Intelligence official blamed for Sona signal jamming

State Security Minister David Mahlobo said the operator of the jamming device failed to properly terminate it, causing disruptions. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

State Security Minister David Mahlobo said the operator of the jamming device failed to properly terminate it, causing disruptions. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

An intelligence official on duty during the State of the Nation Address last Thursday may be the fall man for the controversy surrounding the signal jamming in the national assembly.  

State Security Minister David Mahlobo has conceded that it was an “operational error” that resulted in the signal jamming.  

In a statement released on Wednesday evening, Mahlobo said the operator of the jamming device “failed to properly terminate the device and this impacted on proper access to some users of mobile phones”. Now it appears that this official, who is not named, may well be subjected to disciplinary action.  

“The Department of State Security regrets the unintentional disruption of signal in certain parts of the parliamentary chambers,” Mahlobo’s spokesperson Brian Dube said. They denied that there was any executive or political interference with the free flow of information.  

“The Minister responsible for State Security was also taken aback,” the statement read. The official line goes as follows: because the President, deputy president and former presidents would be in the national assembly extraordinary measures had to be implemented.
 

“The SONA event was rated major based on intelligence reported prior to the event which was unprecedented,” Dube said.  

He noted that the signal jamming was as a result of prolonged “counter-terrorism” efforts.  “This airspace security plan was executed with precision especially when the Deputy President and President were in transit until the time of taking of salute at the doorsteps of the Parliament, estimated between 18:35-19:00. However the application of this counter threat measure was prolonged beyond the normal operational requirements.” 

On Tuesday civil rights group and media organisations took the media jamming issue to court where it was heard that State Security was responsible.  

The court postponed an urgent interim relief application  to next Thursday. The document submitted by media houses described the use of signal jamming devices as “unlawful” and, in some circumstances during an open sitting of Parliament, “unconstitutional”. Dube said the department regrets the disruptions adding that the operation was never intended to frustrate parliamentarians.

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