/ 19 February 2015

Mahlobo blames Sona signal disruptions on ‘glitches’

On the day of the State of the Nation Address
On the day of the State of the Nation Address

Glitches with “counter surveillance tactical measures” led to mobile signal disruptions in the National Assembly ahead of the State of the Nation address, State Security Minister David Mahlobo said on Thursday.

“There was no jamming of the signal because if it was jamming there was going to be a total shutdown,” Mahlobo told journalists at Parliament during a briefing by the justice, crime prevention, and security cluster.

He denied the intention was to block the signal.

“When we did the implementation of our own operational plan in terms of securing the event, then at that particular point, we started having glitches. Those particular glitches they were happening at various points, depending on where our equipment was.”

An investigation was underway to determine why the installation of the device caused the signal disruption.

“We discovered that the timing of the system, it went beyond that particular time that we had planned, and then we have discovered there was that particular operational fail,” Mahlobo said.

“In terms of our operational guidelines, in our full investigation, we’ll be able to say was this error deliberate? If yes, was it a sabotage? If yes, what are we going to do?”

Mahlobo could not provide details of the device which caused the signal disruption, but said it was linked to the restricted airspace above the parliamentary precinct on February 12.

“There are unmanned machines [drones] that are flying all over that can kill people,” Mahlobo said.

“The example of how [the] USA actually managed to track Osama bin Laden and they continue to do so. Some of them are flying above the radar and below the radar.”

On the day of the State of the Nation Address, before Zuma’s speech, journalists and some MPs protested against cellphone signals being blocked in Parliament.

The signal was restored after speaker Baleka Mbete asked secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana to look into the matter.

Intelligence official may be fall man
The Mail & Guardian reported yesterday that an intelligence official on duty during the State of the Nation Address may be the fall man for the controversy surrounding the signal jamming in the national assembly. 

Mahlobo had conceded that it was an “operational error” that resulted in the signal jamming, and in a statement released on Wednesday evening, 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. – Sapa, Staff reporter