Curtain lifted on Egypt’s spy agency

1983 Anon, Cairo? - Hosni Mubarak & Yasser Ara...

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CAIRO—For years, Marwa Farouk lived in fear of Egypt’s state security agents, who arrested and interrogated her several times for her work as an activist.

But now it is the state security apparatus, which served as the main enforcer of former president Hosni Mubarak’s regime, that has become vulnerable. In stunning succession, its headquarters have been overrun by angry mobs, its once-dreaded police force hidden away and, on Tuesday night, its top officials were placed under house arrest.

Meanwhile, protesters who stormed its buildings last weekend are now using Facebook as a clearinghouse of sorts for the reams of documents they found. While Egyptians have long suspected the organization of having agents in every corner of society, the files appearing online show a spy network whose breadth has surprised even those who worked for years against it.

When Farouk, a socialist lawyer, opened up a computer file this week, she watched as her life, chronicled in minute detail, scrolled before her eyes. Wading through the mundane drivel that agency spies had apparently spent hours collecting, she couldn’t help bursting into laughter.

“It just seems so absurd now what they were doing, almost comical,” said Farouk, 31.

For decades under Mubarak, the state security organization was hated for its use as a domestic spying agency. Human rights groups regularly tracked cases of citizens being arrested without cause and tortured, and it was such abuses that, in part, gave rise to the revolution.

The weekend raids by protesters were prompted by rumours that officials were destroying evidence that could implicate them in decades of torture and repression during Mubarak’s rule.

The rush into state security buildings resulted at times in violent clashes with the authorities, who have tried to assure protesters that they are moving to secure documents.

Reinforcing that message, the military, which now runs the country, detained the current and former chiefs of state security Tuesday night, according to state-run media. Egypt’s general prosecutor also announced this week the arrest of at least 47 state security officers accused of destroying documents, and ordered all interior ministry buildings be sealed by the military.

And the new head of the interior ministry, sworn in Monday, announced he will scale back the state security apparatus. Meanwhile, the military has pleaded with protesters to return all the documents.

But none of it has stemmed the massive collection of documents that protesters are posting via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs.

Their content runs the gamut: from details about intrusive and sometimes violent tactics to quash dissent, to descriptions of back-door election deals between opposition figures and the Mubarak administration. There are also accounts of spies planted in activist groups, hacked emails, transcripts of private phone calls by opposition leaders, and details meant to embarrass public figures.

Meanwhile, morale among state security forces is low, and many officers — angry and afraid — are refusing to go back to work.

“These recent attacks on state security are a dangerous thing,” said Adel Abdel Aleem, a former high-ranking official in state security with 30 years’ experience. “People keep talking about how repressive the state security was, but they don’t realize the role the system has played in protecting them, the many times we foiled terrorists.”

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2011/03/09 16:10:00

William Wan Washington Post

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