“Kenya, East Africa, and America” – with African Intelligence Chief Wilson Boinett
Andrew Hammond: Welcome to "SpyCast", brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage-related artifacts, the International Spy Museum. I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, the museum's historian and curator. Please subscribe to our show for a weekly podcast exploring one of the most captivating and dynamic subjects on God's green earth, intelligence and espionage. Coming up next on "SpyCast".
Wilson Boinett: Kenya had become independent, and it did become independent in 1964, and that was an opportunity for the political community in Kenya to change or reform the apparatus of the national security sector. However, that was not to be.
Andrew Hammond: This week's guest is Wilson Boinett, the former head of Kenyan intelligence and the man credited with turning it around in the late 1990s and early 2000s. An ex-military man who was a former aide-de-camp to Daniel Moi, the long-running president of the country from 1978 until 2002, Wilson made radical changes to the old Special Branch structure inherited from the British, in effect, creating a modern professional intelligence organization from what had been, by and large, a law enforcement tool used to intimidate political opponents. This is the second installment of our five-week special on spy chiefs from around the world. Last week, we had former CIA director, David Petraeus, talk about Ukraine and intelligence. Next week, we'll have Michael McElgunn, the current head of intelligence for Ireland's Garda Siochana, followed by Vipala Balakandran, the former number two at India's foreign intelligence agency, the research and analysis wing, and finally, Tish Long, the first female intelligence agency director here in the United States who served at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. In this week's episode, Wilson and I discuss how he became a changemaker in Kenyan intelligence, his vision for a Kenyan National Intelligence Service, how the National Intelligence Service oversees both national intelligence and foreign intelligence, his relationship with President Daniel Moi, and traditional ways of practicing intelligence in what is now Kenya. Thank you to all of our listeners, no matter where in the world you are. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are "SpyCast". Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Okay, well, I'm so pleased to speak to you this morning, Wilson. We've been trying to make this happen for some time, but I'm so excited because we are going to have our first former African intelligence chief on the program. So thank you for being the first and thank you for sharing your expertise with me and our listeners.
Wilson Boinett: Thank you so much. I look forward to that as well.
Andrew Hammond: And could you just tell us a little bit more about the agency that you work for and the country that it was within? So you are from Kenya and you were the former head of Kenya's National Intelligence Service. So just tell us a little bit more about Kenyan intelligence and about that agency. When was it founded? When did you become head and so forth?
Wilson Boinett: Thank you. That's a very nice question. Of course, I want to start off by saying that the Kenyan intelligence dates back to the beginning of British colonial rule and Kenya, of course, having attained the colonial status of being colonized in 1920. And the journey had just begun some 10, 15 years before that time. And therefore, the history of Kenya's intelligence is really to look at the history of the British colonial power in Kenya and then beyond the British after independence up to the point at which I was appointed in 1995.
Andrew Hammond: And this takes us back to the British legacy, because as I understand it, it was a Special Branch police unit that was involved in the Mau Mau uprising in 1952 and it had that very British particular Special Branch police force kind of background. But then when you took over, you turned it into, as I understand it, a modern professional intelligence agency. Is that correct?
Wilson Boinett: Yes, correct. That is true. You know, at the time when I was appointed, there are a lot of things that were happening at that period. And I thought it was important at that time to define the reality at that time. In 1995, a lot of things had happened in the world. Kenya had become independent and it did become independent in 1964. And that was an opportunity for the political community in Kenya to change or reform the apparatus of the national security sector. However, that was not to be. And so they inherited the British system going forward. So that by 1989, when the Cold War kind of literally came to an end, the challenge in Kenya and African countries and the countries that were pro-West at that time found themselves no longer the surrogates of the West. The Cold War had ended. The support that was coming from a lot of these friendly countries, frankly, was no longer forthcoming. The sharing of intelligence had changed, the threats had changed, and now the demand for multi-partisan in Africa had come in, and Kenya was not spared that multi-party democracy. So the global village was changing, the power shift was happening. And so, frankly, looking at the 44 years under which Kenya was a colony, the 45 years of the Cold War, and the support that was coming from both the British and the Americans at that time, and across the years on, that were working with intelligence, were now looking at the new threats, new challenges, new opportunities, new connections.
Andrew Hammond: And for our listeners that don't know that part of the world particularly well, can you just tell our listeners a little bit more about Kenya during the Cold War? Because there's certain countries in Africa, like Angola or Yemen, where there's lots of Soviet influence and flirtations with Marxism and so forth, but Kenya stayed, as I understand it, in this pro-Western camp, is that correct?
Wilson Boinett: Yes, it is true. You may recall in 1952, there was a Mau Mau uprising in Kenya at that time, and the British thought they were a communist-inspired uprising, but in fact they were wrong. It was an internal thing. It was something to do with the Kenyan people who were not too happy with the way the British were conducting political and economic activities in Kenya, and they wanted to change it. And so it was a homegrown thing. And so the local intelligence, which was then impeded in the ethnic groups or tribes, were very active supporting the political class to fight the battle at that time. Remember, after 1945, the African countries, including Kenya, had recruited army officers and men to join the war. And having fought the war at that time, they came back, they were demobilized, and so they were in the countryside. Being in the countryside at that time meant, of course, that they, in effect, were beginning to ask questions as to why the British were still in control. And yet, globally, the British were also losing control in the countries like India and Pakistan. So yes, the people internally were taking up arms to fight the British. So at that time, the Special Branch was really enhanced by the British and included Africans into their organization. But again, it was a question of loyalties. And again, I think it was the most difficult part for the British at that time. Yet, there was no communism in Kenya. Of course, there were individuals in the country that were perceived to be leaning towards communism. But they did not have my support because the communists had not put any infrastructure in the country. It was much more of the British. And soon after the British, the Americans came in. And it was a joint venture, really. There was support between the Americans and the British. So yes, by that time, before the Cold War itself, the enemy was known. It was a joint enemy. It was the enemy of the state and the enemy of the West. So even the intelligence saw the enemy from the prisms of the Western countries. And so we were fighting their war, both externally and also internally. And so Kenya was not able to develop independent units or independent intelligence organization because there were, within its ranks, a lot of the intelligence officers from the British intelligence organization. The MI5 and MI6 were also impeded in the country.
Andrew Hammond: And just out of interest, were you born before or after independence?
Wilson Boinett: Yeah, I was born in 1952, at the beginning of the Mau Mau War. And so really, I was born in the White Islands. In Kenya, most of the British that came in settled in what they called the White Islands. Fairly high ground, fertile land. And then they had the Africans to work for them at that time. And by 1952, when I was born, the uprising was beginning. And the Africans were no longer trusted, particularly for certain communities who were agitating for change. So really, yes, I saw it when I was growing up, until 1963, 1964, when Kenya attained independence.
Andrew Hammond: Can you still remember where you were that day when Kenya declared its independence, when it became an independent country? You would have been a young boy.
Wilson Boinett: I remember I was a village boy without shoes. And we were crossing over to go to school, to primary school those days. And you had to cross this white settler farm, and you need a special permission to cross over to go to school. And so we need a special permission to cross. And again, I don't blame the colonial farmers, because I think Africans had nothing in terms of wealth. And so most of them, they thought the young boys were spies for the other ethnic groups to steal their animals and create problems for their organization at that time. So that was the time when I was born. And it was quite interesting that the Mau Mau rebellion itself was at the top. And so most Africans were now being profiled.
Andrew Hammond: And just before we go on to discuss the NIS, the agency that you're the head of a little bit more, could you just tell us a little bit more about the geography of the country? So some of the neighbors, the region, and some of the outside interests that are around in the region. So we had the United Kingdom, then we had Russia and the United States. Now we have China. So just discuss a little bit more about some of the neighborhood, the region, so to speak, and then how some of the powers of interest in Kenya are there and trying to influence events.
Wilson Boinett: I think it would be interesting to know that at that time, that was just before independence. A lot of countries in Africa were attained independence. But the British had a special area in the region. And so were the Germans. And so were the French. So were the Italians. Most of the European countries, of course, were in Africa. And as we get into that level, Kenya specifically had this Kenya-Uganda Railway, which was what they called the Luna Express. It was meant, in my opinion, to create a British empire that was able to access the Suez Canal because it was so strategic to them. And so they wanted to create an access to India because of trade and commerce. Of course, given the imperial British East Africa at that time. So the oldest region in Eastern Africa particularly was pro-British. And so by extension, pro-American. And so there was limited time and limited opportunity and also access by the Soviet Union at that time, except a few countries in Africa that were maybe held by the Portuguese and they were not effectively governed. But the region specific at East and Central Africa to some extent, and then more importantly, the Horn of Africa. The Horn of Africa, which is comprised in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and so forth, was still within the strategic Horn of Africa. And that is a horn that during the Cold War, the Russians wanted to come in very, very sincerely because they wanted to control also the Horn of Africa for purposes of controlling the Middle East and also the Far East. And that is why at that time, countries in the region, when the Cold War was beginning to end, there was in effect a lot of interest and by extension turmoil. And the Horn of Africa itself was undergoing very tremendous change. In Somalia in 1991, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, began to, in other words, at that time began to collapse. And so there was an implosion within the ethnic peoples of Somalia. But prior to that period, the Russians had been there to try and counterbalance the Americans in Ethiopia and also counterbalance the Americans in Kenya. And so the interchanging of loyalties at that time, depending on who was supporting who, created a lot of refugees in the region. There were a lot of refugees that had come to Kenya from Sudan that was also fighting. There were refugees from Somalia. There were refugees from Ethiopia. There were also refugees, to some extent, in the Republic of Congo. Most of the refugees, in effect, were a great challenge to a young country like Kenya. And so the Horn itself was a horn of problems of famine, wars, and failed states. Now, because of that, therefore, the intelligence had a hell of a job to try and find out the movement of personalities and peoples in the region and goods and services. So in effect, there's a huge, at that time, proliferation of small arms into the region and into Kenya. And therefore, insecurity overall was also experienced here in Kenya at that time.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. And I'm just wondering if you can tell us about traditional ways that people in Kenya would gather intelligence before the Europeans came, before it became a British colony. So if you could tell our listeners about that, I think they would find it interesting.
Wilson Boinett: Oh, yes. You know, that's a very good question, because the history of the local intelligence networks and spy networks, espionage networks in Africa, and in Kenya in particular, were not captured because most of the history was oral, and therefore were not written anywhere. So that, remember, before the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 that partitioned Africa then, we were living in a free land. We did not have a country called Kenya. It was then called the land. And it is only the tribes that were powerful that were able to effectively collect information from the neighboring ethnic groups or tribes and be able to fight them. And because they do not hold land, and most of the battles that were being fought was a question of capturing and seizing assets and expanding their territory, which they were not able to command. There were no maps, of course, at that time. And they were not able, therefore, to know how much land they were possessing because they were not involved in creating cities or towns. So, yes, there was a number of, at that time, collecting information about the neighbor, about the next ethnic group, about the next kingdom, and find out whether they were able to fight them back. How strong were they? And then these local spies of young individuals who are generally very agile and who used to work with the local Libons. The Libons were people who were able to prophesize the future and they had extraordinary powers that the community believed were in full control of their people at that time. Specifically, a country like Kenya had its own ethnic people and the communities were expanding. And all that, of course, came to an end when Kenya became a colony in 1920. But by the time they did that, there was expansion at that time. The intelligence groups were not even supposed to be known by the next neighbor, because if they were captured, of course, you lose the asset. So they were existing, they were collecting, but all of it was oral. So they needed people who were generally bright, who were generally able to assimilate issues and were very clear on the mission that they were sent to collect information for purposes of sending the armed men to raid and to be able to seize the assets as it were. And you may remember those days, because Africa was a very huge landmass, nobody wanted to defend any land because there was land everywhere. So the question of an attack here or an attack there was not very strategic, but the intelligence was used to preserve the community, the women from being robbed and being forcibly married away and probably losing your own identity. That is how the intelligence was used at that time.
Andrew Hammond: Let's come back up to when you become the director of NIS. So you're there at this pivotal moment where you're taking Special Branch and then you're setting up NIS. You're the first director, so you're there for a considerable period of time as well. So just tell us, what was it like to be you, Wilson? You get given this job, you turn up, and you have to try to figure everything out. So just tell us, what was that process like? Because most people take over structures and processes from someone else that are already established, but you have to do everything from the draft board, so to speak. So just help our listeners understand a little bit more about the problem that you faced and some of the challenges you had to overcome.
Wilson Boinett: Thank you so much, Andrew. In 1995, remember I had just been promoted to a brigadier and Moi, who was the president, was facing challenges of reforms from the World Bank, from the IMF, and from also the agitation for multiparty democracy. So there was a lot of agitation and pressure to bring change. And a lot of the opposition members had been arrested, tortured, and the enemy to them was the Special Branch of the Kenya police. So I think the president, in his wisdom, decided that it is time to change this thing. And he knew me because I had been his aide-de-camp. So he appointed me. To me, I thought it was not really a very good job. I thought it was one way of trying to retire me prematurely. However, I took over the job, and the first thing I asked -- and I didn't really care much because I had just come from Mozambique, which I thought was a mission that was not the best, that I had been given. I didn't care very much whether I got a job or not, and whether I became a factor. So the one thing I did ask the president at that time, what he really wanted. And he said, look, I want change. But I think he was not sure what kind of change was he looking for in the intelligence. But I think the fact that I had been an outsider, he thought that would be a very good thing for anybody, even political groups to be able to appreciate, even the donor community to appreciate. But then there were resistance because I was from outside. I came from the military. I was the first person from outside the police force to now be the director of intelligence of the Special Branch of the Kenya police. Then, of course, I was a third one because the first director was somebody Mr. Kanyutu, who had been there for 25 years, and then he retired. Then the next guy was another police guy. He was there for one and a half years. Then he was retired. Then I came in. And I think the political community in Kenya and intelligence community were not sure whether I was going to make a difference anyway. So I get in. The name of the organization was in stagnation. The opposition wanted it abandoned. The ruling party wanted it to be retained because they were damn good in terms of dealing with the opposition, and they were able to benefit them, be able to interrogate, torture if they could, and try and suppress any pressure that was coming from the political class. So I was coming in at a time when all those things were happening and the Cold War was over, and the Western intelligence did not care very much what Kenya was going to do. So I had an opportunity to look at this monster called change and confront it by talking to and appreciating the fact that the president had alluded to it. And I said, look, I'm going to change this thing. I was an outsider. I went to the president. I said, I think it is time to change. And he said, go change it. But before you change it, I want you to retire from the military so that you are a police officer, so that you wear a police uniform. And I said, no, sir, I do not want to be a police officer. He said, you're going to be a police officer. So I said, okay, so I'll be a police officer in the hope that this change will happen. He said, oh yeah, oh yeah, change will happen. I'll support you. And therefore, as I go in, I asked the question, therefore, what is it that I needed to know first? And I thought the first thing, anything else for us to look at defining where we were and being able to look at the culture and the leadership of the Special Branch at that time. And so, yes, I took time. We went down to meeting individuals from the headquarters and talking to section heads. They were also frustrated. Their terms and conditions of service were not very good. They were recruiting people who are graduates now, but they were paid like ordinary policemen. And so when they saw a change coming, they were mavericks. There were individuals in the organization who were willing to come on board and to be able to assist in changes, so long as I was very clear on what the actual mission was. So my first job was, in the first place, frankly, was to be able to frame the problem of where we were and what needed to change and what time frame we had and so forth and so forth.
Andrew Hammond: And just for our listeners, Daniel Moi, he was the president from 1978 until 2002. So he was the president for a very long period of time. But towards the end of power, he says to you, we need change. This has to happen.
Wilson Boinett: Yeah, you know, I think Moi, if he didn't change his own economics, if he didn't change the politics, if he didn't want to do anything about security, he was not getting the kind of aid that was required to be able to improve the overall national power and standing of Kenya within the region. And he saw the danger of his government being overrun and the opposition taking over. So to him, I think he wanted to increment the changes going forward. And so my coming was a good thing. And I don't think he was really seriously thinking I will be able to change it anyway. But he was happy that there was a change after all. I brought in a military man with discipline and who will get things done. And I'm not challenged. That I think is the main reason I think that's what happened.
Andrew Hammond: To help you digest this episode and this interlude, we're providing a brief primer on the captivating history of Kenya before the Mau Mau rebellion and independence, i.e. the periods of time that our guest mentions in this week's episode. If you want to learn more about Kenyan history or what we discuss in this week's show, you can go to our extended show notes at thecyberwire.com/ podcasts/spycast. Kenya's history is rich and complex and has been shaped by various forces, including external colonial powers and internal struggles for independence. Located as it is in East Africa, as part of the so-called Horn of Africa, Kenya has been influenced by nearby Arabic culture and commerce. A substantial percentage of Swahili, for example, consists of Arabic loan words. The seafaring Portuguese made contact in the 1400s, but were displaced by Omanis from the Persian Gulf region. But colonialism proper would come at the end of the 19th century when the British arrived in what is now Kenya, aiming to establish control over the region. They were primarily seeking economic opportunities and over time, the British East Africa Protectorate was established with Nairobi becoming the capital in 1905, and the Protectorate would transform into a colony proper in 1920 with the country renamed Kenya after its highest mountain. I mean, it's quite interesting because you come in, there's this long-serving leader of the country and there's various challenges that are going on that have regimes being criticized for using Special Branch to basically bully and beat up political opponents and so forth. And then you have James Kanyotu who you mentioned, who's there for, what did you say it was, 27 years or something?
Wilson Boinett: 25.
Andrew Hammond: 25. And as I understand it, he was quite corrupt and used his position to make his family quite wealthy. So you're tackling many challenges. You've got a political system and a political leader who's wanting the country to change but still wants to hold onto power. You've got the legacy of a corrupt system and as you mentioned earlier, people are somewhat scared of Special Branch because of its reputation, because some of the things that it done. And then you also mentioned that it's like a police force, but it's not doing intelligence analysis. There's a failure of intelligence analysis. So how do you kind of tame all of these forces that are swirling around? Help us understand, did you just get a sheet of paper and sit down and draw up, okay, here's what the structure is going to look like, here are the three main things that need to change? Just help us understand how you structured and brought about that change. What were the two or three main things that you set out to do?
Wilson Boinett: I think I would say that I really, I went through about five stages and steps in this journey. First of all was to, as I said, framing the challenge, which I have just alluded to. And then of course, at that time, I had to look at understanding the culture of the organization. In step two, I had to look at the issue of beginning to build trust. You know, trust for the organization, trust me that I was there for the good of the, for the change, the organization and not to be able to be an occupier force. In any case, I was one individual. A lot of them thought I am bringing in a lot of military people who would then overrun them in their own old profession and that they were the best professionals. So yes, a question of trust was important. And I think part of the path I wanted to take was to look at them, identify the mavericks in the organization, who themselves wanted to really to change. And then of course, developing the pioneer leaders. There were a number of people whom I needed to be able to pioneer any change that was going to be coming, because I knew a change was definitely there already. Then look at the low-hanging fruit for that change. There were a lot of low-hanging fruit that needed for me to address. For example, if I got in, I needed to change the culture that people fear to even look at the building where the headquarters of the intelligence was. And I thought maybe it's time to make it more civilian, more friendly. The move from some of the paraphernalia changed to look like a hotel as opposed to a serious office. And so look at the other, picking up a few reluctant leaders who I know at some point they would be able to join the train. And then of course, go to step three, which was to get the pass rate. How was the organization beating its own system? Was it okay in terms of personal recruitment, in terms of the way they were being promoted, in the way they were being removed from the service or being transferred to the police? Were there a proper systems that were followed? Was it tested? And that would be introduced. In other words, look at the way they do the talent sporting of the intelligence officers to be able to fill in certain gaps that need to be required, specifically the area of analysis and production. Then look at the issue of who would then midwife this organization, study the morale in that step three. And then step four was to look at the transitional period. How much time did I have? I had just come in in '95. I am looking at the next election in Kenya was '97. So I thought I had about two years to be able to study the organization and with a view to changing it before the next election, which was coming up in two years' time. And so again, I needed also to look at the possibility of traveling and walking around to visit people that were feeling threatened with the new change that was coming. And I needed to look at the police boss and look him in the eye and say, look, my friend, do you agree we ought to change? You'll be on board with me. Look, go back to the military where I came from and say, look, do you think this is something that you want the country to change? Yes. Give a lecture to a number of parliamentary committees that were composed of both the opposition and government at that time and see whether the agenda was in sync with what they wanted to achieve. And then I went down to the other final thing, which was to look at the buy-in. And once I got that done, I thought, well, do I have friendly countries that were willing to come on board? I think the best one to start, of course, was the British, who had just been with us for a long time and their relationship with the government was not that bad and good, so to speak. Look at the America, look at the Germans, look at the Commonwealth, because there were a lot of Commonwealth countries that were already trying also to change, but there are difficulties in changing. I think the problem is, why would you change intelligence in the middle of a normal routine? I think that's a big challenge. And so I thought, well, it doesn't matter, all must go in tandem. We will still continue working while at the same time beginning to look at what constitutes change that I needed to bring on board. So again, I needed academia, because a lot of academia at the university had been victims of the intelligence torture, because they misunderstood the academic freedom for a resistance to government change, both opposing the policies of government. And look at the media, talk to the media people and whether, going forward, they were willing to support the changes that I was intending to plan and do. Then step five was now the implementation stage was going to be coming, and I could see the entire steps even before I began. So even as I was trying all this, trying to move around, to walk around to meet people, I had the greatest challenge because the gentleman I was supposed to take over from the organization was not going home. He decided to hang around and create, I think I must say, a resistance movement, so to speak, not to want to see me coming. And the propaganda was broadcast out there, and so as they tried to broadcast the media that I had met, the politician that I had met was saying, no, we can't buy this. So I think the guy is for the good. So really, I think within a period of three months, the guy decided to throw in the towel and left without handing over the organization. So I had the best opportunity not to have taken over from anybody, to just come in. And I thought, well, I am not going to be a little brutal in terms of bringing change and I needed a number of people to say, I think you're on the right track. And so I started changing the product, looking at a few people who could then analyze, because for years, when I used to be AD, come to the president, I could see the first director of intelligence come to the statehouse. He would carry a briefcase and inside he had his handwritten notes. There were no computers in the organization. There was massive information in mind and I thought, well, why don't I start with the easiest? Look at a few computers, do a change, have information available and so forth and so forth. So I think that three, four, five steps that I was taking in my view and selling it to a number of guys who are willing to be on board gave me the confidence to move forward, and going back to the politicians and finding out that they're okay, meeting the opposition. They said, this is okay. They were quite happy with it. And by that time, what really helped me, I must say, was that there was an underground movement that had been formed by certain communities to try and undermine the leadership of the president. And they started the publications that was against the government, and a lot of them had been arrested and they were now being interrogated by the Special Branch in the prisons and police cells. The first thing I did was just stop it, and I did clear with the police boss and the president that he did not do this anymore. It's a part of the pressure why the West was saying that he need to change this monster called the Special Branch. And I got the support frankly, and so that stopped and I think I won instantly a lot of other bystanders to say, look, this guy may after all be for some good. I don't think I got all the support, but it didn't matter very much anyway. So then the reforms process into legalization. I travel overseas. I went to so many, five, seven countries because I had visited so many other groups that were critical of the government and I had kind of won over them and had their views. I brought those views to the system, to my organization, to change it. And so by the time this resistance was coming from internally and they were getting out, reaching out to politicians, to the media, to the other groups, when the reforms were walking the talk, when I began walking the talk, it meant now I had gotten the critical mass. I had gotten the agenda. I had visited the countries overseas. I was now ready and it was time to look at the legalities of it and how to prepare the structure, the organizational structure, the new one, which did not have the police ranks, did not have the military ranks. It was a civilian organization. That is where the challenge was going to look like, because people had been used to what they call the appointment cards and being privileged for being a police officer, and not being arrested by a policeman because they had excessive powers. So when I wanted to change this, that's one of the issues. They said, forget it. Don't try. We will not support you in that context. So again, I think it was a question of, to me, it was a question of focus, question of tenacity and a question of resilience. And I was prepared. I was prepared. I know I was getting publicity from the Gata Press that there is this gentleman who has come to confuse the role of the intelligence and politics. And then since I was Moi's aide-de-camp, they started the propaganda that actually this is a decoy. This is to bring the man on board so that Moi could rule for an additional many, many more years in the name of reforming the intelligence. But that did not bother me. I mean, I had not been appointed anyway and didn't know whether I was going to last. And I thought what was important is to leave him a legacy and a mark.
Andrew Hammond: For this transition as well, the president, was he happy with all of the changes you were making? How much freedom did he give you? Was he constantly over your shoulder saying, do this and do that and don't do this and don't do that? Or did he just say, figure it out, Wilson, and come back to me next year and give me an update? Yeah. Let me know how much latitude you had.
Wilson Boinett: You know, first of all, I was very lucky. I was very lucky that I knew him. I had worked with him for 10 years and then I was lucky that I knew his challenges because I had been there when he was going through this rough pressure to change. I was also lucky that as he went down to -- I think other politicians are interesting. They say they want change, but really they don't want change. So I think even as I was preparing changes, he was sending other emissaries to block it. That I know. But I don't want to say that I know that people blocking it because that would have been defeated on my part. So I assumed that I was getting full support. Even when I know he would say no, I would come back to my mavericks, the pioneers, and say the president is fully supportive. Frankly, I'll be forgiven someday about that. But that drove the thing properly. We moved on. And by the time we finished in '97, '98, I think he was very busy forming the government, President Mori was forming government. He had no time for what the changes are trying to go through because he was very busy reorganizing his government. By the time in the end, the act was in place and I got the Attorney General to brief him. I also had some British MI6 guys to help me. One of them came to Kenya and he went to see him and he said, do you want two services or you want one service in the country? And the president said, two services. Then I went back and I said, sir, you want two services or one service? He said, what do you want? I said, I think one service with two roles is okay because of the money. Because there was no money in the country to be able to fund what was coming. It's one service. And then the following week, no, two services. So we haggled over that issue and it took us some time before he accepted to now say, okay, it's got to be national intelligence service, one service with roles that brought in economics, it brought in the ICT, brought in internal, brought in external service, counterintelligence and so forth. And so, yes, at that time I was also very lucky. I had made so many friends in the West that they started visiting Kenya to congratulate the president for the daring thing that he did about reforms. So he took the credit, which was good for me, good for the organization.
Andrew Hammond: I quite like this. It's like you were mounting your own institutional insurgency.
Wilson Boinett: But I knew I may not be appointed, because the appointment was in 1999. And so there are many other candidates who wanted to be in that job of the director general. And to me, really, I had gotten what I wanted. Even if I didn't get a job, it was fine. I knew that no going back anymore, no going back to the old ways of doing business. And so I think in the end, I look back to my luck. The president said, okay, my friend, you've done a good job. You started a monster, deal with it. And so we moved on.
Andrew Hammond: In this interlude, I just want to draw your attention to one of the fantastic programs that we have here at the International Spy Museum, Spy Chat. Spy Chat is a monthly program hosted by our executive director, Chris Costa. And you can sign up to watch the current FBI director, Christopher Wray, in discussion with Chris on September the 7th, 2023. This will be a live event you can attend virtually or in person if you're around Washington, D.C. All you have to do is go to the Spy Museum website to register. For Spy Chat, each month, Chris is joined by a distinguished guest to discuss the latest intelligence, national security and terrorism issues in the news. Chris is a 34-year veteran of the Department of Defense, where he works in counterintelligence, human intelligence and special operations, while a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. He then went on to work for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, aka SEAL Team 6, as the first civilian deputy director. A former senior director for counterterrorism at the NSC, you can watch Chris's videos of Spy Chat online at our YouTube channel. And just to clarify for our listeners, the National Intelligence Service that does domestic national intelligence, it does foreign external intelligence, it does counterintelligence. It's like MI5 and MI6 all within one agency.
Wilson Boinett: Yes, that's true. All within one agency, but they are almost semi-autonomous. But they have the director of the National Intelligence Service, all working under one system because we are a small country. Remember, we are not a very huge country. Our interests are limited. And so the idea of bringing two or three services in my view was not going to last a long time. And so, yes, that was created. That is what it is today. And I think, in my view, we are first among equals.
Andrew Hammond: And just tell us a little bit more. So you come in '95, you have this plan to instigate change. These changes begin to take place. You're turning the ship around. Then tell us about 1998, so August 1998, the bombings in Tanzania and Kenya and in Nairobi. Are you in Nairobi that day? Tell us what it was like to be you during this period.
Wilson Boinett: Well, yes, you know, frankly, before that time, remember, in August 1998, at 10 o'clock in the morning, there was this bomb that went off in the American embassy and also in Dar es Salaam. So that happened. And, you know, we were not out in the dark. We had gotten a walk-in to our organization at one of the outside stations who had told us that there was going to be an attack in the central business district in Nairobi, not in Tanzania, but in Kenya. And that the target was the American embassy. It was one source. It was not corroborated. But somehow we share that information. But again, remember, we are still the Special Branch. We had not been, you know, legally formed. And so I suspect that we are not able to convince our friends that we were actually accurate in our information. They wanted to, in my view, talk to these walk-ins, which of course, naturally, we refused. But we gave them the information nevertheless. So when the bomb came up and there was a bomb and we had given that information to some limited decision makers, I looked like a hero that I had some information. But we agreed that we do not want to be bombed. So we kept it hush-hush. But nevertheless, I think that contribution may have been a factor that I used it as well to say, just imagine if we were well-organized and we were well-funded and we were well-trained, we would have been more accurate on pinpointing the threat. And so that, I think in my way, became a catalyst in the coming year, 1998, towards the end, to have the Act passed by MPs, Members of Parliament.
Andrew Hammond: And you mentioned that you were still Special Branch. When did it officially, like when did the law pass Parliament? When did it officially become NIS?
Wilson Boinett: You know, when the Act of Parliament came into place in 1998, December, that technically meant death at the end of Special Branch of the police because we are no longer under the police and we are the new service. So the Act itself created us and created the service at that time.
Andrew Hammond: After that, so December 1998, the Act of Parliament gets passed. And then tell us about the rest of your time as the Director, because you're there until, I think it's 2002, but obviously during this period, 9-11 happens as well. So just tell us about this period between 1998 and when you leave.
Wilson Boinett: Well, I remember I was then appointed as the General, first Director General in 1999, in March and January, really. And I stayed on until 2006 when I left. Now I'd been in the organization for three and a half years, plus 10. So really that's the period I was there. And when I became the first Director General, it was now the actual tough work to be done, to now actualize the theory and practice it, and make sure that the changes that were coming were actually effective. Recruitment, training, exposure, equipment purchase, the Act is implemented, the oversights are created. The computer system is introduced into the organization. The analysis department is operational. The quality of the product is improving for the departments of government. In the meantime, because of the bomb in 1998, I created, and at that time we created the National Counter-Terrorism Center, and we got it funded. We brought in the Mali Agency for purposes of coordination. That went well. That, I think in a way, helped us. Today, it is one of these that is helping us to bring in, to reduce the line of communication and time wasting in terms of coordination on counter-terrorism. Then comes on board, we were looking at the product that we are now be able to produce, the annual assessment, the regional assessment, and then we started creating a rapport now, and declaring officers in other countries which we were not able to declare them officially during the days of the Special Branch. And that therefore meant our liaison was improved, and on the common subjects, on the quid pro quo basis, was improving our products to add value to what we already knew. So that, to my opinion, was the equation of improving the human resource, bringing the equipment that were modern, looking at the ICP that would then help us in the media mining, and producing the AI. So that in effect, we were then the kind of the blue-eyed organization in the country. And then I built, we were not to build a new headquarters, because I remember a case when, where we were initially, and I brought in so many computers into the organization, the electricity, the Kenya Power Electrical Company, were questioning why the kind of money and the kind of power we were using. Was it a factory we were creating in the headquarters, or there was something else new? I was also surprised to realize that the computers were consuming so much power. So we kind of moved a location to a new location, and that was another paradigm shift, that the people are able to move to different locations, the terms of service had improved, we were able to have a clear path on career progression, and promotion, and discipline, exiting, and remaining. And so that general, in my opinion, was going to work for, was going to be in office for five years, because the first director of intelligence had been there for 25 years. I had made a decision that the director general would be for five years, renewable for another five years, maximum 10 years. That way you would never go back to the organization. So in a way, that has assisted people who are anxious to want to change, and that the change had actually taken place. And I have made it so that when the director general is brought in, he's not brought in by the president in office, but there is an overlap, so that there's continuity in the service delivery, and that will not be political. Because if you are pegged to, say, the term of the president, the chance of that, you will play politics, and therefore the continuity will be compromised. So that, I think, is one of the things that we moved on. We then connected with other countries to train more. I got a lot of support, dealt with the region, and then started working on the bonded economy. So the bonded economy that had been created in the Horn of Africa, and the Eastern Africa region, was as a result of porous borders, movement of people, and small arms that had actually penetrated the region. And so our tourism was affected. We had to work around that. We had now to bring confidence with the politicians that had been wrongly detained, and we opened gates for them, unfortunately, or without us going to court. And they warned cases that actually the Special Branch were torturing us. And I was very lucky because I could only say, I don't know about it. That's how we changed it.
Andrew Hammond: And just to help me understand, for you when you were the director, or even now, who are some of the major regional partners, allies, friends that Kenyan intelligence has?
Wilson Boinett: First of all, externally, I would say that we never got any major support or rather direct support from powers, the hegemonic powers. You know, in other words, we got a bit in terms of equipment and information sharing now from the friendly intelligence service, the Americans, the British, the Germans, and European, most of them. But more importantly, when I came to the office, I extended the issue of regional cooperation. The first regional meeting of the intelligence chief was only following the agenda of terrorism, because terrorism, international terrorism no longer within the country. And that became, to my opinion, that to me was, in my view, the easy, low-hanging fruit to bring relationships to the region so that we could then have confidence to be able to share information. And that is why partly the East Africa community had collapsed in 1971 because of the fears, unfounded fears that the spies in each country were spying on the other country. So with that, bringing together that relationship was another milestone in terms of bringing the East Africa community to trust one another, to say it can be done. That the threat was common. That it was a regional approach. That we had to do it. And that the analysis was probably pointing towards that threat. So yes, the region, we built it. And again, there was this collaboration of arms. And also, there were also these dissidents that were crossing our borders that we needed to share information on quid pro quo basis
Andrew Hammond: Okay. Wow. You know, we have listeners all over the world, but we also have a lot of listeners in the United States. But you've actually spent some time in the States, haven't you? You've done a degree at the National Defense University. Can you tell us when that was and what the experience was like?
Wilson Boinett: Oh yes. When I completed my tour as aide-de-camp of the president, I went back to Department of Defense briefly and to the intelligence. And then at that time, the National Defense University, of course, do selections globally. And we entered into a program called International Fellows Program, where we had 14 countries that were coming in 1990, the end of it, and the whole of '91. So we were there during the very interesting time when the Cold War was ending. And so our going in there was to crystallize our views, to be able to understand the world as it was, to be able to bring politics, economic security into perspective and to understand how the power shift in the world was moving. And so it, to me, was, so to speak, a very eye-opener for the intelligence and for political meeting together to look at things in one perspective and look at it and analyze it. And of course, from American perspective, but to look at it globally, how the other countries were fitting into this arrangement. So the one year, so to speak, in National Defense University was a very good thing to me. It was a big training. It was an area of looking at how American would look at the world post-Cold War, how Europe was going to behave post-Cold War towards Africa, towards each other and the world at large as a global village. We saw the Soviet Union at that time, of course, collapsing. And so we were there. So we were there also when the past Iraq-Kuwait war, the Middle East war that was coming up. And so it was a very exciting moment. And we had all these lecturers and we were all sharing information.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. Yeah, that's a really fascinating thing to be here. And I understand that you're in the International Fellows Hall of Fame for the National Defense University.
Wilson Boinett: Yeah, well, I don't know. I don't know how I got there, but whatever I did, I think it is a very pleasant thing to have. There are a few people who have been to that Hall of Fame. It also makes me feel very good. I felt very good that time when I got in the Hall of Fame and I came in there in, I think it was about 2005 after I left the office. And so to me, it was a fantastic reunion to understand that there are people watching the alumni that they are able to contribute global peace. And so my reforms, I think in a way, must have informed that Hall of Fame, I think. I may be wrong.
Andrew Hammond: And tell us what you're doing now, Wilson. I know that you're working on a book and it's coming out later. Is it later this year or early next year? Is that correct?
Wilson Boinett: It's most likely at the end of the year, but early next year. And I'm looking at the reforming or transforming the spy craft to be able to help the state craft. And so it's quite a very interesting moment, but I'm looking at all these issues from pre-colonial days, the kind of issues you have asked me really, looking at the pre-colonial and the colonial period beyond that and to what we are seeing now. So I think it's quite a challenging book. And yet at the same time, it's very interesting that there are issues you cannot say, but you wish to say. So it makes me awake in the morning and I have a reason to wake up. But in addition, of course, I'm interested in taking my time to bond with my children and grandchildren and then, you know, travel. That's what I'm doing.
Andrew Hammond: Well, the next time you come to the States, you need to come to the International Spy Museum. I would love to meet you in person.
Wilson Boinett: Oh, I look forward to that.
Andrew Hammond: This has been really great. Thank you so much. Thank you.
Wilson Boinett: Thank you, Dr. Andrew Hammond. And I'll see you soon.
Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of "SpyCast." Please follow us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Coming up on next week's show.
Michael McElgunn: The Garda Síochána, actually is the full title and that's the Gaelic expression, which means guardians of the peace. We are the policing and security service of the Irish state. And that's defined in law.
Andrew Hammond: If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at spycast.spymuseum.org or on Twitter @INTLSpycast. If you go to our page at thecyberwire.com /podcast/spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes and full transcripts. I'm you host, Andrew Hammond. And my podcast content partner is Erin Dietrich. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincy, Memphis Vaughn III, Emily Colletta, Emily Renz, Afua Anokwa, Elliot Pelzman, Trey Hester and Jen Eiben.