Review to look into spy services

Waghied Misbach

Waghied Misbach

South Africa's troubled spy services is headed for a shake-up with the launch of a top level commission set up by Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils.

The review comes in the wake of a number of top level spies being ousted from the service for alleged politically motivated operations, including former National Intelligence Agency (NIA) director-general Billy Masetlha.

The ministerial review commission on intelligence is headed by veteran Joe Matthews and includes former speaker of the national assembly Frene Ginwala and the Centre for Conflict Resolution's Laurie Nathan.

The commission has called for the public to make submissions before May 4.

In a statement yesterday on the Intelligence Ministry's website, Matthews said that the commission would make recommendations on how to help the civilian intelligence structures comply with the "constitution, constitutional principles and the rule of law and particularly, to minimise the potential for illegal conduct and abuse".

"The security of the state and all citizens is a matter of crucial importance. Intelligence services are a vital part of the national defence structures.

"The constitution sets out the principles on which the work of our security services is based.

"It is essential to review the framework within which they operate to ensure that they function in accordance with the norms and principles consistent in a democracy.

"This means that the methods employed are always in accordance with the law and the protection of the rights of citizens," Matthews said.

"The commission will conduct a broad enquiry which will afford public and private bodies and individuals the opportunity to make submissions.

"It intends to hold public hearings and to foster participation and transparency consistent with the necessary balance between the needs of security and civil rights," he said.

Kasrils announced the review in November, saying he hoped the commission's work would be completed by the end of this year. He said the review will cover the NIA; the South African Secret Services (SASS); the National Intelligence Coordinating Committee (NICOC); National Communications Centre (NCC); Electronic Communications Security (COMSEC); and the Office for Interception Centres (OIC).

The commission will cover topics including who controls spies, how investigations are undertaken, and controls over the funding of covert operations.