State Security Minister David Mahlobo. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
State Security Minister David Mahlobo. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

A TOTAL of R17m was stolen from the State Security Agency’s (SSA’s) safe and not R50m, as first reported after an "embarrassing" inside job last year, State Security Minister David Mahlobo said on Tuesday.

"You can’t even say it was a break-in, it was a walk-in," Mr Mahlobo said during the National Council of Provinces question-and-answer session on state security.

The thieves used an access card when they walked into the offices of the foreign branch of the SSA on December 27, leading to a serious vetting shake-up at the agency, he said.

"It was an internal job — you cannot even access the facilities without an access card. There was no break-in. People walked-in using an access card," said Mr Mahlobo. "It is one of those incidents where we felt embarrassed."

Only money was stolen, with no computer hardware, documents or any other information related to the security of the state going missing. The matter was immediately reported to the police and the Hawks were on the scene straight away, he said.

Six suspects were detained on suspicion of being involved, four of whom were from the department. Three were criminally charged, with two of the three from the department. The three would return to court on April 6.

Other individuals were identified as having helped them carry out the "walk-in" theft, according to footage that was viewed.

Disciplinary steps had been taken against those on duty on the day and 10 people in the department had been suspended and their security clearances withdrawn.

The department had used polygraphs and introduced additional security facilities and advanced electronic controls as part of its efforts to tighten controls on the storage of money.

Mr Mahlobo said the response by law enforcement agencies showed that the country was stable, in spite of the theft. People in the country could sleep feeling safe, he said, even though the incident was a blemish on the agency.

"These incidents do happen... it is how you deal with it," said Mr Mahlobo, adding that some of the money had been recovered, but further information would not be given now.

Earlier, he said the SSA’s integrated national vetting strategy in government departments was underway, with about 52,000 of the 99,516 requests submitted by accounting officers completed.

Of those, 534 clearance applications were denied, mostly because the subjects did not provide enough information or evaded the SSA.

"Unless you are assisted by ourselves, you will not be able to get into our premises. Even if you are highly trained, you will not get in," Mr Mahlobo said.

Not everybody was vetted — it depended on the nature of the job and what the employee would be exposed to.

Mr Mahlobo added that the government was investigating introducing a single vetting agency.

News24