Thousands of Egyptian activists took control of the state security headquarters in Nasr City on Saturday night, reading and collecting classified material and gathering the shredded remains of documents for possible reconstruction.
Sara, an Egyptian blogger and activist, was inside the state security building. I asked her to describe what she saw.
SARA: We went through corridors full of offices. Each office had loads of shelves filled with files. There was one room that had TVs and video tapes and audio tapes as well.
It was just a building full of paper. There were trails of shredded paper on the floor. And in two of the rooms there were two huge garbage bags filled with shredded paper.
MARK COLVIN: What about the paper that wasn’t shredded? Were you able to read anything of interest?
SARA: Oh yes. I went into an archive, archiving parents’ councils meetings all over Egypt.
MARK COLVIN: Parent councillors – what do you mean? Just school parent councillors?
SARA: Yes! Yes, it’s like an elected parents’ boards that would you know just do adjustments to the building or maybe activities for the children. All these meetings were documented.
MARK COLVIN: Why was the state security interested in that?
SARA: That wonders me as well. I mean pay taxes for them to actually do some internal and external intelligence and this is what they spend their money on. (Laughs) So that was very weird. I don’t know.
MARK COLVIN: Well they do, do you think they were looking for teenagers who might join a revolution?
SARA: Not really. It was a, all the intelligence that was there wasn’t targeted at the revolution. It was intelligence that’s been there for 50 years or more. It’s not a recent intelligence building. This is state security and it’s an apparatus that’s been working for more than 50 years now.
So it gained power through Mubarak and under Mubarak and Mubarak utilised state security to work for his own regime and to protect his regime. So apparently he was too scared of everything and everyone to the extent that he actually monitored parents’ councils. A very interesting room!
SARA: Oh yes, oh yes, yes, yes. Definitely. A very good comparison I would say.
MARK COLVIN: Did you see any of the torture chambers or was that in another building?
SARA: I tried to avoid that. I sent one of my friends in with the camera to take some video of it.
MARK COLVIN: And what did they see?
SARA: Well there was this weird machine that was made out of steel bars. And people would be basically hung on these steel bars in different positions.
And according to one person who was with us who got detained for four days in the state security building headquarters where we were they would leave them overnight, sometimes two nights in a row just hanging in this one position until they interrogate them.
MARK COLVIN: I gather that documents, some of them with burned edges, have started already appearing on the internet in a sort of WikiLeaks style blog of some kind.
What are the most significant documents showing?
SARA: Well according to one person, he’s a writer called Belal Fadl, he managed to get hold of one paper indicating that state security received orders from the Ministry of Interior to start burning papers according and shredding papers according to priority from highly secret to secret to the rest of the papers.
MARK COLVIN: So what have you seen that is really significant in terms of the documents that survived?
SARA: Well I’ve seen some internal intelligence documents that are about high profile people in the country, some party leaders, some leading religious figures. And I’ve seen with my own eyes some documents relating to foreign students in Egypt as well.
MARK COLVIN: So if all this stuff gets onto the internet, how explosive is it going to be?
SARA: Well it’s going to be very explosive for one very simple reason. Every individual in this country has a file in state security so most of the information is personal information.
MARK COLVIN: So again it may be like when the Stasi opened up and then people found out that their next door neighbours, in some cases even members of their family had been informing on them?
SARA: Yes. And the thing is…
MARK COLVIN: That’s what you fear?
SARA: Yes. I myself had my phone tapped for four years now knowingly. And I’ve been told that in my face: you are being tapped now because I used to hold a very fine post within the government.
MARK COLVIN: Are you going to go looking for your own personal file now?
SARA: I tried to actually while I was in the building. But I couldn’t find the room with the alphabetical order. So (laughs) I actually got by chance into the building of internal and external intelligence so it was more general files.
MARK COLVIN: That’s Sara an Egyptian activist who stormed the state security headquarters in Nasr City in Cairo yesterday.