Democracy must be defended against 'dirty tricks'

ANC Today, Volume 8, No. 829 February — 6 March 2008

South Africans should not be complacent about the activities of old-style intelligence networks aiming to sow division and cause confusion within our young democracy. This is one of the most important lessons arising from the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI) into the 'Browse Mole Report', which was tabled in Parliament this week.

The joint committee report was based on the outcome of an investigation conducted by a government investigative task team into the leak of the 'Browse Mole Report' document.

The committee found that the report was a product of the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), also known as the Scorpions. It was produced in 2006 as an intelligence document based on information compiled by a senior investigator and three other DSO officials, and obtained from various sources. The report was leaked to the public in 2007, and sent anonymously to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

The joint committee said the document was extremely inflammatory, containing "political intelligence and unsubstantiated statements about prominent political figures in South Africa and the African continent". The document makes various claims about a conspiracy involving the current ANC President, Jacob Zuma, which was a threat to "the sovereignty and integrity of the South African State". It also makes claims about Angolan President Eduardo Dos Santos and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

The document bears all the hallmarks of the tactics of the intelligence structures of the former apartheid security structures, which used disinformation as one of a range of political weapons through the 'stratkom' structures of the former State Security Council.

The joint intelligence committee found that much of the 'intelligence' in the report was provided by 'information peddlers'. It described these information peddlers as a network of people who originate mainly from pre-1994 or apartheid officers, most of whom worked in the covert intelligence structures of the time. They were involved in sanctions busting and disinformation through stratkom operations. They also have links with foreign intelligence services.

The intelligence committee report further said:

"Their modus operandi includes the use of illegal intrusive techniques of getting information or intelligence. They share this information among themselves and produce documents at different sites of their network in order to give the impression of verification of information to their clients. They use specific harmless facts out of context, adding to that, dangerous lies, in the production of their documents. By the use of selected facts, they proceed to distort the truth and so produce documents and supply information to state institutions and governments. Their products are mainly about fabricating 'conspiracies' and 'plots' as a method of getting closer to those who hold power. The negative outcome is for their clients to view the legitimate intelligence services as useless and start relying on the peddlers."

During its briefings by the government's investigative task team, the JSCI was told that the information peddlers appear not to pursue an ideological motive, but aim to extort large sums of money from their clients: "This money motive may not only be to receive direct payment for information but also indirectly to get access to state contracts. They are known to focus on contracts in the security and mining industry."

The JSCI took the view that the work of these information peddlers is to destabilise and subvert the country: "They interfere with the efforts towards national unity and cohesion in South Africa." It said they pursue the same aims in Southern Africa and further afield, trying to subvert government's efforts to promote peace and stability on the African continent.

The government task team established that the DSO continued to use information from these information peddlers in the production of the Browse Mole Report despite previous warnings from the intelligence community. They found that there were people within the DSO who collaborate with these peddlers using the resources of the state for activities which, in the view of the intelligence committee, "seeks to undermine the efforts of the state in many ways".

The danger presented by these 'spies-for-hire' operatives is not new, nor are their activities unexpected. In its submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in September 1997 on the role of the media under apartheid, the ANC said:

"We remain convinced that elements of these Stratkom networks and fronts remain in place and that they must be exposed, as some are actively engaged in attempting to sabotage the new order through sustained, deliberate attempts to negatively influence perceptions with regard to issues such as the level of crime in South Africa, the ability of the new government to govern, and allegations regarding corruption. Once a perception has been successfully established that a country is a crime-ridden, corruption-infested basket case, that perception is very hard to eradicate."

The disinformation operation behind the Browse Mole Report was made possible by a number of glaring problems with the activities of the DSO and some of its officials. Both the government task team and the joint intelligence committee found that the DSO had engaged in intelligence gathering without a legal mandate to do so.

The JSCI concluded that: "The DSO was involved in several illegal activities including intelligence gathering without a legal mandate, lack of appropriate security clearance for DSO officials. and unauthorised interaction with private intelligence companies and foreign intelligence services." It said such illegal and dangerous activities should be rooted out of state institutions.

The Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence recommended that:

  • the executive authority take appropriate action against the head of the DSO and all the officials who were involved in the production of the Browse Mole Report;
  • government direct the DSO to stop their intelligence gathering operations with immediate effect;
  • the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) must expedite the vetting of DSO officials, prioritising those who are exposed to sensitive state information;
  • government must expedite the regulation of private intelligence gathering activities and put measures in place that will reduce the risk of being exposed to information peddlers;
  • government must conduct a comprehensive review of the DSO, giving urgent attention to the manner in which the DSO is currently operating.

These steps are important to respond to the specific circumstances in which the Browse Mole Report was produced and circulated, and should further protect the state and country on those determined to spread disinformation. However, South Africans will need to remain vigilant in the face of persistent efforts by various intelligence networks to undermine the democratic order through such 'dirty tricks' operations.


1093 words