South Africa: The SSA Can Improve, but Misconceptions About the Role of Intelligence Services Need to Be Cleared Up


The past few weeks have seen a lot of comment about the role and mandate of the civilian intelligence service, which is often wrongly conflated with that of law enforcement agencies. Arising in the main from the decision of President Ramaphosa to appoint the current incumbent of the State Security Agency as a political head of the intelligence service, much of the commentary has utterly missed the point about what intelligence services are designed to do in society.

From the outset, the State Security Agency welcomes the public debate about its outlook, performance and future prospects from opinion makers and members of the public in general. This is in line with the doctrinal shift that was recommended by the High-Level Panel on State Security, which advocated for a citizen-centred intelligence service as opposed to a state-centred one.

It is in the same context that the notion of secrecy versus transparency and public accountability are being explored.

However, Thamsanqa D Malinga's hyperbolic letter to the Deputy Minister of State Security, which posed what appear to be probing questions about the state of the intelligence service in the country, deserves some close scrutiny.

Almost suggesting that these are mere smoke and mirrors,...

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