Intelligence Services: Minister's Budget Speech


22 May 2008


Address by Ronnie Kasrils, MP
Minister for Intelligence Services
Intelligence Services Budget Vote
National Assembly
23 May 2008

To spy or not to spy?

Chairperson, Honourable Members


At the outset may I welcome the distinguished representatives of our Continent’s intelligence services, who are in Cape Town for the Fifth Annual Conference of the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA), hosted by the Director-General of the South African Secret Service (SASS). We are extremely honoured by their presence here, given our Africa Day celebrations this weekend, in which the vast majority of our people express their oneness with our Continent in the spirit of unity.

Members will recall that in 2004 we pledged to build the professional, effective, accountable intelligence services that South Africa requires to meet the complex security threats of the 21st Century. Whilst much remains to be done, much has been achieved, which my address will seek to demonstrate, contending that we are making a difference; we are providing value for money.

The need for professionalism has become all the more apparent in recent years, where intelligence services internationally have had their fair share of mishaps, failures and abuse - including our own - leading some, taking poetic license with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, to pose the existential question: ‘to spy or not to spy?’.

Evolution and importance

In answering this question, we simply need to look back to the genesis of intelligence, where the Old Testament has God instructing Moses to dispatch spies into the Land of Canaan!

As societies evolved from clans into kingdoms, empires and nations; growing more complex and interdependent in their interactions with each other, so too did the nature of the threats confronting them. This meant that the need to gather intelligence grew, where states increasingly relied upon the vigilance of their lookouts – amakhangela - to safeguard their interests, which today must include the security and well-being of their people.

These developments ultimately gave rise to the establishment of the specialised intelligence structures that are a feature of modern governance. And in the unpredictable global world that we inhabit,
the necessity for intelligence has intensified; now more than ever it is absolutely vital to be reliably informed, for as the saying goes ‘knowledge is power’.

Intelligence in a democracy

We therefore cannot afford to discard or neglect this age-old craft. Yet its utility is expressly dependent on our professionalism and the extent to which we are able to recognise and deal resolutely with deficiencies, correct weaknesses and root out any abuse. This is why in democracies such as ours, intelligence services are subject to a range of controls and oversight – the guardians of the guards - to facilitate their accountability and professionalism; keeping a close check on the legality, propriety and effectiveness of their activities.

Where mistakes happen despite the existence of these measures, we must counteract the potential for a reoccurrence and avoid flawed products, mindful of the words of an intelligence commentator: ‘that the medicine can, if not administered under the very strictest and widest supervision, have the effects which are as damaging as the disease’.

Ensuring our legality and propriety

It is for this reason that we have been enhancing an awareness of the necessity for legality and propriety at all times - informed by our Five Principals for Professional Intelligence Officers namely that our members acknowledge that they do not stand above the law; are accountable to the executive and Parliament; accept the principle of political non-partisanship; owe their loyalty to the Constitution, our people and the state; and appreciate that they must maintain high standards of performance.

Civic Education Programme

Central to the attainment of this is our Civic Education Programme based on our Constitution, relevant legislation and the responsibilities of our members within our structures towards our people. Elements of the curriculum are being integrated into our training initiatives, whilst we have embarked on a series of Civic Education seminars with senior managers.

This programme has been supported by internal debates on a range of topics on intelligence in a democracy. We are prepared to engage civil society in these through the public out-reach lectures to be hosted by the Institute for Security Studies.

Strengthening our internal policies

Also important is the evaluation that we conducted of our internal policies so as to secure greater conformity with our Constitutional framework. We have sought to deal with any gaps, ensuring at all times that the law is strictly observed.

We have translated these policies into Standard Operating Procedures for each area of work, spelling out the rules by which they must be implemented, so as to provide further guidance to our officers. We have also established internal assurance bodies to monitor and enforce compliance, enabling us to address concerns as they arise.

This must not be interpreted as tying the hands of our officers but rather ensuring greater quality, accuracy and professionalism in their work and a deeper sense of personal confidence in their decision-making and actions.

Strengthening our legislation

Honourable Members

We are bringing the legislation governing our protection of information regime in harmony with our Constitution - as reflected in our Protection of Information Bill - that seeks to regulate the manner in which government information should be secured within an open and democratic society.

The Bill is aimed at protecting sensitive information, which must lawfully be restricted, by criminalising the actions of those who attempt to gain unauthorised access for the purpose of prejudicing our country’s national security. These provisions are not a ‘Kafkaesque’ ploy to obstruct the work of journalists and researchers. Rather they target those engaged in espionage activities and information peddlers disseminating false information to undermine the integrity of government.

The Bill, by setting out the procedures for classification and declassification, will in fact facilitate access to government information. It will ensure that any decision taken to restrict information is done sparingly, lawfully, legitimately and is justified within the context of our Constitution, making it an offence to use this process as a cloak to hide government corruption, incompetence or abuse. In addition, by providing for regular status reviews, it will enable access to documentation that was previously deemed to be classified.

The Bill has been submitted to Parliament for scrutiny and public hearings. This engagement will improve those provisions where concerns have been raised.

Ministerial Review Commission

All these initiatives are being assessed by the independent Ministerial Review Commission, chaired by Mr Joe Matthews, established to evaluate and make recommendations on our legislation and mechanisms of control in order to ensure full compliance and alignment with the Constitution and the rule of law. The Commission’s report will be made public and should be completed by July. It will no doubt provide a basis for introducing further reforms and continuing the dialogue that has already begun.

I must again stress the purpose is to improve the management and mission of our intelligence services and not to inhibit them.

Ensuring our Effectiveness

In building our professionalism, we have gone beyond legality and propriety to secure our effectiveness. Critical is the progress made in implementing our Ten Priorities programme, directed in 2004 to building our core business capacity by focussing our resources and activities on the main pillars of the Intelligence Cycle - what we termed our ‘Holy Trinity’ – through the collection of quality information; its sophisticated analysis; and its timely dissemination.

In so doing, w
e have optimised the use of our resources by realigning our budget spending ratios away from a skewed salary account in favour of operational expenditure and capital investment needs. Our main concern was the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and its Spending Centres, which embarked on decisive action, decreasing personnel costs from the unsustainable 74% in 2004 to 54% in the 2007/2008 financial year. Consequently spending on operations has increased from 22% to 34% and capital expenditure from 4% to 12%.

We are filling strategic vacancies, opening up our recruitment processes to attract young potential and those with high-level skills, ensuring that all undergo a thorough grounding prior to deployment, as demonstrated by our revised formative programme for new recruits, which now runs over six months. Linked to this have been our efforts to engender a new management philosophy so as to improve the retention and performance of serving officers, through the promotion of career-progression and ongoing training.

The South African National Academy for Intelligence (SANAI) is at the centre of these training endeavours. Much has been done to transform it from its fledgling phase in 2004 to the premier provider that it is fast becoming. Sound governance and financial management practices are being achieved; its infrastructure is expanding; and its curriculum framework has been developed. All courses offered – from our formative programme, to functional training in operational collection, analysis and tradecraft, to specialist border intelligence and surveillance training – simulate the operational context, integrate generic skills and advanced knowledge and instill discipline, professionalism and ethical work practices.

Our 2006 decision to create interdepartmental task teams on our key priorities, comprising representatives from across government, under the auspices of the National Intelligence Co-ordinating Committee (NICOC), is bearing fruit in respect of information-sharing. This is demonstrated by the intelligence flow from departments to NICOC, which prior to their establishment in 2005 stood at 2469 reports per annum, rising to 4701 this past year.

NICOC has strengthened its analytical capacity, as indicated by the growth of their analysts, which constitute 48% of their staff complement as opposed to 26% in 2004. This additional expertise - together with the task teams and interventions in NIA and SASS to focus our collection effort and heighten the depth of our analysis -
has led to a qualitative improvement in our National Intelligence Estimate and a 40% growth in the number of products since 2004.

NIA is enhancing our defensive capabilities by the improvements made to our vetting capacity, where the number of clearances issued has doubled since 2004. These range from procuring advanced technology to integrate data-bases; to focusing our vetting and security-advising resources to sensitive posts in priority institutions; to establishing vetting field-work units in targeted departments.

NIA continues to provide training and support to officials tasked with protective security in all government departments, through their Security Managers Forum, whose participants have grown from 70% in 2004 to 96%.
These efforts are fortified by SASS, who are responsible for securing our foreign missions and the advances made by the National Communications Centre (NCC) and COMSEC in ensuring that our information and communications technology infrastructure is adequately protected.

The thread binding these undertakings has been to direct our energies towards those on the frontline, whilst enhancing co-ordination, management and support from the centre. As a result, we have strengthened our operational capacity where it matters most – be it at headquarters, in the provinces or our missions abroad.

The proof is in the pudding

The proof is in the pudding and our advances can be measured by the feedback received from the President and relevant Ministers, who have commended the usefulness of our products.

It can be seen in our breakthroughs. These range from exposing a syndicate defrauding government departments; to assisting our prosecutorial authorities, leading to the world’s first-ever successful conviction of individuals connected with weapons proliferation; to supporting our conflict resolution efforts on the Continent; to disorganising espionage activities.

It is reflected in the raised morale of our officers, who have a clear sense of their professional duties and the requisite tools to perform them with pride.

Domestic, Continental and International Intelligence Priorities

In the period ahead, we will build on the gains made, taking our President’s exhortation of ‘business unusual’ to heart, by aspiring to even greater heights.

And in turning to our domestic priorities, we
remain vigilant to countering espionage, subversion, violent instability, corruption, transnational crime and will ensure that all events hosted by our country, including the 2010 World Cup, are properly secured.

The current shameful outbreak of xenophobic attacks on foreigners is being urgently investigated by the intelligence services in support of the police. These unpardonable acts bring to the fore the need to intensify the implementation of government’s efforts to eradicate poverty and reinforce our housing and service delivery programmes. We must better educate our people in tolerance, resolutely dispelling any erroneous perceptions about foreign nationals, which are fueled in circumstances of relative socio-economic disadvantage. It is these variables that ultimately create the poisonous context for opportunistic elements to exploit and manipulate genuine local grievances for their own sinister ends, with tragic consequences. We stress that our security forces will restore law and order with the necessary firmness and can forthrightly declare that the vast majority of South Africans condemn this appalling behaviour.

Honourable Members

Whilst we are neither a primary target for terrorists, nor a safe haven, we are alert to averting such an attack or the use of our territory by seditious elements from whatever quarter. And we will monitor very carefully the signs of any revival of such threat from apartheid-era extremists.

In looking to our Continent, we will continue to support our government’s facilitation, peace-making and post-conflict reconstruction efforts. Whilst the challenges remain, we note the advances made through our involvement with the processes in the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Comoros and elsewhere. We remain seized with developments in Zimbabwe and will continue to aid our President’s mediation mission on behalf of the South African Development Community (SADC) in the interests of all the people of Zimbabwe, who deserve a peaceful climate for a free and fair Presidential run-off.

In moving beyond our Continent, we are concerned about the deteriorating international security situation that is exacerbated by global economic turbulence including the rising cost of food and energy, which has a destabilising effect on all countries, and we unhesitatingly include the poor in our own country. The struggles to access and control strategic oil, gas and other natural resources are clearly fueling instability and conflict.

The volatile situation in the Middle East, with its interlinked conflicts, continues to contribute to global insecurity, including the ongoing tragedy of Palestinian dispossession and military occupation which - in this the sixtieth year of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) – remains an abiding source of instability, with Israel being allowed to act with complete impunity.

Counterpoised against these negative factors is the rising influence of emerging powers in developing countries. We will use the opportunities presented to mobilise support for our government’s vision of a just, equitable international order and a multilateral approach – premised on a commitment to inclusive dialogue in the resolution of conflict or its threat – as the only route to achieve the lasting peace, stability and security that humanity yearns for.

Importance of international co-operation

It is this vision that underscores our perspective regarding international intelligence co-operation. Whilst we are required to search beyond our borders to gain the unique information we require, we cannot do so in an unfettered manner. The ‘no holds barred’ approach, reminiscent of the Cold War era, is counterproductive in today’s world. We cannot be in all places at once and our ability to effectively counter wide-ranging threats is dependent on mutually beneficial relationships of trust, where we work with our partners on matters of common interest.

It is for this very reason that we identified the need to strengthen co-operation, especially in Africa. Whilst our work has been extensive, our commitment is reflected by the presence of the representatives from the 46 member states constituting CISSA, as noted earlier. CISSA gives expression to the wisdom of the great icon, Kwame Nkrumah, who taught that: ‘we must find an African solution to our problems and this can only be found in African unity’. CISSA is indeed part of our broader African solution, as it serves as a primary platform for intelligence sharing on common security concerns, thereby enabling us all to chart a common course in dealing with them.


In so doing, it is imperative that we further enhance our co-operation on the Continent, together with our partners further afield, in countering terrorism. Here I am reminded of the statement of a former Spanish Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalesx where he stated that if a score of countries put on the table everything they had on terrorism, we would have 95% of the picture. We must ensure that our practical defences are as good as they can be; that our intelligence co-operation is as beneficial as possible; that our laws are properly designed to discourage and prosecute offenders; and that we are trained and equipped for the task at hand.

We must, however, acknowledge that terrorism cannot be tackled from a narrow perspective. What is required is a holistic counter-terrorism approach, which includes technical and logistical co-operation with a programme to advance development, strengthen governance and democracy and promote human rights and social inclusion. Marginalisation, poverty, underdevelopment, injustice and conflict provide the very context for terrorists to establish support systems and recruit their followers.

Most importantly, we cannot destroy the rule of law or be party to eroding longstanding international conventions in countering this threat. Sharing is one thing; brokering torture is completely unacceptable. This is fundamental; we lose everything if we sacrifice basic principles of human rights. We must be at pains for example to avoid demonising Islam and its communities. This will lead to incorrect threat assessments and measures that harass and discriminate against law-abiding citizens.

Intelligence as a credible force for good

In co-operating, whether on terrorism, conflict prevention and management or all manner of transnational syndicated criminal threats, we also need to pool our experience on ways in which to enhance our professionalism, so that we can ensure that intelligence is viewed as a credible and noble force for good. This is especially necessary on our Continent, where the collective security goal that our intelligence services must pursue is one of peace, stability and development for all.

Whilst the development of laws and external oversight mechanisms are critical, we need to also look beyond them to internally regulating our own actual professional and ethical conduct. This is an enduring challenge that applies equally to all countries, whatever the nature of their political system.

Ruling parties need to appreciate that whilst we loyally serve within the context of our respective government’s priorities, we have the integral duty to protect all our citizens. We cannot become a law unto ourselves and must ensure that our powers are directed at genuine threats rather than at political opponents or some minority that can be scapegoated as a distraction from dealing with the real problems. We cannot bow to pressure to ‘cook’ our intelligence product to meet some preconceived ‘recipe’. This leads to flawed intelligence.

No-one is well served when intelligence is corrupted. We must therefore acquire the professional expertise and confidence to offer independent judgment and the moral courage to say no to any abuse. Much like Shakespeare’s court jester, the West African griot or the South African imbongi who were accorded special status to speak uncomfortable truths to power, intelligence services must be able to tell the policymaker what they ought to know and not simply what they want to hear!


In returning to where I began, it is precisely these vital elements that encompass our endeavours to build the professional, effective, accountable intelligence services for the 21st Century that we said our country requires. As our progress illustrates, we have indeed made strides in achieving this objective, purposefully identifying and overcoming whatever limitations, thereby addressing the challenge posed by those who seek to interrogate why ‘we spy’.

In fact, as we improve our abilities, we have sought to meet the statement of the 17th Century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who wrote: ‘reliable intelligence agents’ - are to those that exercise the responsibility of governance - ‘like rays of light to the human soul’

In requesting the House to adopt our Budget, let us therefore pay tribute to the ‘reliable intelligence agents’ of our democracy, expressing our gratitude to the Heads of the Services, together with their management teams who have proved their mettle, remaining steadfast in their dedication to the task at hand, and who will always strive to be better ‘rays of light’.

We take this opportunity to bid farewell to Mr. Mohammed Jhatham, outgoing Executive Director of the NCC, who is taking a well-deserved retirement after a lifetime of service and welcome his replacement, Mr. Loyiso Jafta. In addition, we acknowledge Mr. Silumko Sokupa, the NICOC Co-ordinator appointed towards the end of last year. He took over the reigns from Mr. Barry Gilder, who as a true intelligence officer for life, has been engaged to assist us in an advisory capacity.

I convey appreciation to the Chairperson and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence, together with our Inspector-General, for the support and guidance they have provided us in their oversight role.

In closing, I thank my hard-working Ministerial staff.



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