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Respected editor angry on finding he was spied on by government

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NICOLA MILTZ

His anger comes after the emergence of an explosive affidavit, alleged to have been written by an ex-spy who worked for former president Jacob Zuma’s then-minister of state security, David Mahlobo.

In it, he claims that cabinet ministers, heads of non-governmental organisations, trade unions, judges, and other “significant individuals” were spied on between 2015 and 2018.

The ex-spy’s sworn statement was released by forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan’s company, Forensics for Justice.

Code-named “Prophet” or “Whiskey”, the operative’s real name is being kept secret for now to protect him. The affidavit exposes how, under the leadership of Zuma, the SSA subjected private individuals and organisations to unlawful surveillance.

The affidavit names Harber, University of the Witwatersrand journalism professor and former eNCA editor in chief, as one of the 38 people who was spied on. It also names outspoken anti-corruption activist and CEO of Sygnia Group, Magda Wierzycka – whose father and grandparents were Jewish – and the executive director of Freedom under Law, Nicole Fritz. Freedom under Law was the joint winner of the humanitarian award at the 2018 Absa Jewish Achiever Awards.

The affidavit was prepared by O’Sullivan in June last year, and came to light days after the recent release of a report by a review panel that investigated the SSA on instruction from President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The panel, which was appointed in June 2018, made some damning findings, including that the SSA was used in the ANC’s factional battles. The report confirmed what the public has been suspecting for years: under Zuma’s leadership, SSA operatives engaged in widespread spying, corruption, political interference, and abuse of power. It found that intelligence agencies were focused more on internal ANC battles than on the public’s safety and security, abused their power and state resources, and infiltrated the media.

According to BizNews, after the ex-spy came forward, O’Sullivan handed his affidavit to Ramaphosa. It is understood the information contained in the affidavit would have assisted the high-level investigation into the SSA, the findings of which corroborated much of what the ex-spy exposed.

The affidavit gives a glimpse into the sordid world of espionage involving conspiracy theories, code names, clandestine addresses, spy equipment, Russian accents, bottles of vodka, cyber surveillance, and “honey traps”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is mentioned several times as being closely tied to Mahlobo. The ex-spy apparently financially lost everything when Mahlobo allegedly fobbed him off. He details an outrageous plot to destabilise the ANC, and includes salacious titbits about certain ministers’ sexual preferences, escapades, and extra marital affairs.

Harber, Wierzycka, Fritz, former public protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela, Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron, former home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni are a few of the people “Prophet” or ‘Whiskey” says were spied on.

Harber told the SA Jewish Report he is considering his options, and will be seeking legal advice on how to take the matter further. ”I am definitely considering doing something about this. We have to stand up to such abuses of power,” he said.

“This is the second time in a decade that state security has been spying on me. I have an apology letter from Ronnie Kasrils when he was minister. I accepted that and moved on, only now to discover it might be continuing. It is disgraceful and dangerous. And it means they are probably not watching real threats to our state security.

Harber said he was never aware that he was being watched. “I think it is easy to look back and blame all those dropped calls and bad reception on spies. But who knows?”

Wierzycka said on Twitter she knew her phone was tapped and “used as a listening device”.

“The phone reception deteriorated when SSA was listening. I was also followed. By car and on foot. Exploring legal options.”

She told the media the surveillance appeared to drop since Ramaphosa came to power. “They weren’t particularly covert about it,” said Wierzycka. “You would see the same guys sitting in the restaurant, and the same guy walking past me in the street. It was also very obvious our telephones were being tapped.”

In the affidavit, the ex-spy states: “I was part of a team manning a small communication centre monitoring strategic individuals. My task was to listen to conversation, summarise transcripts into briefs, report immediate real-time locations of subjects under surveillance, write reports on the recording acquired, warn of impending meetings based on cell phone triangulation, corroborate human intelligence via redacted intelligence from operatives on the ground, assign operatives for tasks based on intelligence obtained.

“After doing the intercepts, we would sit and transcribe the intercepts and these would be handed to a runner who would come and fetch them to the Minister (sic).”

“Whiskey” alleges that Mahlobo had talked of how he was trained in Russia, China, Angola, Senegal, Brazil, and India before being promoted to minister.

“Mahlobo says that when he was in Russia, Putin spared at least an hour for him every day… and agreed he should be a president of South Africa in the next five to 10 years,” states Whiskey.

He further claims that part of the plot to destabilise the ANC would be to subject the former North West and Free State premiers to “fake shootings and bombings”, and then blame the “conspiracy” on Ramaphosa and his supporters.

On the Forensics for Justice website, O’Sullivan said: “The sheer audacity of Zuma’s accomplices, like Mahlobo, who was also engaged in unlawful wire-taps of ourselves and others, whilst running a criminally secret parallel intelligence structure, is breathtaking.”

O’Sullivan said he had opened a case with the Hawks in June, and wanted Mahlobo to be brought before the Zondo commission on state capture.

“I now believe that the intelligence project was in all probability an illegal intelligence operation, and that Mahlobo was running a parallel intelligence structure,” he said.

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