Opinion: ‘Political abuse has State Security Agency in disarray’

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Political abuse has State Security Agency in disarray

Ronnie Kasrils, spy tape fall guy?


Selective leaks this past weekend from the “spy tapes” that led to the withdrawal of corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma are just the tip of the iceberg. A picture is emerging of a State Security Agency (SSA), and related institutions, in disarray after years of misuse by the ruling African National Congress. (Read more)

The weekend’s leaks to the Sunday Times follow hot on the heels of reports in the preceding week on how the ANC sidestepped official SSA-channels to relieve three senior intelligence managers of their duties and promising them ambassadorial postings.

Some informed observers speculate that the battle around the spy tapes and the latest upheaval within the ranks of the country’s security community might even be linked to one another.

The official opposition in parliament, the Democratic Alliance, is under law presently gagged from talking about the content of the tapes. They had fought a long court battle to gain access to the tapes in an attempt to the “political conspiracy” grounds on which the National Prosecuting Authority withdrew corruption charges against Mr Zuma in 2009.

Clear patterns

With the content of the tapes now bound to enter the public domain in the not too distant future, there is a repeat of what happened at the end of last year on the eve of the release of the Public Protector (PP), Thuli Madonsela’s, report on the Nkandla-affair: A pro-active and selective leak of information to create a sympathetic public climate for Mr. Zuma.

The leak is clearly intended to create the impression that former President Thabo Mbeki and his then intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils in 2008 conspired with, among others, former Scorpions head Leonard McCarthy, to scupper Mr. Zuma’s challenge to Mbeki for the leadership of the ANC.

It also reveals how the country’s national security apparatus has by then already become the personal playground of key ANC leadership figures.

During the last two decades intelligence chiefs became an expendable commodity in South Africa, their fortunes linked closely to the prevailing political undercurrents in the ruling party. In this continuing trend, news broke last week of the latest spy chiefs to be ousted under the headline Paranoid president axes more top spooks.

Quoting six sources, some claiming the order to axe the three came from the ANC. Others claimed it came directly from President Zuma as he allegedly no longer trusted agents loyal to former State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele whom he recently demoted. The latest three casualties are said to be redeployed as ambassadors.

However, the report also quotes current State Security Minister David Mahlobo and other sources confirming the axing decision was indeed taken by a sub-committee of the ANC. It was also conveyed to them by ANC “comrades” rather than through formal government or SSA channels, despite them being public servants.

The leaked information about the spy tapes seems to reveal to what extent Mr Mbeki used the national security apparatus and institutions like the Scorpions to help fight his party political battles. It is also worth noting that the move with the soon-to-be ambassadors brings to six the number of senior intelligence officials and ministers to have been removed or moved in the five and a bit years under Mr Zuma as president.

Changing of the guard

In the twenty years since 1994 the intelligence services have had eight chiefs, amounting to a new director general every 2 ½ years.

The latest developments again show the extent to which the line between state agencies and the ANC has become blurred, destabilising those agencies that should serve the public at large as they become embroiled in the factional political struggles.

Zuma himself has a long history in intelligence activities. During exile in Zambia in the 1980s he served on the ANC’s political and military council, as the ANC’s Head of Underground Structures and later as Chief of its Intelligence Department.

With a long list of dubious activities behind it, South Africa’s intelligence and related security agencies seem to have been involved in everything but bona fide state intelligence work during the democratic era. Some of the examples include:

• Pushing for the infamous Secrecy Bill, which will make it possible for all state-related information to be classified secret, gag the media from reporting it, and severely punish whistle-blowers – in short, creating the potential to draw a protective veil of secrecy over every facet of the state and its activities;

• Shielding President Zuma in respect of Guptagate and Nkandla, two major scandals that remain unresolved and in most proper democracies would have led to a president’s demise;

• Producing the “spy tapes” which allegedly proved a political conspiracy to prosecute President Zuma on more than 700 counts of fraud, corruption and racketeering;

• Trying to falsely brand former NPA head Bulelani Ngcuka an apartheid spy at the time that he was building a case to prosecute Zuma;

• Government ignored a 2008 report by Deputy Minister Joe Matthews, Speaker Frene Ginwala and academic Laurie Nathan which raised the alarm on the excesses and abuses of and by the security establishment and which called for comprehensive reforms; • Three senior intelligence agents were fired by Kasrils after being accused of being entangled in the ANC’s internal factional power struggles and for allegedly illegally tapping the phone of Mbeki ally and businessman Saki Macozoma;• Agents were contracted this year to vet ANC MPs working from ANC headquarters in Johannesburg;

• Allegedly interrogating members of the ANC Youth League when the rebelled against the leadership of Zuma;

• Alleged were involvement in shady dealings related to a number of murders in Mpumalanga, also related to tenders for a soccer world cup stadium;

• Involvement in the denial of security clearance for prosecution boss Mxolisi Nxasana, leading to attempts by Zuma to remove him after he had tried to reinstitute criminal charges against former police crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli; and

• Reports by investigative journalist Jacques Pauw that a rogue unit known as the Special Operations Unit was active in SSA, conducted dirty tricks campaigns to disgrace senior civil servants, was involved in illegal cigarette smuggling and had close ties to convicted criminals.

Against this background it becomes all the more shocking when considering some of these agencies’ more spectacular failings, including:

• Failing to spot the danger signs that led to a wave of xenophobic attacks in 2008 on African foreigners in South Africa displacing thousands and leading to numerous deaths;

• Failing to foresee and forewarn the government of the build-up of events that led to the Marikana shootings; and

• Failing to detect the activities of and warn government about the presence of senior al-Shabaab/al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in South Africa who were later linked to the Nairobi mall attack.

There is reason for alarm when a country’s intelligence and security apparatus becomes an extension of the personal power projection of individual leaders, reminiscent of Stalin-Russia.

We will look more in depth at some of the present problem areas in the weeks to come.

                                                                                     by Piet Coetzer, Stef Terblanche and Garth Cilliers

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