Spy cables: SA’s WikiLeaks moment
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Johannesburg - South Africa is experiencing its own WikiLeaks moment as leaked classified documents from the State Security Agency and some foreign spy agencies are to be published by News24, Al Jazeera and the British Guardian, starting on Monday night.
Al Jazeera says the digital leak of hundreds of secret intelligence documents from the spy agencies - which include also Israel’s Mossad, Britain’s MI6, Russia’s FSB and Australia’s ASIO - “has offered an unprecedented insight into operational dealings of the shadowy and highly politicised realm of global espionage”.
“Spanning a period from 2006 until December 2014, they include detailed briefings and internal analyses written by operatives of South Africa’s State Security Agency. They also reveal the South Africans’ secret correspondence with the US intelligence agency, the CIA, Britain’s MI6, Israel’s Mossad, Russia’s FSB and Iran’s operatives, as well as dozens of other services from Asia to the Middle East and Africa.
The files unveil details of how, as the post-apartheid South African state grappled with the challenges of forging new security services, the country became vulnerable to foreign espionage and inundated with warnings related to the US ‘War on Terror’.”
The SSA allegedly also spied on Iran, Al Jazeera reported on its website.
According to the report, Al Jazeera was in possession of documents - mainly exchanges between the SSA and its counterparts around the world - showing South Africa was monitoring Iranian agents.
Al Jazeera stated that the South African intelligence agents reported that the Iranians were also interested in technology used for satellite interception, online surveillance, and hacking.
South African security services were concerned at Iran's efforts to use official and unofficial channels in South Africa to beat Western-imposed sanctions, Al Jazeera reported.
Al Jazeera was in possession of the 128-page report “Operational Target Analysis” which was written by South African spies and profiled dozens of alleged Iranian operatives.
According to the report, British agents had also monitored Iran's activities in South Africa.
The agents also profiled a number of carpet shops, publishers, and other small businesses they believed had links to Iran's intelligence agencies.
It was unclear from Al Jazeera’s adverts how revealing the publishing of the documents would be.
It said that unlike the documents leaked by then US National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden, which focused on electronic signals intelligence, the new spy cables deal with human intelligence.
“This is espionage at the more humdrum, day-in-the-office level.”
Ferial Haffajee, the editor of City Press, which is part of the Media24 stable of publications (as is News24), tweeted on Monday: “These documents show how the State Security Agency could let signal jamming happen.”
She said the documents provide “deep and detailed insights into how the relationship between South Africa and Israel has frayed”.
Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils and Wits University journalism professor Jane Duncan are interviewed in an Al Jazeera video advertising the publication of the spy cables.
Kasrils is quoted as saying politicians and spy agencies manipulate one another. Duncan is quoted as saying South Africans might be shocked by the extent of the slideback of democratic controls on the security apparatus.
Kasrils and Duncan said on Monday they had not seen the documents and were speaking in general.
Brian Dube, spokesman for the Ministry of Intelligence, said it was too early to comment on the leaks. “However, our legal and policy framework governing management of classified information remains unchanged.”
Asked if this meant the government was trying to prevent publication of the documents, he said “no”.
Independent Foreign Service and Sapa