Morocco, Intelligence and Security
Morocco gained its independence from France in 1956. The nation, strategically located in western North Africa, close to the Straits of Gibraltar, has long served as the gateway between Africa and Europe. After gaining its independence, Morocco sought to expand its borders and assert its control over various international interests in the region. Morocco was granted control of the internationalized trade city of Tangiers, but a long-standing dispute continues over its occupation of Western Sahara.
Morocco has suffered waves of political turbulence since its founding, but political reforms over the last decade have somewhat stabilized the region. With the recent rise of Islamist extremist groups in North Africa, the Moroccan government has sought to minimize the political impact of such groups in Morocco.
Morocco maintains specially trained military commando and intelligence units that focus on protection of national interests within Morocco, especially in the Western Sahara region. The main government intelligence agency is the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), or Directorate of Territorial Surveillance. The DST conducts most all of Morocco's intelligence operations, both foreign and domestic. The largest organizational department of the DST is the counter-intelligence unit. Though the DST is known as both an intelligence agency and a secret police force that sometimes carries out political espionage, the agency does conduct joint operations with allied foreign intelligence services.
The Moroccan intelligence community has aided United States and British efforts to stem the spread of the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Surveillance operations carried out by the DST have led to the arrest of several suspects and the seizure of money and weapons destined for terrorist cells in Europe or North Africa. Despite this cooperation with international anti-terrorism efforts and ongoing government reforms Morocco's intelligence and security services remain closely monitored by some organizations. Human rights organizations criticize the Moroccan intelligence community for the arrest, detainment, and torture of political dissidents, especially between 1960 and 1980.