Spy cables: 10 ways SA spies have failed

2015-02-25 19:54


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Cape Town - The leak of hundreds of secret intelligence documents from around the world has offered a rare look at the inner workings of state intelligence agencies, as well as close scrutiny of South Africa's own State Security Agency (SSA).

Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit obtained the leaked cables spanning from 2006 to the end of 2014, and has published selected excerpts.

The documents relating to the SSA reveal a number of security lapses and flaws within the South African government and intelligence services, which have reportedly left South African secrets exposed to foreign spies.  

The 11-page "Thematic assessment of security vulnerabilities in government" could potentially be the most damaging to South African authorities, and could also jeopardise the trust of other intelligence services in the SSA and raise questions about how reliable the SSA is.

These lapses and flaws include:

1.  How a South African intelligence assessment revealed that around 140 foreign spies were suspected of being in the country, and that South Africa was doing a bad job of protecting itself and was consequently at "serious risk".  

2.  How these spies were suspected of hacking into computers, breaking into nuclear power plants, and stealing military blueprints - including the theft of Rooivalk helicopter blueprints by a known foreign intelligence service.

3.  How in some cases, diplomats, civil servants and South African citizens are unwittingly helping foreign spies from countries such as Iran and China by providing access to restricted areas (including Denel, Koeberg and Mossgas) or providing classified information.

4.  How civil servants were not properly vetted when recruited while the appointment of foreigners at strategic installations is problematic. Officials also regularly failed to observe basic procedures, leaving classified information easily accessible.

5.  How the SSA was aware that the US and France were trying to influence the bidding process for new nuclear plants, but were unable to "neutralise" their activities because of the "sophistication of their covert operations and lack of counter-espionage capacity". Another case involved tampering of sensitive documentation relating to a prominent tender process.

6.  How foreign spies played "an active role" in persuading government ministers to make decisions relating to the multi-billion-rand arms deal in 1999.

7.  How the SSA was aware of a plot to kill former government minister and newly-elected African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in Ethiopia, but did not have time to "neutralise" the threat and apprehend those involved.

8.  How private security companies are seen as the "perfect conduit" for foreign spies and hostile organisations, and how former and current spies are recruited by such firms in order to make use of their access, knowledge and contacts.

9.  How many government information technology systems have "serious deficiencies in security integrity" and are vulnerable to fraud, corruption and espionage. For instance, one computer containing military secrets had eight malicious software applications.

10.  How there are also no minimum standards on encryption for the computerised transmission of classified data, while there are also insufficient controls on the storage of or removal of sensitive information.

- For more on the spy cables, click here.

Read more on:    ssa  |  security  |  media  |  spy cables

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