Fixing the dysfunctionality within the SSA requires going back to the basics

Acting Director General at the State Security Agency Loyiso Jafta testified at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into allegations of state capture. The recent exposures of the agency are an indication of the deeper crisis at the agency, says the writer. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency/ANA

Acting Director General at the State Security Agency Loyiso Jafta testified at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into allegations of state capture. The recent exposures of the agency are an indication of the deeper crisis at the agency, says the writer. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency/ANA

Published Feb 28, 2021


Dr Pingla Udit

The public exposure of the State Security Agency (SSA) at the state capture inquiry is yet another confirmation of the deep crisis that has taken root in the country’s intelligence services.

Since the advent of democracy in 1994, the transformation of intelligence services has been subjected to great debate and introspection. In contrast, the 2009 creation of the SSA was not subjected to any rigorous debate and introspection.

Against the background of the central role played by the intelligence services in upholding the apartheid state, the founders of the country’s Constitution sought to ensure that a new intelligence service would never again be abused to further political, personal and factional interests.

The disclosure at the state capture inquiry confirmed that not only the leadership of the intelligence failed but policy-makers and Parliament failed to learn any lessons from the past and have displayed disrespect for the principles enshrined in our democratic Constitution.

In the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Chapter 11 section 198, the following principles govern national security in the Republic:

* National security must reflect the resolve of South Africans, as individuals and as a nation, to live as equals, to live in peace and harmony, to be free from fear and want and to seek a better life.

* The resolve to live in peace and harmony precludes any citizen from participating in armed conflict, nationally or internationally, except as provided in terms of the Constitution or national legislation.

* National security must be pursued in compliance with law, including international law.

* National security is subject to the authority of Parliament and the national executive.

Against the background of the numerous attempts to depoliticise and to inculcate a culture of accountability and ethics in the country’s intelligence services, going back to the basics becomes an urgent requirement.

The White Paper on intelligence says the intelligence services should be governed by the following principles:

♦ The primary authority of the democratic institutions of society.

♦ Subordination of the intelligence services to the rule of law.

♦ Compliance of the intelligence services with democratic values such as the respect for human rights.

♦ Political neutrality of the intelligence services.

♦ Accountability and parliamentary oversight for intelligence services.

♦ Maintaining a fair balance between secrecy and transparency.

♦ Separation of intelligence from policy-making.

♦ An ethical code of conduct to govern the performance and activities of individual members of the intelligence services.

Rebuilding trust in our intelligence services’ capacity to protect national security must incorporate the following critical elements:

* Rebuilding organisational culture within the SSA to ensure a level of professionalism, competence and independence with clear values, basic principles and processes. Secrecy deals with discretion on critical and strategic issues and does not mean to compromise democracy or labour rights, freedom of expression and freedom of association.

Standards of recruitment and vetting need to be based on a deep cleanse of the verification process, ethics, Bill of Rights, transparency and accountability. The dilemma of fair balance in secrecy and transparency and accountability is a big challenge in a young democracy.

In enacting the law, there must be an emphasis on intelligence education and training to thwart irregular and illegal practices.

Restructuring the state security institutions requires a clear strategic path with the right skills set, and better intelligence education and training.

Research must be boosted and analytical capacity to evaluate, integrate and interpret cogent analysis on epidemics, economics, cybersecurity issues, conflict and peace-building.

Providing a protective space for analysts to engage with external research capacity is crucial to distinguish between rumour and fact and an individual’s view on a potential threat.

Reorientation within the SSA is necessary to cope with the threats and challenges and the vulnerability of right-wing threats and the new theatres of terrorism and fundamentalism.

The SSA’s Intelligence Academy has a crucial role to play in intelligence education and training. Its role and responsibilities need to be addressed lest it becomes a step-sister of other branches of intelligence,

The strengthening of the statutory co-ordinating structure the National Intelligence Co-ordinating Committee (Nicoc) and its location as an arm of the National Security Council or in the office of the National Security Adviser needs to be seriously considered.

The legal requirement for Nicoc to provide (annual) national intelligence estimates also requires an urgent reappraisal to ensure that the quality and accuracy of intelligence data provided to the executive is not influenced by political, factional or other agendas.

It is, therefore, necessary to have a small group of people in the best disciplines to assist a multi-party committee of parliamentarians to advance their understanding in highly technical work, to oversee policy, legislative and budget implementation.

The political and financial malfeasance exposed at the state capture inquiry once again underscores the urgent need for greater oversight of the country’s intelligence services.

The 2019 release of a Review Panel Report on the State Security Agency underlined the need for an overhaul of the intelligence services.

One of the key findings of the panel was “that there has been political mal-purposing and factionalisation of the intelligence community over the past decade or more that has resulted in an almost complete disregard for the Constitution, policy, legislation and other prescripts”.

Effective oversight by the Inspector General and the Parliamentary Oversight Committee would have no doubt pre-empted the bleak picture painted of the SSA at the state capture inquiry. The location of the office of the Inspector General needs to be looked into as history has shown us that it is not correctly positioned under the Ministry of Intelligence.

In this regard, the Director-General of the SSA, Parliament through its Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and the auditor-general must take centre stage to ensure accountability at all levels. Fixing the dysfunctionality within the SSA is no easy task and will require immense political will by Parliament and the executive. Going back to the basics will be a starting point.

* Dr Udit is former Nicoc Deputy Co-ordinator.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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