chapter  4
32 Pages

Hydra: The rise of the national intelligence and counter- revolutionary structures, 1978–1983

The problem which existed here was a political one: when Vorster, who was both prime minister and minister of justice, took power, he used BOSS as both his eyes-and-ears in the government and as a forum for discussing policy options. For this reason, Van den Bergh was the most powerful leader after Vorster. Thus, BOSS maintained dominance amongst the security forces as the favoured son. However, its chief operational concern traditionally had been directed towards subversion of the state, terrorism, and counter-espionage and counter-intelligence operations, not towards counter-insurgency. Therefore, it was unlikely that BOSS would support both a radical restructuring of the state’s security architecture and an enhancement of the counter-insurgency strategy; this would inherently mean a diminution in BOSS’s influence in the policy process as other, more pressing priorities were confronted. BOSS, however, would not survive the 1970s. In 1978, the “Information Scandal” – which involved the Department of Information, under Dr Connie Mulder, using covert funds to influence overseas perceptions of South Africa through the covert purchase of media outlets and publications – rocked South African politics, and resulted in both the end to Vorster’s premiership and the rise of Defence Minister P.W. Botha to the leadership in September 1978. With the fall-out directly affecting the state’s intelligence dispensation, the period became known as the “Battle for the Intelligence Brief ”.1 Within this, two trends were clearly discernible: the effort to centralise and co-ordinate national security intelligence, and the growing dominance of the military in the intelligence brief. This battle was waged partly between the various competing influences to succeed Vorster as prime minister (and, thus, determine which agency

would politically dominate the security establishment) but also by BOSS to ensure its own survival. While excuses relating to poor co-ordination of intelligence, corruption, mismanagement and poorly defined briefs were used to justify this repositioning, the ultimate reason for this covert contest of succession was to determine which would become the lead agency under the now-Prime Minister Botha. There could be little doubt to the answer. DMI had been Botha’s “pet thinking shop” on issues of national security throughout his tenure as defence minister; it was only natural that it would become the central body. Wisely, however, Botha (having watched the intelligence agencies throughout the 1970s being used for personal political gain by their masters and, as such, developing an intense institutional rivalry which did little to help the fight against the “Total Onslaught”) decided to divide responsibilities for the intelligence brief between the agencies (DMI, BOSS, Security Branch, and Foreign Affairs) which contributed to the overall intelligence picture. DMI would become the lead agency in all respects, but the others would be responsible for clearly defined mandates in combating the “Total Onslaught”. In 1978, the Public Service Commission was committed to “rationalizing” and “cleaning” the government national security apparatus; part of this required significant changes in the overall national security dispensation, as its 1980 report to Parliament (White Paper on the Rationalisation of the Public Service and Related Institutions) noted. To eliminate BOSS’s potential interference with the new security priorities and to ensure that “Total National Strategy” would be implemented to its fullest, acquiring the fullest support possible from all national resources, Botha bluntly quelled its influence by first bringing about the resignation in 1978 of its head, Van der Bergh, following the “Information Scandal”. He was replaced by his deputy, Alexander van Wyk, who led BOSS until the agency itself was restructured and replaced in August 1978. At the same time – and, most tellingly, almost a decade after it first started operating – the Bureau for State Security Act (No. 104 of 1978) was tabled at this time, designed significantly to bring BOSS back into the fold after Van der Bergh’s years of freewheeling.2