New law to rein in former spies

Proposal comes in wake of De Ruyter hiring private agency for Eskom probe




Arena Holdings PTY

News | Politics

● The government is working on new proposals to regulate privately owned intelligence agencies, including regulating the conduct of former spies. This comes just weeks after revelations that former Eskom boss André de Ruyter procured a potentially illegal, privately funded covert surveillance operation at the embattled power utility. In an interview with the Sunday Times, the minister in the Presidency responsible for state security, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, revealed that, as part of the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill (Gilab), the government seeks to regulate the conduct of former members of the service, including former intelligence ministers. Ntshavheni said the bill was scheduled for consideration by the cabinet this week before submission to parliament. “Among other things, the bill seeks to strengthen measures to regulate and co-ordinate the private security industry as part of a broader national security approach, and put in place measures to regulate the conduct of former members of the service and others with access to intelligence,” she said. Ntshavheni would not say how the regulations would work. “Whether you like it or not, we’ve got what we call external capacity. You’ve got someone who works for the State Security Agency (SSA) and for whatever reason they leave and they’ve got this expertise and information and they go and set up their own thing. “So what we are doing with Gilab is to say how to regulate that; it’s to propose a regulatory mechanism.” Ntshavheni said that among the concerns regarding private, unvetted operatives who had unrestricted access to sensitive information was that they could “peddle that information outside the country”. Such private operations were regulated by the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) but there was a loophole as the PSIRA does not regulate the intelligence-gathering component, which is the SSA’s responsibility, she said. Ideally what De Ruyter should have done was get the SSA to vet the company he selected for the investigation. Once the SSA had approved it, there would be an agreement on where the gathered information would be stored, said Ntshavheni. According to the minister, De Ruyter’s actions were potentially illegal. She reiterated that the SSA was not involved in the operation, which she described as “rogue”. The Eskom board and executives, the department of public enterprise and its minister Pravin Gordhan and other law enforcement agencies have all distanced themselves from the investigation. News24 reported last month that De Ruyter hired George Fivaz Forensic & Risk, a company owned by former national police commissioner George Fivaz, to conduct the investigation, which was led by apartheidera military agent Tony Oosthuizen. De Ruyter told parliament’s standing committee on public accounts last month that Eskom had not only contracted private security to investigate coal theft and tampering, but overt and covert surveillance and intelligence gathering had been put in place. He added that an intelligence-led operation had gathered significant information on the extent of organised crime in Eskom, particularly in Mpumalanga. In addition to regulating former intelligence agents, the proposed amendment bill will seek to restructure the intelligence services by separating domestic and foreign services, as recommended by a high-level review panel chaired by Sydney Mufamadi in 2018. The proposed law also seeks to remedy the defects in the functioning of the signals intelligence capacity, as confirmed by the Constitutional Court, and address weaknesses identified by the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog the Financial Action Task Force. Included will be measures to combat money laundering and terrorist financing by empowering the national security structures to investigate and conduct security assessments if a person or institution is of national security interest. Meanwhile, Ntshavheni revealed that in an effort to professionalise and modernise the SSA, the government would pilot e-vetting from April 2024. South Africa was still backward in terms of data analytics, data migration and information gathering, especially in the cyber age, she said. Introducing modern technologies is one of the commitments she has made to her boss, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Ntshavheni said.