National Security Service Public Outreach to Teachers of Mafeteng District

Opening Remarks by John Symons, Security Sector Reforms expert

January 25, 2023

John A. Symons


The Lesotho / UN Peacebuilding Fund National Security Sector Reforms for Peacebuilding Project, being implemented through UNDP Lesotho and in partnership with UN OHCHR and UN Women, seeks to establish the minimum conditions for successful security sector reforms, through cross-cutting activities related to:

  • strategic policy and laws in the sector;
  • government and public oversight;
  • government and state security institutions’ engagement with society; and citizen participation in SSR; and
  • informal conflict resolution (e.g. community policing);

with a strong emphasis on gender and human rights.

The project supports the “Lesotho we want” as expressed during the Multi-stakeholder National Dialogue Plenary II of 2019.

This particular workshop supports the NSSRPP’s outputs related to oversight and enhanced government and state security institutions engagement with society;  strengthened internal and public oversight mechanisms; and conflict resolution, negotiation and peacebuilding.


IMPORTANCE OF OUTREACH. Outreach like this is so very important to oversight of and therefore the building of public trust and civic confidence in the state’s institutions. i don’t need to tell you that transparency helps to dispel rumours and misinformation (fake news). information exchanges also create a working rapport, rather than an adversarial relationship, between people, organisations and the state.

SUSPICION OF INTELLIGENCE SERVICE. Around the world, the public has probably no greater suspicion or lack of understanding that that of their intelligence service. Who are they?, what is their role and how do they gather “intelligence”?, what powers do they have?, what rights do ordinary people have?, is the intelligence service just here to spy on us?? A lack of information and engagement creates mistrust and suspicion. suspicious people become defensive or even hostile.

ACCOUNTABILITY. Intelligence services must necessarily work in the shadows and undertake covert activities. But that does not mean they are unaccountable “lone wolves”. Even “007 James Bond” seems to have some government oversight! Until 1994, even the United Kingdom's MI6 external intelligence service was not governed by law, perhaps explaining Mr Bond’s tendency to do things in a way that his government found reckless!  I am very pleased that Lesotho’s intelligence service is governed by the National Security Service Act of 1998 and, in the near future, new provisions stemming from the Omnibus Bill of proposed constitutional amendments. In addition to the laws and policies, if the intelligence service is funded by the State, from your taxes, and its goal is to support national security, you have a right to know what their role and powers are, and the mechanisms to challenge their actions if necessary. These agencies work for you, not the other way around, and no one is above the law. We ensure this through government and public oversight. Note: public oversight does not mean free access to confidential information. The NSS cannot disclose its activities to the public without disclosing them to their targets at the same time. But the mandate, laws (including how to challenge their activities), the legal rights of individuals, and the overall budget of intelligence services are available in the public domain in many countries. Oversight of the confidential elements of their work is formed by a select group of government representatives, on the public's behalf. Even then, intelligence operations can be held to account in closed or public inquiries or challenged in the civil courts. There have been some notable and very public examples of this, such as the “weapons of mass disappearance” that triggered Operation Desert Storm in 1990.


LAWS, MANDATES & BALANCE. Intelligence oversight is a mechanism to ensure that the Service is not above the law, that it operates within its prescribed mandate and conducts its activities in a manner that achieves the proper balance between the acquisition of essential information related to national security while protecting individual rights and freedoms, including human rights.

I am pleased to see Lesotho’s Omnibus Bill also seeks to establish an Independent Security Sector Oversight, Inspectorate and Complaints Authority mandated to investigate complaints from members of the public in respect of the conduct of members of the security agencies.

GOOD GOVERNANCE. According to DCAF[1], the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance, when intelligence services are held accountable for fulfilling their legal mandate, both their legitimacy and their effectiveness are bolstered.

DEMOCRATIC OVERSIGHT is crucial to protect against abuse of power by ensuring respect for democratic governance, the rule of law and human rights, including gender equality. Democratic oversight also protects intelligence services from political abuse and can help create well-resourced, meritocratic and non-discriminatory workplaces for intelligence professionals. For these reasons, applying the principles of good governance to intelligence requires that every aspect of intelligence activity, including legal, operational, financial and administrative practices, be subject to democratic control and oversight.

How does democratic oversight of intelligence work? Oversight of intelligence services assesses their performance, integrity and compliance with the law as well as the quality of both executive and internal control. Key questions in intelligence oversight include:

  • Are intelligence officials working within their mandate and the rule of law?
  • Do intelligence professionals provide impartial and objective analysis or is their analysis politicized?
  • What problems have arisen from an intelligence activity or process?
  • Have political leaders misused intelligence services?
  • Do they have sufficient legal powers, budget and personnel to fulfil their mandate?

TEACHERS ROLE. as you are also going to learn over the next three days, teachers play an important role in the state’s security framework and that the State, the NSS and Basotho need your support. I think NSS have very deliberately chosen you because of your influence with troubled youth in a troubled district. With the understanding, tools and networks that you will learn about during this workshop, you will be better equipped to help REDUCE THREATS to national security, help troubled students in your schools and, most importantly, facilitate community peace building.

GENDER. Finally, I want to applaud the NSS for its gender balance. I am told that over half of the service is women. This is uncommon in security agencies and governments globally but I hear women are better at gathering information and at “joining the dots” that turn ‘information’ into ‘actionable intelligence’.

WORKSHOP AIMS, AND OPENNESS. This workshop will provide you, the public, with some oversight of Lesotho’s intelligence service and your role International security, how you can help, and how to contact the NSS.

Please don’t be afraid to ask questions, state your expectations or express your concerns. NSS wants to hear what you think. Why? Because this is how healthy democracies and healthy organisations improve their service delivery, how they serve the people better.




Background. The role of the Lesotho’s National Security Service (NSS, which falls under the Ministry of Defence and National Security) is defined in the National Security Service Act of 1998; Section 5, sub-section 2. Its Mission is to promote and maintain the highest standards of state security and stability in the national interest by being ‘an outstanding intelligence service, apolitical and aligned to regional and international trends whilst not sacrificing basic national trends’. Like any intelligence service, much of the work relies on the support of other institutions and the general population. However, a lack of capacity, resources and expert advice has impacted (among other things) the Agency’s ability to conduct outreach to the public in the pursuit of mutual understanding and cooperation.

Aim. The aim of this outreach is to create transparency and strengthen public confidence and their support to national security (for example monitoring and reporting suspicious activity in remote areas).

Relevance to SSR Project. This activity supports the Lesotho / UN Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) National Security Sector Reform for Peacebuilding Project (NSSRPP) outputs related to oversight and enhanced government and state security institutions engagement with society;  Strengthened internal and public oversight mechanisms; and conflict resolution, negotiation and peacebuilding.