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Editorial Staff


Tech-savvy Nigerian NGOs forcing politicians to act

The stakes are high in Nigeria's presidential election on March 28. Ethnic tensions, Boko Haram's violent attacks, and the "north-south divide" have spurred speculation about a post-election crisis.

Citizens are watching closely and they want to be heard. Simple new technologies are giving them a chance to scrutinise their candidates and parliament more closely and to have their say.

Activist Hamzat Lawal set up Connected Development (CODE) - a non-government organisation whose mission is to improve access to information and empower local communities in Africa - to amplify the voices of marginalised communities, and ensure the government delivers on its election promises.

"In Nigeria today, young people have never been more interested in election and governance issues. This is really exciting and has triggered a series of off and online campaigns which have challenged aspirants and political parties," Lawal said.

Together with another NGO Vote or Quench, the two groups developed a tweet chat tagged #AirItOut that provides a platform for disengaged youth to have their voices heard, he said.

"We aim to increase civic awareness and serve as an outlet for objective opinions, beyond the extremes of partisan thuggery or unabashed indifference.

"We also have face-to-face round-table discussions to bring in opinions from those offline."

Bringing in offline voices is crucially important in a country where just 38 percent of the citizens are online.

Power of technology

CODE recognised the power of technology to hold government to account long before the election frenzy.

In 2011, poor mining practises in the Bagega region resulted in lead poisoning that killed 400 children, while thousands became sick. The government pledged funds to the region for critical healthcare, but two years later, it hadn't arrived.

CODE collected testimonies and evidence from the affected community - who were largely offline - and exposed the situation online through the #SaveBagega hashtag and posting infographics and stories on its website.

Senator Bukola Saraki, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology, 48 hours after hosting a tweet-a-thon, announced the president had approved the immediate release of $5.2m in funds for healthcare remediation in Bagega.

They've tracked the treatments ever since.

CODE's co-founder Oludotun Babayemi recognises technology's power.

"Technology penetration is increasing in Nigeria. Even government officials and institutions have opened Twitter and Facebook accounts and mobile penetration stands at 75 percent," said Babayemi.

"If we direct coordinated messages to government agencies and policy-makers and create a feedback loop through SMS platforms and Blackberry messages, we can reach millions within hours. We've shown how this results in government action and citizen empowerment."

In the upcoming election, ReclaimNaija is using FrontlineSMS to engage the offline population.

Citizens can report issues such as missing names or election fraud. They can send reports by SMS that are visually mapped on the Kenyan platform Ushahidi.

During the January 2011 Voters Registration Exercise, they received more than 15,000 reports from the public in just two weeks.

The Independent National Election Commission (INEC) regards these reports as valuable information that can be validated and used as evidence of malpractice.

Many of these solutions are created locally.

Local talent serving their community

Across the globe, technologists and innovators are congregating in innovation hubs, enabling local talent to create solutions to the challenges their communities face.

Bosun Tijani, founder of Co-creation Hub, the leading technology innovation hub in Lagos, recognises the role of tech-savvy NGOs in promoting good governance.

"Innovation hubs across Africa provide the missing link for young creative talents to experiment around unlikely ideas," Tijani said. "Their community nature inspires collaboration and encourages shared accountability among individuals and organisations that won't typically join forces for societal good.

"Hubs debunk the general perception that good governance is the sole responsibility of governments by engaging talented individuals and non-state actors in co-creating novel solutions that bridge the gap between citizens and government. Not only are citizens now demanding better governance, talented members of the hubs are creating tools to encourage widespread social accountability."

The team drew upon the talents of their community and partnered with Enough Is Enough, an organisation promoting good governance and social accountability in Nigeria to create

The platform helps citizens navigate a complicated registration and voting process and gathers feedback from citizens, which is relayed to the Independent National Election Commission to enable improvements.

BudgIT, an organisation incubated at Co-Creation Hub, creates infographics that help the public better understand the budget. They engage in online and offline dialogue that encourages citizens to ensure it's being used for public good.

They've also created TRACKA, which enables people to collaborate and track capital projects in their communities online. They received a citizen report about an uncompleted school building in Iwoye-Ilogbo, a rural community in Ogun state, where 429 pupils sat in two classrooms with exposed roofs.

Despite budget allocation to rectify the situation, the government ignored community requests to come to their aid.

Through informing the community of their rights in face-to-face meetings, the team stimulated community action, putting pressure on the government. It worked, and the school is currently being repaired under BudgIT's watchful eye.

Information thirst

Another community member, Zubair Abubakar, created the Nigerian Constitution application, which has been downloaded more than 900,000 times, demonstrating a thirst for such information. He recognises its role in empowering citizens to stand up for their rights.

"This mobile application has equipped ordinary Nigerians with knowledge of the laws that govern them so they can easily stand up to the government if it's not performing," said Abubakar. "It was used during the 2012 fuel subsidy protest to educate fellow Nigerians about the roles and responsibilities of the government, and we saw a huge spike in downloads."

These groups are well aware that technology's not a panacea to all social problems. But they recognise its power to amplify the impact of traditional community mobilisation, at a cost and scale never before possible. This enables citizens to scrutinise their elected representatives and demand they deliver on their promises.

The outcome and aftermath of Nigerian's election remains to be seen. But one thing is certain - Nigeria's citizens are watching.

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Deadly blast rips through Nigeria bus

A blast has ripped through a bus in northeast Nigeria, killing at least 10 people, a hospital source told the Reuters news agency.

The explosion occurred on Tuesday at the Tashar Dan-Borno motor park, on the outskirts of the city of Potiskum.

"The bus had just loaded with passengers on its way to Kano when a huge explosion happened inside the bus at exactly 11:40 am," a driver's union official told the AFP news agency.

"We still don't know how many people were affected. We are waiting for the fire to be put out before we can have a figure of casualty", he added.

Waziri Danu, who lives in the area, told AFP he was at a car wash nearby when he heard a huge explosion and saw fire and smoke coming from the motor park.

"I and people around rushed to the place and we saw a bus engulfed in flames.... It is not likely if anyone in the vehicle has survived."

Potiskum, the commercial capital of Yobe state, has been hit repeatedly by bombings, including on Sunday, when a young girl with explosives strapped to her body blew up at a crowded market.

The girl was thought to be as young as seven, according to multiple witnesses.

Boko Haram fighters have increasingly used young girls and women as human bombs, with so-called "soft targets" such as markets and bus stations a regular target.

Seven people were killed in Sunday's blast, which again underlined the severe security challenges facing Nigeria in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary elections on March 28.

The elections were initially scheduled for February 14 but were delayed by six weeks to give the military and its allies more time to secure and stabilise the northeast to allow people to vote.

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African Media Agency (AMA) Signs Historic Redistribution Partnership with Giant News...

DUBAI, UAE, 24th February 2015,-/African Media Agency (AMA)/- In a bid to deepen its reach and authority, Al Jazeera which is one of the leading global media outlets has partnered with African Media Agency (AMA) to leverage on technology and heightened internet growth in Africa introducing news feed to leading online news websites. The partnership […]

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Cables describe British attempt to recruit N Korean spy

Leaked intelligence documents obtained by Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit describe an effort by Britain's MI6 agency to recruit a North Korean asset, offering him a "long term clandestine relationship in return for payment".

A cable marked "Secret UK/SA eyes only" shows that MI6, formally referred to as the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), requested assistance from South Africa's State Security Agency (SSA) to carry out "a joint operation".

The goal of the operation was to recruit a spy inside the opaque North Korean decision-making system, and in order to succeed, MI6 needed South Africa's help.

"We request your support to assist our officer", the British cable stated, explaning that the MI6 operative would intercept the North Korean while in transit between flights "and encourage him to accept a long-term relationship with SIS".

The request of the South African service was that it "provide covert surveillance to identify [X] on his arrival" and "securely house him whilst our officer makes contact," MI6 wrote.

The British agency also requested that the South Africans keep a look out to ensure the MI6 officer and the North Korean target were "not interrupted by any of his colleagues".

"The involvement of South Africa's authorities would not be apparent to the target - our officer would appear to be acting alone".

MI6 provided the North Korean target's identity, which Al Jazeera is concealing for his own safety, as well as a full job description, career history and detailed travel plans, including flight numbers.

Previous meeting

The secret cable also reveals that an MI6 officer had approached the target a year earlier, held a two-hour meeting with him and offered an undisclosed amount of money in exchange for "a long term clandestine relationship".

MI6 issued "a secure telephone number" which the man could use to contact the British agency when he had decided whether to spy on his government.

The target had "stated that he would be happy to meet the officer again under secure circumstances," MI6 wrote. "But a year has passed without us hearing" from him.

The British spies concluded their request by explaining to the South Africans that they regarded this as an "unusual opportunity, which, if successful, could greatly assist our ongoing efforts to gain coverage of North Korean proliferation activity".

MI6 signed off, "Many thanks for your ongoing co-operation against this important target, which we hope will increase further in future".

The Spy Cables do not disclose whether or not the South Africans agreed to provide the assistance requested by MI6, whether or not the joint operation had gone ahead, and if the target had accepted Britain's second offer.

MI6 oversight

MI6 and the UK government do not discuss the agency's activities in public so the Spy Cables give us a rare insight into their operations. They bring to light details of how British taxpayers' money is being used to effectively encourage targets into spying on behalf of the UK.

Britain passed a law in 2010 making it illegal to bribe foreign officials. But a clause exempted the intelligence services. It passed in spite of resistance from MPs who warned there was "no persuasive evidence" that spies needed the legal right to bribe. MPs on the law's drafting committee were overruled and today, Britain's intelligence agencies remain above that law.

In this instance, MI6 appears to be offering the money with little or no guarantee that they will get genuine information from the source once he or she is recruited.

Graham Greene's famous spy novel, Our Man in Havana , told the fictional story of a businessman in Cuba who accepted an offer from MI6 "of a long-term clandestine relationship in return for money". However, rather than provide genuine intelligence, the businessman takes the money and provides false information.

It is not clear whether this operation to recruit a North Korean agent required approval at civil servant or ministerial level, or what assessment is made before or after the operation to determine whether it is an appropriate use of public money.

The UK Foreign Secretary authorises the most risky MI6 operations, while others are delegated to senior officials at the Foreign Office.

A parliamentary committee and three other judicial and expert offices provide oversight of British intelligence agencies. Members of Britain's parliament and campaigners say the system does not provide adequate checks and balances on British spies, who are able to operate without sufficient accountability to assess whether their actions are either legal or in the public interest.

They have called for a complete overhaul of the current oversight system.

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Spy Cables: South African spies wary of Iran operations

Iran's efforts to use official and unofficial channels in South Africa to beat western-imposed sanctions have raised concerns within South African security services, according to leaked intelligence documents obtained by Al Jazeera.

The Spy Cables provide a detailed account of Tehran allegedly using secret front companies, as well as open diplomatic channels, in its efforts to work around trade restrictions in order to obtain materials for both arms manufacture and other industries.

A 128-page "Operational Target Analysis," written by South African spies, profiles dozens of alleged Iranian operatives, listing their names, cover stories, families, addresses and phone numbers.

Going so far as to name the gardeners and drivers at its embassy, the report pieces together Iran's intricate network of individuals, businesses and cultural groups, which it says are being used by Tehran to pursue its interests and expand its influence.

Another South African intelligence document reveals Iranian officials carried out "a clean-up" of several diplomats at the Iranian embassy whose loyalty to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was questioned.

It also noted that one Iranian diplomat had "a gambling problem and is closely watched". The official in charge of the "clean-up" also planned to send this diplomat home "but because of [his] political contacts, he could not."

Al Jazeera has redacted the papers to protect individual identities.

Mbeki and Rouhani

The intelligence profile also reveals that Iran approached South Africa's leadership in search of a workaround for international sanctions imposed by Western powers. It cites "a covert source" who claims that on two occasions, then-President Thabo Mbeki had met with senior Iranian officials requesting help with their nuclear programme.

A month after an initial September 2005 meeting, an Iranian delegation headed by a "Mr Rowhani" - likely to be current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who had stepped down as head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council in August of that year - met Mbeki, according to the source.

"The nature of the discussions was a request from the Iranian Government to the SA Government to assist Iran with their nuclear program and to provide technical advice and technology," the document says.

"The advanced level of South Africa's technologies in the aerospace industry, especially in the missile guidance field has increasingly become a focal point" of Iran, a South African spy commented. "It is foreseen that these industries will be targeted for procurement processes."

South African intelligence agents reported that the Iranians were also interested in technology used for satellite interception, online surveillance and hacking.

They were also said to have sought tools for cracking encryption codes and protecting their own secrets online, and the report said Iranian officials had discussions with managers of South Africa's electronic interception facility, the National Communication Centre in 2005. Iranian delegations were also said to have visited several other technical facilities, including manufacturers of drones, electronic warfare systems and interception technologies.

Despite the interest, the SSA was wary. "Cooperation between Iranian entities and the South African defence industry should be carefully considered," agents warned.

"Especially in view of the risk of international sanctions against the industry when it becomes known that they are negotiating contracts on non-proliferation and arms controlled technologies with such a country."


British agents had also been monitoring Iran's activities in South Africa, according to another leaked document, trying to police trade restrictions that the UK had been instrumental in establishing.

A cable from the Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6, warned its South African counterparts that a South African company was involved in "advanced" business dealings with an Iranian "front company".

The 2009 cable, marked for "UK/SA eyes only," warns the South Africans that the Iranian company was secretly "responsible for the production of missile launchers" and "the development of rocket bodies", but had "gone to great lengths to pretend" that it was a legitimate firm and "hide the fact that it is related to the missile industry".

MI6 alleged that the front company was hiding the involvement of Tehran-based Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group, whose assets were frozen by the United Nations in 2006 due to its alleged role in Iran's missile programme.

British intelligence feared the sale of the accessories and materials by the South African company could "significantly enhance Iran's ability to produce ballistic missiles, including some which would be suitable for carrying nuclear warheads".

MI6 explained that the companies had planned a business trip to Iran by a dual British-South African national, and asked the SSA to use export licensing laws to "prevent the proposed visits from going ahead".

"We believe such action would be consistent with South Africa's international obligations, as it would be with ours," MI6 wrote to their South African partners.

The use of fronts

South African intelligence reports also identify various and seemingly unrelated organisations they believe are being used to facilitate Iranian intelligence activities.

"Influential Iranian individuals" especially those "in religious cultural affairs and the Persian carpet trade" are used as "deep cover for intelligence activities," the agents claim.

"Non-official covers include Iran Air (the official airline of Iran), the Islamic Republic News Agency, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines," the January 2010 document disclosed.

The agents also profile a number of carpet shops, publishers and other small businesses they believe have links to Iran's intelligence agencies.

They also allege Iranian links to local vigilante group People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD) and Ahl ul-Bait Foundation of South Africa - a Shia Islam religious institute. Both groups strongly deny this.

PAGAD national coordinator Abdusalam Ebrahim says the group has never received any support. "It doesn't matter if it's Iran or Iraq or Saudi Arabia." Ebrahim told Al Jazeera. "PAGAD never got support from anybody".

'Broader than espionage'

The SSA characterises Iranian spies as individuals who are "highly motivated and difficult to recruit". They appear "courteous," "tolerant" and "persuasive" but apply "counter-surveillance measures constantly".

Their responsibilities are "much broader than only espionage," according to the SSA. Among its findings are "confirmed" links between Iranian spies and what South Africa identifies as "extremists" and "terrorists".

Iranian intelligence members "placed abroad under the cover of a Foreign Affairs official" have the responsibility to "make contact with an already established Hezbollah or Hamas cells in a target country" or "to recruit members for a cell", the report says.

"Both the Ministries of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Committees make use of the diplomatic bag to send arms to the Iranian Embassies abroad. These arms are then stored in the Embassy with the full knowledge of the Ambassador."

They then train these cells to strike "an identified target," which the South Africans say are "usually American or Israeli". The "subsequent act of sabotage/terrorism/assassination," is carried out by members of the cell, subsequently granting the Iranian intelligence official "deniability".

Between 1989 and 2002, there were 24 assassinations successfully carried out by Iranian spies in Europe and Turkey, all with the explicit approval of Iran's President and Supreme Leader, the document claims.

Despite all the details presented in the SSA's "Operational Target Analysis", the agency concludes that it needs more information in order to make "a comprehensive threat assessment" on Iranian espionage activity.

It concludes by saying "the extent of Iranian intelligence involvement in South Africa [...] needs to be established" and urges further investigation.

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Israeli cable reveals S Africa missile theft cover-up

A Mossad secret service document leaked to Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit reveals that in 2010 Israel obtained stolen South African anti-tank missile technology.

South African intelligence covered it up. Years later, when two men charged with stealing the plans were put on trial in South Africa, prosecutors failed to release the full information of Israel's involvement.

Journalists who covered the case were fed a false account of events, and reported that Israelis had been offered the materials but " were not interested ", and had dismissed the black market salesmen as "a joke".

However, an Israeli secret service cable shows that Israeli businessmen had indeed been interested, had taken the salesmen seriously, likely purchased the blueprints and then apparently passed them on to the Mossad.

The Spy Cables include a top-secret reply to a South African request for Israel's intelligence service to return the purloined blueprints.

In it, Mossad says that "in light of the strong cooperation" between the two countries' intelligence services "we can, at least, return the missile plans to you".

But they did so on the condition that an Israeli citizen involved in the affair would "not be prosecuted or involved in legal issues".

It appears South Africa agreed to those terms because no Israeli has been directly involved in legal issues since.

Stolen missile plans

In the August 2010 Mossad cable, classified secret and titled "Macopa Missile Plans - Response", Mossad refuses to investigate how Israel got hold of the stolen plans.

The Mokopa air-to-ground missile system is manufactured by the state arms manufacturer Denel and named after the Setswana word for the feared Black Mamba snake.

But the cable offers Mossad's assistance in recovering the documents.

"Further to your request regarding the Macopa Missile Affair [sic], please note that our service has no authority to carry out investigations on Israeli territory," the Mossad writes. "However, In light of the strong cooperation between our services, and our sincere desire to assist you, we have examined ways in which we can, at least, return the missile plans to you."

But there is a condition: "Since, according to the information you relayed to us, an Israeli citizen, Mr Yitzhak Talia [sic], is involved in this affair, we would appreciate receiving confirmation from the competent authority that the Israeli citizen will not be prosecuted or involved in legal issues in South Africa concerning this affair, before we relay the plans to you."

"The information we will relay to you about this matter is classified intelligence and therefore should not be used in legal proceedings".

The Spy Cables do not explain how "Yitzhak Talia" is involved. But court documents mention a "Yitzchak Talyah aka Edward Henry Taljaard" and suggest he was shown the missile plans, but that his involvement went no further.

Two found guilty

The details come from a case in Pretoria, in which two men were tried for their role in the Mokopa Missile Affair. They were arrested two years earlier in an elaborate sting operation.

Danie Steenkamp, a former Senior Technician at Denel, pleaded guilty to two charges under South Africa's Protection of Information Act. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

Anthony Viljoen, the managing director of a company that worked with Denel, pleaded guilty to one charge under the Protection of Information Act and one under the National Conventional Arms Control Act.

He struck a plea bargain and became the state's witness, eventually walking free with a five-year suspended sentence and a fine of 500,000 Rand ($45,000).

The court papers say the two men met when Viljoen was repairing a missile trolley for Denel, and concocted a plan to sell the missile technology that included an offshore company any bank accounts in Mauritius.

The legal record shows that between January 2008 and January 2009 Steenkamp showed documents, models, objects and information about the Mokopa Missile to several people, including a "Yitzchak Talyah aka Edward Henry Taljaard" and "other persons unknown to the state (including the State of Israel)".

Steenkamp was accused of being "intent on showing and selling" the materials to "whomever wanted to buy," including "a foreign state or a hostile organisation".

One court document says that a mitigating factor in Viljoen's case was that "the attempts to sell this technology did not materialize and the state was aware of this transaction from an early stage."

However, the document leaked to Al Jazeera suggests that court was not told what the South African intelligence services knew: that that the Mokopa blueprints had, in fact, been in the hands of a foreign state.

According to court documents, a third accomplice, Johan Grundling, had travelled to Israel in the early stages of Steenkamp and Viljoen's attempts to sell the missile plans.

In March 2010, the record shows that Grundling shot himself dead while under police supervision in his own home pending his arrest, after police and fraud investigators had raided his house as part of a separate investigation into a multimillion-dollar tax fraud.

Grundling's connection with the Mokopa missile affair, and the transfer of the missile plans to Israel remains unclear.

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5th Africa Debt and Capital Markets Summit to take place during...

“African ministers of finance and some key actors from the capital market authorities will meet in Washington during World Bank meetings to discuss developments and opportunities in Africa’s Capital Markets.” LONDON, UK, 2rd February 2015,-/African Media Agency (AMA)/– The 5th Africa Debt and Capital Markets (ADCM) Summit will take place for the first time in […]

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Kenyan court strikes down media restrictions

The High Court of Kenya has made a major ruling against the country's proposed anti-terror laws, overturning the state restrictions on the media to report on security operations.

The court first suspended parts of the anti-terror law in January.

Kenya's government argues the measures are needed to confront a wave of attacks by the armed group al-Shabab, the armed organistaion in control of parts of territory in neighbouring Somalia.

Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa, reporting from the courtroom, said that the section of the security law that called for more control on the media has been struck off by the judges.

They said it ‎limited the right of freedom of expression and is a violation of the constitution, Mutasa said.

The law prohibits reporting in matters under investigation or reporting on security operations.

President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the bill into law in December 2014.

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The Spy Cables: A glimpse into the world of espionage

A digital leak to Al Jazeera of hundreds of secret intelligence documents from the world's spy agencies has offered an unprecedented insight into operational dealings of the shadowy and highly politicised realm of global espionage.

Over the coming days, Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit is publishing The Spy Cables, in collaboration with The Guardian newspaper.

Spanning a period from 2006 until December 2014, they include detailed briefings and internal analyses written by operatives of South Africa's State Security Agency (SSA). They also reveal the South Africans' secret correspondence with the US intelligence agency, the CIA, Britain's MI6, Israel's Mossad, Russia's FSB and Iran's operatives, as well as dozens of other services from Asia to the Middle East and Africa.

Among the revelations, the Spy Cables disclose how:

  • Israel's Mossad told its allies that Iran was not working to produce nuclear weapons just a month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned it was barely a year from being able to do so;
  • The CIA made attempts to contact Hamas directly despite the US government listing the Palestinian group as a "terrorist organisation";
  • Britain's MI6 sought South African help in an operation to recruit a North Korean official who had previously refused their cash; and
  • South African and Ethiopian spies struggled to "neutralise" an assassination plot targeting a leading African diplomat.

The files unveil details of how, as the post-apartheid South African state grappled with the challenges of forging new security services, the country became vulnerable to foreign espionage and inundated with warnings related to the US "War on Terror".

Following the 9/11 attacks, South African spies were flooded with requests related to al-Qaeda, despite their own intelligence gathering and analysis telling them that they faced minimal direct threats from such groups, and that the main threat of violence on South African soil came from domestic far-right groups.

The South Africans' focus on Iran was largely a result of pressure from other nations, and the leaked documents also report in depth on alleged efforts by Iran to defeat international sanctions and even its use of Persian rug stores as front companies for spying activity.


Unlike the Edward Snowden documents that focus on electronic signals intelligence, commonly referred to in intelligence circles as "SIGINT", the Spy Cables deal with human intelligence, or "HUMINT".

This is espionage at the more humdrum, day-in-the-office level. At times, the workplace resembles any other, with spies involved in form-filling, complaints about missing documents and personal squabbles. Some of the communiqués between agencies are simply invitations for liaison meetings or briefings by one agency to another.

Inter-agency communiqués include "trace requests" for individuals or phone numbers. One set of cables from the Algerian Embassy in South Africa relates to a more practical concern. It demands that "no parking" signs are placed in the street outside. The cable notes that the British and US embassies enjoy this privilege, and argues that it should be extended to Algeria as well.

Rather than chronicling spy-movie style tales of ruthless efficiency of intelligence agencies, they offer an unprecedented glimpse into the daily working lives of people whose jobs are kept secret from the public.

REDACTED – Editor's note

It has not been easy to decide which Spy Cables to publish, and hundreds will not be revealed.

After verifying the cables, we had to consider whether the publication of each document served the public interest, in consultation with industry experts, lawyers, and our partners at The Guardian. Regardless of any advice received, the decision to publish has been Al Jazeera's alone.

We believe it is important to achieve greater transparency in the field of intelligence. The events of the last decade have shown that there has been inadequate scrutiny on the activities of agencies around the world. That has allowed some to act outside their own laws and, in some cases international law.

Publishing these documents, including operational and tradecraft details, is a necessary contribution to a greater public scrutiny of their activities.

The Spy Cables also reveal that in many cases, intelligence agencies are over-classifying information and hiding behind an unnecessary veil of secrecy. This harms the ability of a democratic society to either consent to the activities of their intelligence agencies or provide adequate checks and balances to their powers.

The Spy Cables are filled with the names, personal details, and pseudonyms of active foreign intelligence operatives who work undercover for the dozens of global spy agencies referenced in the files.

We confronted the possibility that publishing identities revealed in the cables could result in harm to potentially innocent people. We agreed that publishing the names of undercover agents would pose a substantial risk to potentially unwitting individuals from around the world who had associated with these agents.

We believe we can most responsibly accomplish our goal of achieving greater transparency without revealing the identities of undercover operatives.

For these reasons, we have redacted their names. We have also redacted sections that could pose a threat to the public, such as specific chemical formulae to build explosive devices.

Finally, some of the Spy Cables have been saved for future broadcast - ones that needed further contextualisation. Regardless of when we publish, the same considerations will inform our decisions over what to redact.

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US Homeland Security casts doubt on al-Shabab threat

The US Homeland Security Department has said that it is not aware of any specific plot against US shopping malls, backing away from comments by the department's chief that he takes seriously a threat by Somali-based armed group al-Shabab against shopping sites in Western countries.

Some US and Canadian officials earlier on Sunday had cast doubt on the credibility of the threat made in a video attributed to al-Shabab, which appeared to call for attacks on Western shopping areas, specifically mentioning Mall of America in Minnesota, the West Edmonton Mall in Canada, London's Oxford Street and sites in Paris.

But Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that "anytime a terrorist organisation calls for an attack on a specific place, we've got to take that seriously", and told shoppers to be careful without providing any more detail.

"This latest statement from al-Shabab reflects the new phase we've evolved to in the global terrorist threat, in that you have groups such as al-Shabab and ISIL publicly calling for independent actors in their homelands to carry out attacks," Johnson told the CNN, using an acronym for the armed group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

But hours later, Homeland Security Department spokeswoman Marsha Catron said the department and the FBI had shared information about the video with local law enforcement and "private sector partners."

"As a general matter, however, we are not aware of any specific, credible plot against the Mall of America or any other domestic commercial shopping centre," she said in a statement.

One US intelligence official meanwhile said that security officials indeed are worried about the risk of an attack on US soil by an individual working alone, but al-Shabab as a group has not appeared to gain much traction with most Somalis in Western countries, including in Minneapolis where there is a sizable population of Somali origin.

"In balance, I don't think this video adds much on top of the ubiquitous 'lone offender' threat," Reuters news agency quoted the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying.

Staff Sergeant Brent Meyer of Canada's Royal Canadian Mounted Police said "there is no evidence at this time of any specific or imminent threat to Canadians". In Britain, a spokesman said London police were aware of the video and were assessing it.

Mall of America and West Edmonton Mall issued statements saying they were implementing extra security measures anyway.

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