POLITICS

Project Wonder: An Offensive In The Full-Scale Intelligence War

The police and its crime-intelligence unit will play a big role ahead of the ANC's elective conference. Fikile Mbalula wants control, Robert McBride could be a target.

29/08/2017 06:06 SAST | Updated 29/08/2017 06:06 SAST
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Police Minister Fikile Mbalula is being targeted by "Project Wonder". Really? Or smoke and mirrors?

ANALYSIS

A full-scale intelligence and propaganda war has broken out as the battle for future control of the African National Congress (ANC) and the state rages on.

Project Wonder -- the title of a so-called intelligence report detailing an offensive against minister of police Fikile Mbalula -- and assault charges against Robert McBride, head of the Independent Police Complaints Directorate (IPID), seems to be part of a classic disinformation and discrediting campaign.

This weekend's revelations around Mbalula and McBride also follow on the heels of recent allegations that deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa beat his former wife, Hope, which she denied less than 24 hours after it was made.

The intel and propaganda war has its single objective creating space for drastic executive action and the influencing of public perceptions in the closing stages of the ANC's leadership contest, which comes to a head from 16 December 2017 in Johannesburg.

"These intelligence reports are a load of crap. They are always anti-Zuma, they are always anonymous, without any supporting evidence or sources and there's always some or other apartheid, white monopoly capital, CIA or foreign intelligence angle. And it always has an exotic name," a well-placed and informed former intelligence operative told HuffPost South Africa.

The intel and propaganda war has its single objective creating space for drastic executive action and the influencing of public perceptions in the closing stages of the ANC's leadership contest.

Designed to manipulate political process
Project Wonder has been circulating for a couple weeks and purports to emanate from the police's crime intelligence unit. It details an apparent assault on Mbalula from within the police by rogue elements hell-bent on removing him.

The charges laid against McBride relate to an incident relating to his daughter. She has -- with the help of an aggrieved friend of McBride's former wife -- laid charges against him for assault. He has previously been accused of treason, conspiracy to murder and plotting a revolution.

Project Wonder is the latest in a long line of similar intelligence reports or operations designed to obfuscate and manipulate the political process, with the most recent -- Operation Check Mate -- being used as pretence by President Jacob Zuma to rid himself of then Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan.

"These reports also don't have the standard features of real intelligence reports. And if it isn't in the intel format it's nothing except a piece of paper with rumours," the operative explains.

Project Wonder is the latest in a long line of similar intelligence reports or operations designed to obfuscate and manipulate the political process.

Many of these reports -- as dodgy and as far-fetched as they may seem -- have had the desired impact of disruption and destruction. The infamous Browse Mole Report was used to sink the elite-corruption busting unit the Scorpions in 2008 and Check Mate led to the sacking of Gordhan. The former spoke of millions of dollars channelled by Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi to Zuma, while the latter wan't much more than a series of WhatsApp messages about Gordhan's plans to undermine the government.

The structure of a bona fide intelligence report consists of:

  • A date, details of the author and an introduction providing background to the report's brief.
  • A raw narrative of events with detail about sources and evidence, plus references to dates, places and individuals.
  • Analysis, value-judgments on the reliability of the information, a classification of secrecy as well as a conclusion.
  • The report will also contain attachments, supporting documents as well as information on actions such as surveillance, wiretapping and sources.
  • Pages will be clearly numbered and, it will be accompanied by a distribution list and copy-control (stating for example that it is copy one of three) will be exercised.

McBride, who has laid a counter-charge and has indicated he will assist the police in their investigation, also could be the victim of a smear-campaign, much like the High-Risk Investigations Unit (HRIU) of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) in 2014. The HRIU was accused of running brothels and spying on politicians, branded a "rogue unit" and eventually disbanded, with many of its members leaving the public service under a cloud.

'The trick is to remain vague'
"These campaigns cook up anything. They look at the situation. Whatever story they concoct, it needs to be believable. The trick is to remain very vague. The more sophisticated disinformation campaigns weave in some kernels of truth, just enough to give it some credence. If even a little checks out, people believe it," the intelligence veteran says.

McBride on Saturday admitted to "admonishing" his daughter, but denies injuring her as is claimed. He has been the target of numerous onslaughts over the last two years due to IPID's investigations into police corruption. He's survived a number of attacks -- but the one brought on by his daughter might be killer-blow.

According to News24 ,the intel document on Project Wonder appears to be broadly sympathetic to Mbalula, with just enough detail about his alleged enemies inside the police that want him out.

The more sophisticated disinformation campaigns weave in some kernels of truth, just enough to give it some credence.

Mbalula and crime intelligence will be important allies in the last months before Zuma's preferred candidate squares off against deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa for the ANC's presidency in December. He needs the political space to launch a clean-out and install compliant commanders and unit heads. And McBride could be a major stumbling-block.

Project Wonder won't be the last intelligence report to be leaked in the next couple of months.