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Egypt: Intelligence Agencies

Internal security was the responsibility of three intelligence organizations: General Intelligence, attached to the presidency; Military Intelligence, attached to the Ministry of Defense; and the General Directorate for State Security Investigations (GDSSI), under direct control of the minister of interior. Any of these agencies could undertake investigations of matters pertaining to national security, but the GDSSI was the main organization for domestic security matters. After the Sadat era, the tendency of military intelligence to encroach on civilian security functions had been curbed.

Nasser established a pervasive and oppressive internal security apparatus. The security police detained as many as 20,000 political prisoners at a time and discouraged public discussions or meetings that could be construed as unfriendly to the government. The security police recruited local informants to report on the activities and political views of their neighbors. Under Sadat intelligence forces were less obtrusive but still managed to be well informed and effective in monitoring subversives, opposition politicians, and foreigners. The security police's failure to uncover the plot leading to Sadat's assassination tarnished the reputation of the force. The security police also seemed to be taken by surprise by the CSF riots and failed to prevent other disorders such as a series of assassination attempts by radical Islamists in the late 1980s.

The authorities have never revealed the personnel strength of the GDSSI, which played an important role in government by influencing policy decisions and personnel matters. The GDSSI engaged routinely in surveillance of opposition politicians, journalists, political activists, foreign diplomats, and suspected subversives. The GDSSI focused on monitoring underground networks of radical Islamists and probably planted agents in those organizations. According to some sources, the GDSSI had informants in all government departments and public-sector companies, labor unions, political parties, and the news media. The organization was also believed to monitor telephone calls and correspondence by the political opposition and by suspected subversives.

In the past, the regime had given the GDSSI considerable leeway in maintaining political control and using emergency laws to intimidate people suspected of subversion. The GDSSI remained in 1990 the primary organ for combatting political subversion even after Mubarak and the judiciary took several steps to limit the organization's power.

The GDSSI was accused of torturing Islamic extremists to extract confessions. In 1986 forty GDSSI officers went on trial for 422 charges of torture that were brought by Al Jihad defendants. After lengthy legal wrangling, the court absolved all the GDSSI officers in mid-1988. The judgment concluded that the GDSSI had indeed tortured Al Jihad members but said there was insufficient evidence to link the particular GDSSI officers on trial with the torture.

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