In Depth

The spy cables: five things we have learnt so far

Leaked documents from Al Jazeera reveal unprecedented look into the world of international espionage

Hundreds of secret intelligence documents have been made public, in one of the most wide-ranging intelligence leaks in history.

Al Jazeera and The Guardian are publishing files that show the secret communications between South Africa's State Security Agency (SSA) and its international counterparts, including MI6, the CIA, Mossad, Russia's FSB and Iranian operatives.

The leaks "offer an unprecedented insight into operational dealings of the shadowy and highly politicised realm of global espionage," says the Qatar-based broadcaster.

Netanyahu's bomb claims were contradicted by Mossad
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 27:Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, points to a red line he drew on a graphic of a bomb while addressing the United Nations General Assembly on September

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2012 Getty Images

In 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a "dramatic declaration" that Iran was only a year away from developing a nuclear bomb. However, in a secret report shared with South African intelligence soon after his statement, Mossad revealed that Tehran was "not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons".

The report "highlights the gulf between the public claims and rhetoric of top Israeli politicians and the assessments of Israel’s military and intelligence establishment," says The Guardian

MI6 tried to recruit a North Korean spy

Documents marked "Secret UK/SA eyes only" revealed that Britain's intelligence service asked the SSA for help in recruiting a high-level North Korean asset. They reveal the target's identity and detailed history, but Al Jazeera has refused to publish the information in order to protect the person's safety.

MI6 promised to offer the spy a "long term clandestine relationship in return for payment" and the British spies described the mission as an "unusual opportunity, which, if successful, could greatly assist our ongoing efforts to gain coverage of North Korean proliferation activity". However, the cables do not reveal whether the operation was successful or even if it went ahead.

The leak is expected to reignite the debate surrounding the oversight of British spy agencies, says Al Jazeera.  MPs and campaigners argue that agents are above the law and that the current system does not "provide adequate checks and balances" on the intelligence services.

America was "desperate" to initiate contact with Hamas

Despite a government ban on contact with the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas – which the US lists as a terrorist organisation –  leaked documents reveal that a CIA agent made several attempts to talk to the organisation in 2012.

The CIA responded to the leaks by saying that it "supports the overall US government effort to combat international terrorism by collecting, analysing, and disseminating intelligence on foreign terrorist groups and individuals". It added that its intelligence activities were conducted "in compliance" with the US constitution, federal statutes and presidential directives, according to ABC.

Israel tried to suppress a probe into alleged war crimes in Gaza 

Israel's then-secret service boss, Meir Dagan lobbied the South African government to help it put a stop to the Goldstone Report, a UN-authorised fact finding mission into alleged war crimes, led by South African judge Richard Goldstone. In the documents, Dagan claims that the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas also supported the move because he was concerned that the probe would "play into the hands" of Hamas.  

Iran asked South Africa for help with its nuclear programme

In 2005, President Thabo Mbeki is alleged to have met with current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. "The nature of the discussions was a request from the Iranian Government to the SA Government to assist Iran with their nuclear program and to provide technical advice and technology," the classified document said.

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