A systematic leaking of secret intelligence documents is making global headlines, detailing ‘unethical’ behavior by several spy agencies across the globe. The controversial ‘spy cables’ features documents from South Africa’s own State Security Agency (SSA) amongst others, highlighting secret and at times ‘dodgy’ interactions with a number of foreign agencies.
The information spans a period between 2006 and 2014, and is currently being leaked in a series of reports by Qatari-based news agency, Al Jazeera. Also implicated in the scandal are spy agencies from the US, UK, Israel, Russia, Iran amongst others.
National co-coordinator of the Right to Know campaign, Murray Hunter, said the leaks seemed to have come from within one of the intelligence agencies implicated. Amongst the interactions revealed is that between the SSA and Israel’s Mossad, in one case showing a deal between the two to ensure an Israeli citizen in SA would not be prosecuted for an act of espionage.
“There are these very strange power relations that often happen in secrecy, and now we are beginning to understand them better. For us this is an important act of journalism that is really serving the public interest, because it is revealing to us exactly who is calling the shots internationally and here at home,” he explained.
He stressed that the leaks should not be seen as a compromising of national security, but rather a means of strengthening the public’s understanding of how the world of espionage worked. But he also warned that the cables may be used by governments as a means of justifying tougher laws on the leaking of such information.
“We may see for instance, the secrecy bill potentially being used as a repressive response to these kinds of disclosures,” he asserted.
Hunter advised caution when taking the contents of the reports at face value, suggesting that there was a real chance that much of the information could be misidentified, or even exaggerated. Seeking to prove this point, he referenced the local SSA’s suggestions post-State of the Nation, that the jamming of signals in parliament were a result of a ‘security threat’.
In recent days, leaks have also revealed the spying of Iranian agents in SA, potential recruitments drives in the country, as well as a suggested plot to assassinate former Home Affairs minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
In light of the cables, Hunter said there were discussions in a number of countries internationally, about the need to improve transparency within their intelligence services.
“Many of these agencies operate a total blanket secrecy approach. No annual reports, no budgets, and nothing gets published. As a result, it leads to this huge potential for abuse of power,” he suggested, adding that things could be slightly more secure if there was at least a minimum level of transparency.
He added that the cables revealed pressure from Western agencies on the local SSA, to prioritize issues within the Middle East and Africa, potentially trying to rope the country into the so called ‘war on terror’. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)