Security Watch

The Gupta spying saga

Zuma & Guptas spy.jpg

The unlawful spying of the Gupta business empire on prominent South Africans suggests that they knew they could count on the protection of the Ministry of State Security which served them well since 2011.

Last week we wrote, “News … that an extensive rouge intelligence and secret service network controlled by sham South African citizens is in full operation in the country completes the picture of covert state capture.”

We referred to the shocking disclosure by #GuptaLeaks how the Guptas since 2015 spied, on and violated the privacy of prominent South Africans, including former finance minister Trevor Manuel; his wife and Absa CEO Maria Ramos; EFF leader Julius Malema, Investec CEO Stephen Koseff; and the chairpersons of FirstRand and RMI holding companies, Laurie Dippenaar and GT Ferreira.

It was revealed that the Guptas were, among others, unlawfully in possession of these individuals travel information as well as their ID numbers.

The motives for the spying on Manuel and Malema remain unclear, but reports suggest the spying on the rest was due to the Guptas interest in purchasing a South African bank.

It is unclear at this stage if more individuals were also targeted, but it is safe to assume there are more.

The name of well-known journalist and former editor of Business Day and Financial Mail, Peter Bruce, a fierce Gupta- and state capture critic, can be added to the list.

The way information on the Gupta “targets” was collected, and those involved, presently remain incomplete, but rumors abound that a person or persons at the Department of Home Affairs and/or the State Security Agency (SSA) were the unlawful source.

This is the view of the DA, the EFF and Peter Bruce, a Gupta spy network victim.

Two independent sources interviewed by the news agency Eyewitness news also concurred with this view.  

The Peter Bruce incident

The detail and scope of the personal information on Peter Bruce, leaked on social media, creates suspicions that the Guptas or their hired hands, could be using the high-tech surveillance and interception software they tried sell to the South African government in 2011.

Intelligence officers told the Mail &Guardian in 2011 that the interception software was more sophisticated than outdated state software and, would enabled the government to intercept calls with ease. It is also not easy to detect on the phone, and able to capture the person being investigated visually and produce printouts.

According to these intelligence officials there were concerns at the time about potential abuse of the software and its illegal use. An article by Bruce, describing the Gupta initiated smear campaign against him, leaves the impression that those concerns were justified.

Unlawful

In terms of South African law, intelligence within the country may not be covertly gathered other than by official bodies expressly empowered to do so, for a specific purpose, in accordance with strict constitutional perimeters. There is also no provision for the use of state intelligence resources to further private interests.

The same legislation is also clear that domestic intelligence should only be gathered to identify potential threats to the security of the Republic or its people – clearly not for what the Guptas intended.

In addition, The Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act safeguards personal information and a court order is needed for access to such information. Contravention is penalizable with one year imprisonment, or a fine of up to R10 million.

The victims of the Gupta espionage have full right to feel aggrieved and could rightfully seek legal redress.

Don’t hold your breath

We also last week, made an appeal that, “Some urgent arrests and prosecutions need to follow if justice to the people of South Africa is to be done. Procrastination, hiding behind a string of promised investigation after investigation is no longer good enough.”

Sadly, as matters stand, this is unlikely to happen. 

SSA in 2011 already smelled a Gupta rat, and intelligence heads at the time were of the opinion that there was enough reason to conduct an investigation into the affairs of the Guptas and their "inappropriate influence."

The outcome of that ‘investigation’ is well known. Then minister of State Security, Siyabonga Cwele, controversially terminated what he described as an “improper operation. “

He, amongst other said: "What was stopped was an irregular investigation which involved the use of state security assets to fight private business interests that have no bearing on our work to uphold national security."

Developments since, confirmed the magnitude of his blunder – not inconceivably, on purpose to prevent disclosing the extent of state capture already in progress at the time, and to protect President Zuma and company.  

In response, the three intelligence heads involved (Gibson Njenje, Moe Shaik and Jeff Maqetuka), to their credit, resigned.

The incident raised a red flag, but nobody raised the alarm or probed further.     

In an interview Njenje lamented, “The ANC was supposed to come in when we were fired to say, 'What is this?' Nothing of such a nature happened."

Seven years later, despite an avalanche of evidence, the minister of state security holds the same view as his discredited predecessor. At the ANC’s just completed policy conference, Minister Mahlobo’s assessment was that the “Gupta family does not pose a threat to the country's sovereignty.”

It is not unexpected, as hell will freezes over before Mahlobo – plucked from obscurity in Mpumalanga by president Zuma to be appointed as minister of state security, will say or do nothing to the detriment of his benefactor.

It was apparently also of no consequence to him when Jeremy Cronin, first deputy secretary of the SACP and tripartite alliance partner, publicly describes the action of former communications minister Faith Muthambi as treasonous, sending  a confidential Cabinet memo to the Guptas. 

If the treasonous action of a cabinet minister is of no consequence, and poses no threat to state sovereignty – Muthambi was just moved to a different ministry – the DA’s statement ring true that:  ”It is deeply concerning that state resources may have been used to provide the Gupta family with information on perceived ‘opponents’.

It also points to the seeming dysfunction in South Africa’s intelligence services that a clandestine spy network, reporting to the Guptas, exists within government. will be of little relevance to the government.”

Against this evidence, Paul O'Sullivan’s remark that, “…unfortunately, in the last 10-years, the intelligence entities in this country have been bastardised by politics and corruption and they’re now used for things like spying on people,” suggests that the Guptas will survive this round.

Also read: Capture of South Africa’s security is well advanced

by Intelligence Bulletin Team

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