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Algeria - Intelligence Agencies

The Algerian intelligence services are professional and modestly capable at deterring terrorist actions. The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside of urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the approximately 210,000-member DGSN or national police, organized under the Ministry of Interior, share responsibility for maintaining law and order. Intelligence activities fall under three intelligence directorates reporting to a presidential national security counselor and performing functions related specifically to internal, external, and technical security. Prior to 2016, the Algerian DRS (Department of Intelligence and Security) did not have a monopoly on intelligence and that the staff of the armed forces had its own bureau of military intelligence.

The US Embassy maintains a good cooperative relationship with the Algerian intelligence services. There have been supportive relationships specifically in the area of intelligence exchange directed at tracking and stemming the flow of foreign fighters from Algeria to Iraq. However, Algerian intelligence services have not always been forthcoming with intelligence concerning AQIM and other terrorist cells operating within Algerian territory.

The bombing of the UN offices in December 2007 killed 18 people and wounded over 40 others. The UN bombing remains the starkest example of this, as an announcement by the Interior Ministry indicated the GOA had possessed information developed by Algerian intelligence services that revealed they were aware the UN was a target. This intelligence was not shared with the UN or other diplomatic missions. After the bombings, a number of diplomatic missions in Algiers requested higher levels of cooperation with the intelligence services.

The security services are believed to infiltrate Islamist groups, to employ paid informers for monitoring opposition movements, and to practice extensive telephone surveillance without prior court authorization as required by law. During and after the riots of October 1988, widely published accounts told of torture and other human rights abuses of detainees. Both Military Security and the DGDS were implicated in the brutal treatment of detainees to obtain confessions or extract information on clandestine political activists. Government officials have acknowledged that individual cases of improper behavior by security forces occurred but stressed that torture was not sanctioned and that evidence of it would be investigated.

The military intelligence leadership was actually a progressive force in terms of fighting corruption and encouraging economic reform. Because their job was to coldly analyze the real threats to society and the system, they understood, as others did not, that failure to achieve visible and concrete progress in improving the living standards of the average citizen, via increased economic development and job creation, was the biggest threat to Algerian stability. In their analysis, it was in the military's interest to avoid a repeat of the situation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when instability was mounting, the situation risked spinning out of control, and the military was faced with the unpalatable choice of chaos or intervention.

To prevent such a situation from developing, senior figures like Military Intelligence Chief Mediene wanted to see action for reform and against corruption because they were key to unblocking the situation, allowing more rapid economic progress, job creation, and modernization of the country.

By 2018 there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The law prohibits torture and prescribes prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for government agents found guilty of torture. The government reported 28 prosecutions and two convictions on allegations of abusive treatment by police officers in 2016. There was no information on torture convictions or prosecutions in 2017. Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities sometimes used vaguely worded provisions, such as “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “insulting a government body,” to arrest and detain individuals considered to be disturbing public order or criticizing the government.

In September 1990, Benjedid announced the dissolution of the DGDS after criticism of its repressive role in the 1988 riots. The dissolution coincided with other government reforms to remove barriers to individual liberties. Informed sources believed, however, that this action did not represent an end to domestic intelligence operations but rather a transfer of DGDS functions to other security bodies.

Surveying the intelligence picture in August 1992, the French periodical Jeune Afrique concluded that Military Security, with its abundant documentation on the leadership and organization of the violent Islamist groups, remained the senior intelligence body concerned with internal security. Other intelligence groups include a Coordinating Directorate of Territorial Security, an Antiterrorist Detachment, and a working group of the High Council of State charged with political and security matters. The precise functions and jurisdictions of these bodies remained fluid, according to Jeune Afrique.

Military Security is the principal and most effective intelligence service in the country. Its chief in 1993, General Mohamed Mediene, was believed to number among the more influential officers of the ANP. After Boumediene took power in 1965, he relied on Military Security to strengthen his control over the ANP during the difficult process of amalgamating "external" and "internal" ALN personnel, some of whom were of questionable loyalty. Military Security became the dominant security service in the 1970s, responsible to the head of state for monitoring and maintaining files on all potential sources of opposition to the national leadership.

Although theoretically bound by the same legal restrictions as the Surete and gendarmerie, Military Security is less circumscribed in its operations. Frequent cases of incommunicado detention of suspects have been ascribed mainly to Military Security. An important role in the area of national security was later assumed by the General Delegation for Documentation and Security (Delegation Generale de Documentation et Surete—DGDS) as the principal civilian apparatus for conducting foreign intelligence and countering internal subversion.

One of Algeria's most powerful figures, intelligence chief Gen. Mediene, was known as ‘The God of Algeria’ or 'Toufik', after 25 years as its undisputed leader. Gen. Mediene was trained by the Soviet KGB in the 1960s, and is said to have been one of the longest-serving secret service heads in the world. Gen. 'Toufik' Mediene, was a shadowy figure who never appeared in media or spoke in public, having led the “dirty war” throughout the 1990s following the military’s coup d’etat against the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) which won elections in a landslide victory. Opposition parties claim Mr. Mediene was involved in Bouteflika’s fourth term victory in April 2014 elections. Despite spending months in a hospital after suffering a stroke in 2013 and never appearing publicly or delivering a single speech. Bouteflika won 81 percent of the vote.

Dubbed “kingmaker” because of his 25-year tenure as head of the DRS intelligence services, General Mohamed Mediene saw five presidents and a dozen prime ministers come and go. He was also known as “Rad Dzayer”, which means “God of Algeria”. Known as “General Toufik”, Mediene was the last serving general from among a line of top officers behind a crackdown against the radical Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) after it swept to victory in elections in the early 1990s. The army stepped in to annul the vote, sparking an Islamist insurrection and a brutal civil war that lasted nearly a decade and killed 200,000 people. During that time Mediene, as head of DRS, became one of the most powerful men in the oil-rich North African state.

Algeria’s shadowy and powerful intelligence supremo was “retired” on 14 September 2015 by the country’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in a move that confirmed the head of state's domination over the country’s armed forces. Bouteflika replaced Mediene with his deputy "in line with the constitution" using his prerogatives as president and defence minister, the presidency said in a statement, adding that the general had been “retired”. The 78-year-old Bouteflika, who had ruled Algeria since 1999, has the power to sack any security official or force him into retirement.

It is not unusual for intelligence chiefs to be cloaked in mystery, but perhaps unlike his regional counterparts, the extent of the general's influence and his power in Algeria has reached an almost mythical level. Mediene had never appeared in public. One observer on Twitter quipped: "Bouteflika, the man who no longer speaks publicly, dismissed Toufik, the man who never appears in public." His picture was published for the first time by a local newspaper, En-Nahar, showing him in a suit and tie and wearing sunglasses. The dismissal of Mediene was one of the biggest political shake-ups in the North African country's recent memory.

His successor General Bachir, an engineer by training, was one of his key deputies during the civil war. He served as a security adviser to Bouteflika from September 2014.

The announcement of Mediene's replacement came a day after Bouteflika's chief of staff confirmed the arrest in August 2015 of Algeria's former counter-terrorism chief, Abdelkader Ait-Ouarabi, a close ally of Mediene and better known as General Hassan. The daily Al-Watan revealed the arrest of General Hassan at the end of August, saying he was detained at his home and taken to Blida military prison, south of Algiers. General Hassan's arrest came several weeks after the sacking of three security chiefs including two considered close to Mediene -- the head of counter-intelligence and the chief of presidential security.

Experts said the arrest and sackings were part of a behind-the-scenes power struggle between Bouteflika and the powerful DRS. Analysts said the balance had tilted in favor of the tight circle around Bouteflika and his army chief of staff, Ahmed Gaid Salah, at the expense of a rival faction centerd on Mediene.

"The battle is coming to an end and President Bouteflika has defeated the shadowy power,” Political science professor Rachid Tlemcani told AFP in reference to the DRS. Echoing many, he described the intelligence service as "a state within a state". The DRS had already lost many of its powers over the last 18 months, including the right to carry out judicial probes into graft. Some of its responsibilities had been transferred to the army.

On January 30, 2016, the Presidency asserts itself as the center of power with the dissolution of the DRS (Department of Intelligence and Security), considered a "state in the state" and whose boss, the powerful general Mohamed Mediene said "Toufik" had been sacked in September. President Bouteflika went on to dismantle the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS) formerly headed by ‘The God of Algeria’ that had grown into a sprawling secret force after 25 years of growth. Bouteflika replaced the DRS with a new body loyal to him called the CSS, led by a retired general.

These developments came as Algeria faced a raft of challenges. More than two decades after the civil war, the army continues to be at the forefront of a campaign against jihadists. Armed Islamist groups are still active in the country, where in 2013 a four-day siege by Islamists of In Amenas gas plant left 38 hostages dead, all but one of them foreigners. Algeria also faced a financial crisis, compounded by weaker oil prices. The central bank said last week that foreign reserves had fallen 11.1 percent in the first six months of 2015.

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Page last modified: 01-03-2019 18:49:50 ZULU