Skeletons and spooks in SA cupboards

South Africa – The website of the Inspector-General for Intelligence (IGI), as is usual with the websites of agencies in a democracy, includes a hyperlink to a documentary record of work it has undertaken.

What is unusual about the IGI website is that, beyond a mention that an annual report is prepared, and a general statement of what the office investigates and reports on, the sum total of material collected under “documentation” is:

  • One relevant paragraph in a published cabinet statement dealing with the subject of one investigation report.
  • A promotional pamphlet advertising the services of the IGI.

This virtual absence of publicly available product, according to political scientist and intelligence specialist Laurie Nathan, could be viewed as “unconstitutional”.

Nathan, one of three commissioners in the Mathews Commission into the intelligence services, which reported in 2008, said that since the IGI office had been mandated to protect democracy through the agency of Parliament it was primarily responsible to the people of South Africa, which (unless there are compelling reasons of state security) entails reporting back to the populace.

Expressing a similar disquiet, the DA’s David Maynier this week announced his party – after staging a walkout – would no longer be party to interviews under way in Parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence (JSCI) to find a successor to IGI incumbent Faith Radebe.

Maynier described the decision to hold the hearings behind closed doors as “wrong”. He drew attention to “section 59 of the constitution which requires Parliament to conduct its business in an open and transparent manner” and to note that an in-camera ruling was unprecedented and out of line with the open process whereby the shortlist of candidates was compiled.

In the background to the JSCI decision, it was claimed in the media – and subsequently denied – that former chairman Cecil Burgess had resigned last year to be available for appointment after being earmarked as a “safe pair of hands”.

Burgess had led the parliamentary charge in defence of the Zuma government’s notorious proposed intelligence legislation dubbed the “secrecy bill”.

Just how secret the operation has been of the office of the IGI is indexed by the fact that the single summary report referred to represents the sum total of the documentary output made public by an office that has existed since 1996, an office entrusted under its constitutional mandate with serving as a watchdog on behalf of the democracy over the frequently shadowy activities of its intelligence agencies.

It took six years and three appointments to the position of IGI to get the office operational in the first place.

The tenure of the first incumbent, advocate Lewis Skweyiya, dissolved in a never-resolved pay dispute; his successor, struggle doctor Fazel Randera, appointed to the post in May 2000, but sworn in only in mid-2001, survived just six months in the job, resigning for “personal reasons” in January 2002.

Though it was never made clear why Randera stepped down, friends of the doctor at the time cited a lack of co-operation on the part of the intelligence agencies supposedly under IGI oversight.

It was Randera’s successor, advocate Zolile Ngcakana, appointed in 2002, who signed off the single (summary) report available on the IGI website.

This was a record of an inquiry ordered by then intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils into allegedly politically motivated dirty tricks engaged by National Investigation Agency operatives under orders by then director-general Billy Masethla and dubbed Project Avani.

Originally targeting ANC businessman Saki Macozoma – on whose complaint the investigation was launched – the project apparently segued in to the fabrication of a series of e-mails supposedly implicating, among others, then director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka, his wife and then deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Macozoma as well as Kasrils, Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy, then Director-General in the presidency Frank Chikane, and Finance Minister Trevor Manuel.

The e-mails purported to uncover a conspiracy directed against Jacob Zuma – who had been fired as deputy president in 2005, then ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe and Masethla.

Why the Avani report – which led to the firing of Masethla – was made public remains unclear. For the rest, however, the detail of whatever work the IGI office has pursued remains more or less secret and is captured on the website only by a smattering of hyperlinked media references.

Thus it is recorded that Radebe in April 2012 recommended an investigation into alleged fraud and abuse of power by then acting commissioner of police Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi – on the basis of evidence that he had used crime intelligence slush funds to improve his private home, as well as witnessed a murder and failed to report it, a recommendation that never resulted in further action.

It is also placed on record that Radebe’s office had in 2012 recommended the reinstatement of murder and fraud charges (among other things) against police crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli on the basis of a detailed report signed off by police Major-General Mark Hankel – charges which the NPA had mysteriously withdrawn.

This month the charges were reinstated – by order of the Supreme Court of Appeal after the matter was pursued in the courts by the interest group Freedom Under Law.

Around the time that the IGI made the recommendation, it also came to light that, faced with murder and corruption charges, Mdluli had addressed a letter to President Zuma making supplication for the president’s support against what he described as a conspiracy against him.

Named among the conspirators in Mdluli’s missive were Hawks chief Anwar Dramat, and Gauteng head Shadrack Sibiya, both of whom were suspended this year by Police Minister and Zuma ally Nkosinathi Nhleko on charges that watchdog body the Independent Police Investigative Directorate found to be baseless.

Nor is the scandal surrounding Mdluli the only area of unanswered concern over the operations of the State Security Agency and its component parts.

Earlier this month, with the dust not yet settled on leaks to Al Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper of a batch of classified counter-intelligence documents, Intelligence spokesman Brian Dube raised the alarm on allegations that among others Julius Malema, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, and the DA’s Lindiwe Mazibuko were agents of the US’s Central Intelligence Agency.

The claims, Dube said, had been encountered on an anonymous website slugged as Africa intelligence leaks and were being taken seriously by the agencies of state. Investigations would be made.

Those with a somewhat longer memory would recall that only months earlier minister Jeff Radebe had been forced to distance the state from similar and subsequently discredited claims about Madonsela from Defence Deputy Minister Kebby Maphatsoe.

And so it played out again, when the – unsubstantiated – claims on the website were met by a wall of incredulous mirth, and a revised statement was issued saying the government would look into who was behind the website.

No further information has, however, been forthcoming.

Reacting to the allegations, Madonsela said that she suspected the purpose of the initially proposed investigation could have been to secure the required authorisation of a judge to allow for the interception and monitoring of her communications, and other invasive measures such as search and seizure operations against her office.

Such flimsy excuses have been used to some effect in the past – for instance, in the flamboyantly named Operation Destroy Lucifer launched by crime intelligence against former directorate of special operations head Leonard McCarthy on the putative basis of involvement in the illegal narcotics trade.

It is not known whether the office of the IGI ever investigated Operation Destroy Lucifer or, if so, what it found.

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