Editorials

Editorial: Spy tapes hide many secrets

Editorial

The point about secret information is: it is shared away from the glare of accountability. It doesn't need to be true; it only needs to be believed.

The manipulation of spying agencies and secret information is one of the curses of our age. Think of the United States’s “weapons of mass destruction” charade – the way intelligence was mangled to justify the disastrous occupation of Iraq. At home, the Zunami – the political shock wave that reverberated from the Scorpions investigation of Jacob Zuma – is still delivering aftershocks.

In the battle around Zuma, all sorts of state institutions have become targets or tools: the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Scorpions, the judiciary and the intelligence services. Indeed, it was secret information leaked from the heart of the intelligence community – the “spy tapes” – that disposed of the case against the ANC leader and allowed him to ascend to the presidency.

But we were allowed to know about only the tiny fragments of the tapes that provided the justification for withdrawing the charges against Zuma. The story we publish today shows how crime intelligence conducted a full-scale, clandestine surveillance of the NPA behind the veil of national security, but the evidence points to the driving forces being personal and political.

It also shows what we all know: spies like to gather compromising information. This included allegations of NPA executives being involved in indiscretions, including sexual affairs. Was it true? It has been denied, but that’s the point about secret information: it is shared in dark corners, away from the glare of accountability. It doesn’t need to be true; it only needs to be believed.

Was it used? We don’t know. Certainly, when the man who authorised this operation was in a corner, he secretly shared these damaging claims – and others – with the new NPA boss. By then, the decision to withdraw charges against Zuma had already been taken. But the spy tapes comprised hundreds of hours of surveillance and only a small corner of the spies’ dirty blanket has been lifted.

The Supreme Court of Appeal this month considers, for the second time, the Democratic Alliance’s bid for access to the recordings. It must shine a light here.

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