The Sunday Times has reported that the whereabouts are unknown of a R1.2-billion spy satellite commissioned by South Africa from Russian company NPO Mashinostroyenia (contract number 710/303/060001, signed on May 19 2006).
The Kondor-E satellite is reportedly a type frequently used for spying, capable of collecting radar images at night through cloud cover of objects as small as cars.
The project is named Consolidated Project Flute, and it has caused trouble at cabinet level with current and former ministers denying any knowledge of it.
Sunday Times reports there was avoidance on questions such as:
- Is a satellite the Russians launched in June 2013 for an undisclosed foreign client the one commissioned by South Africa?;
- If not, will the South African satellite ever be launched?; and
- What does the South African government want to use the satellite for?
Democratic alliance MP David Maynier has labelled Project Flute a secret R1-billion bungle by SA defence intelligence, saying that it appears SA has spent money financing a Russian company to build a satellite we will have no control over and won’t be able to operate from SA.
“We also need to get to the bottom of whether there is a reconnaissance satellite in space and, if so, who has control over the product and what systems are in place to protect South African citizens’ privacy. I am not going to allow Project Flute to be swept under the carpet and will be asking hard questions in parliament. In the end, Project Flute leaves one wondering just how much intelligence there is in defence intelligence,” Maynier said.
Sunday Times traced reference to the project through documents as far back as 2008, but could not get answers from a number of of MPs, including former minister of defence Mosiuoa Lekota, current minister of defence Lindiwe Sisulu, and minister of science and technology Naledi Pandor.
Department of Defence spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said “The project you have made inquires about is a classified project and therefore I am unable to respond to your questions, as you would expect me to. I can, however, inform you that projects of this nature are audited by the auditor-general office by vetted officials from that office, and such reports are tabled and discussed at the joint standing committee on intelligence.”
Department of State Security spokesman Brian Dube said the department “had no comment on the matter”.
Despite government documents and reports referencing this existence of Project Flute, parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence has kept details on the project secret, and has not tabled an annual public report since 2011, a breach of the Intelligence Oversight Act.
The committee’s chairman, ANC MP Cecil Burgess, has refused to provide the reports or reasons for not doing so, the Sunday times reported.