How army ‘captured’ NSS

How army ‘captured’ NSS

MASERU – COURT documents have sensationally lifted the lid on the rot that spread in the National Security Services (NSS) after the previous government appointed Colonel Tumo Lekhooa to run the agency.
The document paints Col Lekhooa, who was seconded from the Military Intelligence, as a man who was parachuted into the NSS and proceeded to undermine its operations.

His appointment, the documents claim, was part of a brazen attempt by the army to infiltrate and take over NSS operations.
And even as he was now running a civilian organisation Col Lekhooa remained beholden to Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli, according to the document.
So serious was this interference, the documents say that at some point Col Lekhooa was allegedly having several meetings with Lt Gen Kamoli at the NSS offices.

The documents show that under the previous government and with Col Lekhooa in charge the NSS was reduced to a department of the Military Intelligence despite the fact that it deals with a different area of intelligence that the army is neither qualified nor mandated to handle.
The explosive claims are made by NSS director general, Pheello Ralenkoane, in an answering affidavit to a case in which 77 agents are suing him for dismissing them.

The NSS fired the agents in January, saying they were not properly recruited and trained. But in defending the case Ralenkoane has provided a window into how the army had hijacked the NSS’ operations and dismembered it to create an institution that was not only weak but also ill-equipped to protect the country’s interests.

Ralenkoane tells a story of a carefully calculated strategy to render the NSS management rubberstamps in what was now effectively a military organisation. Ralenkoane says the hostile “take over” started immediately after Col Lekhooa came into office.
The line between the NSS and the army quickly became blurry because Col Lekhooa was now the director general of NSS and director of the army Military Intelligence.

He says Col Lekhooa’s appointment was a stark deviation from the norm because he was only the second soldier in Lesotho’s history to be seconded to the NSS. The first was Major General Makhula Mosakeng who was seconded to head the NSS during the military rule.
Ralenkoane however says Major General Mosakeng’s appointment was at a time when “the country was governed under a non-democratic rule which was flanked by the ranks of the army under military rule.” Major General Mosakeng was NSS director between 1990 and 1994.
Ralenkoane says Col Lekhooa was appointed without proper vetting to establish if he is “reliable, trustworthy, of good character and judgement and or complete loyalty to the Kingdom of Lesotho”.

He says because there was no thorough background investigation Col Lekhooa became the NSS director despite being a suspect in several crimes.
The Colonel is accused of involvement in the military operation that attacked police stations and the State House in August 2014.
He is also suspected to have participated in the bombing of two houses in Moshoeshoe II. Ralenkoane alleges that soon after appointment Col Lekhooa began marginalising senior NSS officers and disregarding regulations.

He says 0ne of his first actions was to throw out the agency’s recruitment policies and fill its ranks with military officers.
First he brought in three soldiers – a driver and bodyguards. A little later two police officers were seconded to the NSS and were quickly promoted when the agency did not have a budget to support their new salaries.

Ralenkoane claims while making these arbitrary appointments and promotions Col Lekhooa was also undermining the NSS operations by dissolving its Counter-Intelligence Unit and creating his own.
“This act accompanied by his cessation of the operational funding was an effort to stifle the operations of the agency and to incapacitate it,” Ralenkoane says, adding that the funds were diverted to establish the “infamous TEAM 20” which was comprised of soldiers, police officers and NSS agents.

He says this unconventional team directly funded by the NSS “would venture into unconventional intelligence collection practices contrary the NSS principles”. The team, Ralenkoane alleges, would “go door to door, buying and selling information”.
He says Col Lekhooa did this with the approval of former army commander Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli and former Police Commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa.
Ralenkoane says to show that there were “deeply entrenched objectives of infiltrating the institution and marginalising it” Col Lekhooa had frequent meetings with Lt Gen Kamoli near the NSS offices.

Such interactions, he says, were peculiar because they were never tolerated by previous director generals and they violated basic ethics of the agency.
Ralenkoane further alleges that apart from hobnobbing with senior military officers and actively undermining the NSS operations Col Lekhooa also changed the training programme and staffed its academy with soldiers.
The result, he adds, is that what the 77 agents went through was a military training course conducted by soldiers.
Lt Col Posholi who was appointed as chief instructor while Corp Phakoe and Corp Tlelase took charge for the cadets’ physical training and weapons handling.

He says Lt Col Posholi superseded the agency’s Principal of the Academy “thereby making all NSS instructors irrelevant turning them into boarding mistresses with menial tasks which were junior staff.”
“They were effectively demoted against the policies and principles of the agency.” Ralenkoane claims that Col Lekhooa then created a new curriculum and cut the training from six to three months without consulting senior NSS managers.

He says Lt Col Posholi, Corp Phakoe and Corp Tlelase were not qualified to conduct the training as they were not trained NSS agents and had not been properly vetted. “The engagement of the mentioned military officers was a hostile take-over to the extent that experienced personnel were shoved aside and rendered inefficient because they were put on the wayside”.

He says the ripple effect of the ‘invasion’ by soldiers meant that the 77 agents “were not trained by methods and principles of the agency” but those of the army.
Because their training was conducted by soldiers the 77 have the skills to work as military intelligence officers not NSS agents, he says.
To explain that distinction Ralenkoane says while the army deals with state centric security the NSS is concerned with state security and human security.

He says he has no doubt that Col Lekhooa’s appointment compromised the objectives of the NSS “because the agency gathers intelligence on all spheres of the state whilst that of the military intelligence is narrowed down to the scope of the army”.
Turning to the 77 agents he fired Ralenkoane lists ten reasons why they are not qualified to work for the NSS. He says apart from the fact that they were not properly vetted some of the agents are overaged, overqualified and have criminal records.

Some are actively involved in politics, have bogus academic qualifications and were corruptly recruited.
Some were recruited from the ruling parties at that time and had special relationships with the then PS of defence and high ranking politicians.
Some of the agents had specialised skills from universities which expose the agency to infiltration, he says.
Ralenkoane claims that most of them were not scrutinised by the NSS’ Staff Board which does background checks on each potential candidate before they are hired.

Ralenkoane’s allegations are backed up by the NSS director of operations, ‘Makhotso Mathiase, who was Director of Training during Col Lekhooa’s tenure. In her supporting affidavit Mathiase says Col Lekhooa single-handedly took charge of the recruitment process and side-lined her and the Principal of the Academy during the training.

She says Lt Col Posholi was appointed verbally and reported directly to Col Lekhooa. “I was thereby rendered irrelevant if not redundant in my official post,” Mathiase says. She implores the court to “take into account the security interests of the state which had been compromised by the engagement of the Applicants and the previous director general.”

Staff Reporter

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