 470 km (290 miles) north of Addis Ababa, are a dozen bulging folders detailing the lives of 150 neighbors: who has money troubles, who has HIV, who is caring for an orphan and who is hosting a stranger.

The 27-year-old kept a copy of her handwritten notes and delivered duplicates to a local government office, which crunched the numbers and reported them upwards.

“It made me very happy to do this work,” she told Reuters one cold morning, as she cooked bean stew in her one-room home. “I did it to serve the people.”

Rahmat, wearing a lemon-yellow headscarf, said she helped women seeking a divorce understand their rights, arranged for a fellow single mother to get a loan to start a café and ensured families had cards for subsidized staples like oil and sugar.

If there were strangers in the neighborhood, she reported them to police.

Rahmat was more than a neighborhood fixer. She was a loyal party member, encouraging residents to join the EPRDF and promoting its policies at monthly meetings.

She was also part of a network of millions of people in cities and villages, universities and workplaces.

The system was popularly called “one-to-five”, because volunteers would typically be assigned five other people to monitor. Some, like Rahmat, supervised more.

The work was unpaid, but there were rewards. Rahmat got a government job. Others received preferential access to farming supplies or loans, she and other participants in the system say.

The government used the system to drive rapid agricultural and industrial reforms, aimed at transforming a mostly rural society dogged by famine into a middle-income country by 2025.

Volunteers taught farmers how to space their seedlings and use fertilizer, promoted safe birthing practices and kept track of rabble-rousers.

The system was also used “for surveying the population and to intimidate any kind of opposition,” Lovise Aalen, an Ethiopia expert at Norway-based research institute CMI, wrote in a 2018 paper.

Some former and current officials and aid groups credit “one-to-five” for helping Ethiopia achieve development goals.

The system helped reduce maternal mortality, said former health minister Kesete Admasu, in a report on the Gates Foundation website.

Volunteers acted as “model families”, gathering women over coffee, or at church or in mosques, to promote family planning and hygiene.

Maternal deaths fell by 11% from 1990 to 2003, the year the system was put in place. The rate plunged by more than half over the next eight years, Kesete said.

Over a third of the network’s maternal health groups, called The Women’s Development Army, have stopped functioning, said a ministry official working on women’s affairs, laying out a spreadsheet. Reuters could not independently verify the figure.

“It is very difficult to maintain such structures in a democratic system,” said Elshaday Kifle, a lecturer at Addis Ababa University who is studying the impact of such networks on women. “That’s a challenge for Abiy’s government.”Slideshow (11 Images)


The system permeated Ethiopians’ lives, dictating behavior in homes, offices, clinics and schools, Aalen said.

Volunteers tested people’s loyalty at meetings, reporting those with anti-government views. Consequences could be serious.

In 2014, Gizachew Mitiku Belete, then a 29-year-old judge in the northern city of Gonder, attended a course in the central city of Adama.

He sat in a hotel conference room as several dozen judges took turns to praise the constitution or government policies, in what he described as a test of loyalty under the “one-to-five” structure.

Gizachew went rogue, suggesting judges could disagree with parts of the constitution. The group leader shouted at him.

For the next year, he publicly criticized the government for suppressing free expression, but he was fired in 2015 and sought asylum in the United States. He eventually found work as a security guard in Seattle, where he still lives.

Judges, journalists, even farmers could be detained if they crossed the system.

Former policeman Fenta Marelgn said he was ordered to arrest farmers who did not attend a meeting on planting seeds in 2015 because they were busy harvesting crops.

Fenta, now 31, said he was docked a month’s pay for refusing the order. He quit shortly afterwards.

“You start to hate what you do,” he said, crushing a metal bottle top between his hands.

For years, government officials had trumpeted relentless progress. Barley and wheat production always beat forecasts. Vaccination campaigns reached every village.

“We lied left and right,” former information minister Getachew Reda told Reuters. “That’s why people got angry.”

The system began to disintegrate in the tumultuous years of protests that propelled Abiy to power in April 2018.

Since that time, Rahmat’s dossiers have been gathering dust.

Ethiopia’s Intelligence Service To Change Name

Dec 24, 2019  

Fana Broadcasting Cooperation

Addis Ababa –The Ethiopian National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) announced plans to change its name to National Intelligence Centre (NIC).

Demelash Gebremichael, Director General of the Service told journalists yesterday that a draft bill has been completed to change its name and bring change in work methods.

The bill is part of the reform programs and targets to maintain institutional independence of the intelligence service from politics, ethnicity and religion, he said.

According to Demelash, the service has prepared a ten-year strategic plan as well as planned to provide education in intelligence with degree program.

The investigation conducted on institutions suspected of involving in grand corruption cases has been completed, the Director General further said.

He added the security service had conducted successful works in feeding information that helped combat illicit financial flow and circulation of illegal weapons during the past six months.

Accordingly, it managed to save more than half a billion birr public funds due to be lost to fraud, such as corruption, tax evasion and contraband, he noted.

News: NISS says it intercepts a global arms smugglers network shipping two containers of arms into Ethiopia

Addis Standard

11 March 2020

Demelash Gebremichael, pictured, is currently the Director General of Ethiopia’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). In December last year, NISS said it was changing its name to National Intelligence Center (NIC).

Addis Abeba– Ethiopia’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) said in a statement yesterday that it has intercepted a global arms smuggling network responsible of shipping two containers of illegal firearms into Ethiopia via Djibouti.

According to NISS statement released to state affiliated media, the shipment of the illegal arms has originated from Port of Mersin, in Turkey, and proceeded to Djibouti where it was secretly kept for more than five months before it was smuggled into Ethiopia.

Some 501 cardboard boxes of arms containing more than 18, 000 Turkish made pistols and are worth more than half a billion ETB were intercepted and and subsequently confiscated. The arms were confiscated along with another shipment of 229 cardboard boxes containing electronics materials meant to serve as a cover up of the arms shipment, the statement said, adding that NISS has been on the tail of the network ever since it has received intelligence.

In its local operation to intercept the shipment, NISS said it has detained 24 individuals suspected of preparing to receive the arms shipment locally and that further investigations were ongoing.

In addition to its local operation, the statement from NISS said that it was cooperating with intelligence agencies in Djibouti, Sudan, Libya, Turkey and the U.S. in order to intensify its pursuit of members of this global arms smuggling network who are still at large. So far, seven foreign nationals have been identified, but only two Sudanese suspects are under police custody after collaboration with the Sudanese intelligence, NISS further said. Pursuit of the remaining suspects still ongoing and collaboration works with intelligence mentioned above have commenced.

Its local operation were also conducted in collaboration with the Federal Police, Customs Commission, Oromia and Amhara regional state police as well as Addis Abeba Police Commission. In addition, NISS said community tips and collaboration played a significant role in intercepting the shipment. 

Ethiopia’s failed “Surgical Strike” commando raid to remove the Tigray leadership

NOVEMBER 5, 2020 

Eritrea Hub

Very early Wednesday morning aircraft carrying Ethiopian commandos took off on a mission to eliminate the Tigrayan leadership.

Ethiopian sources suggest that the force was airlifted into Mekelle in two helicopters and an Antonov from Bahr Dar, to try and seize the TPLF leadership at a hotel.

Social media reports that the hotel in question was the Planet.

The commandos landed without a problem and drove into Mekelle, seizing control of the hotel.

But the intelligence they were operating from was faulty. The Tigrayan leaders they were seeking were not there. The commandos then withdrew.

It is not clear if the unit was involved in any fighting.

But after the failed raid Tigrean forces took over the Ethiopian National Defence Force camp (the Northern Command barracks for Mekelle) near the airport (when there was some fighting), as well as taking control of the airport itself.

It is not clear if the commando raid preceded Prime Minister Abiy’s claim of a TPLF attack on the Northern Command barracks. But there had already been some fighting in Western Tigray by then between Amhara Special Forces and Tigrean troops.

Ethiopians report Prime Minister Abiy as saying that aircraft had been sent to Tigray to “deliver new notes” – presumably cover for the unsuccessful raid.

The official Ethiopian position is that the TPLF leaders must surrender; no discussions possible.

Ethiopia arrests 14 Al-Shabaab, ISIS terrorists

15th November 2020

Sunnews Online

Ethiopia arrests 14 Al-Shabaab, ISIS terrorists

Ethiopia’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) says it has arrested 14 Al-Shabaab and ISIS terrorist members who were on a mission to carry out attacks on various areas in the country.

The state-owned Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) quoted NISS as saying that Al-Shabaab and ISIS sent their members to the capital, Addis Ababa, and various parts of the country “to carry out terrorist acts that damage human life and property as well as tarnish the image of the country”.

It said communication equipment and other materials prepared to be used for the destructive missions were also seized.

ENA said members of the terrorist group had been recruiting people, plotting terrorist attacks and identifying targets for their attacks.

“One of the Al-Shabaab terrorists, Abdul Abdi Jamal, nicknamed Abdulqadir, entered the country to carry out crime in coordination with Al-Shabaab by establishing direct links with the Al-Shabaab leader, Jafar or Gure, in Somalia,” it said.

ENA added that the coordinator of the ISIS terrorist cell in Ethiopia, Aman Assefa Gedimwork, was arrested by the NISS on suspicion of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks.

NISS said the terrorist groups plotted to attack various parts of the country, seizing the window of opportunity opened by the conflict in Tigray Region, where the federal government has been carrying out a military operation.

In the fighting, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has admitted firing rockets at two cities in a neighbouring state.

ENA quoted the Ethiopia State of Emergency task force as saying that late Friday, rockets were fired towards the cities of Bahir Dar and Gondar in the Amhara Region.

As a result, it said the airport areas were damaged.

Regional and political tensions have risen since 2018 when newly-elected Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, merged several ethnically-based regional parties into a single national force, amid an ambitious reform programme.

Violence erupted at the start of the month in Tigray involving federal and local forces, following the reported takeover of an army base in the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, which prompted the prime minister to order a military offensive.

Prior to the Tigray escalation, dozens of people in western Oromia region were killed and injured in attacks.

The Ethiopian Federal Government has also declared a six-month state of emergency in the Tigray Region, whose government is controlled by TPLF.

NISS, Mossad Agree To Jointly Fight Terrorism In Horn Of Africa

Nov 27, 2020  

Fana Broadcasting Corporation

Addis Ababa, November 27, 2020 (FBC) – Ethiopia’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and the Israeli National Intelligence Agency (Mossad) have agreed to cooperate in areas of peace and security and jointly fighting terrorism.

Temesgen Tiruneh, Director General of NISS and Special Envoy of Yossi Cohen, head of Mossad in Ethiopia and East Africa, as well as Director General of Mossad in Israel, met yesterday.

During the meeting, the two intelligence agencies agreed to strengthen their level of cooperation to jointly fighting terrorism in the Horn of Africa, according to a statement NISS sent to FBC yesterday.

They also agreed to work together in areas of technology transfer and capacity building, the statement added.

By using all forms of support in technology and capacity building from Mossad, NISS will work to ensure peace and security in the Horn of Africa, besides in Ethiopia, Temesgen said.

The special envoy appreciated Ethiopia’s firm stance to prevent and uproot terrorism and reiterated Mossad’s commitment to work together with and strengthen its support to NISS.

The Special Envoy also handed over COVID-19 supplies, including face masks, ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) to NISS.

Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis: ‘We’re the government and we know what you’re doing’

7 March 2021


Girmay Gebru
Image caption,Girmay Gebru has been working for the BBC for the last four years

I was arrested on the evening of my birthday.

I thought the soldiers, armed with rifles, were looking for someone else when they surrounded the coffee house where I was having my usual catch-up with my friends on Monday.

One officer came in and told everyone to relax and we carried on chatting. But just a few minutes later we were approached by two plain-clothed intelligence agents.

“Who are you?” one of them shouted impatiently.

“Tell us your names!”

“I am Girmay Gebru,” I said.

Slapped in the face

“Yes, you are the one we want.” And I was taken outside along with my five friends.

Then, in front of lots of curious onlookers, after I had handed over both my national and BBC ID cards, one of the intelligence agents slapped me round the face.

A soldier intervened and told him to stop and I was bundled into a patrol vehicle.

Everything was happening so quickly that we did not have time to ask why we were being held.

The conflict in Tigray

Tigrayan refugees in Sudan
  • Fighting erupted on 4 November 2020
  • Ethiopia’s government launched an offensive to oust local party the Tigray People’s Liberation Front after its fighters captured federal military bases
  • Tens of thousands have fled into Sudan (photo above)
  • The internet and phone lines were cut and journalists were unable to report from the region
  • Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the war was over at the end of November but fighting has continued
  • There are concerns over human rights violations as well as the humanitarian situation

Even once we had arrived at a military base in the city there was no explanation.

But one of the people from intelligence told me: “Girmay, we are the government and we know what you are doing every day – what you are talking about, what messages you are sending. We know what you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

“Tell me what I’ve been doing,” I responded. “Tell me what I’ve been sending.”

Since the conflict began last November, I have not been filing stories for the BBC as I was told to look after my own safety first.

“It is you to tell me what you’ve been saying and thinking. You are going to tell me later,” he said.

Single phone call

This was not an interrogation but just a warning.

Our phones had been taken but a military official gave them back to us to make one call.

My wife was concerned when I told her what had happened but I said that I was fine and that she should not worry.

We were treated relatively well at the base, but the six of us had to sleep on the floor of a room and were given a plastic bottle each to use as a toilet.

Most of us were in shock and nervous about what was going to happen next. I couldn’t sleep.

In the morning, the intelligence agents said they wanted to search my house to get my laptop and would take that and my phone and get all the data from them. It turned out they never did search my home.

Smell of a septic tank

They also wanted to interrogate me as all the information they wanted was in my mind, they told me.

But still they did not say why we were being held.

I was confident that I had done nothing wrong.

“I am a journalist. I am a free person and you can ask me anything,” I said.

But I was not questioned. Instead, on Tuesday morning we were driven to a federal police station in the middle of Mekelle to be held there.

The conditions there were a lot worse.

I was put into a small cell that had no beds and measured about 2.5m by 3m with 13 others. It was very hot and the bad smell from a nearby septic tank made things worse.

‘I gave face masks to cellmates’

We were again given a bottle in case we needed to go to the toilet in the middle of the night. But I was so worried about needing to use it that the only food I ate was one orange.

Someone on my right-hand side was coughing and I was nervous about catching coronavirus. Luckily some friends of mine had heard where I was being held and managed to provide some face masks and sanitiser which I distributed to the other inmates.

Early on Wednesday morning a police officer came and told me to collect my things, saying that I could go home.

But there was no explanation as to why I was detained, though I know the BBC has asked the Ethiopian government what was behind the arrests.

My wife, my mother and my children were all at home when I got back and there were tears of happiness.

The thing that had worried me the most was getting sick in the cell in the police station. Now I feel relieved and hope to get some rest.

Ethiopia, Russia Agree To Strengthen Cooperation In Security Service

Jun 9, 2021  

Fana Broadcasting Corporation

Ethiopian and Russian security services have agreed to strengthen their cooperation in areas of security and other sectors.

Temesgen Tiruneh, Director of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) of Ethiopia today held discussion with Russian Ambassador to Ethiopia Yevgeny Terekhin on bilateral issues.

Temesgen said after the meeting that they had a discussion on how to strengthen cooperation in order to deal with the current challenges in Ethiopia.

According to him, cooperation with Russia will also add energy Ethiopia’s efforts to build an independent and professional security service institution.

Ambassador Yevgeny Terekhin for his part said Russia will continue to strengthen its cooperation with Ethiopia in various sectors, particularly in the areas of security service.

The two sides also exchanged views on how to work together to promote technology transfer, capacity building and information exchange, among others.

Facebook says it removed fake Ethiopia account network ahead of election

A 3D printed Facebook logo

A 3D printed Facebook logo is seen in this illustration picture taken May 4, 2021.

June 16 2021


Facebook Inc (FB.O) said on Wednesday it had removed a network of fake accounts in Ethiopia targeting domestic users ahead of next week’s elections, which it linked to individuals associated with the country’s Information Network Security Agency.

Facebook said the network posted mainly in Amharic about news and current events, including about Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his Prosperity Party. It said the network posted critical commentary about opposition politicians and groups including the Oromo Liberation Front, Ethiopian Democratic Party, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front among others.

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The head of INSA did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. The agency, which was set up years before Abiy came to power, is responsible for monitoring telecommunications and the internet.

“INSA is under the ministry of peace and an independent institution – you can address your question there,” Billene Seyoum, the prime minister’s spokeswoman, told Reuters when asked about Facebook’s action.

Facebook said the network of accounts, groups and pages on Facebook and Instagram had violated its rules against “coordinated inauthentic behavior” and had accelerated its posting in 2020 and into 2021. It said the network had recently commented on U.S. sanctions on Ethiopia.

The June 21 vote is the first time Abiy will face voters at the ballot box in Africa’s second most populous nation. Just over a fifth of parliamentary constituencies are not voting due to logistical problems, low-level violence or due to the war in the northern region of Tigray.

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Facebook said the network’s activity on its platforms was not directly focused on the Tigray region or the ongoing conflict in Tigray.

Facebook said about 1.1 million accounts followed one or more of the network’s pages and about 766,000 accounts joined one or more of the groups. It also said the network had spent about $6,200 in ads on the platforms, paid for in U.S. dollars.

Ethiopia spy drone downed in Al-Fashqa

Middle East Monitor

August 14, 2021

Sudanese army soldiers in Sudan on 31 August 2019 [EBRAHIM HAMID/AFP/Getty Images]

Sudanese army soldiers in Sudan on 31 August 2019

A source in the Sudanese Armed Forces on Friday confirmed the downing of an “Ethiopian spy drone that penetrated the airspace” on the border of the Al-Fashqa area.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, disclosed: “The army shot down an Ethiopian spy drone that penetrated the Sudanese airspace on the border of Al-Fashqa area. The Sudanese army controls the entire Al-Fashqa area.”

As of 14:35 GMT, neither the Sudanese nor the Ethiopian authorities had commented on the incident.

Activists on social media platforms circulated images of Sudanese officers and soldiers circling the Ethiopian spy drone crashing to the ground.

On 11 August, Head of the Sovereign Council and Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan announced the deaths of 84 soldiers in the operation to restore the lands of Al-Fashqa from Ethiopia.

For nearly 26 years, Ethiopian gangs have seized the lands of Sudanese farmers in Al-Fashqa after expelling them by force from the area.

The Sudanese-Ethiopian border has been experiencing tensions for some time, as Khartoum announced on 31 December that the army had taken control of the entire territory belonging to his country in the Al-Fashqa border area with Ethiopia.

Intelligence chief vows to eliminate TPLF, followers of its ideologies; ramps up critic against foreign countries

Temesgen Tiruneh issued the statement along with his picture in military uniform.

Addis Standard

25 August 2021 

Temesgen Tiruneh, the Director General of the National intelligence and Security Service (NISS), has this morning, vowed to eliminate the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (T.P.L.F.), its ideologies and its followers. The intelligence chief has also ramped up a searing criticism of foreign countries which he blamed were rescuing the T.P.L.F.

In a statement he issued on his Facebook page, Temesgen, who was the former president of Amhara state, accused the T.P.L.F. as a party which committed a cascade of “unlawful acts” starting from walking out of the incumbent’s Prosperity Party (PP), to relying on coalescing federalist forces to challenge the federal government, and overstepping its mandates by conducting regional elections without the consent of the federal government. Temesgen said that the last unlawful act of the T.P.L.F. was when it “attacked the Northern Command” of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF).  

“Even after the unilateral ceasefire was announced” by the federal government, the T.P.L.F. crossed the line with its invasion of the Amhara and Afar regions and is “committing atrocities against innocents.”

Temesgen promised to take all the necessary measures to protect the security of the country. “It is proven that conspiring to destroy a generation unless the T.P.L.F. is in power is not going to work,” he said, and added that it is “also proven that such junta mentality is not limited only to a few thugs, swindlers, liars, murderers vagabonds, and terrorist pensioners.”

In his criticism of foreign countries, Temesgen said that “ironically those claiming to be the world’s police, the so-called educators of democracy, the ones who claim to have stood up against unjust world order” failed to condemn T.P.L.F. and its deeds “from conspiring to dismantle our country to its blatant acts of atrocities against innocents, looting, and invasions it is committing. “Let alone condemning, these countries are helping the T.P.L.F. including feeding it, providing medicine, and facilitating communication equipment,” he said, and added, “as if that was not enough, it’s heart aching to see them engaged in criticizing, agitating and threatening the government.”

“But the one thing we say to them is that wherever they are, the junta and its allies will get what they deserve. Everyone must remember that Ethiopians would rather die than negotiate with their freedom.”Temesgen Tiruneh

“Even salt gets bitter if it’s too much. If these [actors] think they can continue to sustain sucking our blood like bugs, they are mistaken. We also know every conspiracy they are plotting with our defective bandas. They are acting like the plaintiff, the judge, the investigator, and the mediator. Justice …is buried. But the one thing we say to them is that wherever they are, the junta and its allies will get what they deserve. Everyone must remember that Ethiopians would rather die than negotiate with their freedom.”

Temesgen concluded his statement by alluding to an Amharic proverb about water, Temesgen said: “it won’t get clean if it is not agitated, [and] it won’t be consumed if it’s not clean.”

His comments come amid widening rift between the Ethiopian government, which is accusing western countries of meddling in its internal affairs and supporting the Tigrayn forces in the ongoing civil war.

Ethiopia ‘foils’ cyber-attack on Nile dam, financial institutions

4 May 2022

The East African

The Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia.

The Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia

Ethiopian Authorities on Tuesday said they had stopped international cyber-attack attempts targeting the massive Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the country’s major financial institutions.

“The failed cyber-attacks include attempts to impede the works of the GERD by targeting 37,000 interlinked computers used by financial institutions,” said Shumete Gizaw, the director-general of Ethiopian Information Network Security Agency (INSA).

He spoke on the state-run local media on Tuesday.

Mr Shumete alleged that an organisation sponsored by countries that “envy peace and development endeavours of Ethiopia” has declared cyber war against Addis Ababa under the motto of “Black Pyramid War”. 

He, however, did not disclose the implicated sponsoring countries or the organisation or where it is based.

Previously, Addis Ababa has accused Egypt-based hackers of attempting to hack into computer systems in Ethiopia. Egypt has been vocal against the dam arguing that there was a need for an agreement on how to fill and operate the structure as it is built on the main water source for Cairo. But Ethiopia has been adamant that the water is first a sovereign project and that it will not hurt downstream countries Sudan and Egypt.

Mr Shumete said the series of attempted cyber-attacks are intended to sabotage the successful construction of the mega dam project.

He warned that cyber-attacks against the GERD might increase in the future, and that concerted cyber security was being implemented to protect both the construction and administration of works of the mega dam.

“The cyber-attacks targeting financial institutions would have caused devastating impacts if the attempted attacks succeeded,” he added.

It is not clear which Ethiopian financial institutions were targeted during cyber-attacks.

Mr Shumete, however, advised every financial institutions to implement thorough defence measures to safeguard sensitive data from cyber-attacks.

INSA, the country’s main signals intelligence agency, says it has thwarted more than 3,400 attempted cyber-attacks in the last six months.

In 2020, INSA said that it had successfully thwarted cyber-attacks that originated from Egypt.

The agency said Egypt-based hackers—Cyber_Horus Group, AnuBis.Hacker and Security By Passed—orchestrated the then foiled cyber-attacks.

“These groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks, with the intention to create all rounded pressure on Ethiopia regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), particularly to halt filling of the dam,” INSA said in a statement in 2020.

As cyber-attacks increase against Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa nation last month hosted a meeting of eastern Africa military intelligence agencies.

The Addis Ababa meeting in mid-April was attended by Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda.

During the meeting, the military intelligence agencies agreed to jointly work together to enhance security in the region and avert attacks, including cyber-attacks.

Cyber-attacks more than quadruple in Ethiopia: intelligence agency

The East African

11 May 2022

Cyber attack.

Ethiopia has recorded more than 5,000 cyber-attack attempts during the 2021/2022 fiscal year, a record high, report says.

Ethiopia has recorded more than 5,000 cyber-attack attempts during the 2021/2022 fiscal year, registering a record high of such attacks.

“A total of 5,586 cyber-attacks were carried out during the last nine months,” The Ethiopian Information Network Security Agency (INSA) said on Saturday while presenting its nine-month performance report to the Ethiopian parliament.

The report revealed that the cyber-attack attempts in the last nine months have more than quadrupled compared to attacks recorded during the same period in the last fiscal year.

The intelligence agency alleged that most of the cyber-attacks targeting Ethiopia were thwarted before they could cause any significant harm.

“More than 97 per cent of the total cyber-attacks were foiled,” the agency added.

According to the INSA report, the cyber-attacks had targeted financial institutions and mega projects, including Ethiopia Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD), which downstream countries, particularly Egypt and Sudan, fear will eventually diminish their historic water shares from the Nile River.

Government ministries, regional bureaus, academic institutions and media houses were also targets for hackers, according to INSA.

The agency’s report primarily holds responsible countries who were against the construction of the Nile dam for the cyber-attacks. 

The report, however, does not name the implicated countries.

The report also blamed external forces backing Tigrayan fighters, who were battling the government and allied forces, for some of the cyber-attacks.

Last week, the agency said the cyber-attacks aim to sabotage the successful construction of the Ethiopian dam which is being built along the Nile River near the Sudanese border.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been engaged in an ambitious drive to introduce cyber technology as a key component in upgrading the country’s largely traditional basic services infrastructure.

The report shows that this is a record high number of cyber-attacks since Abiy, who was previously head of INSA, assumed office as prime Minister in 2018.

NISS Arrests 34 Al-Shabaab Members Planning Attacks in Addis, Regional States

April 23 2022


The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) disclosed that it has apprehended 34 Al-Shabaab members who were making preparations to carry out terrorist attack in Addis Ababa and various parts of the country.

The suspects were arrested in operations carried out in collaboration with Somali and Oromia regional states security forces, it was learned.

The statement added that the Al-Shabaab terrorist group has been preparing to carry out terrorist attacks in seasons when religious events are frequent but the plot was foiled by the security service.

NISS stated that it has been secretly monitoring the planned terrorists attacks in Addis Ababa and other parts of the country since its inception.

The group had been making preparations to inflict huge damage in Addis Ababa city, Oromia and Somali regional states. They were at the last stage of onslaught when busted.  

One of the suspects recruited by the group opened a number of bank accounts in the name of Mikael Abdurahman Ibrahim and has been receiving large sums of money from agents of the terrorist groups in Minnesota (USA), Somaliland and Kenya.

The terrorist group’s plots and activities were revealed after monitoring and research that took a long time, the statement pointed out, adding that the government is working with foreign intelligence agencies to apprehend other individuals involved in the conspiracy.

According to the statement. out of the 34 members of Al-Shabaab 10 were arrested in West Arsi, East Arsi, West Bale, East Bale, East Shoa, West and East Hararge zones of Oromia regional state.

The remaining 24 have been arrested in Afdera, Dolo, Gode, Jijiga and Shebele on Somali region.

Rifles, ammunitions and other weapons as well as documents and passbooks were also seized from the homes of the suspects.

NISS finally noted that the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, which had repeatedly failed to carry out terror in Ethiopia, could attempt to make similar attempts in the future and called on the entire population to be vigilant and intensify their efforts to thwart terrorist plots.    

Ethiopia security, intelligence joint force says more than 5000 “extremist Fano” members detained

JULY 23, 2022

Addis Standard

The joint task force praised those “Fano members” that it said have “ffought against” Tigrayan forces “during the law enforcement campaign in the northern part of our country” and said they were “helping the security forces” including “the national defense and other security forces, [and] have contributed to the peace and security in the region today and continued this good work.”

Addis Abeba – The Ethiopian joint security and intelligence task force, which is comprised of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), the Federal Police Commission, and Information Network Security Administration (INSA) there are 5, 804 “extremist Fano” members who are detained and under investigation for attempts “to spread violence.” These include those who “were convicted by a court, who were at large, and who were wanted for murder.”

In a statement released this morning to state media, the joint task force also said that as a result of coordinated operations, it was able to avert major security threat including planned “terrorist attacks” on the capital Addis Abeba and its environs by forces affiliated with “Al-Shabaab”, “ISIS”, “Shene”, “TPLF Junta”, and “extremist Fano.”

Accordingly, the joint task claimed that after conducting “a coordinated operation in and around Addis Abeba city” it has captured  554 suspects. Of these, it says “51 [are] extremist members of Fano, 174 members of the TPLF junta group, 98 members of the Shene group, 100 suspects who were trying to incite violence in the city and 31 members of al-Shabaab” who were trying “to infiltrate into the city and carry out terrorist attacks.”

Focusing on the “extremist Fano” group, the joint task force praised those “Fano members” that it said have “fought against” Tigrayan forces “during the law enforcement campaign in the northern part of our country” and said they were “helping the security forces” including “the national defense and other security forces, [and] have contributed to the peace and security in the region today and continued this good work.” But it accused those it said were operating “under the guise” of the real Fano, but spreading violence throughout the Amhara regional state using illegal weapons; it also accused them of recruiting “youths without the recognition of the national defense forces and police institutions, trained them secretly and armed them with illegal weapons.”    

It further said that it is apprehending those who are attempting to infiltrate illegal weapons into the capital Addis Abeba by “gathering in various areas of the Amhara region, as well as organizing and coordinating with some extremist diaspora members in foreign countries, and equipping themselves with weapons using the large amount of money they have collected from home and abroad, and taking battlefield and guerilla map training.”

Following a joint operation between the Amhara and federal forces, some 14 members of this “extremist Fano” group are also currently in police custody with “their various secret documents”, the task force said. It accused them of spreading false information using extremist media abroad”, and “moving to establish a transitional government, plotting to attack senior officials of the Amhara region and the federal government and overthrow the government by force.” As a result, “the security threat in the [the Amhara] region has been removed and the area has been returned to peaceful activities.”

Similarly, with regard to the recent security crisis in Gembella and Benishangul Gumuz regional states, as well as in western Oromia zone in Oromia regional state, the task forces says the coordinated attempts by “the members of the TPLF junta group, the Gambella Liberation Front (GLF), the Gumuz People’s Democratic Movement (GPDM) and the ONF/Shene terrorists” to attack the Gambella city and its surroundings, as well as in the town of Gimbi and Dembi Dolo in western Oromia has been “foiled” by the joint task forces of the federal regional security and the community.

As a result of the “actions taken by the task force, many were arrested and 137 members of terrorist groups were killed…the security problem in the region has now been removed and the area has been returned to peaceful activities.”

In a month long joint operation between June and July, in western Oromia, “more than 153 members of the terrorist group” were killed, and “more than 900 are arrest and being investigated” it says. it also claimed that “various group and individual weapons used by the terrorist Shene group, a large number of ammunition and ammunition warehouses, military armor and clothing, vehicles and other assets were seized” in the operation. 

Ethiopia, South Sudan sign security cooperation agreements

The East African

19 August 2022



Director-General of the Internal Security Bureau of South Sudan Akor Kor Cook and National Intelligence and Security Service of Ethiopia Temesgen Tiruneh sign security cooperation agreements in the presence of other officials.

Ethiopia and South Sudan on Wednesday signed security cooperation agreement to jointly fight terrorism, armed groups and organised crime in the region.

The agreement was signed by the Director General of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) of Ethiopia, Temesgen Tiruneh, and the Director General of the Internal Security Bureau of South Sudan, Akor Kor Cook.

The agreement states that “the countries will work together to control and take action against terrorist groups, rebel forces, armed groups and organised criminals who have taken the mission to disrupt peace and security in the border areas and destabilise the East African region.”

In addition, the two countries will work together to prevent illegal arms trafficking, organised crime in the border area, drug trafficking, economic fraud and information technology related crimes.

South Sudan’s Security Affairs Adviser Tut Gatluak Manime said the agreement commits the two countries to exchange information; conduct exchange visits; and enhance training, capacity building and information on immigration, counter-terrorism and border crossing crimes.

“We conveyed the message of assurance of unflinching cooperation and coordination of issues of mutual concern and benefit to the citizens of the two countries,” he said.

According to Ethiopia’s spy agency, the agreement will further strengthen the strategic partnership between Ethiopia and South Sudan.

The two countries also signed a deal to cooperate with the Civil, Citizenship, Passport and Immigration Registration Directorate of South Sudan Ministry of Internal Affairs.

This will enable the two countries to work together to ensure the activities of their citizens are peaceful and their freedom is guaranteed.

The agreement will also play a significant role in ensuring that the activities carried out, especially at the border, protect the social and economic benefits of the citizens of the two countries.

On Monday, the South Sudanese high-level delegation led by Presidential Advisor General Kong Titipip Gatluak, along with senior security and civil officials, visited the construction site of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

After visiting the site, the South Sudanese delegation said the Nile dam project will play an instrumental role for regional integration through the supply of electricity.

“After witnessing the GERD’s construction site, we found that the dam is a large project and can provide all neighbouring countries with electricity…We have really seen a very big job,” Manime told state media.

The South Sudanese official urged Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt to resume stalled talks over the Nile dam filling.

Ethiopia’s Defense Minister Abraham Belay said, “The dam we are building is not only for Ethiopia but also for Africa. The rumours about the dam and the reality on the ground are totally different. The countries of the river basin should also understand that this dam ensures mutual benefit. For instance, our Grand Renaissance Dam has two bottom outlets for the purpose of downstream countries so that they can get water throughout the year.”

Sudanese Intelligence Chief Says His Country Won’t Cooperate in Any Activities to Harm Ethiopia


17 October 2022

Sudanese General Intelligence Service Head assured that the government of Sudan will not cooperate in any activities that harm the people and government of Ethiopia.

Sudanese General Intelligence Service Head, Major General Muhammad Ali Ahmed discussed security affairs with his Ethiopian counterpart at the headquarter of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF.)

The ENDF said on its Face-book that the Sudanese Intelligence Service head “assured that the government of Sudan will not cooperate in any activities that harm the people and government of Ethiopia.”

On his part, the Ethiopian National Defense Force Intelligence Department Chief Representative said that as the people of the two countries share culture and history beyond the border, the terrorist group of the TPLF  has been working to create problems between the two countries for a long time.

However, the chief representative pledged that Ethiopia is ready to solve the existing problems together with Sudan.

Both of the intelligence officials conducted an in-depth discussion on security issues of the two countries, according to sources.

Further more, they discussed and reached an agreement about the issues that should be worked on between the intelligence institutions of the countries in a better way than usual, it was noted.

Sudanese General Intelligence Service Head appreciated Ethiopia and the Ministry of Defense in particular, for their welcome, the head  expressed his country’s  readiness to resolve frequent conflicts between the borders of the two countries.

Somalia and Ethiopia intelligence agencies meet in Mogadishu

November 5, 2022

Somalia and Ethiopia National intelligence agencies have met in Mogadishu and emphasized the importance for the two countries to enhance to collaborate on security issues as well as the fight against terrorism.

The two national intelligence chiefs of Somalia and Ethiopia held a meeting in Mogadishu, the pair discussed and have agreed on to continue their joint efforts to prevent terrorism. According to the Somali state media.

The meeting between Somalia’s national intelligence chief, Mahad Salad and the Deputy Director general of Ethiopia’s intelligence agency Sisay Tola coincided at a time when the Somalia government carried out massive attacks against Alshabab to eradicate the group.

Mahad Salad extended gratitude to the Ethiopia government for supporting his country in the fight of terrorism. He also welcomed the recent peace deal between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF.

On the other side, the Deputy director general of Ethiopia national intelligence agency Sisay Tola reaffirmed his government’s commitment to collaborate with Somalia in terms of security. Sisay Tola was saddened by the last week’s twin bombs in Mogadishu that killed over 100 people.

Kenya, Ethiopia sign agreements on terrorism and organised crime

Ethiopia maintains that it is ready to work with friendly neighbors to thwart security threats that could trigger more destalinization.

16 November 2022

The Star

Kenya and Ethiopia on Monday signed an agreement to work together to prevent terrorism, human trafficking and organised crime.

The agreement was signed by the Ethiopian director general of National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), Temesgen Tiruneh, and a representative of the director general of Kenya’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) Major General Philip Kameru.

Ethiopian media said the core agreement points stated in the signed document are joint combating of local and regional threats.

The threats terrorism, illegal arms trafficking, illegal financial transfer, illegal militants, illegal human trafficking, transnational organised crimes and threats.

During the signing ceremony, Temesgen mentioned that Ethiopia has signed an agreement with African countries to prevent terrorism and related security threats in East Africa and the Horn of Africa.

The head of the delegation at NIS Saif Salem Suleman, pointed out that terrorism, illegal weapons, money and human trafficking are threats to East Africa.

Therefore, he stated that they have made an agreement to work together with Ethiopia to fight these regional challenges together.

The team visited the Ethiopian Information Network Security Administration (INSA), National Artificial Intelligence Institute, and Science Museum as well as National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).

NISS indicates that Ethiopia and Kenya are friendly neighboring countries and have had good relations in the political, economic and social sectors for a long time.

The two countries have been facing challenges along their borders with Somalia, with Kenya suffering immense consequences given frequent al-Shabaab terror attacks.

On the other hand, Ethiopia managed to prevent al-Shabaab from making inroads into her territory.

Ethiopia maintains that it is ready to work with friendly neighbors to thwart security threats that could trigger more destalinization.

Currently, the country is struggling to contain the Tigray war which has left thousands of people dead and millions displaced according to the United Nations.

Kenya has been one of the closest allies of the United States and other Western countries in terms of security and trade, with both the US and the United Kingdom establishing army training bases in the country.

The two friendly nations have been assisting Nairobi with major security logistics.

Al-Shabaab has appeared to be the common enemy of the two countries which border Somalia. Both countries are contributors to the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), which has been fighting to stabilize the Horn of Africa nation for over a decade.

Somalia has not had a stable government after the fall of Siad Barre in 1991.

State and Justice Dept. contractor charged with spying for Ethiopia

A Maryland man of Ethiopian descent, Abraham Teklu Lemma, is accused of passing on classified national defense information about a region where soldiers battled rebels

Washington Post 

September 21, 2023

A contract employee for the State and Justice departments has been charged with espionage, U.S. prosecutors announced Thursday, accused of passing on classified information since August 2022 to an official associated with Ethiopia’s intelligence service.

Abraham Teklu Lemma, 50, of Silver Spring, Md., was charged in anAug. 23 complaint unsealed Thursday on three counts: conspiracy; gathering or delivering national defense information to aid a foreign government; and unauthorized possession and willful retention of national defense information, Justice Department and FBI officials said. The first two counts are punishable by up to life in prison and the last count by up to 10 years.

An attorney for Lemma could not immediately be identified.

In a statement announcing the charges, the U.S. attorney’s office and FBI field office in Washington said Lemma is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ethiopia who had a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) clearance and access to classified systems as an IT administrator for the State Department and as a management analyst for the Justice Department. He was arrested on Aug. 24, but a scheduled bond hearing Thursday before a federal judge in Washington was not held, and no information was immediately available on the court’s public docket system.

A charging affidavit released by the Justice Department alleges that since February 2022, Lemma copied classified secret and top-secret information from more than 100 intelligence reports and removed information from secure facilities without authorization. In August and September of that year, Lemma allegedly transmitted classified national defense information to the official associated with Ethiopia’s intelligence service, including satellite imagery and information related to Eritrean activities in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

Charging papers did not name Ethiopia, but accused Lemma of spying for a country where he was previously a citizen, had family ties and had recently visited. An FBI affidavit also described military activities consistent with those of armed rebels battling allied Ethiopian and Eritrean government soldiers at the time.

The State Department’s intelligence bureau discovered the leaks after an internal security review prompted by the disclosure of hundreds of classified documents earlier this year. Jack Teixeira, a computer network technician with the Massachusetts Air National Guard, has been charged in that leak, which prompted internal security reviews at other government agencies aimed at strengthening security procedures and preventing future breaches, according to officials familiar with the matter.

“During this review, information was uncovered indicating that a Department of State information technology contractor may have removed, retained, and transmitted classified national defense information without authorization,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement. Miller called the review “self-initiated” and said it encompassed the department’s network containing TS/SCI information, with the goal of finding “opportunities to strengthen how we safeguard data.”

Teixeira had access to a similar network for classified information within the Defense Department, according to U.S. officials. While he was not an analyst and had no particular need to know the information he is accused of disclosing, the nature of his job, and his security clearance, gave him access to a bounty of secrets, including about military operations in Ukraine.

According to the FBI, Lemma communicated with the foreign official by encrypted chat, where they discussed rebel military activity and Lemma sent photos of a “military compound.” The official advised Lemma in those chats that “[i]t is great to identify the forward deployed command centers and logistic centers.”

In another communication, the foreign official stated, “[i]t’s time to continue ur support,” and Lemma responded, “Roger that!” according to the complaint. The foreign official allegedly praised Lemma’s efforts, stating “[a]lways this beautiful country have [sic] some special people who scarify [sic] their life to protect our proud history. You always remembered. It doesn’t matter the results.”

The FBI said an authorized search of Lemma’s electronic accounts on non-secure networks confirmed that he possessed classified national defense information including digital photographic copies, notes and maps that he sent to the foreign official.

On four days in August, Lemma was observed at work reviewing classified intelligence reports outside of his authorized access, using the State Department’s classified computer system, and accessing non-department classified portals, either writing information on sheets of paper he folded and carried out of the department in his pockets or copying and pasting information into documents he burned into a CD/DVD disc and was observed taking home with him, according to the FBI.

Most recently, on Aug. 18, State Department records indicate Lemma completed approximately 10 downloads, most of which were classified at the top-secret or secret level.

The FBI said Lemma was also seen angrily discouraging a Maryland bank branch employee from filing a currency transaction report when he attempted to deposit more than $11,700 on July 15, shortly after he had copied without authorization at least 16 intelligence reports. The transaction was part of more than $55,000 in deposits dating to the beginning of 2022 that a case agent deemed suspicious.

Lemma previously worked for another government agency identified in court papersonly as “U.S. Agency 1” from November 2020 to December 2021, in addition to working during evening hours as a State Department bureau of intelligence and research help-desk technician and IT administrator, and as a daytime contract management analyst since May 2022 for the Justice Department.


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