The story goes that at some point CIA candidates are taken on field exercises on the streets of Washington D.C., and given various tasks such as following a target, meeting with an agent or getting rid of surveillance.
Instructors introduce various problems in these scenarios, and one of their favorite things is to insert “enemy” surveillance teams at random until they induce paranoia in recruits. It sounds unfair, but in fact it is not, because in real world operations the opposition will never openly advertise they have surveillance teams in play, unless it’s to intimidate or signal that the spook is blown.
Thus paranoia is a much-documented fact of life for a field spook, and it often leads to behavior ranging from sleeping in hotel room closets to substance abuse.
Bad as this is for people in intelligence, it’s worse for counterintelligence because not only do they have to look out for penetration attempts coming from outside, but also threats and risks from inside.
James Jesus Angleton was probably the CIA’s longest serving internal security chief, and if that isn’t the case, he certainly was the most influential. Angleton set up the internal security system and wrote the book on how CIA officers must interact with the world. A man widely regarded as possessing an almost infinite ability to create scenarios and superb analytical skills, he was also a serious problem for the KGB and their attempts to infiltrate the CIA. To that end, it seems the Soviets decided that if they couldn’t go through the man, then they would undermine him.
Thus began a years-long campaign to turn the Company’s security chief into one of its worst nightmares by feeding him hints of leaks until he went paranoid and instituted a huge number of mole hunts which destroyed dozens of innocent CIA officers’ careers and nearly brought down the agency. The problem with counterintelligence is that its practitioners’ purpose is to prevent, detect and catch moles. This costs money and assets, is subject to turf fights and endless demands for justification because very often those in political oversight positions don’t understand moles don’t grow on trees, but they sure as hell control the purse strings. When you add to it individuals’ personal prejudices and ambition along with corruption in the organization, what you can end up with are unreasonable levels of suspicion which become institutional hostility that can and often do more harm than good.
The Domestic Branch as the former National Intelligence Agency is known these days, has the task of protecting South Africa from penetration of the government by foreign intelligence services, any threat posed by foreign non-state actors on SA soil, as well as whatever local citizens might do against the established so-called democratic order.
The problem with the latter directive is that given the African National Congress’ (ANC) fear of dissent and increasing possibility of losing power after the 2019 national elections, this agency has done a lot of questionable and sometimes outright illegal things against South African citizens.
For starters, they took part in surveillance operations against Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika, who as I mentioned in another related post, specializes in investigating government corruption. In that regard, his work alongside partner Stephan Hofstatter helped expose quite a lot of the corruption in the ANC and its sometimes murderous (yes, they kill each other) effects upon the provincial and national government. Chief among them were shenanigans involving the R500.000.000 lease of a building by the South African Police Service during the tenure of Bheki Cele, which led to Cele’s resignation after the scandal got too big to contain. Then there was the 1999 Arms Deal scandal… Foreign and local journalists showed a fixer named Fana Hlongwane received over R200.000.000 in “success fees” for inter alia arranging foreign arms manufacturer representatives’ meetings with South African government figures involved in acquisitions. They also exposed undue benefits received by politicians.
In one instance, then-Member of Parliament and ANC Chief Whip Tony Yengeni was found to have received a massive discount on a luxury SUV from Daimler Chrysler during the arms procurement process, which he didn’t report to parliament like he was supposed to. He was charged, tried, found guilty after entering a plea bargain agreement, and sentenced to a 4 year jail sentence of which he served only 4 months before being released- and he’s still an ANC Member of Parliament!
In another related case, Schabir Shaik, brother of Mo Shaik (once head of the South African Secret Service, SASS, equivalent of the CIA) and financial benefactor of Jacob Zuma, was tried and found guilty of soliciting a R500.000 a year bribe for Jacob Zuma while the would-be beneficiary was deputy president of South Africa.
Despite the implications of that conviction, Jacob Zuma was never brought to trial on 783 charges of corruption and racketeering, the charges were eventually (and legal experts said irrationally) dropped and Zuma became president of South Africa. Schabir Shaik spent the part he served of his sentence in the prison’s hospital and was released after a short while on the grounds that he was dying of some disease. These days, years later, he plays golf and assaults journalists, very much alive. His brother Mo was eventually removed as head of the Secret Service and as part of the separation agreement, SASS paid for his studies at Harvard University. Nice gig if you can get it, I guess.
Thus it’s safe to say Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Stephan Hofstatter and others of their profession are not darlings of the corrupt ANC-led government, and records released under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA, equivalent to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act) queries showed the former was at least under communications surveillance. In this regard, what seems to have happened is that wa Afrika’s cell phone was monitored both in South Africa (during an investigation into politically motivated murders) and while he was in Mozambique to investigate the foreign aspect of a corruption story, and that permission was fraudulently obtained by the South African police after they lied to a judge- and that’s merely one instance.
While the 2010 arrest of Mzilikazi wa Afrika on what seem to be trumped up charges of fraud and uttering (use of falsified documents) was troubling, what concerned me more was the nature of the questions he was asked while being deprived of the right to have an attorney present. To whit, they were about his political views and how they motivated his reporting on ANC shenanigans. Having been arrested by the SAPS after he broke the building lease scandal which involved Bheki Cele, that would point both to high level police interest in suppressing his story as well as Crime Intelligence involvement because the average cop is not supposed to get involved in political matters. Even then, Crime Intelligence involvement would be grounds for questions because their focus is on gathering intelligence on criminals and their enterprises, not political intelligence. This in turn raises the specter of the Domestic Branch, who are involved in such things. Though it’s speculation on my part, it seems likely the Domestic Branch fed intelligence to the police and used them as bully boys.
Generally speaking, state security services such as intelligence, police and military, are not allowed to become involved in political matters, be it to help or hinder any political party’s activities. Their allegiance is supposed to be to the state and its citizens instead of the people and parties occupying the seats of power, because they are supposed to give their best and least biased input possible in order to enable those in positions of responsibility to make informed decisions for the good of the nation as a whole. However, as I wrote in Part 2, security service involvement in political matters along with corruption was inevitable given the ANC’s infiltration of these services with their political “reliables” via the “cadre deployment” policy. It was also inevitable that the Domestic Branch would focus on protecting the ANC against dissidents and political opponents, such as when its agents approached members of the newly formed Congress of the People (COPE) party with offers of money for information on the internal matters of that party. Unfortunately nothing was heard further about those allegations and COPE is so mired in internal power struggles between former defense minister and ANC member Mosiuoa “Terror” (only on the soccer field, apparently) Patrick Lekota who is its current leader, and Mbhazima Shilowa (who was or still is the deputy party leader), that they are not effectively challenging the ANC. The party doesn’t provide much hope for the black people who are too disenchanted to vote or belong to the ANC, yet too distrustful of the majority white Democratic Alliance.
Regarding the Democratic Alliance, its then-leader Helen Zille alleged in 2011 in national newspapers that she was provided proof in the form of a taped telephonic conversation she had with somebody else which her husband came across, as well as a warning from a policewoman who had spent the previous two years listening to and transcribing Zille’s phone conversations.
When one adds to it then-minister of intelligence Ronnie Kasrils’ inability to guarantee that the NIA was NOT tapping her phones as well as the facts that cell phone interception equipment is illegal in South Africa and such tools are usually found in government arsenals (with the alleged exception of one private investigator hired by the DA to sweep its phone lines, who was arrested by the police afterwards on charges of unlawfully possessing such a “grabber”- maybe because he removed government bugs?), while domestic and foreign communications emanating from or coming to South Africa are under near total surveillance by the National Communication Centre in Sandton, Johannesburg, this is quite likely yet another example of Domestic Branch’s illegal involvement in gathering and supplying political intelligence to the ANC and its “deployed cadres”.
It seems that it’s not just investigative journalists, political parties and their leaders who are subjected to the negative results of collusion between the South African Police Service and the Domestic Branch. Back in February 2010, president Jacob Zuma and his convoy of six SUVs carrying “blue light bullies” (SAPS members of the VIP Protection Unit) were merrily making their noisy way along a beach road in Cape Town, when a jogging sociology student stopped and angrily gave the middle fingered salute to the passing convoy. In short order, the convoy came to a screeching halt, cops burst out of the cars and went for him. The student was grabbed, wrestled to the ground, flexi-cuffed and had a black bag put on his head, after which he was dragged to one of the SUVs where he was laid on the floor and one of the presidential bodyguards put a foot on his neck and a gun to his head. He was taken to a police station and charged with crimen injuria (South African equivalent of slander), and never mind that it’s not actually an offence for which anybody to my knowledge has ever been arrested, but soon the student found himself interrogated about his political beliefs and whether he hated Jacob Zuma by an unidentified female officer of the National Intelligence Agency.
At the same time, and without a warrant, police officers raided his home and searched it from top to bottom. During interrogation, the student was bullied into writing and signing a letter of apology to Jacob Zuma and eventually released. This already qualified as an official overreaction to what is under normal circumstances a Mickey Mouse offense. However, not only was the NIA once again illegally involved in a dissenter or protester’s case, but it’s quite interesting what happened when the student hired lawyers to bring civil proceedings for damages resulting from wrongful arrest along with the illegal and warrantless search of his apartment.
The guy hired lawyers on a “contingency basis” which meant he’d split the settlement with his lawyers at an agreed-upon percentage of the amount awarded. After the case taking 4 years to get to court, the government lawyers offered a R80.000 settlement. The plaintiff was tempted to accept it, but only on condition that the cops also pay his legal costs. After he and his lawyers couldn’t come to an agreement, the attorneys resigned from the case and the student was unable to find other attorneys willing to take up his case. What happened afterwards in that regard is not known to me, but it seems justice was denied in yet another clear-cut case of police use of excessive force and unlawful conduct of a national security service.
It is perhaps not a coincidence that the same guy would emerge as one of the leaders of the national student campaign dubbed #FeesMustFall and once again not only become a militant thorn in the ANC-(mis)led government’s side, but a major headache for the police who tried to control the situation. His name? Chumani Maxwele. His crime? Protesting against what he saw as symbols of injustice, corruption and abuse of power in South Africa. I’ve been saying it for a long time- when monsters or problems aren’t born, society creates them. This will be made clear later on, in a case which involved South African National Defence Force’s Military Intelligence. Meanwhile, to conclude the sorry tale of the former National Intelligence Agency and now Domestic Branch’s eager meddling in the affairs of political opposition parties along with the surveillance and intimidation of dissidents, I would like to explain briefly how unlawful surveillance is carried out.
The actual capabilities of Crime Intelligence and Domestic Branch are highly classified, and thus not public knowledge. However, with the possible exception of a small number of suitcase-sized frequency grabbers which cost around $2.500.000 apiece, it appears they don’t have the direct ability to intercept communications in bulk unless they go through the National Communications Centre after they gather enough information to justify to a judge the need for an order to tap phone, fax and e-mail traffic of the designated target. Assuming the warrant is issued, the subsequent interception is supposed to be subject to evaluation by the NCC operators and their supervisors, the receivers of that intel, the Inspector General of Intelligence’s office and specially cleared auditors. Given the large number of interceptions carried out and relatively small number of people involved in oversight, it appears unscrupulous operators have found a loophole in the system, which I will get to shortly.
Communications interception is carried out in terms of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (aka RICA) of 2002, which made it mandatory for the owners of every SIM card in South Africa to register themselves as owners of such or face disconnection and ownership of their phone numbers revoked and recycled by the cellular communications firms concerned, which back then were Vodacom, MTN and Cell C- these days even the government-owned Telkom is on the cellular market. Where Crime Intelligence need to intercept communications in support of SAPS anti-crime operations, the request in terms of RICA is driven by sections 20, 21, 24, 25 and 26 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 (search and seizure), while those of the Domestic Branch are motivated by legislation such as the National Strategic Intelligence Act 66 of 2000 and General Intelligence Laws Amendment Act 11 of 2013.
Where the loophole comes in is here- there are quite simply too many requests for communications interception and the oversight system just can’t cope. As a result, it appears that surveillance operators write up new interception requests as tips from other sources which require tacking that request for surveillance of the given number(s) onto an active but often unrelated and already authorized surveillance case. Once the information is obtained, it is handed over to whoever requested it and the tap terminated under the pretense that it did not yield any information related to the case it was piggybacked on. Thus the books balance and given the massive number of intercepts performed (over 100.000 annually), the odds of auditors ever discovering and flagging such instances for further investigation are almost zero. Worse, given that there was no Inspector General of Intelligence between 2015 and early 2017, crooked spooks basically run riot like the children of the island in Lord of the Flies.
As such, it’s not surprising that a culture of relative impunity has flourished and is currently being used both for the illegal gathering of political intelligence, but also as a source of income for operators who do favors for former colleagues or cops who run private security firms. In that regard, it became public knowledge that some operators provided all manner of communication intercepts to security firms run by ex-cops hired to dig up dirt on parties involved in divorces. Such information can not be used in a court of law because it is illegal for private citizens (even security firms’ employees) to intercept communications, but it is nevertheless used in backdoor coercion and extortion efforts by the parties concerned. The financial and reputational damage caused by these illegal interceptions is impossible to quantify given the lack of transparency in intelligence matters, inadequate oversight and covert nature of such activities, but it has to be big, especially when one looks at how domestic security services have been used to harass and intimidate current and former high profile members of the ANC who fell foul of the current dominating faction, like was done as part of the former NIA’s Project Avani which I mentioned in the outline of the “E-mail Saga” in Part 2 of this series.
Depressing as the case of Chumani Maxwele flipping Zuma the bird was, it is also a nicer example of how ordinary citizens are treated by South Africa’s law enforcement and judicial systems, because you can believe me that they’ve done much, much worse. Yet it is not the norm as far as senior members of the government are concerned. Where the average Joe or Sipho gets run over nice and slow, a member of parliament, SANDF general or Cabinet member often has considerable resources at his or her disposal and their complaints are followed up by the book. In other words, they get lawyers paid for by the state, have access to powerful members and functionaries of the government, and where caught actually doing something wrong, they usually get suspended on full pay, “golden handshakes” as part of their termination packages and in too many cases to count even moved to another department to carry on their corrupt activities or more outrageously, promoted while those who blew the whistle are hounded out of their jobs and lives are destroyed if they’re not assassinated. Furthermore, there appear to be few or even no consequences for those who falsely accuse others of spying for or being in the pay of foreign intelligence services, even though such high-level investigations represent a significant diversion of state security resources and often permanent harm to the wrongfully accused.
By far, two of the most blatant and egregious cases involving public accusations of espionage against innocent people are those of Deputy Minister of Defence Kebby Maphatsoe and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe. In 2014, Kebby Maphatsoe publicly accused Advocate Thuli Madonsela, then serving as Public Protector, of being in the employ of the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA denied it and others ridiculed the accusation. Some time afterwards, Maphatsoe apologized publicly and retracted the accusation. In 2016, Gwede Mantashe accused the members of the Mandela-Washington Fellowship aka Young Africa Leader Initiative of being trained in Unconventional Warfare (how to overthrow a government) over a 6 week course by the Central Intelligence Agency at the United States embassy. Almost immediately, the U.S. ambassador responded with tweets full of humor and ridiculed the hell out of Mantashe, in what was a more restrained response than the roasting ol’ Gwede got in the South African media.
These are merely two examples in what has become a de rigueur ANC and South African government attempt to deflect public anger at its failures towards foreign and white South African targets, because these days nearly everything, but especially the economic crisis brought about by Zuma’s firing of two highly respected ministers of finance (Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan), is the fault of CIA, UK’s SIS (MI6) and “white monopoly capital”. The problem with such accusations, especially unfounded ones, is that when taken seriously, they have major impact on the lives of those investigated and the people around them. This is because the majority of people are so dumb and accepting of government propaganda that they believe mere suspicion by the Domestic Branch equals fact and as South African “liberation movement” history of the 1970s and 1980s shows, may also have lethal consequences for the accused. Back then, those accused of snitching were tortured, forced to confess, then had Omo (a popular brand of detergent) poured down their throats, were doused with gasoline, had a tire put around their chests and set on fire. It was a horrible way to die, and even more so when the accused were innocent.
The other problem, and this usually affects government employees, is that accusations of espionage and investigations become permanent parts of personnel files and almost always either end careers or stall them indefinitely, making promotion or involvement in tasks dealing with classified matters impossible- even or especially when the person is innocent. Advocate Thuli Madonsela was one of the most respected citizens of South Africa during her tenure as Public Protector, and she took her role so seriously that the ANC tried nearly everything to get rid of her. In that they were frustrated because it became very clear she was untouchable by virtue of the esteem she enjoyed, and messing with her only cost the ANC a great deal of reputational damage and political capital. At the same time, the lady was a trained and experienced lawyer and it’s certain she ran legal rings around attempts to get rid of her while investigating and exposing government waste and incompetence, as well as president Jacob Zuma’s receipt of undue benefits from the government during the building and refurbishment of his residence at Nkandla.
Good though the lady was, she wasn’t perfect. Her son took her government car for a ride without permission and crashed it. Had this happened to any other government figure, that person would’ve been investigated for negligence, possibly reprimanded and certainly made to pay for the damage, while the son would’ve been sent to jail for the local equivalent of grand theft auto and destruction of government property. It’s speculation on my part, but it seems due to what government figures were doing to get rid of her and the normal instinct of a mother to protect her son, she somehow avoided all of that and only after her tenure as Public Protector ended, did she volunteer to pay for damage caused to the car, while not a word was ever spoken about charging her son. I don’t blame her. The son was unlikely to get a fair trial and in the unlikely event that it happened, the boy would’ve been used as political leverage against her while suffering the lifelong consequences of a criminal record.
In South African law as it relates to security services, it is a criminal offense to make prank calls to emergency services and the police. It is likewise illegal and punishable by years in prison to make false bomb threats. However, it is quite evident that those who falsely accuse others of espionage are never held to account for their actions, even if such utterances lead to costly investigations and great harm to the accused. The legal system has what is called “proscription” (equivalent to the U.S. statute of limitations) for almost every criminal act. The two offenses I know of which have no such time limits on prosecution are murder and espionage. In those situations, the cases are liable to be prosecuted at any point from the present to the Big Crunch (the end of the Universe) and the age of the accused is not often a factor in the prosecution of the offense. Perhaps false accusations of espionage should also have no statute of limitation placed on their prosecution and perpetrators who abuse the system of state security for personal or political party gain should face the same penalty as they would’ve inflicted on the innocents they falsely accused. However, given the great communist influence upon and dirty nature of ANC’s internal and external politics, that is unlikely to happen because as was the case for Stalin in his persecution and elimination of Marshal Tukhachevsky and others, the threat and consequences of accusations like these are a powerful, largely unaccountable and effective way of getting rid of dissidents and political opponents. However, there’s a difference between how security services treat high profile figures and ordinary citizens, and the consequences differ too, for there’s a reason why it’s called “poor man’s justice”- there isn’t any.
We’ve come to the end of Part 3. Once again, merely giving an overview of such abuses of power has taken a long time to write and lots of words, for evil flourishes to such a large extent that it’s impossible to discuss it coherently in a brief article. In Part 4 to be published next week, I will discuss the little that is known about South Africa’s Military Intelligence and how false accusations along with system-wide intimidation were used to destroy a man who rang every alarm bell he could in order to bring attention to the rising death toll, deteriorating morale, facilities and overall readiness of what was once the premier fighting force on the African continent.