Friday, 21 December 2018 12:17

Lords of the Heists

A spectacular cash in transit heist occurred in Boksburg on Thursday morning of May this year. According to the South African police, two cash in transit vehicles were bombed. Four suspects were later arrested following a car chase, a rifle and a vehicle were recovered.

The men face 23 charges including robbery with aggravating circumstances, possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of explosives, possession of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and 10 counts of attempted murder. Among them, two Batswana young-men going by the nickname, ‘The Bomber,’ otherwise born as Thato Gaopatwe and ‘Boze,’ officially known as Calvin Molete. Emerging information on the heist team is like a plagiarised script from the movie, Ocean’s Eleven. The alleged ringleader goes by the harmless nickname ‘Bibi,’ otherwise known as Wellington Cenenda.

He is alleged to be the brains behind spate in CIT heists that rocked South Africa mid this year. His alleged ruthlessness is known to be of very unique kind. His foot soldiers included one nicknamed, Spikiri and the other Tauyaborwa Machika. Probably the best nickname is that of ‘Madam,’ the name Stanford Dihangoane goes by. The two Batswana young-men’s expertise in bomb-making, improvised explosive device and blasting is known to come second-to-none. Even South Africa’s Police Minister, Bheki Cele acknowledged their ‘expertise.’

The exponential growth of Batswana in violent crimes, particularly armed robberies is without doubt the cause of anxiety on any investor, potential or otherwise. Besides causing an uncertain investment climate, the situation is dragging the image of the country in the mud, making us look like a violent nation whereas we are not. As it stands, there are many questions than answers to the situation. Others are questioning if our law enforcement agencies are resourced enough to deal with such sophisticated organised gangs, while on the other side of the equation others are questioning the competency of our intelligence services.

However, in agreeing that the answer to the question is multi-faceted, multi-layered and may include issues of logistics, low-morale, deplorable working conditions and old policing strategies based on being reactive rather than being proactive, we also need to scrutinise our criminal intelligence apparatus. May be this whole situation is a result of intelligence failure. The pattern that has been emerging from the recent spate of armed robberies clearly shows a high level of syndicated planning and masterful execution from the criminal gangs. It also tells us a bit about their professional ethos, that is, we are dealing with a group of professional criminals who know their job like the back of their hands.

We can also read from their targets, tactics and timing that they do a lot of intelligence gathering including surveillance on the target before attempting any robbery. This then leads us to one question, what is our intelligence apparatus doing to counter their activities? If we are to use the currents statistics of armed robberies, we would then have to conclude that they are so far not only losing the battle on the streets but also public confidence. In a recent interview with Professor Solomon Hussein of University of Kwa-Zulu Natal who is an expert in intelligence and counter-terrorism, he says the death of human intelligence (HUMINT), particularly lack of intelligence assets within organised crime syndicates is making fighting organised crime a futile exercise.

He cautioned that the general neglect of HUMIT in preference for Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) which includes amongst other things communication interception, is compounding the problem as criminal are very aware of the vulnerability of such modes of communication.

It should be noted that the intelligence community in Botswana is not only made up of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS). There are many other players like Military Intelligence and Crime Intelligence Branch that even though they have their different areas of responsibilities, they are supposed to liaise and share information.  The question is, to what extent are these agencies cooperating both at strategic level and at operational level. As a matter of fact, we cannot afford to have a situation where the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. This information sharing may be on need-to-know-basis but it must take place particularly at strategic level so that it benefits all policy makers. Therefore, the need for cross-pollination in the intelligence community is a matter of must.

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