“The challenge always is, what’s the sharing relationship with the nation where these assets are based?” said a senior U.S. military official familiar with the operations. “If I gave you information that I could reasonably expect you to act upon, then I bear some responsibility for the consequences.”
In general, the U.S. military is prohibited from disclosing information about a surveillance target to an African country unless the Americans would be permitted under their own laws to take action, said the senior military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
In a written reply to questions from The Washington Post, U.S. Africa Command said it obtains permission for surveillance flights from national governments in a process coordinated by the State Department. If an African country were hostile or unwilling, spy flights could still occur but would need to be approved at the highest levels — either by the U.S. president or the defense secretary.
The U.S. military’s biggest partner in the regional hunt for Joseph Kony, the leader of the guerrilla group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army, is the Ugandan People’s Defense Force. The force has deployed thousands of soldiers to South Sudan and the Central African Republic to look for him and his followers. Ugandan military officials said their operations were guided by intelligence received from the United States and other countries, but they declined to say how that intelligence was gathered.
“It is not for media consumption,” said Col. Joseph Balikuddembe, commander of the Ugandan forces looking for Kony.
According to a U.S. diplomatic cable written shortly after American contractors began searching for Kony, the Ugandan government reached an oral agreement with U.S. officials, pledging to observe “the principles of proportionality, distinction and humane treatment of captured combatants” when using American intelligence to pursue the Lord’s Resistance Army.
“Uganda understands and acknowledges that misuse of this intelligence could cause the U.S. to end this intelligence-sharing relationship,” read the Dec. 16, 2009, cable, which was signed by Jerry P. Lanier, the American ambassador to Uganda.
The cable stated that U.S. intelligence reports about the Lord’s Resistance Army would be filtered and reviewed by an American military officer at a “Combined Intelligence Fusion Center” in Kampala, the capital, before passing them to the Ugandan military.