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Intelligence and Democracy in South Africa: ISS Public Seminar Series, July-August 2008
1 July 2008

To spy or not to spy?
Intelligence and Democracy in South Africa
Public Dialogue Series
July-August 2008

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About this Seminar Series



It is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for the purposes of spying, and thereby achieve great results.
Sun Tzu


How do we embed a culture of transparent and accountable democratic governance in the most secret branch of state activity? What role do we as citizens in a democratic state want our intelligence services to play? How do we guarantee that the secret services are pursuing security for all and are not being subverted for personal or group interest?


In recent times, South Africans have witnessed several scandals involving the national intelligence apparatus. From the Billygate hoax e-mail saga to the Browse Mole Report, the shadowy world of the national intelligence services have been plunged into public light and we now have the opportunity in our young democracy to interrogate and debate the nature and functions of the intelligence domain.


‘The role of the public in stimulating debate on the way intelligence services should function in an open and democratic society is essential…we welcome the public`s involvement which can only strengthen our intelligence services and build the necessary trust and confidence required in a democracy`

Ronnie Kasrils (MP), Minister for Intelligence Services
4 December 2007, Business Day


The attitude expressed by Minister Kasrils in the above quote is a defining characteristic of the current environment within the ‘secret` sector in South Africa. The national intelligence apparatus, since the transformation to democracy in 1994, has been regularly reviewing and reforming its efforts to more fully integrate the ideals of democracy into the governance practices of a sector, which by its very nature presents certain challenges to democratic control. The comprehensive intelligence reform, which occurred after the end of apartheid, resulted in the establishment of key mechanisms for the exercise of democratic control of the intelligence services. These included the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and the Office of the Inspector General.


One of the aspects, which have generally been absent in the discourse on the intelligence sector in South Africa, has been public interaction, engagement and participation. The current review processes underway within the intelligence community provide a unique opportunity to encourage public debate on fundamental issues on the nature and character of the intelligence services. Amongst these core issues are the role that intelligence services should play in a democratic dispensation and safeguarding national security requirements while upholding civil liberties.


The Security Sector Governance Programme (SSG) will be hosting a series of public seminars on intelligence and democracy in South Africa. These events will be hosted in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town during July and August 2008. The launch event will be at the ISS in Pretoria on 3 July 2008. The Minister for Intelligence Services, Ronnie Kasrils, will be speaking at this first seminar. The dates, venues and speakers at the other events will be posted here soon.


The purpose of the public seminar series is to encourage and stimulate discourse in South Africa on the nature and functions of the intelligence sector. The themes that will be addressed include controls on the use of intrusive methods of investigation, the functions of a domestic intelligence agency and issues relating to secrecy and transparency. At the heart of the discussions is the need for citizens to engage on what they envisage the role of the intelligence services to be and how the special powers of the intelligence sector should be controlled, overseen and be made accountable in a democratic dispensation.


This section of the ISS website is devoted to the seminar series and also hosts an online discussion forum and a weekly poll. Please check back regularly as we update our content.


For more information, please contact Ms Lauren Hutton, Researcher SSG: Tel: 012 346 9500 or