The State Security Agency (SSA) has been keeping a top secret from the public for more than a month.
Sunday World can exclusively reveal that SSA believes that it has been hacked by Britain’s MI6 and US’ CIA. Insiders believe the hackers accessed sensitive and compromising information. Sunday World has seen a video clip which SSA maintains it is intelligence data showing that South Africa along with Russia and India were the targets of the cyber attack in August this year, shortly before the Brics Summit.
They said their analysis shows that Russia was the first victim of the coordinated attack, followed by India.
As a result, a top official, Joe Mbhambhu, was made to take the fall for the scandal and forced to resign, while a multi-layered investigation was launched to assess the damage and track down the mastermind.
Mbhambhu was allegedly on probation when SSA director general, Thembi Majola fired him after allegedly blaming him for the hacking.
This even though there is a cyber unit within the agency and Mbhambhu was not responsible for it.
“This is treason and espionage, as we strongly believe that the hackers received a helping hand from some people within the agency,” one senior official who spoke on condition of anonimity said this week. The official asked not to be named because he was not allowed to speak to the media.
Three independent sources confirmed that the hackers allegedly gained access to the agency’s internal email messages as well as a strategic management group that was created on telegram, a secure communication platform.
They also claim the incident was kept top secret because it was embarrassing.
“We were told to keep this unfortunate incident a top secret because it exposes us on so many fronts. Basically, we don’t have intelligence in this country,” said another official, who also asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.
Another mole claims the hackers took control of one strategic telegram chat group and might have compromised some agency operations.
“Any intelligent personnel going through those messages might be able to complete the pieces of the puzzle, and I am also afraid that some of our informants might also be,” he said.
So far, nobody has claimed responsibility for the hacking.
Our sources yesterday confirmed the hacking happened a week or so before the start of Brics summit, which was held in Sandton, Johannesburg.
Brics is made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. But Russian President Vladimir Putin was forced to abandon his plans to come to South Africa for the summit as there were plans to arrest him over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
Putin only joined the Brics summit by video link from Russia.
“We suspect that either American or Russian intelligence are behind the hacking but we can’t rule out internal forces as our political situation is currently very volatile,” said an operative.
“The fact that our state security agency was hacked is an embarrassment on its own, and the worst is that we still don’t know who did it,” the official added.
The national security information held within the SSA starts from classified state secrets to level eight, which is top secret.
It includes operations classified as normal, covert, confidential, secret and also top secret.
The agency also manages information on counter-intelligence operations involving cash-in-transit heists, armed robbery syndicates, the underworld and the illicit market in general.
Mbhambhu declined to comment.
Majola said she was not aware of any hacking incident.