The battle between the office of the inspector-general of intelligence and State Security Agency boss Arthur Fraser has again brought to the fore questions about independence and agendas within South Africa's intelligence services.
In court papers, inspector-general of intelligence Setlhomamaru Dintwe accused Fraser of undermining investigations into him [Fraser], by interfering with Dintwe's functions and revoking his security clearance. Dintwe claimed Fraser threatened and intimidated him repeatedly.
What makes it peculiar is that Dintwe's office serves as an independent oversight body appointed by Parliament to monitor the intelligence community. If Dintwe's claims prove true, it would mean Fraser is effectively hindering an investigation into himself by an organisation mandated to keep an eye on his activities, without repercussions.
It means Dintwe was forced to approach the courts for protection, even though Fraser is accountable to him, the state, and Parliament.
And Fraser, appointed by former president Jacob Zuma as director-general of the State Security Agency in 2016, is one of the most influential figures within the country's intelligence networks, holding the keys to a treasure trove of state information.
Allegations of political interference throughout Fraser's career are abundant.
In May 2007, a top-secret report was leaked that showed that Zuma's presidential ambitions were allegedly fuelled and funded by corrupt African leaders. Then-president Thabo Mbeki appointed Fraser to head investigations into the report.
During Fraser's investigation into that Browse Mole report, the NIA tapped the phones of several high-ranking officials mentioned in it, including Leonard McCarthy, who was boss of (now-defunct serious crimes investigation unit) the Scorpions. On the tapes were discussions about when would be the most politically damaging time to charge Zuma.
It is believed Fraser thereafter made a political turnabout and leaked the recordings, which later became known as the Spy Tapes, to Zuma and his legal team. That was the golden key that led to the NPA dropping charges against Zuma in 2009. It is believed Fraser's political power thereafter stems from his relationship with the former president.
Major-General Johan Booysen, the former KwaZulu-Natal Hawks boss, said political interference is a symptom in all of South Africa's intelligence units.
In an interview with HuffPost, he said the police's crime intelligence unit has been "compromised politically". He would not comment on the SSA, because he did not serve in the agency.
"Crime intelligence is severely compromised. We need a comprehensive clean-up of both CI and the SSA. This includes vetting of each individual; checking their political and business interests. Even that may not do it, but it's a start. Politicians are not stupid; they do not approach investigators directly," he said.
"The interfering is done through proxies. They will question your motives for the investigation and your sources. It is almost like you become the accused yourself. They continuously want feedback on the progress of an investigation and the details, so they can divulge it to the people under investigation."
🔥 State Security Agency 🔥— Laurie A Claase (@LaurieAClaase) April 11, 2018
Inspector General of Intelligence claims, "It is my sincere belief that the intimidation I have been facing from the Director General [Arthur Fraser] is occasioned by the investigations I am undertaking into the complaints laid against him ." https://t.co/RvLPRumPqn
A source in the SSA who spoke to HuffPost on condition on anonymity said the intelligence industry still remains "shady". The source, who serves as an investigator in one of the SSA's divisions, said politics comes naturally to their line of work.
"The job of the SSA is to monitor all information that we receive from our informants and other sources. It is easy to manipulate facts and information, because the industry itself is very unregulated and illusive. We don't know other agents; everything is mostly on a need-to-know basis. Part of the job is monitoring threats to the state, so politics naturally comes in, I guess," the source said.
"Because of the system, the hierarchy and the different divisions, it makes it hard not to interfere. We are not the police. It is not blatant. Some members do their work honestly; some think they are doing their work honestly, but don't know the motives behind the instructions they are given, and we heard that others work for other entities quietly."
The time has come for President Ramaphosa to reclaim our intelligence services.— Democratic Alliance (@Our_DA) April 11, 2018
"Arthur Fraser has been exposed for the thug he is by opposition parties, journalists, civil society and now the Inspector-General of Intelligence." - @jsteenhuisenhttps://t.co/69MtrPo44P
The DA says it will be writing to President Cyril Ramaphosa to immediately put Fraser on suspension, pending an investigation into the allegations.
"Our worst fears have been realised with the politicisation of the intelligence services, perhaps epitomised by the dubious intelligence report that was used as a pretext to fire then-Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, and his deputy in March 2017. In September of the same year, we asked the IGI to urgently probe allegations of a covert unit operating within the SSA targeting Zuma's political opponents and reporting directly to him and then-Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo," the party said in a statement.