There has been a leak of spy cables that reveals that the Iranians have been trying to use a South African front company to purchase materials to make weapons and bypass international trade sanctions. The revealed efforts have raised concerns within South Africa’s State Security Agency because it shows how South Africa became vulnerable to foreign espionage after the end of apartheid.
The spy cables were uncovered by Al Jazeera in what has been described as the biggest intelligence leak in South Africa’s democratic history. It also includes reports written by South African spies on their exchanges with other foreign agencies. Al Jazeera received the information through a digital leak and the volume of information is believed to be on par with WikiLeaks.
Al Jazeera also said that the cables include detailed briefings and internal analyses written by operatives of South Africa’s State Security Agency (SSA). They also revealed South Africa’s secret correspondence with the US intelligence agency, the CIA, Britain’s MI6, Israel’s Mossad, Russia’s FSB and Iran’s operatives, as well as dozens of other services from Asia to the Middle East and Africa.
The file on Iran among the cables claims that Iranian agents used cellphone and Persian rug shops as well as news agencies in the country as a cover for covert operations. Al Jazeera’s veteran investigative reporter Phil Rees said in a Spy Cables video, “South Africa’s secret report says Iran is working to beat sanctions and is buying materials to make weapons and the British think so too. A 2009 MI6 cable warns of a front company for the production of missile launchers and rocket bodies, it highlights an upcoming business trip to Iran by a duo United Kingdom/ South African citizen.”
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The Spy Cables also revealed that Iran approached South Africa’s government to avoid international sanctions imposed by the West. It claims that former president Thabo Mbeki had met with senior Iranian officials on two occasions about their nuclear programme. It went on to say that the nature of their discussion was a request from the Iranian government to South Africa’s government to assist Iran with their nuclear programme and to provide technical advice and technology. Following this, the 128-page “Operational Target Analysis” was written by South African spies and gives profile accounts of dozens of alleged Iranian operatives, listing their names, cover stories, families, addresses and phone numbers.
One of the spy cables shows that a Somali cellphone number used by an associate of a senior al-Shabaab member and Al-Qaeda associate was in contact with South African cellphone numbers for three months in 2009. Another cable, was intercepted which stated that an individual based in Durban claimed to have knowledge of extremist activities in South Africa. He contacted British authorities via an e-mail address to inform them that a radical Sheikh was radicalizing youths in the Durban area and that a number of youths were believed to have traveled to Pakistan, and others were undergoing pilot training in Europe.
The South African government recently proclaimed in the Government Gazette that 11 terror suspects with links to Islamic State and Al-Qaeda may consider using South Africa as a base. The group is on global terror watch list.