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Johannesburg - It’s a secret how many people are allowed to know secrets. It’s a secret to tell that to the member of Parliament who asked the question, but the minister told him anyway.
And if the Secrecy Bill had been signed into law, then it would be a secret that it’s a secret how many people are allowed to know secrets, and what the minister told the MP, because The Star wouldn’t be allowed to tell you.
You know all those state documents labelled “Confidential” or “Top Secret”?
Well, you can’t know how many government employees are allowed to read them or talk about them over tea or which department they’re in.
But one of them is probably Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele, who marks his correspondence “Secret”… Oops, sorry, that might have been a secret.
This is what DA MP David Maynier asked Cwele in Parliament: “How many employees of each specified (a) national, (b) provincial and (c) municipal organ of state have (i) valid and (ii) invalid (aa) Top Secret, (bb) Secret, (cc) Confidential and (dd) Restricted security clearance?”
Parliamentary restrictions on the number of questions an MP may ask in a week meant that Maynier had to send the question in his colleague Francois Rodgers’s name.
The minister responded on a State Security letterhead, a letter itself duly stamped “SECRET”, addressed to Rodgers but sent to Maynier.
“I write to inform you that I have tabled a detailed response to your question with the joint standing committee on intelligence (JSCI) as your question relates to the operations of the State Security Agency,” wrote the minister.
“I have no ‘Secret’ security clearance, so presumably I’m not entitled to read it,” said a bemused Maynier on Monday. But he had already opened it, so he read it anyway.
Cwele’s response to the JSCI will now remain a secret, as that committee’s meetings are closed to the public.
Maynier was unimpressed.
“There is absolutely no reason why information of the total number of Top Secret, Secret and Confidential security clearances should not be in the public domain,” he said.
“The information is clearly not of an operational nature and is disclosed in other democratic countries, such as the US.
“The JSCI is clearly being misused to bury information that should be in the public domain.”