Isisele sells network lawful interception technologies, such as this system. Image: Isisele.
A collection of mining interests orbits this small surveillance company. Freewheel, which also trades as Isisele, was first set up in 2008 by Dennis Jacobus Bishop, an early 100% shareholder of Sable Mining. (The same Sable Mining that was accused of bribery in Liberia). Other directors have included a former National Intelligence Agency agent (who also served at the Department of Environmental Affairs as a compliance specialist). A director of Isisele Technologies was coal and mining investor, Landlord Mojalefa Mbethe. All three companies, Freewheel, Isisele (the surveillance tech company) and Isisele Transtec (the logistics company) currently share the same active director.
Dizzy yet? Other companies are more explicit in the surveillance services they provide to the mining industry. One sponsor of the Mine Security Summit, Blue Thistle Consulting Solutions, offers “GSM listening equipment”, which could range from simple bugs to interception devices. Cobham, a large international defense technology company, also exhibited there, promoting its cell phone interception technologies and tracking equipment in the event brochure.
Mining companies are now being dangled powerful surveillance technology that, by law, is only supposed to be operated by public officials. Top (former) intelligence officials are heavily involved in mining interests, and concurrently involved in private companies that market surveillance technologies to the mining sector. The shadow of bloody strikes at Marikana makes for impressionable and eager buyers. This is, companies say, a “war” scenario in which police cannot be trusted but they can. “No longer can the police be expected to assist during times of labour unrest”, advertises D&K management services, a risk consultancy that also offers surveillance services. “Companies now need to take responsibility …into their own hands.” Are they taking communications surveillance into their own hands too?
A quick review of existing conflict of interest policies in this sector shows a striking, near-complete absence of any guideline on navigating this terrain to prevent conflicts of interest on sensitive matters related to people’s fundamental human rights.
Active office holders in the police service, military and intelligence services cannot concurrently be registered as security service providers according to the Private Security Industry Regulation Act 2001. The Public Service Act 1994, too, prohibits public office holders to take on extra paid work that could reasonably be expected to interfere with their official functions (section 30). This was the focus of the recent case in which a police officer, Paul Scheepers, was charged with illegally performing cell phone interception allegedly on behalf of a politician. (Scheepers’ security firm was also a distributor for a British company selling interception devices). There’s also an Executive Ethics Code. A recent report from the Public Protector Advocate found President Zuma to be in apparent breach of the code over a series of appointments allegedly influenced by the powerful Gupta family.
But absent is any more specific guidance on conflicts of interest in the law enforcement and intelligence sector. With help from the indefatigable South African History Archive, we filed requests under the Public Access to Information Act for the conflict of interest policies of five military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies – the Department of Defence, the South African Police Service, the Department of State Security – and two further departments in natural resource management and environmental affairs, the Department of Mineral Resources, and the Department of Environmental Affairs. We wanted to know if these agencies in any way regulated or monitored the employment, voluntary positions, company ownership or directorship of staff; former staff; consultants; and other paid representatives. We also asked the government’s security industry regulator, the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA), for lists of all companies registered to operate in South Africa and the nature of their services.
We received no response to three requests, to the Department of State Security, the Department of Defence, and PSIRA. The Department of Mineral Resources reported holding no conflict of interest policies. A full response from the Police Services is still pending.
Only the Department of Environmental Affairs offered an insight into how it manages conflicts of interest. DEA staff who evaluate service provision bids are required to declare their interests, including stakes that they hold, family or friends with interests in the bidding company. They also must respect regulations around remunerative employment out of public service, which is generally prohibited if it would interfere with their ability to carry out their duties.
To the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority:
- Publish register of private security companies that have registered with the Private Security Industry Regulation Authority in accordance with the Private Security Industry Regulation Act and its obligations as regulator of Private Security Industry.
- Undertake investigations into private security companies offering communications interception equipment for sale which, if used by private actors, would be in breach of both the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communications Related Information Act, and the Electronic Communications Act, and publish results.
- Release results of any conflict of interest investigations involving private security firms, national security agencies, and/or mining companies.
- Release any internal guidance on conflict of interest policies currently operated, or previously used.
To the South African Police Service:
- Investigate potential sales of surveillance equipment to mining firms, which if used by private actors would be in breach of both the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communications Related Information Act, and the Electronic Communications Act.
To the Department of State Security, and The Department of Defence:
- Reveal any internal guidance on conflict of interest policies currently or previously used.
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