A state within a state

2014-08-11 00:00

THE presidency, executive and Parliament are to blame for the lawless culture in South Africa’s intelligence service.

This is how prominent intelligence expert Professor Laurie Nathan reacted to news of a Special Operations Unit in the State Security Agency.

Corrupt spies in this special operations unit allegedly had carte blanche to enrich themselves through cigarette smuggling, to protect their criminal connections against prosecution, and to discredit honest civil servants.

Nathan, who is currently linked to the Centre for Mediation in Africa at the the University of Pretoria, said he was part of the commission of inquiry into the intelligence sector appointed by Ronnie Kasrils, then minister of intelligence, in 2008.

“Back then we exposed an institutionalised culture of lawlessness in the intelligence service, but our report was undermined by both the executive and Parliament,” Nathan said, adding it was shocking that neither the executive in nor Parliament had acted on the report.

“That is why the blame must not be placed on the corrupt spies, but rather on the executive authority in Parliament.”

The presidency’s spokesperson Mac Maharaj refused to comment yesterday and referred queries to Minister of State Security David Mahlobo.

Reports in the weekend sister papers Rapport and City Press are based on hundreds of text messages, e-mails and recordings made from 2011 to 2014.

The newspapers reported 15 people had been contracted as agents for the Special Operations Unit, who operate from a house in Pretoria’s eastern suburbs.

Its members have access to the most sophisticated listening and tracking devices — including a so-called grabber, which can pinpoint the location of a cellphone.

Among their members are former spies, police officers, military intelligence agents and former members of the Civil Cooperation Bureau, the defence force’s death squad during apartheid.

Spokesperson for the Special Operations Unit, Brian Dube, yesterday said operational issues are not discussed in public, but did say minister Mahlobo denied having held meetings with any of the individuals named in the papers.

Spokesperson for SARS, Adrian Lackay said the revenue service was aware of attempts to attack the integrity of its officials who are investigating tobacco smugglers.

Lackay said the intelligence service and its staff were working with the Hawks and the State Security Agency to apprehend the individuals involved.

DA shadow minister for State Security, Dirk Stubbe said Parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence must probe the reports.

“If we do not stop this now, we will allow our country to return to the days where the security services became a state within a state, feared by the people, and outside of civilian control,” Stubbe said.

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