Ex-spy boss holding the cards?

Masetlha was recently sacked from his position as head of the National Intelligence Agency by President Mbeki due to his alleged involvement in a series of fake e-mails plotting against former president Jacob Zuma as well as several unsanctioned surveillances on government officials. But despite overwhelming evidence against the former NIA director general and threats of stern action against him and all those implicated in the scandals, no action has been taken against him. A recent report by Inspector General (IG) of Intelligence Services, Zolile Ngcakani, pointed directly to Masetlha as being behind the emails, which were supposedly sent between National Prosecuting Authority head Vusi Pikoli and director general in the presidency Frank Chikane. The report also fingered Masetlha as sanctioning unofficial surveillances on senior government officials that a local weekly recently said included deputy president Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, finance minister Trevor Manuel and his direct boss intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils. The report, released in edited form by the IG recently, reportedly found that the secret NIA project launched by the sacked director general posed “the risk of undermining constitutionally protected party political freedoms and of descending into the abyss of abuse of state resources”. Ngcakani’s report is understood to have found that Masetlha had established the project, dubbed Avani, sometime around July 2005 without informing the minister of intelligence. The stated objectives of Project Avani were reportedly to assess and evaluate the effect that the presidential succession debate was having on the political climate and stability of the country. While national Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi said at a press conference three weeks ago that arrests were “imminent” in the spy saga, the lack of action in the case since then has raised eyebrows among observers, who now believe Masetlha could be holding something against his accusers. The local media has speculated heavily as to the reasons behind the lack of action on Masetlha, pointing largely to the fact that he still wields some degree of power over his former boss. “…people close to Masetlha say he has told associates that if he is charged, the president will have to resign,” the Mail and Guardian said recently. The reasons for the assumption largely stem from the fact that during his tenure, Masethla took quite a number of his orders directly from President Mbeki. Speculation has also flourished that the government’s caution in dealing with the former NIA director is partly due to a reluctance to expose the huge number of state secrets that Masetlha is likely to have had access to. Should the state go the route of the courts, the observers believe the resultant messy publicity could further soil the reputation of the NIA and that of the executive, they believe a high profile court case could also ‘unnecessarily’ drag in some senior ANC party officials. “It is a very touchy issue indeed,” local columnist Xolani Xundu said. The “issue” has fired up tension within the government and the ANC, where posturing on the sides of Mbeki and Masetlha has already become evident. At a recent press conference on the spy saga, the country’s security chiefs, many of whom worked with and were in exile with Masetlha, appeared en masse in full backing of president Mbeki in an action analysts said was meant to be a “show of force” against those taking sides with Masetlha. “The security and intelligence chiefs wanted to show him where they stood and send a warning to those clustering around Masetlha that they would not tolerate “mischief of the highest order, dangerous mischief” that threatened “the security of the state,” Xundu says. There are also indications that the ‘show of force’ by the state, coming only days before the former spymaster’s court challenge of his axing, was calculated to pre-empt the court action by Masetlha.

April 2006
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