Bureau of State Security

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The South African Bureau for State Security (given the acronym BOSS by journalists, Afrikaans: Buro vir Staatsveiligheid) was established in 1969 and ultimately replaced by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) in 1980. The Bureau's job was to monitor national security. It was headed by Hendrik van den Bergh.

A scandal was the main reason for its replacement by NIS in 1980. The Bureau was involved in the Information Scandal or Muldergate Scandal, in which South African Government funds were used to establish a pro-National Party English language newspaper, The Citizen.


In the 1930s, the Union of South Africa had formed an intelligence organization modeled after MI5 and MI6 as a special branch of the South African Police. After the country's 1960 republic referendum and its expulsion from the Commonwealth of Nations, the organization was renamed Republican Intelligence.[1]

During the middle of 1968, the South African cabinet approved the implementation of a centralised security service and on 28 August of the same year, General Hendrik van den Bergh was instructed to start planning the new organisation.[2]:Chp2 On the 1 October 1968, Lieutenant-General Hendrik van den Bergh, Deputy Police Commissioner and Head of the Security Branch, was promoted to General and then appointed as Security Advisor to Prime Minister John Vorster.[3]:436 Attached to the Prime Minister office, he would be in command of all security and intelligence chiefs in the country including the military, and reported only to Vorster.[3]:436

By March 1969, the skeleton of a new security service began to emerge with the release of the expenditures for 1969-70 when R5,320,500 was allocated to the secret services, a 188 percent increase over the previous year with R4,063,000 allocated to the Prime Minister's office and Van den Bergh.[3]:437 Military Intelligence's (MI) budget was reduced from R830,000 the previous year to a R39,000 a which would lead to continuous struggle for power between MI and BOSS throughout the seventies.[3]:437

On 13 May 1969, Minister of the Interior S.L. Muller introduced the framework of the new service in the Public Service Amendment Bill which he said was responsible for co-ordination and would draw personnel from other security and intelligence organisations.[3]:437 It outlined the control of the Bureau for State Security would rest with Prime Minister and that the civil service Public Service Commission would have no control over it powers, functions and duties.[3]:438 A Government Notice No. 808 on 16 May 1969 announced the Bureau for State Security's formation and came into being retrospectively on the 1 May as a department under the Prime Minister.[3]:438 BOSS' function was stated as investigating matters of state security, collect and evaluate any information received and distribute the analysis when necessary throughout the government and secondly but more ambiguously, perform other functions and responsibilities when required.[3]:438

The 19 May 1969 saw the introduction of the Security Services Special Account Bill and that would pass into law on 16 June 1969, and saw the use of money allocated to BOSS as confidential and not subjected to an audit by the Auditor-General as with other government departments.[3]:438 The General Law Amendment Bill was introduced on 4 June 1969 and passed into law on 30 June, with two clauses of interest to BOSS. One, the amendment of Officials Secrets Act to include BOSS and secondly, preventing the Prime Minister, Van den Bergh or cabinet ministers from giving evidence or producing documents in court that might prejudice State Security.[3]:439 This caused outrage throughout the South African legal community as it could no longer protect citizens rights from the Executive.[3]:439

On 5 September 1969, Prime Minister John Vorster formed a commission led by Justice H.J. Potgieter to establish the guidelines and mission for intelligence gathering by the Military Intelligence (later DMI) and the Bureau for State Security.[2]:Chp2[4] The Commission to Inquire into Certain Intelligence Aspects of State Security, known better as the Potgieter Commission would investigate the clashes between the two organisations over who had primary responsibility for intelligence gathering in South Africa.[2]:Chp2 As the BOSS head Hendrik van den Bergh was a close ally of the Prime Minister, it was seen by Military Intelligence as a foregone conclusion that BOSS would achieve favour.[2]:Chp2 The Potgieter Commission reported back on the 2 February 1972 and the results were subsequently used to enact the Security Intelligence and State Security Council Act 64 of 1972 on 24 May 1972.[2]:Chp2[5] The Act formalised the functions and the brief of BOSS while another part of this act would also established the formation of the State Security Council under the control of the cabinet and established it as the government's national centre for operational security.[2]:Chp2

BOSS was actively involved in South Africa's foreign policy. It worked closely with intelligence services of other white-minority governments including PIDE of Estado Novo Portugal and its colonial empire as well as the British South Africa Police of Rhodesia to coordinate counterinsurgency operations between the three countries. It and the South African Defense Force managed Operation Plathond, an operation to train insurgents in an attempt to destabilize Zambia, before President Kenneth Kaunda accused South Africa of destabilization operations. The organization also arranged for political assassinations. Former agents testifying before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have confirmed the existence of a secret death squad called the Z-Squad managed by Dirk Coetzee. The agents have claimed that the Z-Squad killed dissidents through letter bombs and snipers. BOSS also attempted to kill Bafana Duna, the African National Congress representative to Swaziland, but he survived with a lost arm.[1]

Directors-General of BOSS/DONS[edit]

Organisational structure[edit]

The organisational structure of BOSS is said to have been composed of the following departments:[2]:Chp2

  • Subversion
  • Counter-Espionage
  • Political and Economic Espionage
  • Military Intelligence
  • Administration
  • National Evaluation, Research and Special Studies

End of the Bureau[edit]

In the wake of the Information scandal (known as Muldergate) in which the Bureau of State Security (BOSS) had become mired, the head of the BOSS, Hendrik van den Berg, resigned in June 1978 and was replaced by Alec van Wyk.[6]:120 [6]:122 Beginning with the covert Operation Savannah in 1975, it helped organize operations against the MPLA during the Angolan Civil War with the assistance of the U.S. State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency. This action, which escalated into a full-scale undeclared war and had received neither approval nor discussion from the Cabinet, prompted further outrage at the organization.[1] The Bureau for State Security was then renamed the Department of National Security (DONS) on 1 September 1978.[6]:120[7]:2

By 2 October 1978, Prime Minister John Vorster had resigned and on 9 October, the Defence Minister P.W. Botha was appointed as the new Prime Minister of South Africa. On 20 November 1978, the Bureau of State Security was brought under tighter control as a cabinet portfolio called National Security managed by Prime Minister who also held the Minister of Defence portfolio.[8] With the rise of P.W. Botha to prime minister, the SADF's power increased in cabinet, along with that the Directorate Military Intelligence (DMI), who would strive to dominate security issues in the new government and decide its policy and implementation.[2]:Chp3

In October 1978, Deputy Defence and Intelligence Minister Kobie Coetsee was appointed by Prime Minister P.W. Botha to lead a commission of inquiry into intelligence gathering in South Africa and in particular who would be the lead agency.[2]:Chp4 It was believed that it was predetermined that the DMI would be the lead intelligence agency.[2]:Chp8 P.W. Botha had decided to split the intelligence gathering ability of South Africa amongst four agencies, the DMI, BOSS/DONS, Security Branch and Foreign Affairs, hoping to reduce the political dominance by one over the others, but the rivalry would continue.[2]:Chp4 At the same time, the Erasmus Commission of Inquiry was investigating the Information scandal.[2]:Chp4 Believing that the outcome of both inquiries were already predetermined, BOSS officials began to shred any document that could be used against them.[2]:Chp4

P.W. Botha was looking for an alternative to the policing function of BOSS as well as an alternative to a military view of intelligence, one which would provide long-term strategic intelligence to the government about the southern African region and world.[2]:Chp4 He viewed Foreign Affairs as too overt and tainted by the Information Scandal and therefore saw a need to organise BOSS into a new agency based around research and analysis and removed its old covert operational function and transferred that to the Security Branch of the police.[2]:Chp4

The new Prime Minister P.W. Botha appointed Niel Barnard in November 1979 to form a new intelligence service.[6]:161 Barnard would take over the South African Department of National Security (DONS) after the retirement of the existing head Alec van Wyk.[6]:162 The now newly named National Intelligence Service was announced on the 6 February 1980.[9] Barnard had to restructure the NIS to a role based on analysis and evaluation, which meant that the old organisations offensive operational and policing role had to change resulting in many of the old BOSS/DONS personnel leaving.[2]:Chp4

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Leander (2017-06-23). "Bureau of State Security (BOSS)". South African History Online. Retrieved 2019-02-11.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p O'Brien, Kevin A. (2011). The South African Intelligence Services: From Apartheid to Democracy, 1948-2005. Abingdon, Oxford: Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-203-84061-0.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Hepple, Alex (October 1969). "South Africa's Bureau for State Security". Royal Institute of International Affairs. 25 (10): 436–439. JSTOR 40394202.| – via JSTOR (subscription required)
  4. ^ "Prime Minister John Vorster appoints a Commission of Inquiry under Justice H.J. Potgieter, of The Appellate Division of the Sup". South African History Online (SAHO). Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  5. ^ "An abridged version of the security report by Justice H.J. Potgieter's Commission of Inquiry on State Security is submitted to". South African History Online (SAHO). Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d e Sanders, James (2006). Apartheid's Friends: The Rise and Fall of South Africa's Secret Service. John Murray. ISBN 978-0-7195-6675-2.
  7. ^ Swanepoel, Petrus Cornelius (2007). Really Inside BOSS: A Tale of South Africa's Late Intelligence Service (and Something about the CIA). Piet Swanepoel. pp. 76–. ISBN 978-0-620-38272-4.
  8. ^ "1978". The O'Malley Archives. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  9. ^ "1980". The O'Malley Archives. Retrieved 21 November 2014.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]