Cwele’s spy war

2011-09-10 17:08

State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele has ordered his top three intelligence chiefs to quit.

This follows a row over official protection provided for the minister’s wife during her trial on drug-trafficking charges, City Press has learnt.

This is the third scandal to hit South Africa’s intelligence establishment in the past six years.

State Security ministry spokesperson Brian Dube confirmed yesterday that Gibson Njenje, the head of the State Security Agency’s (SSA) domestic branch – previously known as the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) – had resigned. He would not comment on “other speculation”.

Njenje’s resignation and its acceptance “with immediate effect” was announced within the agency, which is responsible for domestic and international intelligence, on Friday.

Njenje declined to comment, but City Press understands that there is uncertainty in the agency as to whether Njenje resigned out of free will or was forced to do so.

Cwele also asked director-general Jeff Maqetuka and the head of the South African Secret Service – now known as the agency’s foreign branch – Moe Shaik, to leave the agency.

They have allegedly refused to quit and have sought legal advice in the past week.

A showdown between the minister and his intelligence chiefs has loomed for some time, but came to a head in the past two weeks when he called them in and asked them to leave.

Insiders in the SSA say that the breakdown in trust between the minister and his intelligence chiefs are, among others, as a result of his wife Sheryl Cwele’s drug-trafficking conviction in May this year.

City Press understands that the intelligence chiefs are also unhappy with the minister’s management style and felt that he did not properly understand the intelligence environment.

The catalyst for the showdown was a deep unhappiness within the agency after Cwele allegedly ordered that his wife be afforded intelligence protection for the duration of her trial. She was, insiders claim, transported to and from her trial in official vehicles and protected by intelligence-agency officers.

Sheryl Cwele was afforded full protection for the duration of her trial, even though the agency does not have a VIP protection unit and any protection would have had to be authorised by Njenje himself.

The SSA only provides security for foreign heads of state and other very important visitors to the country. Ordinary VIP protection is provided to Cabinet ministers by the police.

City Press understands that Njenje recently confronted the minister with the costs, leading to a showdown with Cwele.

The row deepened when agents came across further information associated with Sheryl Cwele’s involvement in drug trafficking.

The KwaZulu-Natal High Court sentenced Sheryl Cwele to 12 years’ imprisonment in May after she and her co-accused Nigerian Frank Nabolisa were found guilty of procuring two women to smuggle cocaine from South America to South Africa. She is appealing the sentence.

At the time of the crime and during the trial, she was the head of health services in the Hibiscus municipality. She was fired from her job last month.

Shaik refused to comment and Maqetuka could not be reached for comment. Sheryl Cwele did not answer calls to her cellphone yesterday.

The three intelligence bosses have drawn a line in the sand with their minister, apparently telling him that only President Jacob Zuma has the authority to dismiss them because he appointed them.

Cwele had apparently offered them redeployment, probably as ambassadors. Shaik was previously South Africa’s ambassador to Algeria.

Shaik is a long-time confidant of Zuma. He was active in campaigning for Zuma’s corruption charges to be dropped.

While this week saw tension in the agency reaching boiling point, intelligence sources say that conflict between the intelligence chiefs began back in October 2009, largely due to Cwele’s management style.

Shaik, Njenje and Maqetuka have vast previous experience in intelligence, while Cwele was appointed as minister without any prior knowledge of the spy world.

Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils said he could not comment on the latest developments, but added: “I wish government would refer and take heed of the shelved Matthews Report of 2008 that talks about the necessity of reforming the country’s intelligence services. It has obviously not happened.”

The Matthews Report was commissioned by Kasrils and recommended tightening control over the intelligence agency’s involvement in domestic political affairs.

“There are inherent and systemic problems in intelligence that, unless corrected, will leave the institution in a problematic state.

“This is made worse by a culture of excessive secrecy and paranoia that prevails in the institution and will be made worse by measures contained in the Protection of Information Bill,” he said.

Former intelligence chief Billy Masetlha told City Press: “It seems as though there is an unfortunate and serious crisis within the agency.

“This is not good for the SSA, this is not good for the country. If there is one state institution you want to run smoothly and efficiently, it is your intelligence service.

“This is tragic, this is unfortunate and should have been managed better. This crisis has to be resolved speedily otherwise it will have disastrous consequences for the country.”

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