Min­is­ter purges ‘slush fund’ spies

Agents claim move is di­rected at flush­ing out ‘Zuma loy­al­ists’

Sunday Times - - Front Page - By CAIPHUS KGOSANA

● A mutiny is brew­ing in SA’s top spy agency af­ter the state se­cu­rity min­is­ter or­dered a revet­ting of all agents in a bid to flush out spooks ac­cused of loot­ing the slush fund of up to R1bn.

In­tel­li­gence sources say the re-vet­ting ex­er­cise at the State Se­cu­rity Agency (SSA) is a purge tar­get­ing spooks deemed loyal to for­mer di­rec­tor-gen­eral Arthur Fraser and, by ex­ten­sion, for­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma.

The dras­tic move to vet all spooks afresh fol­lows min­is­ter Dipuo Let­satsi-Duba’s de­ci­sion to dis­man­tle the en­tire man­age­ment struc­ture of the SSA, which she says was set up il­le­gally to loot state funds.

It has been met with fierce re­sis­tance, with a fo­rum that rep­re­sents all in­tel­li­gence and non-in­tel­li­gence em­ploy­ees blast­ing her in a let­ter to staff, urg­ing them to re­ject the new man­age­ment struc­ture.

This has irked the min­is­ter, who has de­scribed the fo­rum’s ac­tion as “se­ri­ous mis­con­duct” and an at­tempt at mutiny. The chair and sec­re­tary of the fo­rum have been sus­pended.

“Of con­cern to me was when they were chal­leng­ing my author­ity as the min­is­ter, which I’m given by the con­sti­tu­tion, say­ing to mem­bers: ‘Do not go back to the old struc­ture, don’t take the in­struc­tions of the min­is­ter,’” an ag­i­tated Let­satsi-Duba said in an in­ter­view with the Sun­day Times.

“That to me was a mutiny. They are re­volt­ing against the in­struc­tions of the author­ity. That, I couldn’t take.”

But the af­fected spooks say her ac­tions are po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, and they are call­ing for her head.

“This is noth­ing but a po­lit­i­cal ploy to purge peo­ple. They are deal­ing with those who they think were [Fraser’s] hench­men. This min­is­ter is clue­less, she must go,” said a top spook who asked not to be named.

The min­is­ter would not give de­tails on what the vet­ting process would en­tail, but it usu­ally in­cludes a poly­graph test, thor­ough back­ground checks in­clud­ing look­ing into per­sonal and busi­ness as­so­ciates, lifestyle au­dits and fi­nan­cial trails.

The SSA em­ploys 3,600 peo­ple. The vet­ting will be “spo­radic” in that agents will be vet­ted at dif­fer­ent times.

The agency has been in turmoil for years. Fraser was re­de­ployed by Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa ear­lier this year af­ter a bit­ter bat­tle with the in­spec­tor-gen­eral of in­tel­li­gence, Setl­homa­maru Din­twe. He was in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­le­ga­tions that Fraser had set up a par­al­lel in­tel­li­gence struc­ture staffed by his cronies, and even fam­ily mem­bers, who used their ac­cess to re­sources to loot covert funds. Fraser called the al­le­ga­tions a tac­tic to smear his name.

Ramaphosa has set up a re­view panel headed by struggle vet­eran and aca­demic Syd­ney Mufamadi to de­ter­mine what went wrong and pro­pose a new work­ing model for the agency.

On Tues­day, the min­is­ter is­sued a terse com­mu­niqué to all agents and ad­min­is­tra­tive staff, an­nounc­ing the de­ci­sion to re-vet all em­ploy­ees. The re-vet­ting will be done by the South African Po­lice Ser­vice and the in­tel­li­gence arm of the South African Na­tional De­fence Force. Those who fail to ob­tain se­cu­rity clear­ance risk be­ing dis­missed.

“Due to re­cent de­vel­op­ments in the State Se­cu­rity Agency, which bor­der on se­ri­ous mis­con­duct and ill-dis­ci­pline by in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers, the min­is­ter has taken a de­ci­sion for a spo­radic re-vet­ting of of­fi­cials, which will be suit­ably per­formed out­side of the agency,” Let­satsi-Duba wrote to staff. “The mis­con­duct bor­ders on a se­ri­ous se­cu­rity risk and threat­ens the in­tegrity of the in­sti­tu­tion. The min­is­ter has taken se­ri­ous note of this and de­cided that such be­hav­iour can­not go with­out ac­tion.”

She told the Sun­day Times she had in­her­ited an in­sti­tu­tion in a state of paral­y­sis. She said she dis­cov­ered that agents had been sit­ting at home for up to five years pre­tend­ing

to be do­ing state se­cu­rity work when in fact they were loot­ing slush funds and col­lect­ing pay cheques every month. The min­is­ter said the par­al­lel struc­ture was il­le­gal and not in line with the Gen­eral In­tel­li­gence Laws Amend­ment Act of 2013.

“What prompted this re­sponse [from the staff fo­rum] is be­cause when we ar­rived, as part of re­struc­tur­ing and clean­ing up, we dis­cov­ered that the agency has been op­er­at­ing on an il­le­gal struc­ture.”

She said those call­ing on spooks to defy her or­ders were the main cul­prits in the loot­ing spree.

“There was an out­cry about the abuse of the covert funds and state re­sources in this in­sti­tu­tion. We came in and closed all those taps. This struc­ture I’m talk­ing about was an out­fit de­signed to loot. When we say go back to the old struc­ture, we are threat­en­ing their sur­vival in terms of ac­cess­ing the re­sources of the state. It’s about them­selves.”

The SSA’s bud­get, staff com­po­si­tion and op­er­a­tions are clas­si­fied, but those in the know spec­u­late that the agency gets around R4bn a year for oper­a­tional ex­penses.

In his book The Pres­i­dent’s Keep­ers, Jac­ques Pauw writes that the Prin­ci­pal Agent Net­work (PAN), set up un­der Fraser to strengthen in­tel­li­gence gather­ing ca­pac­ity, may have looted up to R1bn in the three years of its ex­is­tence. Un­der the project, Pauw wrote, 293 cars — mostly lux­ury BMWs and Mercedes-Ben­zes — were bought and R20m spent to ware­house them in Gaut­eng and the Western Cape. Fraser has rub­bished th­ese al­le­ga­tions. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the then in­spec­tor-gen­eral of in­tel­li­gence Faith Radebe found noth­ing un­to­ward with the PAN op­er­a­tion.

Let­satsi-Duba dis­missed in­sin­u­a­tions that she is us­ing the re-vet­ting ex­er­cise to purge those loyal to Fraser and Zuma. “Seated here I don’t know who is loyal to Zuma, who is loyal to Arthur Fraser,” she said. “When I en­ter the door of the SSA, I see South African in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers who are at work. I don’t know who be­longs to who. The vet­ting will as­sist us to de­ter­mine whether in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers are fit for pur­pose or not. If you have an el­e­ment of mutiny in the agency, then you must know you are sit­ting with a se­cu­rity prob­lem.”

But the fo­rum’s mem­bers have writ­ten to Ramaphosa ask­ing him to re­place her with some­one more com­pe­tent.

“Since mid-April the SSA has been on auto-pi­lot and, frankly speak­ing, we are in des­per­ate need of a fit and proper cap­tain to res­cue us,” they wrote.

They also ac­cused Let­satsi-Duba of shift­ing all ad­min­is­tra­tive power from the di­rec­tor-gen­eral and other se­nior man­agers to cen­tralise it at Bog­are Build­ing, the min­is­te­rial of­fices in Tsh­wane. They de­scribed the min­is­ter’s stated com­mit­ment to “re­store the in­tegrity of the or­gan­i­sa­tion” as an in­sult to in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers.

“The or­gan­i­sa­tion is the sum of its mem­bers, so what the min­is­ter is im­ply­ing is that mem­bers in this or­gan­i­sa­tion lack in­tegrity. That is the worst form of in­sult to any in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer.”

They have given Ramaphosa seven days from re­ceipt of their let­ter to re­move Let­satsi-Duba, fail­ing which, they said, they will for­ward their griev­ance to par­lia­ment.

Let­satsi-Duba re­fused to di­vulge when the re-vet­ting ex­er­cise would hap­pen, how long it would take or how much it would cost, say­ing such de­tails were con­fi­den­tial and could not be shared pub­licly.

Joy Peter, spokesper­son for min­is­ter of de­fence No­siviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, con­firmed re­ceipt of the re­quest to as­sist with the re-vet­ting. She said the min­is­ter was “ap­ply­ing her mind to it”.

Po­lice min­is­ter Bheki Cele’s of­fice also con­firmed it had re­ceived the re­quest for re-vet­ting. It said the mat­ter would be han­dled by the na­tional po­lice com­mis­sioner.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.