'Lawless' spies threaten Cyril Ramaphosa's state clean up
Top officials said to fear reforms will 'close money taps'
President Cyril Ramaphosa is facing a rebellion by senior spooks in the State Security Agency who are threatening to topple him over his plans to restructure the intelligence services.
This was confirmed by state security minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba in an interview with the Sunday Times this week.
Letsatsi-Duba said she feared that high-ranking officials were rebelling at Ramaphosa's proposed overhaul of the agency following years of "lawlessness".
"When you come in and put systems in place where there was lawlessness, obviously you will come across resistance," she said. "This is not ordinary resistance, it has a bigger agenda which is to make the status quo remain, so people can do as they wish."
Last month the president visited the agency's headquarters at the Musanda complex in Pretoria, where he told top spies of the plan to split the agency into two entities, one with a focus on domestic intelligence and the other concentrating on foreign developments.
Ramaphosa's visit followed a report from a high-level panel, led by former minister Sydney Mufamadi, that the president convened to study the work of the agency.
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The report painted a grim picture, saying that under the administration of former president Jacob Zuma the security agency had deviated from its constitutional mandate and focused on the interests of certain individuals.
Letsatsi-Duba said those who were revolting against the reforms, which are due to be implemented over the next six months, had no respect for the constitution and "have no role in the agency".
Top intelligence operatives, speaking on condition of anonymity, have threatened to hit back. If Ramaphosa continued "agitating" them, "some of our guys will get involved and he will see it at the NGC", said one official, referring to the ANC's national general council.
This, the party's midterm meeting, expected to be held again next year. There are suspicions that some Zuma backers plan to table a motion of no confidence in Ramaphosa at the gathering.
A source close to Ramaphosa said his allies had been warned that some intelligence officials were ready to help "make life difficult" for him.
Letsatsi-Duba said she wanted the law changed to make it a criminal offence for intelligence officials to get involved in party-political matters.
"We allow officers to come and interact with us, we even use them for political reasons, which is wrong," she said.
"Because the constitution is very clear, their mandate is very clear, but we ignore that because it serves us better."
Two other intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity accused Ramaphosa of seeking full control of the intelligence service and of planning to "locate it in the presidency".
"They say what the old man [Zuma] did was bad. But now they want to make intelligence an extension of the presidency. Nothing happens unless Ramaphosa's boys sign off," said one of them.
But Letsatsi-Duba dismissed this as "corridor gossip", saying people who "ate" or looted intelligence funds were rebelling because she was "closing the taps".
"If you are used to doing wrong things, and in the process you always have money in your kitty, you will scream and kick," she said.
Anti-Ramaphosa sources also said the proposed changes to the security agency would render the intelligence services toothless and susceptible to infiltration by foreign intelligence agents.
"They want to bring in the auditor-general to audit the covert budget. If I was a foreign intelligence agency I would just recruit accountants and place them in the AG's office," one source said.
Letsatsi-Duba said people were using the cloak of intelligence secrecy to hide criminal activity.
Mufamadi's panel recommended that a multidisciplinary investigation team should probe criminal allegations against top spies, and that a senior advocate should conduct disciplinary hearings against those who broke the law and gave illegal orders.
"In the period being reviewed by the panel, it seems there were certainly a large number of manifestly illegal orders issued, reportedly from the level of the executive downwards," the panel's report said.