The pushers of the secrecy Bill (Protection of State Information Bill] have darkly warned we need the draft law as the country is being overrun by spies and information peddlers.
Of course they can never give details as that would tip these sinister forces that state security is watching.
What to make then of comments by former spy master Barry Gilder at his book launch last month. The retired chief noted western intelligence services, specifically, are “actively involved” in trying to infiltrate South Africa’s government, the SA Press Association reported. This was done with the intention of influencing the South African government’s decisions.
“On the international stage, and this is normal for most countries, there are countries who would want us to think and behave in ways that serve their interests. I’m not just talking about the big Western countries, but other countries too. And I can tell you, as a former spook, that the intelligence services of the big European/Western countries are very actively involved in trying to infiltrate our government and other parts of society, but in particular [they are] trying to influence it.”
In addition there are domestic elements “actively trying in some ways to create divisions or to create confusion to undermine our democracy in different ways”. He described this as a “plain historical reality”, stemming from South Africa’s divided past. “27 April 1994, didn’t mean those divisions suddenly dissolved. They continued, to some extent, and expressed themselves in different ways in society.” He added that it was not a “conspiratorial hidden hand” to which he was referring, but it was a reality that there were people in the country opposed to the current dispensation.
Gilder served as general manager and then director general of the SA Secret Service from 1995 to 1999, and from 2000 to 2003 as director general: operations for the National Intelligence Agency. He did not name the countries, and declined to say any more on the matter, SAPA said.
On the face of it, he is right. But who says it is just the West, government and the ruling party’s favourite subject of paranoia. What about the Chinese? The entire point of international relations is to cause other countries to act in ways beneficial to one’s own interest. This starts with diplomats, economic attaches, and continues through other formal and informal means, the latter including tourists explaining and extolling the virtues of their home countries. This is likely not a problem. More problematic is, as Gilder warns, where agents of influence use friendships, common ideology, money, etcetera to move officials to think and act in certain ways, leading to tainted policy inputs and decisions. This can cause serious complications.