Spy Cables: Greenpeace among intelligence targets

Numerous politicised spy requests sent to Pretoria, seeking information on ‘rogue NGOs’, politicians and exile groups.

Secret documents leaked to Al Jazeera reveal a routine practice among intelligence agencies to seek the cooperation of their peers in other countries to curb political dissent.

The Spy Cables reveal a torrent of politicised requests to South Africa’s State Security Agency (SSA) for information on “rogue NGOs”, politicians and exiled groups from intelligence agencies around the world – many of them declined as inappropriate by the South Africans. They include:

  • An application from South Korea for a “specific security assessment” of Greenpeace Director Kumi Naidoo, a South African citizen;
  • A request from Cameroon to spy on an opposition leader just weeks ahead of elections;
  • An attempt by Rwanda to list “genocide fugitives” and “negationists” as targets for surveillance;
  • A deal with Zimbabwe to spy on “rogue NGOs” whose activities are “aimed at subverting constitutional order,” including think tanks and media, including social networks.
  • Continuous demands from Sri Lanka for South Africa to spy on Tamil diaspora groups, with Colombo making ongoing, unconfirmed allegations that separatists had run military training camps in South Africa since 1998.

A leak of hundreds of secret intelligence papers from agencies all over the world, offering a glimpse into the murky world of espionage.
Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit is publishing a selection of the documents and the stories contained within them. 

‘Numbing and chilling’

One secret document from 2010 exposes how, nine months before the G20 Summit in Seoul in November, South Korea requested “specific security assessments” on three men.

Two were listed as “dangerous persons” and were arrested in Pakistan in 2004.

The third was Director of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo.

Al Jazeera informed the activist and campaigner of the request. He was not surprised.

“Sadly, the assumption that we make, especially after the Edward Snowden leaks and the Wikileaks information came out, is that we are heavily monitored and under constant surveillance.

“But it’s one thing assuming that it’s happening; it’s a little numbing and chilling to have it confirmed,” he told Al Jazeera.

It is not recorded within the documents whether or not South Africa complied with the request from South Korea.

‘Confirm or refute’

The Spy Cables also reveal how Cameroon asked South Africa to spy on a prominent opposition leader just weeks ahead of a presidential election he hoped to contest.

Pierre Mila Assoute broke away from the ruling party and tried to challenge Cameroon’s President Paul Biya in presidential elections in 2004 and again in 2011.

“According to sources of the Cameroonian intelligence service, Mr Assoute is thought to have travelled to South Africa,” an SSA agent wrote in September 2011, just over a month before presidential elections in Cameroon.

Cameroonian intelligence had asked the SSA “to confirm or refute if Mr Assoute ever came to South Africa recently and the purpose thereof if it could be established.”

The liaison officer declined, noting, “I do not think Mr. Pierre Mila Assoute has committed any offence which will warrant South Africa to provide information”.

Pierre Mila Assoute [Youtube/Al Jazeera]

Assoute’s application to run as a candidate in the 2011 polls was rejected, as was his 2004 application. He now lives in France.

‘Rogue NGOs’

The Spy Cables also contain a number of intelligence sharing deals between South Africa and its allies, including one agreed “memorandum of understanding” with Zimbabwe.

It outlines a number of areas where the two nations can cooperate in intelligence gathering, including monitoring “activities aimed at subverting constitutional order”.

A list of subheadings outlines the types of organisations that Zimbabwe and South Africa agreed to target, such as “rogue” non-governmental organisations or NGOs, including “think-tanks” and “not-for-profit trusts”.

The document also shows that South Africa and Zimbabwe agreed to monitor media groups, “including social media” and to share their findings.

Rights campaigners regularly warn of attacks on civil society groups in Zimbabwe, such as the arrest in 2013 of Okay Machisa, director of leading Zimbabwean human rights group ZimRights.

Amnesty International also warned of an “alarming clampdown on basic freedoms” ahead of elections in 2013. Incumbent Robert Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe for nearly 35 years, won the vote.

Rwanda’s ‘genocide fugitives’ and ‘negationists’

A draft intelligence-sharing deal also reveals how Rwanda sought to persuade South Africa to spy on what it called “genocide fugitives” and “negationists”.

At the end of a draft memorandum of understanding, Rwandan spies suggested adding “tracking of genocide fugitives/negationists” to a line committing both countries to “identify and share information” on activities such as smuggling, money laundering and drug trafficking.

President Paul Kagame’s government enshrined a ban on denying the 1994 genocide in Rwanda’s constitution. It says, “revisionism, negationism and trivialisation of genocide are punishable by the law”.

That law has been used to prosecute and imprison journalists and opposition figures found guilty of denying the 1994 slaughter, which claimed the lives of around 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutus who opposed the genocide.

Critics say the constitution’s wording is vague and is used against those who suggest both ethnic Hutus and Tutsis suffered equally in the genocide, contradicting the official version of events.

The papers show the general manager of the State Security Agency’s Central and East Africa Unit rejected Rwanda’s proposal, writing that it was neither acceptable nor “operationally appropriate, given the current circumstances” to target “genocide fugitives/negationists.”

Rwanda’s spies also sought to add the words “and individuals” to a clause in the deal which targeted groups “creating instability”. South Africa also rejected that proposal.

Sri Lanka’s civil war ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009 [AP]

Silencing Tamil Tigers

In another secret cable, Sri Lankan intelligence suggested that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elaam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, had held a military training camp in South Africa in 2010, claiming individuals from Australia, Canada and Britain may have attended.

South African intelligence rejected the claims outright and told Sri Lanka it “could not confirm” the allegations, noting that the Sri Lankan government has been making “ongoing allegations” of this nature since 1998.

Tamil community leaders in South Africa deny any links to the LTTE and say the government in Colombo is scaremongering.

“We are an open book,” says Karthi Moothsamy of the South African Tamil Federation. “We have an open door policy. Any questions you need to ask us, we will give you honest answers.”

“You do not need to put us under surveillance,” he told Al Jazeera.

Overall, the Spy Cables reveal just how routine it is for intelligence agencies to ask their peers for help in crushing domestic dissent. In some of these cases, it appears South Africa has rejected those requests.

However, spy deals that allow it to target civil society and media only serve to underline the serious need for scrutiny of the intelligence agencies and who they choose as targets.

Follow Rahul Radhakrishnan and Will Jordan on Twitter

Source: Al Jazeera