Com­rade un­masked as a su­per-spy

Saturday Star - - NEWS -

ON 2 Jan­uary 1980, nine years af­ter he walked on to Wits cam­pus try­ing to im­per­son­ate a hip­pie, an ar­ti­cle was pub­lished in the Lon­don Ob­server that pulled a strand loose from Craig Wil­liamson’s web of lies. The spy’s dou­ble life be­gan to un­ravel.

Wil­liamson was in the bath when a ra­dio news bul­letin quoted the Ob­server re­port that a South African spy had de­fected to Bri­tain. His wife, Ingrid, said to him: ‘You know this spy?’

‘Ag, it’s al­ways spy bull­shit. It’s prob­a­bly that bloody fool Gor­don Win­ter,’ Wil­liamson told her.

Ingrid went out to buy the news­pa­per. When she came back, Wil­liamson thought she’d been at­tacked. He’d never seen her look like that in her life – not even when he had told her that he was a spy. Ingrid held up The Ob­server and there was Arthur McGiven’s pho­to­graph. That’s a great way to find out, thought Wil­liamson sar­cas­ti­cally.

The story pub­lished in The Ob­server was about the de­fec­tion of McGiven, a BOSS (Bureau of State Se­cu­rity) agent. BOSS had dis­cov­ered that McGiven, who had served on the 1973/4 Wits SRC with Wil­liamson, was liv­ing with a man, which in the apartheid South African cat­a­logue of sins was al­most as bad as be­ing a com­mu­nist.

He was de­clared a se­cu­rity threat. That night he went to his of­fice at BOSS, packed a suit­case of se­cret doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing ma­te­rial re­lat­ing to Wil­liamson’s op­er­a­tions, and left for Lon­don.

How­ever, Wil­liamson’s mas­ters didn’t bother to tell him about these devel­op­ments, which made him an­gry and anx­ious. McGiven knew who he was and Wil­liamson won­dered what would have hap­pened to him if McGiven had talked, say, while he was in Moscow or Luanda. Wil­liamson phoned the Spe­cial Branch in South Africa. ‘Un­til I know what McGiven is do­ing and who he has told and what, my life is in dan­ger.’

A few days later, on Satur­day, 5 Jan­uary, Piers Camp­bell, the IUEF’s project man­ager, saw Wil­liamson in the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s of­fice. (The In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity Ex­change Fund was a ma­jor fun­der of anti-apartheid groups in South Africa.) Wil­liamson was car­ry­ing a suit­case and said he was re­turn­ing cer­tain doc­u­ments. The next day, a sec­ond McGiven ar­ti­cle was pub­lished in The Ob­server, and although it didn’t name Wil­liamson, it made a pass­ing ref­er­ence to the IUEF.

On the Mon­day night Wil­liamson called Camp­bell and said Ingrid had had a ner­vous break­down and had re­turned to South Africa. He also said that be­cause he had as­sisted three ANC ac­tivists, Tim Jenkin, Alex Moum­baris and Stephen Lee, es­cape from Pre­to­ria Cen­tral Prison, he was be­ing pur­sued by BOSS agents. Wil­liamson sounded con­fused and Camp­bell was wor­ried about his strange be­hav­iour.

Julian Stur­geon, who was then in ex­ile in the UK and who did odd jobs for Wil­liam- son, was also troubled. ‘Craig was in touch with me just about ev­ery day, he wanted me to do this and to do that, go there… he was im­pos­si­ble. I thought this guy was go­ing off his head. He was so weird…. I couldn’t cope with him. I wrote to him and said, “I quit.” Thank God.’

Then Wil­liamson dropped out of sight for 11 days.

Mean­while, IUEF direc­tor Lars-Gun­nar Eriks­son was tak­ing strain. The IUEF’s fi­nan­cials were in a mess and he was in a poor psy­cho­log­i­cal state. This was ex­ac­er­bated by the fact that a month ear­lier Wil­liamson had told him that Piers Camp­bell was plot­ting to oust him as the direc­tor. In ad­di­tion, Eriks­son was hav­ing to de­fend his deputy from ac­cu­sa­tions that he was work­ing for the South Africans or was a com­mu­nist, and now Wil­liamson had gone miss­ing.

Both Camp­bell and Eriks­son were wor­ried that some­thing was se­ri­ously wrong. On 15 Jan­uary, they dis­cov­ered Wil­liamson’s desk had been cleared out. They dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity that he was be­ing black­mailed by BOSS.

Eriks­son wasn’t the only per­son wor­ried about Wil­liamson. Back in South Africa, Colonel Jo­hann Coet­zee was anx­ious that his agent was in dan­ger. Us­ing a code they had ar­ranged, he and Wil­liamson hatched a plan. They were not overly op­ti­mistic about it but de­cided it was the only way – Coet­zee him­self had to con­front Eriks­son.

By “con­front”, Coet­zee ac­tu­ally meant black­mail into si­lence. The South Africans had dirt on Eriks­son and Coet­zee knew that the IUEF direc­tor was afraid of be­ing ex­posed for wom­an­is­ing, drink­ing, and mis­us­ing funds. Coet­zee flew to Switzer­land to res­cue his agent and con­front Eriks­son.

The plan could well have blown up in his face. Though a neu­tral coun­try, Switzer­land has strict es­pi­onage laws. The South Africans hadn’t been spy­ing on Switzer­land but were spy­ing in their coun­try. If Coet­zee or Wil­liamson had been ar­rested, it could have cre­ated an in­ter­na­tional in­ci­dent with em­bar­rass­ing po­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic fall­out. But Coet­zee’s man was in dan­ger and the se­cu­rity of the state was at stake, so he boarded a plane to bring back his mole.

‘My man could have been in a very dan­ger­ous po­si­tion,’ Coet­zee told a jour nal­ist af­ter­wards. ‘I had to be there my­self to eval­u­ate the po­si­tion and de­cide whether to pull him out. Some­one had to be there to take that de­ci­sion. It’s not some­thing you can do from a dis­tance.’

On 17 Jan­uary, Wil­liamson phoned Eriks­son and asked to meet him at the Ho­tel Zurich the next day – and to come alone. Camp­bell and Eriks­son flew to Zurich. The meet­ing be­tween Eriks­son and Wil­liamson was set for 1pm. If Camp­bell hadn’t heard from Eriks­son by 2pm, he was to con­tact the Swiss po­lice.

This is an edited ex­tract from Spy, Un­cov­er­ing Craig Wil­liamson by Jonathan Ancer, pub­lished by Ja­cana at a rec­om­mended re­tail price of R260.

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