Arthur Fraser lost his job on Tuesday as State Security Agency director-general although he remains a top public official – now in charge of correctional services. This came amid unprecedented legal action by Inspector-General of Intelligence, SetlhomamaruDintwe, who turned to the courts for protection after Fraser revoked his top secret security clearance, effectively stopping the watchdog from doing his oversight job. The redeployment of Fraser also comes against speculation that a broader clean-up of the SSA is on the cards.
Speculation of steps against State Security Agency (SSA) director-general Arthur Fraser emerged soon after Inspector-General of Intelligence (IGI),Setlhomamaru Dintwe raised the red flag last week over the spy boss’s withdrawal of his security clearance, ostensibly for being in possession of classified information without informing the SSA.
It being the smoke and mirror world of spooks and spies, this could not officially be confirmed by either State Security or the Presidency. Then on Tuesday morning, the official statement dropped. It was terse:
“A decision has been taken to transfer the Director-General of the State Security Agency, Mr Arthur Fraser, to the Department of Correctional Services. The transfer follows consultation between President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Minister of State Security, Ms Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, and Mr Fraser on the suitable location of the director-general. The transfer has been agreed upon with Mr Fraser and will be effective with immediate effect.”
Between the lines the official statement, which also announced Loyiso Jafta as a “suitable” acting DG given his track-record within various intelligence structures, confirmed a number of issues. That the state security minister appointed by Ramaphosa in his Cabinet reshuffle at the end of February has been looking at cleaning up the controversy prone SSA. That Ramaphosa has been involved, although the level of this remains unclear. And that the scene is set for a broader clean-up of the SSA after years of politicisation and instability, possibly the first of the (unspecified) steps the state security minister mentioned in last week’s official statement on the unprecedented court battle between the spooks boss and the official meant to oversee him.
It appears the final straw was the unprecedented move by Fraser to use his administrative power against the constitutionally mandated and legislated oversight by Dintwe, who it appears unlike predecessors, actively pursued this mandate.
The IGI was investigating the SSA for deploying operatives to party political meetings from 2014 to 2017, and Fraser himself for his role in the Principle Agent Network (PAN) programme, effectively a parallel non-state intelligence network, after a complaint by DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen in May 2017, who in late 2017 requested an update on this probe following the publication of Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keepers.
The DA complaint was the latest in a series of investigations stretching over eight years into the PAN project – both by Dintwe’s predecessor, who made a series of recommendations, and the SSA itself as an internal probe was requested in September 2009 by then state security minister Siyabonga Cwele.
Daily Maverick previously reported that the internal probe found sufficient grounds for criminal proceedings. By 2011 assistance was requested from the Hawks and the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), with then Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe undertaking his ministry would offer whatever support after a briefing in the presence of Cwele.
Nothing ever came of this, at least nothing that ever reached the public eye. Following the 2014 elections, close confidant of then president Jacob Zuma, David Mahlobo, was appointed to the state security portfolio. It was Mahlobo who in September 2016 announced Fraser’s appointment by Zuma at the helm of the SSA.
That there were tensions, and a rapidly escalating confrontation from November 2017, between Fraser and Dintwe has emerged from both their court documents filed in the Gauteng North High Court.
Daily Maverick reported on Monday how Fraser argued for the withdrawal of Dintwe’s security clearance because he had received and shared classified information from MPs. But in doing so in this high stakes political poker game, Fraser also laid the basis for Dintwe to be sacked as loss of security clearance is one reason for the President to fire the IGI.
“I received information which suggested that the applicant (Dintwe) personally and without authority disclosed classified information to representatives of political parties in Parliament,” said Fraser in his court documents, maintaining that he was not at liberty to disclose the information or related document.
Fraser maintained he had done nothing unlawful or unconstitutional and instead said the IGI’s probe was “malicious and at the whims of political parties aimed at discrediting me, the agency and the political leadership”.
After first raising the matter of Dintwe possessing classified information on 8 November 2017, Fraser in a letter of 15 November 2017 announced Dintwe’s revetting. And in another letter attached to the court documents, it emerged how on 28 March 2018 Fraser withdrew the five-year top secret clearance certificate the IGI received in February 2017 shortly before his official appointment.
The reason from the spy boss to withdraw Dintwe’s security clearance by any yardstick is wacky. Top security clearance allows possession of classified information, which in any case is crucial to the constitutionally mandated and legislated oversight mandate. Arguing permission was needed from the SSA and its director-general is tantamount to requiring the go ahead of the spooks to do oversight over the spooks. Or, given that Fraser is being probed, tantamount to asking the subject of investigation to give consent to access or possess information the oversight structure deems relevant.
And MPs are protected by parliamentary privilege to hold, share and even publicly communicate, any information. Remember, Patricia de Lille, then Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) MP, getting the ball rolling on corruption claims in the multi-billion rand arms deal saga? Specifically the MPs of Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI), are security vetted and as a rule, sit behind closed doors even if that’s not a legislated norm.
But Dintwe’s court documents also outline a series of obstructions, delays and apparent attempts to starve the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence (OIGI) of the funding needed for its oversight work. Perhaps such tactics arose as the SSA had become comfortable with a lack of oversight. The IGI position was vacant for about two years, largely due to politicking over who should be the next IGI after Faith Radebe’s term ended.
In a bizarre twist, Fraser said in his court documents that the OIGI could function without the inspector-general himself. “In fact, the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence has functioned for a long time with the post of the inspector-general being vacant. This is so because the other officials of the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence continue to possess the requisite security clearance and are able to perform the functions of the office without the applicant (Dintwe) if circumstance so dictate.”
This conveniently ignores the statutory requirement to have an IGI, and the complaints raised from among civil society that during this hiatus that complaints were not pursued fully in the absence of a permanent IGI.
Steenhuisen, who had called for Fraser’s suspension in the wake of the legal battle, was critical on Tuesday of the former SSA DG’s redeployment.
“While we welcome Fraser’s removal from the SSA, it is completely outrageous that President Ramaphosa has decided to merely transfer Fraser to a different government department in light of the on-going investigation into the damning criminal allegations against him,” he said in a statement.
The controversy-ridden Fraser – his appointment was one of the last by the Zuma administration which has been widely criticised over using pliant officials for politically control, particularly the security cluster – is now gone. Whether that is the end of the saga, or the start of a clean-up is a governance decision that has yet to emerge.DM
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