Call for “Spy Cables” Parliamentary briefing


Parliament’s Joint Standing committee on Intelligence has declared its “concern” regarding the Spy Cables, classified documents from intelligence services, including South Africa’s State Security Agency (SSA).

The cables were anonymously sent to Al Jazeera and The Guardian and apparently show foreign espionage is “booming” with more than 140 representatives of foreign intelligence agencies operational in South Africa.

Other apparent revelations include the “theft” of blueprints for the locally designed and manufactured Rooivalk combat support helicopter as well as the theft of missile blueprints and other documentation from Denel Dynamics.

The Spy Cables also assert foreign intelligence operatives played an active role in persuading South African decision makers when it came to final choices in the 1999 multi-billion Rand Arms Deal.

Connie September, chairman of the Parliamentary intelligence committee, said; “Reports of leaked intelligence reports allegedly prepared by or on behalf on South African intelligence agencies is a concern.
“The Committee remains concerned about maintaining national security and it will execute its mandate with this uppermost in its mind,” she said adding the legal mandate would be enforced to initiate an investigation and “call all relevant people to account”.

Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) MP David Maynier, wearing his shadow deputy minister of state security hat as opposed to the more customary defence and military veterans portfolio, said an urgent briefing was needed regarding the Spy Cables. He singled out two documents – Operational Target Analysis of Iran, classified “secret” and dated January 2010 and Iranian Intelligence Activities in Africa, also classified “secret” and dated October 2012 as providing the “first insights” for South Africa into the inner workings of the SSA.
“We have never come this close to seeing inside the bottom drawers of the SSA. It’s early days but the Spy Cables expose is likely to be the cause of considerable embarrassment to the SSA.”

He wants the Committee to be briefed on whether the Spy Cables are likely to reveal any wrongdoing on the part of the SSA.

The right2Know campaign said the release of classified security documents could be argued both for the public interest but also be used to justify further state control of information.
“We view these leaks as a necessary and inevitable response to the excessive and unacceptable secrecy adopted by South Africa’s state security structures, as well as many international intelligence structures.
“We expect the Spy Cables to be valuable exposure in the public interest, serving to peel back the veil of secrecy on the inner workings of our state security structures and add a much-needed shot of transparency,” the campaign said in a statement.

One of the biggest revelations of the leaks so far is an assessment by Mossad that counters Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – backed by a cartoon picture of a bomb – asserting at the United Nations in 2012 that Iran was a year away from making a nuclear device.

Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons”, the Israeli agency said in one report that outlined its understanding of Tehran’s attempts to produce enriched uranium, the main ingredient for a nuclear bomb.

More seriously for South Africa, a prominent ‘non-aligned’ state reluctant to take sides in international disputes, another cable reveals how Washington coerced Pretoria into spying on Iran, with which it enjoys firm diplomatic and commercial ties.

Even though the SSA stressed it did not see Tehran as a threat, it still set up a covert operation to compile the names, addresses and personal habits of every suspected Iranian agent in South Africa.

Suggestions South African spooks scoped out Persian carpet shops in the belief they were a front for Iranian spies were easy fodder for newspapers, with the Times reporting the leaks under the front page headline “Ali Baba and the forty spies”.

Besides the immediate embarrassment, experts said the security breach meant foreign cooperation with South African agencies would be likely to come under review for fear of other potentially more damaging secrets being unearthed, Reuters reports.

Other cables show Washington enlisted Pretoria’s help in getting in touch with a potential North Korean double agent and reaching out to Palestinian group Hamas.
“A leak like this affects the credibility of the agencies and how they cooperate,” said Mike Hough, a retired professor from Pretoria University’s Institute for Strategic Studies. “It could lead to the termination of certain projects.”

The agency was already in hot water for using a cell-phone signal jammer in parliament this month at President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address, a move that prompted a media outcry and walkout by furious opposition MPs.

Forced to explain, Security Minister David Mahlobo told Johannesburg’s Talk Radio 702 the device had been deployed to create a ‘no-fly zone’ for drones to protect Zuma, but then said it had also been turned on in error.

There has no official response from the government to the Guardian and Al Jazeera reports.
“There’s no country in the world that would comment on this sort of thing,” one foreign ministry spokesman said.