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Collecting HUMINT on human trafficking: The story of David Murimi (’18)

After spending eight years in D.C. and on Capitol Hill, David Murimi teamed up with some U.S. Navy veterans to create an in-depth report on human trafficking in South Sudan. The report, based on on-the-ground human intelligence (HUMINT) conducted by David’s team, uncovered much more – including child soldiers, the activities of warlords, and the general reality of the situation on the ground. To support his work on this project, David enrolled in the Certificate in Intelligence at IWP.

David Murimi at IWP
David Murimi at IWP

Networking in D.C.

When David first came to D.C., it was almost by accident. “I had no interest in politics or D.C.,” he said. After graduating college, he discovered that his friend was the chief of staff for a congressman, and he landed a paid internship in this office. He ended up staying in D.C. for ten years.

During that time, he got to know people all over D.C. He visited with Hillary Clinton at her house, and he spent time with John Boehner. He worked for a Republican and a Democrat.

David began to gravitate towards foreign affairs. He was born in Kenya, and his parents continue to do work in Kenya, so he had always had some interest in international affairs. He accepted a job doing government affairs at the American Foreign Service Association. In this role, he conducted outreach to a variety of government agencies. When the government affairs office was shut down, David began to look for his next project.

He had met a group of Special Forces veterans who were interested in doing humanitarian work, and he reconnected with them to see if he could be involved. Having witnessed modern-day slavery and child soldiering during overseas assignments in Iraq and Chad, they were beginning a project in the anti-human trafficking area. They needed someone who could advocate for their work with Congress, the federal marketplace, and the private sector.

Congressional African Staffers Association & the Kenyan Embassy - Kur Kur, Reliance South Sudan Country Director & David Murimi
David with Kur Kur, Reliance South Sudan Country Director, at an event with the Congressional African Staffers Association and the Kenyan Embassy

A nonprofit covert reconnaissance mission

They didn’t have money for this initiative, but it quickly became a passion project for them – the Reliance Project. David dedicated his next two years to ensuring the success of this project, supporting himself with odd jobs and temporary work along the way.

David soon found a country director to begin a fact-finding mission on human trafficking in South Sudan. This contact – Kur Kur – was a longtime friend of David’s, a “Lost Boy” and ex-child soldier who had escaped from South Sudan and was living in America. He retained the ability to return home freely and meet with everyone in South Sudan “because he was their brother.” This country director soon headed to South Sudan, along with a Navy Seal veteran, to collect on-the-ground intelligence and expose what was happening in terms of human trafficking in the region.

While his colleague Glenn Pangelinan worked on logistics, David advocated for this project and informed his many contacts in embassies, Congress, and federal agencies about the issues of human trafficking and child soldiering.

David and Glenn Pangelinan at an anti-human trafficking event with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee
David and Glenn Pangelinan at an anti-human trafficking event with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee

David realized that he had to ask Glenn questions incessantly about intelligence work in general so that he could accurately describe what their team was doing during his meetings with various contacts. “I figured, why don’t I just get an education instead of bothering Glenn?” said David. “I needed to understand the language of intelligence.”

David looked at a variety of nearby universities, but “I fell in love with IWP’s closeness and hominess, as well as the model of professors who were practitioners.”

Tim Stebbins, the head of Graduate Recruitment at IWP, introduced David to a friend at Catholic Relief Services, which was able to assist with funds for this project.

Meanwhile, David was diving into his graduate studies at IWP. “We were planning a covert reconnaissance mission while I was learning about covert reconnaissance missions at IWP.”

David practicing firearms usage with Glenn Pangelinan
David practicing firearms usage with Glenn Pangelinan

David’s Certificate program at IWP should have taken a year and a half, but he stayed a little longer to take more electives. He studied humanitarian aid, covert action, and more.

During his studies, he remained focused on the Horn of Africa. “Every paper that I could focus on Africa, I did,” said David. “It really helped. I made myself a specialist through my education while I was learning how to specialize for real in the field. In every class, there was an aspect to it that I used while working on the Reliance Project.”

David’s goal was to be able to speak intelligently about intelligence with Senators, chief of staff, and agency officials, and soon he was able to do so. “Even if I just learned something two days ago in class, this knowledge really helped my meetings,” said David. “Each class that I took at IWP helped me tremendously. I was living out what I was learning.”

IWP event on Special Operations Forces in Diplomacy
David (left) at a panel discussion that he organized at IWP in 2016 on “Special Operations Forces in Diplomacy.” Panelists included Glenn Pangelinan, Founder of the Reliance Project; Ambassador Charlie Ray, Former U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe and Cambodia; and a U.S. Navy SEAL veteran who was a Principal at the Institute for the Management of Conflict (Humanitarian Development and Stabilization Operations).

Mission Success

David’s mission was a success. “Our team gathered a mountain of evidence,” said David. “The access they had gained, the people they had talked to – it was unprecedented. When our team came back from South Sudan, it was a proud moment.”

The report shed light on the human trafficking situation in South Sudan, as well as child soldiers, the conflicts between the warlords, and more. “The intelligence was exceptional. It was incredible to see what we could do starting with absolutely nothing,” said David.

David and his team presented this information to the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. “Their jaws dropped at the information that we had gathered,” remembered David. “They had relatively little information, influence, or contacts in this region.”

In addition to the intelligence aspect of the mission, another key goal was to provide education to child soldiers so that they would have the opportunity for an alternative path for their lives. Thanks to the efforts of David and the Reliance team, five former child soldiers were sent to a Christian school in Northern Sudan, where they received a free education and some money to help them get started in life.

When the project was finally completed, David was burned out. He had gone through homelessness, night after night of very little sleep, the demanding life of a graduate student, all while supporting himself and dedicating every extra moment to this project. “I was so dedicated to what we were doing, I didn’t see any other option,” said David.

David with a dog during an IWP spring break
David during an IWP spring break

David was ready for a break: “I graduated from IWP, and I graduated from D.C.!” David is satisfied that he did not choose intelligence for a career – he did not want to sit behind a desk as an analyst, and he had become all too familiar with the personal sacrifices that agents must make. He has since moved to Texas, where he has continued to use his skills of connecting people, both in private and public sectors.

When he looks back on his time at IWP, David cherishes the social times he had at school, especially at such an intense and overwhelming time in his life. He met a fellow student from his hometown, and he enjoyed the wargames, weekend events, BBQs, and panel discussions. “I have a lot of love for IWP,” said David.

And he is proud of what he achieved with the Reliance Project: “God was with us. We were able to have a successful mission and come back with significant raw data. It happened for a reason, and God is good.”

IWP Students and Alumni in the back classroom at IWP
David (center) with fellow IWP students and alumni