New cable leak reveals ‘top secret’ SA satellite surveillance

A new spy cables digital dump by Al Jazeera has revealed an alleged extensive cooperation between Russia and South Africa on a secret satellite surveillance programme.

Al Jazeera’s investigative unit released classified documents from within the State Security Agency (SSA) on Wednesday  evening which also revealed loopholes in the regulation of interception of communication in South Africa.

The Democratic Alliance said that the document sheds new information on ‘Project Condor’, which has never before been seen in the public domain.

The South African Secret Service, which has since become a division of the State Security Agency,  report dated 28 August 2012, and classified as ‘Top Secret’, revealed the following:

  • Project Condor’ was a codename for a secret satellite surveillance programme between Russia and SA.
  • The project was to be used for strategic military purposes.
  • The programme would eventually culminate in the launch of a satellite by Russia on behalf of South Africa.
  • The aim was to integrate the Russian and South African satellite surveillance programmes to provide wider coverage.
  • 30 Russian technicians were working on the satellite surveillance programme in South Africa.

According to David Maynier, DA shadow deputy minister of state security, the reference to the launch of a satellite almost certainly refers to Defence Intelligence’s R1.4 billion Kondor-E Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite, which was launched on or about 19 December 2014, under the codename ‘Project Flute’.

“Bizarrely, the State Security Agency appears to have been collecting intelligence about a satellite surveillance programme being implemented by Defence Intelligence.

“We cannot confirm that all the information in the report is accurate but it certainly suggests that cooperation between Russia and South Africa on the satellite surveillance programme appears to have been more advanced, and carried out on a larger scale, than previously thought,” Maynier said.

A second document entitled “Technical Intelligence Policy and Procedural Manual”, dated 13 June 2006, revealed loopholes in the regulation of interception of communication in South Africa.

The DA said that these loopholes were first identified by the Matthews Commission in 2008, which found that: “the Director-General of the SASS [South African Secret Service] may approve a deviation from the provisions of the policy if such as deviation is in the best interests of the service”.

The Mathews Commission found that: “the NCC [National Communications Centre] appears to be engaged in signals monitoring that is unlawful and unconstitutional”.

“What this illustrates is that we urgently need to amend legislation to close the loopholes to ensure that the interception of all communication, including the interception of foreign signals intelligence, is authorised by the designated judge, in terms of the Regulation of Interception of Communication Act (No. 70 of 2002),” Maynier said.

The DA called for an urgent briefing by the Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, on the matter, and prepare a special report, in terms of Section 6 (2) of the Intelligence Oversight Act (No. 40 of 1994), to be tabled in Parliament.

An investigation into the leaking of classified security documents by broadcaster Al Jazeera is under way, State Security Minister David Mahlobo said on Wednesday.

“A full investigation has been launched into the purported leakage,” he said in a statement.

“Its veracity and verification will be handled in terms of the protocols governing the management of classified information.”

It was illegal, in terms of the country’s classification protocols, to disclose information of such a nature and such leaks undermined national security.

More on the spy cables

‘Human factors’ exposed SA government to espionage

Foreign spies hacked SA government computers

Rogue Sars unit used malware to spy on South Africans: report

FinFisher spyware servers in South Africa

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New cable leak reveals ‘top secret’ SA satellite surveillance