The source of the leak to the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera TV company and to Britain’s Guardian has not been publicly revealed but must be someone with access to the files of South Africa’s intelligence service and the foreign documents that were shared with it.
Many of the documents, dating from 2006 to 2014, focus on spying by and on Israel and Iran.
Others show efforts by agencies, including the CIA and Britain’s MI6, to get information from South Africa about foreigners in the country. In many cases they are interested in opposition politicians and campaigners, including Greenpeace and climate-change activists, rather than obvious security threats.
One of the leaked cables, from Mossad, Israel’s foreign-intelligence service, reveals in detail how South Africa’s spies hid the fact that Israel had got hold of blueprints for its Mokopa air-to-ground missile system.
A deal was struck: South Africa asked for its blueprints back and Mossad agreed to return them on condition that an Israeli citizen involved in the affair would not be prosecuted.