President Jacob Zuma. Photo: Dumisani Sibeko

President Jacob Zuma was given an ultimatum to choose between his three top spies and their boss, Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele – and he chose Cwele.

The Sunday Independent learnt this week that Zuma has decided to sever ties with the country’s foremost intelligence officers – a move likely to unleash turbulence within the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the foreign wing Secret Service.

Two independent sources said this week that while Zuma had decided to cut ties with the spies, he had left it to Cwele to figure out how it should be managed. One of two independent sources claimed NIA boss Gibson Njenje threw in the towel this week when he realised that Zuma was “sitting the battle out”.

The source said: “Chief (Njenje) left on Tuesday and returned to the Eastern Cape for a break. After he gave us hope that he would fight it to the end, he decided to throw in the towel when he realised Zuma was sitting out the battle. My view is that he feels betrayed that he was part of the top three that went to see Zuma at the Union Buildings to complain about Cwele and now that matters are coming to a head, Zuma’s inaction means he sides with Cwele…”

Njenje and his foreign counterpart Moe Shaik and State Security director-general Jeff Maqetuka visited Zuma to raise concerns about Cwele, including that there were political operations on senior ANC members that ran against instructions that Zuma gave them on their appointments.

Zuma, buoyed by his victory at the ANC elective conference in Polokwane in December 2007, said it was important that the credibility of the intelligence services be restored by ensuring that they were not involved in intra-party politics. Cwele, on Zuma’s instructions, restructured the intelligence services, creating one super-structure headed by Maqetuka.

The second source said: “The source of confusion is this: after telling the DGs to run a professional service and the DGs complaining to you that there are tendencies being introduced that run counter to what you instructed them to do, they expect you as head of state to come to their defence. So Zuma’s siding with Cwele, for them, is telling and very devastating. But they are not prepared to do the dirty tricks.”

Njenje could not be reached for comment.

Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj referred all queries on the matter to Cwele’s office.

Brian Dube, the spokesman for Cwele, said: “We note the distortions and speculation that are rife in the media. We will not be drawn to a debate on these. Internal agency matters will not be run through the media and as we have indicated, the minister will issue a statement at the appropriate time.”

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu declined to comment because the matter had not come to any of the ruling party’s structures.

“We have never discussed those issues in the ANC. I speak on what we have discussed. How do I measure whether we are concerned or not when the matter has not come before the structures I sit in – the national working committee and the national executive committee?”

The Sunday Independent also understands suspended Crime Intelligence boss Richard Mdluli appears to have contributed to the deterioration of the relationship between Cwele and his intelligence chiefs.

It appears the decline in the relationship between the senior spooks and the minister could also be traced as far back as last November.

In a top secret letter Mdluli wrote to Zuma, dated November 11, 2010, the embattled crime intelligence boss claimed there were senior members in his outfit who intercepted Cwele’s wife, Sheryl.

The Sunday Independent reported in May that Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Cwele were briefed by a group of intelligence chiefs led by former National Intelligence Co-ordinating Committee co-ordinator Silumko Sokupa in 2009 that Sheryl was being investigated for drug dealing.

This was while Motlanthe was caretaker president.

The most senior before Mdluli’s arrival was Mulangi Mphego, who allegedly leaked the Zuma tapes that let the president off the hook before the 2009 election but was removed from Crime Intelligence as part of a post-Polokwane purge.

Without mentioning names, Mdluli said the same officers were working with other “state agencies” to listen to his cellphone conversations as part of a plot to discredit and prevent him becoming the crime intelligence chief. But the investigations into Mdluli predates the arrival of Maqetuka, Shaik and Njenje at The Farm, the NIA headquarters. - Sunday Independent