Why South Africa is not threatened by British spooks

Following reports by the Guardian that the British government’s intelligence intensified its project of spying on the South African foreign ministry officials ahead of the to G20 and G8 meeting a few years ago – one would have thought there would be some kind of a reaction to these reports by the member states. But no. At least not now.

At the time of writing at least no G8 or G20 member states had expressed any concern, especially South Africa following these reports. But one suspects the country has not responded to the reports because of the Guardian’s timely publication thereof on Sunday, 16 June, just a day before another G20 meeting was to take place in Mexico, 17 June.

The Presidency confirmed on Saturday that President Jacob Zuma will participate in the G20 Leaders’ Summit and will be accompanied by Finance Minister, Mr Pravin Gordhan. In statement issued by Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for International affairs, the primary objectives of the summit is to facilitate policy coordination in order to ensure global economic stability and promote long-term balanced and sustainable growth.

Monyela said the summit presents a “meaningful opportunities for advancing much-needed global governance reforms and orienting the international development agenda” and is expected to focus on the following priorities:

  1. Economic stabilisation and structural reforms as foundation for growth and employment, including addressing the Euro crisis and implementing the reforms that are necessary to stimulate growth.
  2. Strengthening the financial system and fostering financial inclusion.
  3. Improving the international financial architecture.
  4. Enhancing food security and commodity price volatility; and
  5. Promoting sustainable development, green growth and the fight against climate change.

The Guardian reported yesterday that the reason why South African foreign ministry officials were spied on – according to intelligence documents leaked by NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden who has since fled to Hong Kong, and seen by the newspaper – was to “gain access to [their] network”, to “collect intelligence from target machines” and to “find more access points to increase reliability”. It said the project was to “retrieved documents, including briefings for South African delegates to G20 and G8 meetings”. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s ministry at the time in London was investigated.

Although government had recently updated its networks, passwords to its online accounts of its diplomats were however acquired by the British intelligence agencies, and that the team had set up a series of back doors into the ministry networks to increase to “increase reliability” of the its hacking operation.

It however still remains unclear (to me at least) why some of these G8 and G20 members states had their smartphones and computer networks hacked into by the British intelligence because they clearly did not seem to pose any threat to that country’s national security, economic wellbeing. Or did they? This because the law used for this project, Intelligence Services Act (ISA), passed in 1994, was meant to operate “in the interests of national security, with particular reference to the defence and foreign policies of Her Majesty’s government in the United Kingdom; or in the interests of the economic wellbeing of the UK; or in the support of the prevention or detection of serious crime”.

Of course this law was treated with a great deal of suspicion at the time, according to the Guardian, because the inclusion of economic wellbeing clause could be used by British companies’ intelligence that might give them a competitive advantage over rivals. This is further worsened by the fact that “national security” is open to many interpretations because there is no official definition thereof, all of which gives the British intelligence agencies a “large umbrella under which to hide when they are seeking to conduct classic espionage operations,” reported the newspaper.

Despite this and the unfortunately timely publication by the Guardian of this report especially on South Africa just a day before the G20 summit starts – which is expected to end on 19 June – it appears the country, or Zuma rather, is not threatened at all by all these spying reports because under his administration, spying has since reportedly become an everyday thing that even some senior government officials use it for their own benefit, one way or the other.

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