Kasrils: Our spies spook me
Serving political interests mean intelligence service is a threat to national security, says ex-Intelligence minister
South Africa’s intelligence agencies have been shrouded in controversy for decades, but former Intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils says they degenerated into “an absolute mess” under the Jacob Zuma administration, and have themselves become a threat to the country’s security.
“The intelligence service has essentially been used to serve narrow political interests. And that’s why it has gone down like a lead balloon and isn’t carrying out the functions that the Constitution provides: the functions of dealing with real threats to the country,” he told Times Select in an interview on Monday.
“So the state is weakening and security in the country is weakening and questions of espionage threats intensify. It’s just appalling, and I’m encouraged that the president is trying to address it.”Kasrils has welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement last week that he had set up a “high-level review panel” to examine the workings of the State Security Agency, an organisation long shrouded in secrecy and scandal.
But he has stressed it is “imperative” that the SSA must become subject to more stringent levels of financial and operational oversight if there is any hope of it recovering its credibility.
“The SSA gets huge budgets from government, yet the auditor-general is not able to properly monitor how that money is being spent, or evaluate if that spending is legal and above board. As we see from the allegations (contained in Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keepers) there is evidence that this may have led to massive abuse of taxpayers’ money,” he said.
In April, Kasrils said he had instructed his lawyers to write to inspector-general of Intelligence Setlhomamaru Dintwe and the new SSA acting director-general, Loyiso Jafta, to investigate allegations that former spy boss Arthur Fraser had forged his signature to establish the Principal Agent Network (PAN).
This allegation surfaced in Dintwe’s affidavit when he filed an urgent high court application challenging the move by Fraser to revoke his security clearance amid an investigation in which Fraser was directly implicated.
Fraser was then shifted from the helm of the SSA to the post of national commissioner of correctional services. The urgent part of the application was subsequently dropped. This was because Dintwe had provisionally regained his security clearance following Fraser’s redeployment to Correctional Services.
“I have written to (newly appointed SSA director-general) Loyiso Jafta and (inspector-general of Intelligence) Dr Sethlomamaru Dintwe, seeking answers on the investigation into how my signature may have been used,” Kasrils said.Kasrils has also forwarded the 2008 Matthew Commission report into the shortcomings of state intelligence institutions to President Cyril Ramaphosa. He had initiated the commission’s investigations after the so-called “fake e-mail” scandal, in which politicians like Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka were falsely portrayed in hoax e-mails as plotting against then ANC leadership contender Jacob Zuma.
“They used words like ‘we’ll nail the Zulu bastard’ and stuff like that, absolute nonsensical stuff. With a couple of fake e-mails coming from people in the NPA like Bulelani Ngcuka, and Gerrie Nel and Tony Leon ostensibly working in parallel also to keep Zuma from becoming a president. It was rubbish,” Kasrils said.
He revealed that, as the ANC leadership race intensified, there was also mounting evidence that Ramaphosa himself was the target of illegal surveillance. Kasrils says that then Cape Town mayor Helen Zille also complained that her home phone and the DA’s offices were allegedly being bugged in 2008.
Former spy boss Billy Masethla would also admit that he had approved illegal surveillance of businessman Saki Macozoma because he believed he had links to “foreign intelligence agencies”.It was in this context that the Matthews Commission conducted its investigation, and ultimately provided recommendations that it hoped would ensure greater accountability and transparency within South Africa’s intelligence services, as well as prevent them from serving political interests.
The report was shelved by the Zuma administration.
“I asked that the report be tabled by cabinet at the last meeting that was led by President Mbeki in September 2008, and thankfully that was agreed upon,” Kasrils says.
“President Zuma never did anything with it. Instead he appointed the most useless people, with no background in intelligence, to serve in very high-level positions.
“There was no intention and no effort to ensure accountability. I still have questions about the extent to which President Zuma may been involved in using the intelligence services for his own political ends.”
Kasrils further says it is vital that parliament’s committee on intelligence grow some teeth.
“The committee on intelligence was never really accountable to the public and has a very, very poor record of not holding intelligence authorities to account. Those MPs need to stop being so timid, and need to ask the tough questions. That’s the only way things are going to change.”
Zuma’s spokesperson Vukile Mathabela told Times Select Zuma would not comment on matters relating to intelligence pending the outcome the review.