By Omar Bah
The leader of the Gambia Moral Congress has disagreed with the National Audit Office on its plans to push for the State Intelligence Service to be audited in the future.
The funds disbursed to the SIS, formerly called NIA, have not been audited since its establishment to replace the National Security Service.
However, the National Audit Office has said plans are underway to end that dilemma. “The NAO is currently discussing how to overcome this challenge and start auditing them,” the NAO told journalists last week.
But reacting to the NAO’s plans, Mai Ahmad Fatty, who is a trained lawyer, said: “I strongly support the NAO in the execution of its constitutional mandate and anyone concerned about prudent use of public funds, resources, assets and accountability will support them. However, regarding the proposed audit of the SIS, this is a sensitive affair. Delicate national security considerations must be weighed against the imperative of public information and scrutiny. That is why many countries around the world do not make public detailed expenditures of security and intelligence outfits.”
Fatty said the United States G.A.O (equivalent of Gambia’s NAO) requires total disclosure from state institutions and agencies but does not include “activities designated by the President as foreign intelligence or foreign counter-intelligence”. “Such matters are defined by Executive Order. In fact, since the 1960s, the C.I.A did not cooperate with the U.S audit authorities, and in July 1962, the G.A.O Comptroller General wrote to Congress withdrawing from further audit exercise of the C.I.A,” Fatty explained.
He added that in May 1961, the then Comptroller General Vincent, informed Congress that no worthwhile audit was possible due to deliberate information deficit from the C.I.A. That same month, he said, the U.S House of Representatives Special Select Committee on C.I.A & Armed Forces Chairman Vinson wrote to the GAO Comptroller General requesting discontinuation of C.I.A audit, “pending completion of further discussions between the Committee, General Accounting Office and the C.I.A”.
“Details of those ‘further discussions’ were not made public. What is obvious is that since then, sixty years today, it appears an accepted unwritten policy by successive U.S governments not to audit the C.I.A.”
According to Mai Fatty, the conduct of statecraft is impossible without national intelligence agencies and that secrecy is essential to the effective conduct of intelligence and full disclosure will certainly harm our sovereignty. “The very nature of intelligence operations does not permit the complete or mandatory production of expenditure paper trails, receipts, vouchers, etc. It happens nowhere in the world. The Gambia cannot be the exception,” he advised.
Mai further advised that the NAO in its bid to audit the SIS should appreciate that the very nature of the mandate of that institution is secrecy and as such, many of its operational expenditures are highly national security sensitive and their disclosure may substantially endanger the security of our republic. “The National Assembly, no doubt and the general public will take note of that as it is the case in many countries. A summary of use of resources should suffice,” he said adding that the sovereignty of The Gambia depends on its security.
Mai said the SIS, like its equivalent in most countries, is not a regular government department to be placed on identical national audit parameters. “Let me state very clearly that I am not advocating for corruption and misuse of public funds or that the SIS should be above the law. Such a conclusion would be erroneous. What I sought to do was to draw from the stream of comparative international experience to help guide national approach towards audit of security and intelligence agencies. If only it helps in a minuscule, to excite positive national conversation on the subject, that’s solace enough,” he concluded.