Daily News, 3 July 2008

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The country's "spooks" could not have been expected to predict the outbreak of xenophobic violence that rocked the country in May. However, they should be better prepared to forewarn a social breakdown that could result in threats to national peace and stability. That is according to a written answer by intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils to a parliamentary question from the DA. When the xenophobic violence that shocked the world first erupted, Kasrils faced a barrage of questions about whether his spooks had seen the violence coming and if so, what had been done about it and if an organised group was behind the attacks. In his written reply, Kasrils said the country's intelligence services had been instructed to assess whatever shortcomings might have been revealed by their not having known the attacks were coming. They had been told to improve their ability to forewarn if possible on such social eruptions, particularly where organised elements might have been involved. The minister added that the country's spies were primarily geared to counter threats of espionage, terrorism and subversion, threats to the Constitution and to security, and not what he termed "areas of social dysfunction arising out of socio-economic problems". Kasrils said the intelligence community had been studying migration in the context of border security and social stability for several years. Although the National Intelligence Agency had pointed to the growing tension and the possibilities of violence, it had not predicted specifics. Kasrils said reports contained recommendations to law enforcement agencies to constantly monitor situations. He said challenges concerning migration, border security and the pressures on service delivery and law enforcement had for many years been on the agenda of government at cabinet and departmental level. However, the recent outbreak of violent attacks was not predicted at all "in terms of time, place or magnitude", the minister said. Kasrils said while there was some element of organisation in the xenophobic attacks, the violence was characterised by a "high level of spontaneity". Consequently, it had not been possible to provide President Thabo Mbeki or cabinet with a specific forewarning.