Spy cables may not hinder relations

2015-03-01 17:00

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Revelations about South Africa’s spy activities seemed not to have stirred the diplomatic community too much, but trust and diplomatic intelligence-gathering activities might be shaken in the long term.

Despite revelations that South Africa’s spooks have snooped on some friends and cooperated with frenemies, there had been no “notes verbales” or semi-formal diplomatic communications about them.

“It is not the first time that cables come out and embarrass countries, for example what happened with Snowden,” a South African diplomat said.

Edward Snowden leaked classified information from America’s National Security Agency from 2013 on the agency’s snooping on the electronic communications of officials from other countries.

“Snowden has made countries a bit thick-skinned,” he said.

“It is a known thing that countries spy on each other, the trick is not to get caught. Everyone knows that it happens. We all try to get information off each other,” he said.

A foreign diplomat in Pretoria said the leaked documents wouldn’t make any difference in relations between South Africa and other countries.

“Any country has its internal documents and we speak on a regular basis with our South African colleagues. We did so beforehand, and we are continuing,” he said.

South Africa’s Department of Foreign Relations referred all queries to the Department of State Security. “Our official position is that we don’t comment on leaked documents,” department spokesperson Clayson Monyela said.

The US reacted to claims in the spy cables that the country had opposed former SA foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s election as African Union Chair in 2012 by saying “that’s absolutely ridiculous”.

Assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said on Wednesday: “We work closely with the AU. We’re not a member of the organisation, we don’t select leaders of the organisation, but we work with the leadership that the organisation chooses.”

She said the US has worked “very closely” with Dlamini-Zuma and her fellow leaders. “Our partnership has grown during the period that she has been in charge of the organisation.”

She said she didn’t know where the allegations came from, “but I can say categorically they are untrue”.

The North Korean embassy on Wednesday called a press conference about claims in the spy cables, which include that Britain asked South Africa to recruit a North Korean spy to gather intelligence there.

The Chinese embassy simply said: “Such reports are complete fabrication” while the Russian embassy spokesperson Alex Firsov told City Press: “No comment”.

British High Commission spokesperson Isabel Potgieter said: “As a longstanding policy we do not comment on intelligence matters.”

Israeli embassy spokesperson Michael Freeman said “the embassy is not commenting”.

The Iranian embassy did not respond to phone calls or emails, but earlier in the week promised News24 it would issue a statement about claims that Persian carpet shops, a religious foundation, a guest house in Johannesburg, an import and export company as well as a publishing company were fronts for Iranian intelligence.

A spokesperson said they were putting together a press statement “shortly” to “answer some of the suggestions” but it had not been released by the time of going to print.

Former US diplomat Brooks Spector said the leaks would inevitably lead to “some” erosion of trust which would make “diplomatic intelligence-building” for South Africa a little more difficult in future.

“Countries will be a touch more careful and leery about giving things away,” he said.

He said there was an understanding between embassies and host countries that some of the staff in an embassy would work for intelligence.

“Countries involved in these things are not going to be particularly surprised by any of (the information in these leaks). What you have now going for South Africans is the embarrassment in a couple of different ways in that its laundry displayed for all the world to read,” he said.

Spector said so far the documents haven’t contained anything that could lead to a break in relations, such as information about something “extremely extraordinary”, and specifics about a country or a place, such as proof or plans of an assassination plot.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.