Cwele defends single spy agency
Cape Town - State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele on Friday said illicit spying operations in the Mbeki era were part of the reason for the introduction of a bill that will centralise the country's intelligence structures.
Cwele cited the illicit phone tapping of senior ANC figures that led to the dismissal of National Intelligence Agency (NIA) boss Billy Masetlha by the former president in 2006.
He said this had shown that there was a need to regulate the interception of international phone calls because in that instance it was abused by the NIA to tap the phones of South Africans.
"What we are preventing is our people, South Africans, using that platform that is supposed to focus only on the international free airwaves to intercept South Africans."
He added: "It is not widespread, it was only that one incidence of Billy Masetlha. Most of the people are following the correct procedures."
The minister spoke after presenting the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill to an ad hoc parliamentary committee that has until June 8 to process the legislation.
The bill seeks to create a single intelligence body, the State Security Agency with one accounting officer, by integrating existing intelligence structures, including the NIA and the South African Secret Service (Sass).
It recognises and regulates the National Communications Centre - which came under the spotlight in the illicit tapping scandal seven years ago.
The proposed legislation amends three post-apartheid intelligence laws, including the National Strategic Intelligence Act of 1994, and stipulates that the minister shall appoint the National Intelligence Co-ordinating Committee. This post replaces the co-ordinator for intelligence appointed by the president.
It also repeals the Comsec Act and transfers this body's functions to the new agency.
The bill has raised concerns that consolidating power in a single agency harked back to apartheid era intelligence structures, with the Democratic Alliance claiming it would take South Africa "back to the bad old days of Boss (the Bureau for State Security)".
Cwele dismissed these, and any notion that he was seeking to consolidate his control of intelligence structures after falling out with the heads of intelligence structures, prompting the departure of NIA boss Gibson Njenje last year.
"Apartheid is dead... so there can be no deliberate intention that now we want to go back to something which we fought in this country for centuries," he said.
"The legislation we started designing in 2009 when this new government came into operation because of the challenges we were experiencing from 2006 to 2008. So it has got nothing to do with leadership, I don't know about power struggles."
Opposition MPs asked why the ministry introduced the bill before completing the white paper on intelligence, which is only due in 2014.
Cwele acknowledged the point, but said the bill was "technical" in nature, and would be followed later by a comprehensive policy overview.
"We are just amending regulations now, because we still need to debate the policy. But as I said we need those regulations to minimise abuse."
He dismissed further opposition objections that the bill marked a clear policy departure by breaking with the post-apartheid philosophy of having separate foreign and domestic intelligence operations.
"It was part of transitional arrangements and that transition is over. We have had certain experiences. We have certain functions to perform and the critical thing is how well we can perform these functions."
He said having separate foreign and domestic intelligence services had led to an unaffordable increase in staff, diverting money and attention from security work.
"There has been a huge growth of corporate services at the expense of the core services. It was eating the quality of our service.
"We are coming to National Treasury and asking for more money and more money just for support services that bring no benefits."
Observers have said the bill, along with the contested protection of state information bill, is part of measures to strengthen security portfolios in government.
This bill cross references the so-called "secrecy bill", which in one of its most controversial clauses make the disclosure of any matter relating to the work of the new state security agency a crime punishable with up to 15 years in jail.