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How US Surveillance Helps Repressive Regimes—the Ethiopia Case

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In 2006, the documents indicate, the NSA agreed to provide Ethiopia with additional domestic surveillance technology in the Somali Regional State, commonly called the Ogaden

By Felix Horne (Just Security) |

Recent stories from Edward Snowden’s disclosures show how the US government’s involvement with Ethiopia presents a case study in enabling repressive regimes to carry out surveillance on their own citizens. In the case of Ethiopia, such surveillance powers can play a significant role in a government’s criminalization of dissent and politically motivated detentions. The United States is not alone in its assistance. Ethiopia has also used hacking technologies obtained from abroad to spy on diaspora living in the United States. It is high time for the US administration and Congress to reckon with the human rights abuses of the Ethiopian government, and how the sharing of national security technologies is enabling the regime.

The National Security Agency (NSA) documents provided by Snowden reveal that the US set up several listening posts in Ethiopia in 2002 to intercept communications from Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, as part of its regional counterterrorism efforts. In 2006, the documents indicate, the NSA agreed to provide Ethiopia with additional domestic surveillance technology in the Somali Regional State, commonly called the Ogaden. As part of these partnerships, the US trained Ethiopia’s army and security agency in surveillance techniques in exchange for local language capabilities and well-placed intelligence operations centers.

In other words, this wasn’t just US intelligence analysts sitting in Ethiopia – which would have been problematic enough given the US history of abusive renditions at that time.  It was the NSA actually training and transferring this technology to the Ethiopian army and government. As the documents state: “The benefit of this relationship is that the Ethiopians provide the location and linguists and we [United States] provide the technology and training.”