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

Former president Jacob Zuma (PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla)
Former president Jacob Zuma (PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla)

Spies from the State Security Agency's (SSA) controversial Special Operations Unit reported directly to former president Jacob Zuma, according to the Inspector General of Intelligence (IGI).

This unit was commanded by Thulani Dlomo, considered by many in the intelligence community to be "Zuma's spy", who has now gone missing and has been declared absent without leave by the SSA. Zuma rewarded him with the ambassadorship to Japan, but he was recalled earlier this year by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The SOU's apparent allegiance to the former president, contrary to established reporting structures, is among several explosive disclosures made to Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane by the IGI, Setlhomamaturu Dintwe, during a January 31 meeting.

News24 has obtained a transcript of the hour-long meeting between Dintwe, his legal adviser advocate Jay Govender and Mkwhebane, supported by a team of Public Protector officials. The meeting was convened to discuss the office of the IGI's disclosure to Mkhwebane of a classified 2014 IGI report on the alleged SA Revenue Service (SARS) investigative unit, the so-called "rogue unit".

Besides the SOU's and Dlomo's personal allegiance to Zuma, the transcript also reveals:

  • The IGI identified 186 agents who were recruited by the SOU but who were not permanent SSA employees.
  • At the time of the meeting, there were concerns that these SOU operatives were still active and that they were not accountable to or managed by SSA structures.
  • Unknown sleeper agents were deployed to and are still integrated into structures in the police and state-owned companies, such as the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa).
  • Sensitive and secret SSA documents were removed or destroyed following the departure of Dlomo and former SSA director-general Arthur Fraser from the SOU.
  • A sophisticated listening device disappeared from the highly secure SSA headquarters in the weeks leading up to the December 2017 ANC's national elective conference at Nasrec.

During the meeting, in which a clearly aggressive Mkhwebane was pressing the IGI on the "rogue unit", Dintwe referred to current investigations and explained that the mandate of his office did not extend to the revenue service.

Mkhwebane was seemingly looking for ways to legitimise the controversial IGI report related to SARS, which was anonymously delivered to her office. Legally, she is not allowed to be in possession of the report.

Dintwe then tells Mkhwebane: "We do have a number of investigations that we are doing on Special Operations people. What we've realised is that those people were employed and they were reporting directly to the then president through Mr Thulani Dlomo."

The High-Level Panel Review Panel on State Security earlier found that Zuma had abused the SSA for personal gain.

Mkhwebane wants to lay complaint about SARS

Mkhwebane doesn't respond to Dintwe's revelation but continues to press the IGI on SARS and also alleges that the investigative unit is still operational. She calls it a "monster".

"And what are you doing about the fact that the same unit is still operational?" Mkhwebane asked Dintwe and Govender.

Mkhwebane pushes the issue, referring to a letter she wrote to the IGI.

"Especially on the fact that the rogue unit is still operational, whether you are doing anything. So you are saying you received another complaint?"  Mkhwebane asked.

Govender confirmed the complaint.

"The one we're dealing with now deals primarily with the Special Operations Unit…" Govender says.

Mkhwebane responds: "No, but I am saying about the operations of the, this rogue unit."

Govender then says: "No, not that."

The discussion then turned to who could lodge a complaint with the IGI regarding the SARS investigative unit, with Mkhwebane suggesting her office would do so, saying she had proof "that intelligence activity is still happening".

Dlomo's forgotten spies

The IGI was struggling to identify all of the SOU's spies, as all they had were lists of numbers without names, Dintwe said. He also revealed widespread corruption involving thousands of rand drawn by SSA handlers to pay these operatives. But the money was allegedly embezzled and stolen.

According to the transcript, the SSA had a "duplicate" internal register for these operatives which Dintwe later refers to as a "parallel internal structure".

"We've got 60 complaints that we are dealing with…but we've got to tell you that [there] were actually 186. We managed to finalise about 30 of those complaints. But what, now election season is coming up and we, the latest information [is] that there is another group that is still operating in Gauteng," Mkhwebane was told. "And they are operating with funds we don't know where they're getting from."

"The current management does not have control over them," Dintwe later says of the SOU operatives. These operatives complained to the IGI because Dlomo offered them permanent employment.

Govender could not provide detailed comment when approached by News24, saying the transcripts were incomplete. The SSA refused to comment citing "sensitivity around operational matter[s]".

News24 approached Zuma's spokesperson and the Office of the Public Protector for comment.

At the time of publication, no response was forthcoming. 

** Do you have a tip for News24's investigations team? Email us at tips@24.com

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