EXCLUSIVE | Spies' secret listening device disappeared from SSA before ANC elective conference, reappeared after

Delegates at the ANC national conference at Nasrec. (PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla)
Delegates at the ANC national conference at Nasrec. (PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla)

In the weeks leading up to the ANC's national elective conference at Nasrec in December 2017, a sophisticated listening device went missing from the highly secure State Security Agency's (SSA) headquarters called Musanda, but also known as "The Farm", on the Delmas road to the east of Pretoria.

After the conference, where President Cyril Ramaphosa secured the ANC presidency by a narrow margin of votes, the machine simply reappeared one day.

According to Inspector General of Intelligence (IGI) Sethlomamaru Dintwe, no one ever bothered to find out what it was used for, where it went or who took it.

READ | EXCLUSIVE: Shadowy ring of spies who reported directly to Zuma still active

Dintwe made this and other disclosures to Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane on January 31, this year. He was accompanied by his legal adviser, advocate Jay Govender.

Mkhwebane was accompanied by her chief of staff, Sibusiso Nyembe, and two investigators from the Office of the Public Protector.

News24 has obtained the recording and transcript of the meeting.

Dintwe explained to Mkhwebane that during the elections "they" (the SSA) bought the device for roughly R23m.

"They called it a 'Warmonger'," Dintwe told Mkhwebane.

"A Warmonger is like a person, you need, you stand up when you operate it. It's like a computer."

"You need to be about, they said, six or seven kilometres away from your target place. So, if you wanted to crack into their computers or listen to us and so forth…now, this particular equipment disappears from the State Security Agency with all those security there. And our argument is that it cannot have that…that person was using a bakkie!" Dintwe said.

READ | Intelligence watchdog 'lost' truckloads of information related to the SARS 'rogue unit' drama

"It isn't small, it's a huge thing. That's why I’m emphasising that it's like a person standing up. It disappears and so forth, and no one's worried about it…after Nasrec it reappears."

The device Dintwe was describing is more commonly known as a "grabber", high-tech surveillance equipment capable of intercepting and locating cellphone signals remotely.

The sale and use of such devices is highly regulated across the world, and the purchase of such equipment is usually limited to government entities.

Spy games

In the weeks and months leading up to the conference at Nasrec, Ramaphosa's personal e-mails were hacked, and details were published by the Sunday Independent newspaper.

The e-mails included information about alleged extra-marital affairs Ramaphosa, who was the deputy president of the country at the time, was involved in.

In September 2017, the Mail and Guardian reported, citing intelligence sources, that Ramaphosa and other political opponents of then-president Jacob Zuma were being targeted by a covert unit of SSA spies that reported directly to then-State Security minister David Mahlobo and Zuma.  

Ramaphosa himself condemned the use of state resources to fight political battles at the time.

Declassified

Mkhwebane pushed the IGI to release a classified report the intelligence watchdog completed in 2014. The report deals largely with the alleged "rogue unit" at the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

Dintwe explained to Mkhwebane that he would have to consult with the state security minister, as the power to declassify the report was the sole purview of the SSA.

Mkhwebane, who already had a copy of the report which she said was "dropped off" at the reception of the Public Protector's office, sought an official copy of the report to aid her investigation into the "rogue unit".

She published a report a few months later, finding against then-SARS commissioner Pravin Gordhan and others for "unlawfully" establishing an intelligence "service" at the tax agency.

Her report was immediately taken on judicial review and the matter is still before the courts.

The SSA declined to comment on Dintwe's revelations, saying it revolved around sensitive operational matters the SSA was prohibited from discussing in public.

The IGI was not willing to comment on specific details of this report.

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