Spinning for the spies
‘The career civil servant’, Edward Robert, who this September was appointed the first-ever Public Relations Officer (PRO) for the country’s most feared organisation, Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS), is on a mission to change the nation’s mindset regarding his new employer’s.
Robert, a Tonota native, who for the last eight years was an editor of government-owned newspaper, Daily News, tells FRANCINAH BAAITSE about his new job and sheds some light on a body shrouded in secrecy.
Q. Congratulations on your appointment. How does it feel, working for the most feared organisation in the country?
A. Feared? By who? I am not too sure about that.
Newspapers carry a lot of strongly-worded opinion pieces on us. Some callers on radio phone-in programmes have the most uncomplimentary comments about DIS.
And I don’t sense any fear in that!
They speak about us the way they would any government organisation in this democratic Republic.
People show up at our headquarters, some inquiring on business and job opportunities, while many others will be bringing us information they deem helpful in efforts to secure the interests of the nation, which is our core mandate.
They call our 0800 600 761 toll-free number all the time!
You see, a lot of people know what we do and they assist us in carrying out such obligations as comes with that oath of commitment to duty.
Yes, they give that information and they do that for free as a national duty – and a lot of that information we have found useful.
Q. After eight years with the Daily News, what prompted the move from media to spy organisation?
A. A civil servant goes wherever duty takes them! You know, for all my work-life I have been in communication.
At the Daily News, I was tasked with communicating government to the public.
My main brief was to promote government policies and programmes and make intended beneficiaries aware of such programmes and what they must do to access them.
I gave the public a platform to communicate back to government on what they thought of such programmes.
So I stood between government and the people government intended to reach and helped the two communicate with each other.
Now I have narrowed that duty to the DIS.
I provide that bridge between the organisation and the public; I make DIS and the public look each other in the face and talk, frankly and effectively.
Q. Is that why you call yourself a ‘career civil servant’?
A. A career civil servant means one goes wherever their services are needed in public service.
You have to note that there are a lot of similarities between these two streams of professions.
Firstly, they both deal with information.
The media source information and release it to their readers or viewers.
The intelligence community collects information and then analyses that information into intelligence, which is used to guide policy.
Sources are indispensable and sacrosanct to both professions.
So you see, the intelligence world is not an entirely alien world to a newsperson.
Q. Some people suspect you were a DIS informer even before joining – your response to those rumours?
A. I happened to possess the qualifications and experience that DIS were looking for.
And they subjected me to their selection criteria.
If I was already theirs, why would they torture me that much with their selection process?
On a serious note, no – all my talent and energy were committed to the Daily News as editor of the paper.
Q. What values are you bringing with you?
A. Accountability and professionalism.
The Director General talks of an accountable institution and I am sold to this; our staff love it!
They do not just talk professionalism, they practice it.
I would be happy if the public were to see this and begin to show appreciation to this great team.
You must see them when duty calls. You must see them out in foreign lands in pursuit of securing national interests.
You must see them taking up assignments with the possibility of not coming back alive – all in the name of their country!
I see it every day. Negative publicity has not made them hold back.
And I say to myself all the time when I look at them ‘for sure maybe their reward is not here, for sure heaven will appreciate them!’ But I know the nation will get to see what they do and appreciate them.
Q. So how exactly do you intend to turn around the negative perception currently associated with the DIS?
A. After being appointed, the first thing that I had to do was to set up a team and then, with guidance from the organisation’s corporate strategy, develop a communication strategy for the organisation.
The strategy looks inwardly as well as outwardly.
We must first be able to communicate effectively with each other in the organisation before we can even talk of communicating with the outside world.
So the strategy looks at internal communication, transcending into the outward.
The external communication plan looks into ways of reaching out to the public through, among other things, engaging the media, civil society and various structures of leadership such as district and town councils.
We are going to these structures to tell them what we do.
The negative perceptions you see is mostly borne out of ignorance.
A. You will appreciate that by any standard, DIS is a very young organisation, hardly 10 years in existence.
So obviously the focus has been on setting up and now that we are up and running and with the help of feedback from the public, the organisation can now look at ways of injecting efficiency and effectiveness into its operations.
During the setting up period, it has become apparent that not a lot of information was getting out to the public, leading to speculation.
This resulted with some people’s knowledge on DIS based mostly on guesswork.
The idea is to have people see that DIS was created by Batswana though an Act of Parliament, with all its responsibilities and obligations spelt out in the Intelligence and Security Service Act 2007.
This is their organisation! And this is one thing the Director General Brig.
Peter Magosi is very particular about.
He talks of an accountable intelligence agency.
Q. How then do you explain reports that under Magosi, DIS has been sidelining or purging agents it fears could be aligned to its former Director General, Isaac Kgosi?
A. We would like to assure the public that there is no conspiracy to purge or target anyone alleged to be an associate or loyalist of the former Director General, as is sometimes suggested.
While change of leadership in any organisation may raise curiosity and suspicion, it is also not uncommon for organisations to experience change in strategies, operation methods and staffing.
The same is true for the DIS under the leadership of Brigadier Magosi.
DIS management is dedicated to good corporate governance, accountability and to conduct its business as mandated by the Intelligence and Security Service Act.
In doing this, it may happen that members of our staff are redeployed, resources redirected and different strategic considerations made.
Where that happens, we want to assure the public that due and necessary care is taken and we are never motivated by the need to target anyone.
The DIS, under the current management, does not intend to prejudice any of its staff members.
Our aim is to heighten professionalism and entrench accountability as we want to be a world class intelligence and security organ.
Q. Interesting. So, kindly spell it out for the people, what exactly is the role of DIS?
A. Protecting the interests of the nation is at the core of the DIS mandate.
These interests could be economic, political or military.
So the DIS collects intelligence, internally and externally, for the furtherance and protection of these interests.
The intelligence will then be used to guide policy making.
When policy makers make decisions, whether they be political, economic or otherwise, they will have this intelligence to guide them.
And they know what the likely impediments to the implementation of those plans are.
They know what other countries are planning politically or economically that is likely to impact the country, and they also know domestically what their people are not happy or are happy about from this intelligence.
We give no room for espionage, sabotage and subversion, as it were.
The DIS is also tasked with fighting organised crime.
That is why you will hear of DIS in anti-stock theft and anti-poaching activities.
This is because these vices have now escalated into sophisticated undertakings with transnational dimensions where sophisticated methods are employed to impoverish the country.
There is need for counter measures to disrupt these criminal networks that employ covert methods and people grounded on intelligence and military work to infiltrate the country’s economic structure and systems.
We area also responsible for the security details of His Excellency the President, His Honour the Vice President, their excellencies former Presidents and their immediate family members as well as visiting dignitaries.
Q. Quite the mandate! So when should the public expect an audit of DIS accounts?
A. Upon assuming office, Brig. Magosi requested for an audit of the organisation as a way to ensure accountability.
The process is still on and I am not in a position to tell when they will be completed.
This is a long and tedious process. Remember that the organisation has never been audited since its inception.
So this is an engaging, yet necessary task!
Q. Away from the rigours of work, how do you spend your free time?
A. I love reading. I read as much as I can, whenever I can.
I am the kind that takes a book into the bathroom! I think I also enjoy cooking, especially breakfast.
I prepare breakfast for the family while my wife prepares the rest of the meals.
I also enjoy it when I am at church.
I love the atmosphere when as mere mortals we connect with our creator and He reminds us of our purpose in this life.
Also, I frequent the gym-room.
Q. A religious, muscly bookworm then! Finally, Thank God it’s Friday, what are you up to these festive weekends?
A. I am mostly home with my family, at times for a meal out if the budget allows!