Sedition clause not meant to silence protest: DG
Cape Town - Acting director general of state security Dennis Dlomo on Friday said a reference to sedition in the new intelligence amendment bill was not designed to give the state power to suppress social protest.
He surprised opposition MPs by insisting that any possibility of abusing the general intelligence laws amendment bill to such an end, had in fact been made impossible by another controversial draft law - the protection of state information bill.
"I know that there are those who think that the inclusion of sedition would lead to the undermining of free political expression," he told Parliament's ad hoc committee processing the bill.
"But we have made it very clear that taken together with the definition of national security the fear should cancel itself out."
The protection of state information bill gives intelligence officials the power to classify information to protect national security.
Amid public pressure, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele last year ordered the definition of national security in the so-called "secrecy" bill narrowed down to exclude "lawful political activity, advocacy, protest, or dissent" as cause for the intelligence community to act.
But critics say that this draft law and the intelligence bill - which seeks to create a single intelligence agency - point to a clear effort on the part of the administration of President Jacob Zuma to strengthen the state security apparatus, possibly for fear of social unrest.
The intelligence bill notably expands the definition of counter-intelligence to include steps to counter sedition.
Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier said the inclusion of this common law offence in the bill raises concern that it would enable the intelligence service to "gather information to counter service delivery protests".
He said Dlomo was wrong to say that when read together the two bills put political protest beyond the brief of the counter-intelligence community.
"It is disingenuous. The bill is not written like that."
Dlomo responded: "There are two elements to the issue of sedition. There is a threshold that we have.
"There are many people who are very vocal and say a lot of things, and whatever they said has been inconsequential. Those people are not of interest insofar as what we are dealing with.
"There are people who have said very little but whatever they have said has led to action.
Single intelligence agency
"Here then is the dilemma: what becomes your area of focus to ensure that you can actually attend to those issues that lead to the loss of life of South Africans who are innocent?"
The bills set out to amalgamate previously standalone departments - the National Intelligence Agency and the SA Secret Service - into the State Security Agency.
Cwele said last week running separate structures had proven expensive and inefficient, side-stepping questions about suspected political abuse of the intelligence structures and the departure of two intelligence bosses last year.
Dlomo said there may have been confusion about the correct meaning of political intelligence, adding that the bill would settle this and also make clear who set the priorities for the intelligence structures.
"We are making it clear, because there are some people who were thinking that intelligence officers were referees and players at the same time; they set their own priorities. That is not going to be the case.
"Some people thought that was the responsibility of Nicoc [the National Intelligence Co-ordinating Committee].
"It is clearly now made unambiguous that that is the responsibility of the Cabinet, as it has always been from 1995."