Government silent about R1,2?billion spy satellite

2014-01-21 00:00

THE government yesterday chose to go under the radar rather than answer any questions on the alleged development of a secret spy satellite that reportedly cost the taxpayer R1,2 billion.

The Department of Defence had allegedly agreed with the Russian NPO Mashinostroyenia in 2006 to develop a Condor-E-type surveying satellite.

Sunday Times reported on the existence of the project over the weekend.

DA MP David Maynier said the cost of the project could even be higher than R1,2 billion, but the precise amount remains a secret because of the classified status of the project.

“What we do know is that an estimated R2,8 billion was channelled to the department’s special defence account between 2006 and 2013-14. Some of this funding is described in departmental records as spent on ‘the development of strategic information collecting ability’.”

From what has been learnt and what has been reported in the Russian media, it is possible that the satellite could be launched on February 27.

NPO Mashinostroyenia has scheduled the launch of a Condor-E satellite on this date for an “anonymous foreign client”.

Spokesperson for the Department of State Security Brian Dube was yesterday asked if the department could confirm the existence of the satellite and if so, whether the government plans to use it to spy on South Africans.

“I have no comment on the matter. The department that handles the case is the Department of Defence.”

A second official in government, who had asked to remain anonymous, was also asked if the satellite could be used to spy on South Africans.

“The state never planned something like this — to use a project against its own people,” the official said and referred all further questions to the Department of Defence.

Maynier said the investigation into the satellite had been ongoing for a long time and another worrying aspect about the matter was that the satellite could not be controlled from South Africa.

“The satellite will, from what has been learnt, also be steered by the Russian group NPO Mashinostroyenia from outside South Africa.”

Upon being questioned, Sonwabo Mbananga, a spokesperson for the minister of Defence, was not aware that the department was responsible for the project. He then referred all questions to the department’s spokesperson, Siphiwe Dlamini, who had not reacted at the time of going to print.

Dlamini had earlier told Sunday Times the project is classified and that the Parliament’s standing committee on intelligence had an oversight role on the project.

This is a closed committee in which all the members are sworn to secrecy, which means that transparency in its workings is very limited.

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