Spy Watch

State Security Agency 'false flag' heading for “big bang?”

Malema, an American spy in red?

The controversial State Security Agency (SSA) investigation into government and ANC opponents, real and perceived, has all the fingerprints of a ‘false flag’ operation, which might explode in its face. (Read more)

Hot on the heels of the signal jamming incident during the State of the Nation address, the leaking of SSA cables to an international TV network and then ham-handed attempts to blame a “former apartheid-era intelligence agent”, last week brought another controversy.

The Ministry of State Security, David Mahlobo, announced an SSA investigation into allegations that the Head of the Office of the Public Protector (PP) and some opposition and trade union leaders are agents of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The investigation was triggered by unsubstantiated and most unlikely allegations on a blog, Africa Intelligence Leaks, which suggests that the PP, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, Economic Freedom Fighters’ leader, Julius Malema, former Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko (currently studying at Harvard in the US), and Joseph Mathunjwa, leader of the more militant trade union AMCU, are CIA agents.

All four are outspoken critics of the ANC government.

Among other things the blog alleges that Madonsela, Mazibuko and Mathunjwa are being used by the CIA to undermine the South African government.

One of the ‘articles’ poses the question: “Is Madonsela another CIA project against South Africa or is she a CIA project against the whole African continent?” It suggests that, as executive secretary of the African Ombudsman and Mediators Association (AOMA), she gathers intelligence for the CIA.

It also claims the CIA has a file on Mazibuko and that she is trying to organise a “Pretoria version of the Arab spring” and that her “... entry to the CIA dark world was possible thanks to the support of her political mentor, the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela …”

The CIA is also accused having “manipulated” Malema and Mathunjwa to provoke the fatal clash between mineworkers and the police at Marikana in 2013 to discredit the ANC government.

Malema’s reaction probably best echoes many South African’s thoughts on the matter: “Those people are clowns. Our biggest problem is that our ‘intelligence’ is not intelligent.”

Patrick Gaspard, US Ambassador to South Africa, said the claims would be treated as a “joke in any serious nation” and most commentators were stunned by the minister and SSA’s reaction.  

The blog

A look at the blog revealed the following:

  • It is highly suspicious and badly constructed, apparently created in great haste as it became live only a month ago;
  • The contents and grammar of the text are of a spectacularly low standard. Even the blog’s title, Africa Intelligence, was initially misspelt and only corrected after much ridicule in the media; and
  • The claims against the four are made without any evidence being offered.

Madonsela said that even a grade 9 pupil could see that the spy claim against her was ‘rubbish’. She could have added that the authors of the articles were also on the same level.

Interestingly, the quality and spelling of some of the SSA “spy cables” recently leaked are of a similar standard.

The WordPress platform used for the blog also creates suspicion. It is not a platform normally used for formal and professionally created websites. It is rather a tool for either the amateur or those who want to quickly and without the involvement of too many formal procedures and other people get something out into cyber space.

On its own website WordPress punts itself as follows: “Create a free website or easily build a blog on WordPress.com. Hundreds of free, customizable, mobile-ready designs and themes. Free hosting and support.”

As it, for one, does not require registering an own web domain, it has always been regarded as creating the possibility of virtual anonymity and leaving fewer ‘footprints’ of its creator or creators and ‘contributors’.

‘False flag’ speculations

Against this backdrop it is small wonder that there are speculations that the blog is a ‘false flag’ operation from within SSA to ‘name and shame’ some prominent South Africans and, possibly, to divert attention from the embarrassment over the leaked cables incident.

The absurdity of the claims is irrelevant, but – significantly – it provides the much- needed pretext for the SSA to justify an investigation. The SSA was remarkably quick to announce an investigation to verify or invalidate the claims.

Most expert analysts and commentators agree that the purpose of the SSA’s investigation is to sow suspicion.

According to reports Madonsela herself on 5 March reported the allegations against her to the police’s crime intelligence so it could be investigated as a ‘cybercrime’. She, however, did not make it public at that stage.

The allegations on the African Intelligence Leaks blog came on top of a string of allegations over months on social media platforms that she is a CIA agent.

In what might have been a sign of things to come, the Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, on 25 February issued a statement “wherein he raised a concern regarding social media reports alleging the espionage activities. The Minister further indicated that the government was going to look further into this matter.”

Then, within days after Madonsela reported the blog to the police, Minister Mahlobo became the one to make the matter public when he announced that SSA will not investigate the alleged ‘cyber crime’, but rather  “…  working with other departments within the security cluster … (to) institute an investigation in order to verify and determine the veracity of the allegations made.”

He also claimed that the SSA, “… looked at the matter with great concern, as these allegations will impact negatively on our hard-won democracy and will undermine the independence and credibility of our democratic institutions.”

It would, however, appear that the sole purpose of the investigation is a poorly constructed attempt to discredit individuals who have become irritants to President Zuma, and the ANC. 

More embarrassment

If the African Intelligence Leaks is indeed a SSA ‘false flag’ operation, as many intelligence experts are convinced of, there might be more embarrassment ahead for the agency. The platform that was used to create the pretext for an “investigation” against Madonsela & Co might not be as good a hiding place as had been thought.

The website PCWorld last week revealed: “Over a million WordPress websites that use a popular plug-in to optimize their search engine results are at risk of being hacked if they don’t apply a newly released patch.”

David Maynier, DA Shadow Minister for Defence and spokesperson on intelligence said: “The State Security Agency has clearly become a ‘Stasi’ (the erstwhile East German security apparatus) which is not able to tell the difference between a national security threat and a political threat to President Jacob Zuma.”

Jovial Rantao, editor of The Sunday Independent, concurs, “We should worry about the conduct of some within the SSA. Our democracy will be in grave danger if crucial State institutions are used for party political purposes, or in the pursuit of personal agendas.”

Don’t be surprised if African Intelligence Leaks disappears from cyber space as suddenly as it had made its appearance as the SSA seems to be in the middle of a self-induced ‘big bang’ destruction.

by Garth Cilliers

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