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FeaturesLiberia newsSpecial Feature

Date With The Nation: Digging Into National Security Systems- A Threat To National Security?

By D. Wa Hne, Jr.

Shortly after being sworn in as President of the Republic of Liberia, late President William Richard Tolbert Jr. authorized the audits of the Special Security Service (SSS) and the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) headed respectively by Directors James Bestman and C. Wellington Campbell under his predecessor President William V. S. Tubman.

During the investigations, the operations of both agencies became public knowledge and those agencies were demoralized. Reforms of the security arrangements and intelligence administration within the national security apparatuses were affected to such levels that weakened the security of the President and the State. In fact, the chief intelligence gathering agency NISS was expunged out of existence as well as others deemed not necessary by President Tolbert.

Knowledgeable statesmen like McKinley Deshield, Jonathan Goodridge, Harrison Grisby, and others were alleged to have advised President Tolbert to slow down in his reforms as many actions of his, which were designed to expose President William V. S. Tubman to public and international degradation, would haunt his administration disastrously.

President Tolbert was determined and his investigations of those agencies led to the incarceration of both Bestman and Campbell.  C. Wellington Campbell died during the investigation and Bestman was required to pay every cent that he could not justify.  He died later.

The security agencies under Tolbert became weak and careful in their operations and could not detect National security dangers to recommend early preventive actions. As President Tolbert advanced in his national reform agendas which included eradicating policies that prevented diplomatic relations with the communist and socialist blocs, national security problems heightened and there was an invasion of ideologies into the Liberia political space and the rise of militancy opposing the Western Bloc in favor of the Eastern Bloc at the time of the Cold War.

Liberia’s security and intelligence systems were fragile and porous and could not handle the flood of operatives and as a result, President Tolbert was taken by surprise and met his untimely departure. During the era of President Doe, the agencies regained their strength and abilities. Unfortunately,  at a time that Doe should have listened to intelligence information that would have prevented the Civil War, he was misled by politicians which rendered intelligence information gathered of no effect.

National security systems are protected by law and classified. It is therefore important to divorce political actions from national security networks for whatever purposes. That is why the Acts creating those agencies set their audit systems apart from other institutions of Government.

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In the 1980s, the US Congress invited CIA Director William Casey for Congressional Hearing on the operations of the CIA. Casey known as controversial responded to every question with one or three words like “classified “ or “I don’t know”. At a point, Congress asked, “what do you actually know”? He responded, “nothing”. “Do you think you are qualified to hold such position as you do not know anything “? He responded, “Yes I am qualified”. This narration is important to bring out the fact that National security is not only the prerogative of the President but the whole nation as peace, stability, and economic development rest on it.

Recently the President of Liberia Joseph Nyumah Boakai instructed the audits of two national security institutions, the EPS and the NSA. These audits, while intentional and good for accountability might expose national security secrets and be placed at the manipulation of politicians and external forces which could possibly operate at the disadvantage of the President at a time that he seeks to establish the controversial War and Economic Crimes Court which many are predicting could return Liberia to civil crisis once again. At this point, strong national security apparatuses are required.

President Boakai is reinventing the wheel manufactured by President Tolbert. If I am correct, he becomes the second President of Liberia that institute open audit of classified institutions which works and operations are covert and highly classified. Not only will Liberia’s security information be exposed, agents, informers, and other lives could be endangered. The President must think about these.

For those aspiring for the Presidency, it is good that research is done on the presidency of Liberia, particularly reading presidential records of Liberia from Joseph Jenkins Roberts up to current administrations. There are important lessons to be learned. We must be very careful with extremities or extremities could cause us extreme predicaments.

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