The country's intelligence agencies have been grossly abused and manipulated. The end result is that we cannot trust that our state security is acting with objectivity and integrity, writes Mandy Wiener.
There's a compound on the Delmas Road just outside Pretoria called Musanda. It houses the spooks and spies, the State Security Agency of South Africa. But to those in the shadows, it's endearingly referred to as "The Farm". And The Farm is a mess.
We have known this for a while. It's why President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed a 10-member High Level Review Panel (HLRP) chaired by Dr Sydney Mufamadi to assess the state of the country's intelligence agencies. The HLRP report was scathing and found widespread abuse of the intelligence services for political gain, particularly in internal ANC factional battles. Now former SSA director general Arthur Fraser has written a response to that report and it confirms the extent of the chaos and disorder at The Farm.
On Fraser's version, the very fact that the initial HLRP report was released to the public by the president, was a 'reckless breach" of security and "rendered vulnerable our nascent democratic state".
"As strengths and weaknesses of our intelligence operations become public matters, the intelligence capacity of the state or lack thereof is laid bare for all to know, including enemies of the state," writes Fraser. In fact, he believes this constitutes the biggest subversion of the security of the state.
"In my view, the HLRP has only deepened such threats and I think it is truly a disservice to the president, the security of our citizens and most importantly to the sovereignty of the state."
Of course it suits Fraser to keep everything cloak and dagger, under wraps away from the public. So much so that in his reply, he even defends the plan to make sure that all SSA operations would be carried out through cover companies set up by the agency, as "completely covert operations" that would be properly audited and fully legal. It is very obvious to us all that hiding its operations in the shadows away from the light of interrogation, would just allow for more abuse and interference. Remember, Fraser is accused of running the suspect PAN project, a top secret intelligence project that disappeared millions of rand of tax payers money.
Fraser's analysis of the current state of affairs, if to be believed, is concerning. He says the report fails to mention how many information peddlers in the intelligence agencies were apartheid era spies.
"It would be naïve in the extreme to assume that these apartheid intelligence operatives disappeared with the disappearance of apartheid from the law books. They are very much active and seek to influence even what may seem to be attempts to transform or correct the problems that affect the SSA. They are hell-bent, not just to undermine the state, but the governing party," he says. "It is important to note that there are individuals who remain recalcitrant and hell-bent on ensuring the destabilising and subversion of the intelligence machinery within the country. These individuals must be identified and held accountable as this repeat occurrence is tantamount to treason."
What is clear from reading both the initial HLRP report and Fraser's response is that the country's intelligence agencies have been grossly abused and manipulated regardless of whose version you believe. The end result is that we cannot trust that our state security is acting with objectivity and integrity. By the very nature of the clandestine work that it does, operating on the margins of what the public knows, it is imperative that we trust that what the spies are doing is legal, above board and in our best interests.
According to those who move in that shadow world, The Farm is in a bad way. Ramaphosa brought in Minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba as his person when he took over from Zuma. There's immense pushback against Letsatsi-Duba and Director General Loyiso Jafta from within. Former DG of the National Intelligence Agency Gibson Njenje was fired as Letsatsi-Duba's special advisor two weeks ago. It's believed all critical functions were moved away from headquarters into the provinces by the previous administration. Now the new crowd aren't sure where all their people and equipment are.
We wait to see who Ramaphosa appoints as minister to inherit this quagmire. Whether Letsatsi-Duba remains in her position, or someone new comes in, they will have to sterilise the entire environment, ridding it of all the poison that has contaminated it in the past and that still continues to do so. Only then will we be able to trust the spy bosses.
- Wiener is a specialist reporter for News24.