Thieves leave DI spooks red-faced

Com­put­ers the lat­est tar­get in a se­ries of brazen se­cu­rity breaches cur­rently rock­ing SA de­fence head­quar­ters

CityPress - - News - ABRAM MASEGO and ERIKA GIB­SON news@city­press.co.za

The de­part­ment of de­fence’s spies this week tried to put a lid on the lat­est theft scan­dal to rock the South African in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity af­ter some 50 com­put­ers were stolen from de­fence in­tel­li­gence (DI) head­quar­ters. How­ever, de­fence de­part­ment spokesper­son Siphiwe Dlamini con­firmed the com­put­ers had been stolen, but he did not di­vulge de­tails, as they were part of an “in­ten­sive” in­ves­ti­ga­tion led by the DI and mil­i­tary po­lice.

City Press has learnt that the theft – in which sev­eral em­ploy­ees were taken for ques­tion­ing and oth­ers were sub­jected to lie de­tec­tor tests – was to be kept top se­cret.

“This is a se­ri­ous em­bar­rass­ment to the coun­try that its mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence could be found [to be] vul­ner­a­ble to crim­i­nals,” an in­sider in the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity told City Press.

“Luck­ily, many of the com­put­ers were brand new and did not have much in­for­ma­tion stored on them.”

Another in­tel­li­gence in­sider, who is also privy to de­tails about the theft, coun­tered this, though, say­ing that some of the com­put­ers had al­ready been in use and car­ried in­for­ma­tion that could ex­pose South Africa’s in­for­ma­tion to for­eign spies.

“Each and ev­ery coun­try gath­ers in­tel­li­gence both lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. If such in­for­ma­tion or its in­former net­work is leaked, it could com­pro­mise the coun­try se­verely,” said the in­sider.

In­tel­li­gence func­tions in­clude pre­par­ing and pro­vid­ing com­bat-ready in­tel­li­gence and user sys­tems for de­ploy­ment, along with de­tailed fore­casts about what the en­emy is plan­ning to do and when.

“The in­for­ma­tion on some of those lap­tops is highly sen­si­tive and would ex­pose our strengths and weak­nesses,” said the source.

Un­til City Press ap­proached the de­part­ment for com­ment on the in­ci­dent, the SA Na­tional De­fence Force (SANDF) had kept quiet about the theft and did not re­port it to the State Se­cu­rity Agency (SSA) or the Hawks.

Dlamini said an undis­closed num­ber of brand-new lap­top com­put­ers were stolen from the DI’s head­quar­ters in the Lib­erty Life Build­ing in Madiba Street, Pre­to­ria. It is un­der­stood that at least 50 com­put­ers were stolen in batches.

Dlamini echoed an in­sider’s in­for­ma­tion, in­sist­ing that be­cause the com­put­ers were brand new, they had no in­for­ma­tion on them.

The ma­chines are said to have dis­ap­peared just af­ter they were de­liv­ered – be­fore they could even be recorded on the de­part­ment’s in­ven­tory. “There­fore, it is un­clear who took re­spon­si­bil­ity for them,” said Dlamini. He did not want to say from where in the build­ing the theft took place and why the armed guards at the en­trance did not pre­vent it.

City Press un­der­stands from highly placed sources within the de­part­ment that Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Jeremiah Nyembe, chief of the DI, gave the in­struc­tion that any de­tails about the in­ci­dent be kept un­der wraps.

The theft hap­pened on the same Christ­mas week­end that the SSA was “robbed” of R17 mil­lion worth of for­eign cur­rency.

Hawks spokesper­son Bri­gadier Hang­wani Mu­laudzi con­firmed that three sus­pects were ar­rested af­ter the theft from the SSA’s well-guarded head of­fice in the east of Pre­to­ria.

One of the two ap­peared on a pic­ture the Hawks had re­leased from closed-cir­cuit tele­vi­sion cam­eras within the build­ing, taken at the time the bur­glary took place.

It is un­der­stood that those ar­rested in­cluded two se­cu­rity guards and SSA di­rec­tor-gen­eral Sonto Kud­joe’s driver. One of the se­cu­rity guards had ac­cess to all the of­fices in the build­ing.

“The driver was found with a large sum of US dol­lars sus­pected to have been stolen from the agency. He also had sev­eral ac­cess cards in his pos­ses­sion,” said a highly placed source close to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The theft from the SSA vault took place be­tween Christ­mas Day and the Day of Good­will (Box­ing Day), when the vaults hold­ing money for for­eign trips and agents were forced open. That money had been stored as petty cash to pay in­form­ers and for op­er­a­tives’ costs.

SANDF spokesper­son Bri­gadier Gen­eral Xolani Ma­banga last year con­firmed that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into more theft and cor­rup­tion within the DI was un­der way.

A num­ber of se­nior of­fi­cers – some on the level of Bri­gadier Gen­eral – were im­pli­cated in that in­ves­ti­ga­tion into their “milk­ing of the sys­tem” with false travel claims.

Over three years, the group of of­fi­cers were al­legedly run­ning a scam, cre­at­ing fic­ti­tious vis­its on pa­per and claim­ing daily al­lowances for their trav­els.

They even cre­ated “vis­its” around real events to sub­stan­ti­ate their claims, and in the process stole mil­lions of rands that were then shared within the group.

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