Spy boss warns lawyer

2012-02-18 19:05

South Africa’s acting spy boss is embroiled in a fight about secrecy with the lawyer of an intelligence whistle-blower.

Dennis Dlomo, who is the chief architect of the controversial Protection of State Information Bill, has warned intelligence administrator Roberta Nation’s lawyer over her decision to represent Nation.

Nation is employed by the in-house medical scheme, Optimum Medical Scheme (OpMed), which serves members of the State Secrecy Agency (SSA, formerly known as the NIA) as well as their beneficiaries, which total 10 000.

Nation launched a grievance procedure following her complaints to superiors about rampant fraud at OpMed.
After numerous attempts to deal with her grievance within the SSA came to nought, she opted for lawyers outside the agency to take up her case.

The SSA entered into correspondence with Nation’s lawyers in October last year and on January 31, Dlomo wrote to the lawyer saying the SSA was “studying the matter and will revert to you shortly”.

Six days later, he changed his mind about their involvement and said: “You are advised that your engagement with her on her grievance without the required security clearance may amount to a contravention of, among others, the Protection of Information Act 1982 and the Intelligence Services Act 2002.

“You are kindly requested to refrain from doing so until you have followed the correct procedures as prescribed by law.”

Nation was in charge of the fraud unit within OpMed, but she was moved to the assessments unit after she uncovered various cases of fraud in the scheme.

She also claims victimisation by superiors when she kept asking questions about why the fraud was not dealt with.

Nation’s lawyer, Allison Tilley from the Open Democracy Advice Centre (Odac), told City Press this undermines a person’s constitutional right to have a lawyer of their choice.

“With the (Secrecy) Bill, the argument from government has been that they will not use classification to cover up wrongdoing. Here is precisely a case of classification being used to prevent a whistle-blower from seeking legal advice,” she said.

“This is what classification is used for, to prevent the disclosure of fraud.”

According to SSA spokesperson Brian Dube, the agency is not prepared to go into the details of this matter because it is an internal issue.

“This case has nothing to do with whistle-blowing; it is a labour relations issue and the questions arising do not apply.

“All members of the civilian intelligence community are governed by the Intelligence Services Act... For internal proceedings, people have lawyers of their choice from within the civilian intelligence community, including the Office of the Inspector General of Intelligence.

“No one in internal processes gets representations outside.

“It is just contrary to the idea of internal proceedings. This is because access to premises and classified information is only allowed to those who possess valid security clearances.

“Lawyers of your choice that are outside would not have security clearances. They would be incompetent to represent anyone without such access.

“The prohibition is international best practice.”

Dube said Dlomo was dealing with the matter and had met the parties on Monday.

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