Interviews for spy boss ‘secret’

2015-03-09 06:00

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Interviews for the appointment of the official who is meant to protect South Africans from abuses by the state’s spies will, for the first time, be held behind closed doors.

City Press has learnt that the ANC-dominated Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI) on Tuesday decided that it would conduct interviews for the crucial post of inspector-general of intelligence in camera, despite protests from opposition parties.

Interviews for the current inspector-general of intelligence were conducted in public in 2009, even though two of the candidates interviewed had an intelligence background.

Audio clips of those interviews are still publicly available on the Parliamentary Monitoring Group’s website.

Members of the JSCI contacted by City Press for additional details refused to comment, because the committee conducted its proceedings in absolute secrecy.

City Press understands that this move has prompted DA chief whip John Steenhuisen to lodge a formal complaint with National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, urging her to review the committee’s decision to hold the interviews behind closed doors.

David Maynier, the DA’s deputy spokesperson on state security, confirmed that a formal request was sent to Mbete “to review the decision taken on Tuesday, March 3, by the JSCI, despite strong opposition from minority parties”.

“The argument that the interviews should be conducted in closed meetings because of the sensitive nature of the positions cannot be sustained because two candidates – Mr Barry Gilder and Mr Dennis Dlomo – who were previously interviewed for the position in open meetings, had held senior positions within the national intelligence structure,” he said.

Murray Hunter, national coordinator of advocacy group Right2Know, said the organisation had twice written to JSCI chairperson Connie September, and would do so again today to call for public interviews.

Attempts to reach September were unsuccessful.

“The inspector-general of intelligence is meant to be a public ombud with a mandate to investigate abuses by the spooks at the request of any member of the public. How can the JSCI expect the public to put their faith in a candidate who was interviewed and selected in a secret process?” Hunter asked.

The move to close the interviews to the public and the media comes amid growing concern about abuses by the State Security Agency (SSA).

On Thursday, the SSA sparked outrage when it announced that it was investigating “the veracity” of allegations, published on an anonymous blog, that Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa and former DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko were US Central Intelligence Agency spies.

All four have rubbished the claims, with Malema telling City Press “our problem is we have intelligence which is not intelligent”.

“Those people are clowns, but the problem is, the clowns are doing this investigation with the taxpayers’ money. The money spent investigating me should be spent building houses in Alexandra, Diepsloot, Langa and Seshego,” he said.

Earlier in the week, State Security Minister David Mahlobo had to face a barrage of questions in the National Assembly about the spy agency’s jamming of the cellphone signal during President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address last month.

Mahlobo called the jamming an error that happened “in terms of operational efficiency”, and again denied that there was any executive order to block the signal.

The current inspector-general of intelligence, Advocate Faith Radebe, is being replaced because her term has come to an end.

The shortlist consists of eight names, including Cecil Burgess, a former ANC MP who was chairperson of the JSCI. Burgess chaired the ad hoc committee on the Protection of State Information Bill, and is tipped to get the job.

Also among the applicants is Advocate Jayashree Govender, a longtime legal adviser to the inspector-general of intelligence.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Mbete’s spokesperson, Mandlakazi Sigcawu, said it would not be possible on a Saturday to confirm whether Mbete’s office had received Steenhuisen’s letter.

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