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The Intelligence Apparatus and Security Forces

In the tense and authoritarian climate prevailing in modern Zaire, intelligence and security agencies have provided President Mobutu with much of his support. All Zairian security organizations maintain their own prisons, networks of informers, and resources, much of the latter being the product of extortions and theft.

The Sūreté Nationale, a small, special-purpose police and investigative unit originally established by the Belgian colonial administration, continued after independence and was responsible for several diverse functions in the national security field. Prior to independence, the Sūreté's mission was to protect state security by controlling immigration, supervising resident aliens, and protecting key government leaders. Shortly after independence, the Sūreté came under the Ministry of Interior, but by mid-1961, the first director, Victor Nendaka, had turned it into a semiautonomous organization under his personal control. President Mobutu soon took steps to eliminate Nendaka as a power broker, however.

In 1969 the Sūreté became the National Documentation Center (Centre Nationale de Documentation--CND). During the next few years, Mobutu played "musical chairs" with the directorship of this organization, as he attempted to maintain close personal control. During the early 1970s, the CND was reorganized into internal and external sections, and its agents reportedly had wide latitude in arresting, interrogating, and detaining people they considered a threat. Thereafter, Mobutu continually sought to improve his personal control over the intelligence apparatus and instituted several more reorganizations. In the early 1980s, the service gained the new title of National Documentation Agency (Agence Nationale de Documentation--AND). The national security service was renamed the National Service for Intelligence and Protection (Service National d'Intelligence et de Protection--SNIP) in August 1990.

The SNIP has separate branches for internal and external intelligence functions, with the internal role receiving a substantially higher priority. It is Zaire's primary intelligence service and, as such, provides liaison with foreign services. Although there is no information available to clarify further the organization or personnel strength of the SNIP, it almost certainly consists of a relatively small corps of agents who gain their information through a widespread network of informers and from other arms of the state apparatus. The SNIP communicates directly with the president. Its agents do not report to the local or regional administrators, nor are they subject to their authority. Indeed, other arms of state power such as the military and police forces are prime targets for surveillance.

In addition to gathering intelligence and conducting surveillance, the SNIP exercises almost unchecked powers of arrest, imprisonment, and interrogation. It has used these powers to intimidate individuals or groups posing a real or imagined challenge to the regime's authority. In the 1980s and 1990s, it played an important role in repressing political activists. In the past, the SNIP also had foreign agents operating in Europe to infiltrate anti-Mobutu exile groups. As with the other elements of the internal security apparatus, abuses are widespread and personal aggrandizement a primary motivator. It has been reported that the security services have engaged in extensive looting and plundering in the early 1990s.

The intelligence service is heavily politicized. Its assessments are not thought to be highly reliable, but it has been an effective if ruthless intimidator of potential opposition groups.

As well as the usual military intelligence roles, the intelligence arm of the FAZ, the Military Intelligence and Security Service (Service d'Action et de Renseignements Militaire--SARM), is tasked with internal surveillance and intelligence gathering on the general population as well as members of the armed forces themselves. It has not enjoyed nearly the prominence or freedom of action of its civilian counterpart, but it does possess a fairly sizeable and widespread network of informants among Zaire's soldiers, sailors, and airmen.

Other internal security agencies include the National Immigration Agency, which is responsible for border security, and in 1990 it was reported that a secret special operations force had been established within the security services to carry out abductions and other types of intimidation against political dissidents. The unit was popularly known as Les Hiboux (The Owls), which is also a name of a DSP subunit providing protection to Mobutu, but the existence of the force within the National Immigration Agency was not officially acknowledged by the government. There are additional intelligence units within the Civil Guard and the National Gendarmerie.

President Mobutu has also relied on various personally established networks to provide him with alternative intelligence and assessments that he can then fuse with information he receives from the official services. These operatives can also be used to spy on the services themselves. Little is known of these networks, but in the past they were reported to be large and well funded, given the president's tremendous personal wealth and unusual access to the Zairian treasury (see Patrimonial Politics and Corruption , ch. 3).

Data as of December 1993

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Zaire Table of Contents