Like most undercover security officials, members of Nigeria’s secret service work hard to hide their personal information from the public. It came as a surprise, then, when information—including names, addresses and bank account details—belonging to more than sixty service members was leaked online for several days. Worse, this information came with a message attached: the terrorist group Boko Haram is threatening to target current and former service members for future attacks. Worse still, it isn’t clear whether the service was even aware of the leak, and the possibility that it came from within its own ranks cannot be ruled out.The Wall Street Journal has more on the revelations of infiltration and incompetence in Nigeria’s secret service:
The leak of personal data of more than 60 past and current employees of Nigeria’s State Security Service remained easily accessible on the Internet for days and had details about the agency’s director-general, including his mobile phone number, bank account particulars and contact information for his son.Many of agents listed who could be reached said they received no official warning from the spy agency that their information had been posted online nor been otherwise alerted. The material has been deleted from the comment section of a website, but the security breach astonished spy service veterans and calls into question whether Nigeria’s intelligence community, whose agents already have released suspected terrorists out of religious and ethnic sympathies, are too compromised from within to stop the violence now plaguing Africa’s most populous nation.
Naturally, this reflects badly on Nigeria, but the implications for modern counterterror efforts are more far-reaching. As this incident clearly demonstrates, the new wave of religious extremism is washing through states with very weak institutions. In places like Nigeria, where almost every part of the state is undermined by corruption and honeycombed with religious and ethnic tensions, it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to develop a strong mechanism to go after terror organizations.From this perspective, many of the problems in what we might call Africa’s new front-line states (countries on the border between Christian and Muslim Africa) may be much harder to solve than they look. It is already hard enough for a country with weak institutions to tackle domestic terrorism. But the problem is doubly destructive in that the security challenge will make it harder for the state to build stable democratic institutions and attract the foreign investment that can help solve its development problems.Africa policy is unlikely to be a field of dreams any time soon. Balancing the need to fight the spread of international terrorist organizations with links to al-Qaeda against a broader democratization and development agenda is going to be extremely difficult.