A blast from the past
A major political corruption scandal in the United States has again focused attention on the role of senior Democratic Alliance official Russel Crystal in apartheid-era dirty tricks.
Central to the scandal is Jack Abramoff, a former high-flying Republican lobbyist, who pleaded guilty on January 3 to charges of conspiracy to bribe public officials, fraud and tax evasion.
For several years after its launch in 1985, Abramoff (47) was the Washington face of Pacman, code name for the International Freedom Foundation (IFF).
In 1995, the New Nation reported former security policeman Paul Erasmus as describing the IFF as a stratcom-military intelligence (MI) project designed to sway world opinion against the anti- apartheid movement.
The IFF was reportedly the brainchild of Crystal, current deputy national executive director of the DA. He, Abramoff and former top spook Craig Williamson worked closely together in launching the organisation.
Among Abramoffâ€™s South African projects was the anti-communist film Red Scorpion, made in South African-occupied Namibia and, according to Williamson, funded by the South African military.
With a 1991/92 budget of more than R10-million, Pacman was terminated by former president FW de Klerk in the early 1990s, along with other covert apartheid-era projects.
The IFF was ostensibly founded as a conservative think-tank, but was in reality part of an elaborate South African military intelligence operation, code-named Operation Babushka. Established to combat sanctions and undermine the African National Congress, it also supported Jonas Savimbi and his rebel Angolan movement, Unita.
Crystal first came to public notice as the head of the National Students Federation (NSF), which worked to break the grip of the National Union of South African Students (Nusas) on English-speaking campuses. According to Truth and Reconciliation Commission researcher John Daniels, the NSF was partly funded by the notorious Bureau for State Security (Boss). Crystal denies this: “As far as I am concerned, the NSF was not connected to the police,” he told the Mail & Guardian recently. “If people were manipulating the situation, it was not with my knowledge.”
Crystal established links with right-wing student bodies internationally. Daniels records that in 1983, Abramoff visited South Africa as head of the College Republicans National Committee (CRNC) to forge links with the NSF.
Moving to Washington, he took over the CRNC, transforming a “sleepy establishment organisation” into a vibrant right-wing activist group.
Daniels reports that the CRNC and NFS co-sponsored an international conference of right-wing groups at Savimbiâ€™s Jamba headquarters in June 1985, attended by Savimbi, leaders of the Afghan mujahedin, Nicaraguan contras, Laotian guerrillas and members of the Oliver North American right. Crystal and Abramoff were also present.
According to Daniels, they organised a follow-up conference in Johannesburg a month later, with the same participants. The participants received a message of support from former president PW Botha.
According to The Sunday Independent, Crystal conceptualised the IFF in Jamba, while a source close to the IFF said he had been directed to discuss the idea with MI.
The Sunday Independent reported that senior MI operative Craig Williamson also played a role in establishing the IFF. Williamson, who left the police in 1985 ostensibly to go into business, in reality established Longreach, a South African Defence Force (SADF) front company that aimed to influence businessmen in favour of the apartheid government. According to Daniels, the IFF was sub-contracted to Longreach. Williamson helped direct Operation Babushka.
In 1995, he described the IFF to Newsday as an instrument for “political warfare” whose job was “undercutting ANC credibility”. The operation was constructed to prevent people knowing “they were involved with a foreign [South African] government. They ran their own organisation, but we steered them.”
The IFF was officially headquartered in Washington, where the South Africans were given entrÃ