Cabinet has condemned the “illegal” leaking of South African intelligence documents from the former National Intelligence Agency and the South African Secret Service (SSA).
Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said on Thursday that while it was an international practice for countries to share intelligence, the leak of documents detailing the SSA’s operations was illegal.
“Cabinet welcomes the State Security Agency’s full investigation into the matter, and reassures South Africans that the [SSA] will continue to focus on its mandate to protect and secure the integrity of the country, its citizens and infrastructure.
“Cabinet reiterates the message by the Minister of State Security Minister David Mahlobo that such conduct undermines operational effectiveness of the work to secure the country and its borders.”
The release by Al Jazeera and the Guardian of secret cables from intelligence agencies from all over the world – including South Africa’s – on February 23 has seen government scrambling to deal with the fallout of the worst intelligence leak in its two-decade democratic history.
Briefing journalists at Parliament following Cabinet’s fortnightly meeting on Wednesday, Radebe said the executive welcomed the SSA’s current investigation into the matter.
Documents from several international spy agencies were leaked to international news network Al Jazeera, which last week started broadcasting and publishing their contents.
The documents cover the period 2006 to 2012. Among other things, they reveal details of the activities of Mossad, Israel’s secret service agency, in South Africa, as well as efforts by Iran to use the country to find its way around international sanctions.
Radebe said leaking the documents detailing the SSA’s operations was illegal. “Cabinet reiterates the message by State Security Minister David Mahlobo that such conduct undermines operational effectiveness of the work to secure the country and its borders,” he said.
The release of the cables also saw Mahlobo called to brief President Jacob Zuma, as well as briefings with senior agents at the SSA.
The ‘El Dorado of espionage’
South Africa was coming to terms with its new status as “the El Dorado of espionage”, in the words of an intelligence officer.
One cable reveals how the United States coerced South Africa into spying on Iran. Intelligence agents stressed that they did not regard Iran as a threat, but they set up a covert operation to compile the names, addresses and personal habits of every suspected Iranian agent in South Africa.
It was also revealed that the SSA relied on a spy “with direct access to the Russian government” to find out details of government’s involvement in a R1.14-billion joint satellite surveillance programme with Russia.
Analysts suggested that the security breach means foreign co-operation with South African agencies would be likely to come under review for fear of other, potentially more damaging secrets coming to light. – The Mail & Guardian, The Guardian