Smoke and mirrors

Two years is a long time in a wilderness of mirrors.

I’ve kept faith with my former bosses in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and what I hope was a dignified silence in the face of misrepresentations for almost exactly two years now, since May 7 2007.

I kept my trap shut and I watched, sometimes with amusement, frequently with frank disbelief, as my whole life was turned inside out in distorted reflections and echoes.

More and more evidence piled up of systematic invasions of my work as an investigator for the directorate of special operations, more and more evidence that I had been the target of undercover operations by agencies of state.

Why? I’m not criminal. I don’t work for a foreign intelligence service. I wasn’t even an undercover asset of Thabo Mbeki’s presidency. The only answer I can find is that I was trying to do my job — and in particular one aspect of that job, the now-notorious Browse Mole exercise.

The document has been characterised as an act of high treason, a rogue plot orchestrated by third force elements, clear evidence of substance abuse, the sinister meddling of foreign intelligence agencies ...

Then it turned out that I had been misled from the start and, worse, that I had apparently been offered up as a scapegoat.

But I won’t keep quiet any longer. Here goes —

First, some stumps of fact that could snag the skeins of deceit and disinformation.

Special Browse ‘Mole” was commissioned by the former head of the directorate of special operations (Scorpions), Leonard McCarthy — now vice-president responsible for integrity at the World Bank — in early 2006.

I was sole author, subject to two caveats: that McCarthy passed certain pieces of (unsourced) information to me during my inquiry and he instructed that certain passages, written by himself, be inserted into the text.

Full report (PDF)

Click here to read the full browse mole report

On May 7 2007 a copy of one version of the report I produced was faxed anonymously to Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. On May 30 the National Security Council, at the behest of then president Thabo Mbeki, appointed a task team to investigate the document’s sourcing and authorship, and particularly the nature of, and motivation behind, the leak.

The team headed by senior National Intelligence Agency (NIA) official Arthur Fraser involved the NIA, police and South African Secret Service.

Dovetailing with this, the SACP requested an inquiry by Parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence. The report of the Fraser investigation was duly passed on to it, forming the basis of a committee report made public early last year.

The parliamentary committee found the contents of the document ‘extremely inciteful [sic] and provocative, containing, inter alia, numerous allegations and unsubstantiated statements about prominent political figures in South Africa and the African continent.

‘In essence, the document begins with a conclusion that the former deputy president Jacob Zuma was involved in a conspiracy which was a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the South African state.”
It also noted that ‘the task team has demonstrated that the leaked document originated from the senior special investigator, Mr Ivor Powell, and thereafter found its way to the public through the peddlers and the media”.

This was one of several mentions of ‘Mr Ivor Powell”. Curiously, neither the Fraser team nor the committee saw fit to speak to Powell before reaching their conclusions. Indeed, after the committee’s report was made public, I tried on several occasions to contact its chairperson, Siyabonga Cwele (now intelligence minister), leaving him voice messages in which I communicated my willingness — even eagerness — to assist with any queries. I briefed lawyers to write letters to this effect.

Siyabonga Cwele To no avail. Nobody seemed to give a tinker’s for what I had to say.

How did the document get its funny name — Special Browse ‘Mole”? ‘Mole” is an arbitrary codename — the result, no doubt, of my reading of too many spy novels in my impressionable youth. ‘Browse”, however, has significance. McCarthy indicated that the inquiry should be so designated, following (he explained) the practice of the United States intelligence services.

What distinguishes a browse from other, more colourful species of intelligence practice — the ‘black op” for example, interception and monitoring projects, undercover operations, honey traps or anything else you might read about in a John Le Carré novel — is the following: no invasive techniques or technologies and no slush funding are used, no agents are directed or undercover operations set up, there is no infiltration or penetration of target networks and no subterfuge or coercion in collecting material.

A browse is an informal and open-source exercise, a collection of information already in the public domain — or at most the semi-public domain, as the rules of the game allow one to talk to sources on a confidential and voluntary basis.

You, the browser, then sift it all and try to make sense of it. At the end of the day, you make recommendations in respect of follow-ups by empowered investigators.

The resources at your disposal are rather less than those available to the average journalist or academic researcher. To talk about a browse as an intelligence product is to misrepresent it — regardless of the agency it emanates from.

For me, Mole was an internal briefing and nothing more. While the information McCarthy passed on to me may have been sourced to private intelligence agencies, to my knowledge, no money was paid for this, nor was information ‘peddled” in preparing the document.

Curiously, Mole’s contents have never been an issue. And given the times, the commissioning was not difficult to understand: Zuma’s supporters were growing increasingly militant and threatening violence and mayhem in the face of what they characterised as a vicious campaign of vilification against their leader.

At the same time the campaign that finally brought Zuma to power at Polokwane was building up a head of steam — and evidencing lavish but unacknowledged funding.

Against this backdrop, allegations were filtering through in the media that Zuma received money from Libya’s Moammar Gadaffi to aid him in his struggle against Mbeki and that before his death mining magnate Brett Kebble (himself under intense NPA scrutiny) was bankrolling Zuma’s campaign.

Add the curious emergence of a white rightwinger, Jurg Prinsloo, as a self-professed ally and driving force behind the ‘Office of Jacob Zuma” and you get a mix that, unsurprisingly, sets off alarm bells in the NPA — and probably also the presidency. (One of the few supporters of the substance of the Browse report was Mbeki himself.)

It is worth emphasising that the version of the Browse Mole leaked to the world was the second of three reports — the first was completed in March 2006, the second (the leaked version) on July 12 2006 and the third was submitted to McCarthy on September 22 2006.

Hereby hangs a tale. Regarding their investigations into the second version, both the Fraser lot and the parliamentary committee noted that the NPA and McCarthy had been less than forthcoming in helping their inquiries.

Instead of handing my computer and other items to Fraser’s investigators, the NPA briefed the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to perform its own forensic investigations. McCarthy was also at some pains to maintain a buffer between the investigators and me, insisting that all dealings should be conducted with himself as intermediary.

I subsequently discovered that he also understood his role to embrace both selective editing and rewriting of history. On the editing front, he omitted all mention of a third report (incidentally supplemented by at least one additional note sent to his encrypted fax by arrangement as late as October 2006).

Also read Browsed and beaten

Client Media Releases

First two MTN CakeCrush Competition winners announced
Fun things to do in Cape Town
Sebata establishes Skills Development Centre
Fempreneurs shine during EWP gala event