At the time the NSA set up Lion’s Pride, the U.S. State Department had criticized Ethiopia’s security forces for having “infringed on citizens’ privacy rights,” ignoring the law regarding search warrants, beating detainees, and conducting extrajudicial killings. By 2005, with Lion’s Pride markedly expanded, nothing had changed. The State Department found:

The Government’s human rights record remained poor. … Security forces committed a number of unlawful killings, including alleged political killings, and beat, tortured, and mistreated detainees. … The Government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights, and the law regarding search warrants was often ignored. The Government restricted freedom of the press. … The Government at times restricted freedom of assembly, particularly for members of opposition political parties; security forces at times used excessive force to disperse demonstrations. The Government limited freedom of association. …

A separate State Department report on Ethiopia’s counterterrorism and anti-terrorism capabilities, issued in November 2013 and obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act, noted that there were “inconsistent efforts to institutionalize” anti-terrorism training within Ethiopian law enforcement and added that while the Ethiopian Federal Police use surveillance and informants, “laws do not allow the interception of telephone or electronic communications.” The readable sections of the redacted report make no mention of the NSA program and state that the U.S. “maintains an important but distant security relationship with Ethiopia.”

A 2010 NSA document offers a far different picture of the bond between the security agencies of the two countries, noting that the “NSA-Ethiopian SIGINT relationship continues to thrive.”

In an after-action report, a trainer from NSA Georgia’s “Sudan/Horn of Africa Division” described teaching a class attended by soldiers from the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and civilians from Ethiopia’s Information Network Security Agency. He praised the Ethiopians for “work[ing] so hard on our behalf” and wrote that his students were “excited and eager to learn.”

According to the documents, analysts from the Army’s 741st Military Intelligence Battalion were still detailed to Lion’s Pride while the Ethiopians they worked beside had increased their skills at analyzing intercepted communications. “More importantly, however,” the American trainer noted, “is the strengthening of the relationship” between NSA and Ethiopian security forces. NSA Georgia, he declared, was eager to continue “developing the relationship between us and our Ethiopian counterparts.”

The NSA refused to comment on whether Lion’s Pride continues to eavesdrop on the region, but no evidence suggests it was ever shut down. There is, however, good reason to believe that U.S. efforts have strengthened the hand of the Ethiopian government. And a decade and a half after it was launched, Ethiopia’s human rights record remains as dismal as ever.

“Governments that provide Ethiopia with surveillance capabilities that are being used to suppress lawful expressions of dissent risk complicity in abuses,” says Horne. “The United States should come clean about its role in surveillance in the Horn of Africa and should have policies in place to ensure Ethiopia is not using information gleaned from surveillance to crack down on legitimate expressions of dissent inside Ethiopia.”

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Documents published with this article:

Top photo: Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome holds a press conference at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on May 7, 2015.