Barnard defends his bunker

Former Western Cape director general Dr Niel Barnard on Wednesday rejected ”categorically and with contempt” suggestions that politicians in the province were bugged on his orders.

Appearing before the Desai Commission, the apartheid-era spymaster said the controversial Watchdog electronic device had been bought for defensive purposes only.

”I reject categorically and with contempt that there was eavesdropping,” he said.

He also rejected suggestions that files had been kept on politicians, saying this was an ”infamous lie”.

Barnard, who headed the pre-1994 National Intelligence Service, was abruptly axed from the provincial post when an African National Congress/ New National Party coalition took power at the end of last year.

Evidence has been that the Watchdog was mounted on the wall of a secure ”bunker” created near his office in the provincial administration building.

Barnard handed the commission a 35-page statement, with annexures including a photocopy of the title page of his copy of Nelson Mandela’s ”Long Walk to Freedom”, signed by Mandela.

In the inscription, to ”my friend Dr Neil [sic] Barnard”, Mandela describes him as ”one of those patriotic South Africans who strived tirelessly and without publicity to help lay the foundations of the new South Africa”.

In the statement, which he began reading out shortly after 10am, Barnard also confirmed that President Thabo Mbeki earlier this year asked him to help raise the skills levels of the National Intelligence Agency.

”Flowing from my conversation with President Mbeki I more than once had discussions with [Intelligence] minister [Lindiwe] Sisulu on the upgrading and improvement of information, and around the question of whether I would be prepared to help with this.”

Defending his creation in the province of an information unit staffed largely by members of the former apartheid-era security services, he said he was acting strictly in terms of the Public Service Act, which imposed on him the responsibility for giving strategic direction on information management and information technology.

It was clear from the act that Parliament had at least realised that integrated information was necessary for good decision-making.

”In the light of the statutory instruction to directors-general it is naturally difficult to understand why the suggestion… is being made that the formation of an information unit would be improper.”

He said there was nothing in the documentation on the province’s security strategy — of which the unit was a part — which showed any intention to trespass on the territory of any other security structure, for example NIA.

”To the contrary, the [documents] all provide for liaison with such structures,” he said. Barnard said there had been a suggestion in evidence to the commission that these functions could be carried out as effectively by NIA.

He said he regarded NIA as a national asset, and was hesitant about commenting on it, but some of the points made in evidence left him no choice.

”It is simply a fact that the products which did indeed come from NIA were generally not good,” he said. ”This was not just my perception.”

Barnard also denied that the Western Cape unit had been used to collect covert information. – Sapa

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Ben Maclennan
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