• Tue. Aug 9th, 2022

Zondo Commission’s report on South Africa’s intelligence agency is important but flawed

ByChad J. Johnson

Jul 12, 2022

The South African Judicial Inquiry into State Capture and Corruption, Zondo Committeeconcluded that the State Security Agency was integral to the capture of the state by corrupt elements. Among them, friends of former President Jacob Zuma, the Gupta family.

The agency has been unstable for some time. Previous surveys made findings to improve the performance of civilian intelligence. Yet the problems of poor performance and politicization persist. They intensified during Zuma’s tenure.

The Commission hearings remarkable for an institution that has become accustomed to operating secretly. Spies have testified in detail and in public about what went wrong at the agency during the Zuma era (May 2014 to February 2018). Some did at great personal risk.

I’ve done intelligence and surveillance research, and I’ve been on the High Level Review Panel on the State Security Agency. In my view, the Zondo report is a significant global example of radical transparency around intelligence abuse. But it lacks the detailed findings and recommendations to enable prompt prosecution. It also fails to address the broader threats to democracy posed by irresponsible intelligence.

Black Ops

The commission heard evidence of fraud, corruption and abuse of taxpayers’ money at the agency. He also heard how the Guptas benefited from this abuse. The agency shielded them from investigations that indicated they posed a threat to national security.

The most important recommendation is that law enforcement agencies should investigate further to find out if those involved in the report have committed any crimes. The commission said it was particularly concerned about secret intelligence projects that appeared to be “special purpose vehicles for siphoning off funds”. He specifically referred to three people who should be investigated further.

The first is the former general manager Arthur Fraserfor his involvement in the Master Agent Network. It was a secret intelligence-gathering entity outside of the State Security Agency. It was controversial for more than a decade after investigations revealed misuse of funds.

The second person is the former Deputy Director General of Counterintelligence Thulani Dlomo. He was responsible for the Chief of Special Operationsa secret structure which, according to the report, carried out irregular projects and operations which could well have been illegal.

The most significant of these was Mayibuye Project, a set of operations designed to counter threats to state authority. In practice, they and others sought to shield Zuma from a growing chorus of criticism of his mismanagement.

The Commission found that the project destabilized opposition parties and benefited the Zuma faction of the ruling African National Congress.

The third person is the former Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo. The commission found that he was involved in operational matters rather than being confined to executive control. He also found that his management of large sums of moneysupposedly to finance operations, required further investigation.

Read more: State capture in South Africa: how the rot set in and how the project boomed

According to the commission, Mahlobo’s predecessor, Siyabonga Cweledid the same in stop an investigation in the Guptas and their influence on the Zuma administration.

The commission concluded, based on overwhelming evidence, that Zuma and Cwele did not want the investigation to continue. Had he continued, he could have prevented at least some of the activities that led to the Guptas’ capture of the state and the loss of billions of public money through corruption.

Recipe for abuse

The commission also looked at some of the deeper factors that predisposed State Security Agency abuse.

One of them was the merger domestic intelligence branch, the National Intelligence Agency, with the foreign branch, the South African Secret Service, into a new entity, the State Security Agency, in 2009.

The commission concluded that the merger had dire consequences, as it allowed most of the abuses it examined to occur. The two entities were merged under a presidential proclamation. Yet the constitution requires intelligence services to be established by legislation. This meant that until legislation was introduced in 2013, the security agency operated without clear legal basis.

It was highly centralized, allowing a super-manager to control all activities. This made abuse easier for a appointee with corrupt intentions. The agency was also based on a state security doctrine, rather than a people-centered doctrine. This doctrinal shift prioritized protecting the state from criticism, and specifically the president, over the safety of society. Ministerial political exaggeration in operational matters has increased the potential for abuse.

The committee also found that the Standing Joint Intelligence Committeethe Inspector General of Intelligence and the Auditor General had not exercised proper supervision. This meant that checks and balances external to the State Security Agency were weak to non-existent.

Weigh Zondo Report

The fight for more responsible intelligence was bolstered by the exposure of the abuses by the Zondo report. But many of the conclusions and recommendations are vague and general. The commission could have been more specific about improving the independence of the inspector general, for example. Likewise, the ability of the Auditor General to audit the agency.

Read more: South Africa’s State Capture Commission comes to an end after four years. Was it worth it?

The commission could also have made more use of the evidence presented to it. And he could have been more adamant about when he thought the crime happened. Sometimes the report does little more than reiterate recommendations from previous surveys.

These include a investigation in the Principal Agent Network program in 2009, providing prima facie evidence of criminality.

Another is the 2018 report High Level Review Committeewhich showed that the agency had been politicized and reoriented in favor of Zuma.

A major gap in the Zondo report concerns the civil society infiltration and surveillanceand the agency’s broader threat to democracy.

Little is made of the fact that, according to a recent declassification of 2017 performance reportthe agency claimed to have infiltrated Greenpeace Africathe Right2Know Campaigntrade unions and other bodies of civil society.

The spies posed as militants. They reported to the agency on the strengths of supporters, key players, ideology, support structures and programs. The author of the report, a member of a security agency, vaunted about these and other accomplishments, such as the infiltration of Western Cape social media networks #feesmustfall student movement.

Look forward

In preparations to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators responsible for abuses by the State Security Agency, its infiltration into civil society must not go unnoticed. It needs to be given as much attention as all the grand corruption cases that are going to keep the National prosecuting authority busy.

Otherwise, social forces with the potential to bring deeper and more significant changes to society could remain the target of state espionage, because has been the case elsewhere.