In the 1970’s, millions of kroner in Danish development aid dedicated for the struggle against South Africa’s oppressive regime were spent on the diametric opposite: the financing of a shrewd South African intelligence operation. This led to the persecution, and in certain cases killings, of opponents of the white-minority regime. After 40 years, the main character – the super spy Craig Williamson – has now agreed to tell the full story.
By Henrik Thomsen
Pretoria / Copenhagen the time is 9.45 a.m., and we are waiting at the agreed meeting place; a discreet guest house behind tall garden walls in the South African capital, Pretoria.
Will he appear at all? The appointment with the man who was once undercover agent RS 167 in South Africa’s feared security police and also used aliases like Arthur and Colin, has been more than 20 years in the making.
In the 1990s, Jyllands-Posten already tried to get an interview with the South African super-spy, whose real name is Craig Williamson. But back then it was a blunt refusal: “I don’t talk to journalists.” Two decades later, an appointment has finally been agreed to after months of communication over the Internet. Williamson made only one condition prior to the meeting with Jyllands-Posten and TV 2: “Let me finish what I have got to say.” He gets that opportunity, and before the end of the day, vital pieces fall into place in a puzzle that paints the picture of a hair-raising and faded chapter in the history of Danish development aid – namely Craig Williamson’s infiltration of the anti-apartheid flagship, IUEF; the relatively unknown support organization International University Exchange Fund (IUEF), which Denmark supported with millions of taxpayers’ kroner.
Today, Jyllands-Posten and TV 2 can reveal that Danish aid, intended for the struggle against South Africa’s oppressive regime, was instead systematically misused as a fuel in a comprehensive and shrewd intelligence operation. This led to the surveillance, persecution, banishment, imprisonment, torture and in certain cases killings of opponents of the white minority regime.
The same opponents that Danish politicians, trade unions and voluntary organizations had otherwise tried to support for decades.
Hundreds of apartheid opponents got into trouble because of manipulation with funding from Denmark and other countries, especially over the years 1977-1979, but according to Williamson, the effect continued up through the bloody 1980s and probably peaked in 1991-92.
A few years later–in the spring of 1994 – the apartheid regime was buried when Nelson Mandela won the first democratic election in the history of South Africa.
The intelligence scandal exploded in 1980, but the damaging political and human effects were never mapped in detail.
A hasty international investigation of the IUEF affair later in 1980 only scratched the surface, whereupon thousands of documents from the organization’s headquarters in Geneva as per agreement between the donators were sent to the Danish National Archives in Copenhagen to be kept under lock for 80 years.
In the same year, the Danish government auditors wrote a critical report, but it merely focused on the financial loss.
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s government wanted to largely let bygones be bygones. Hence, the security service’s classified reports on the unpleasant case remained in the files in Pretoria.
Most importantly, the main character – agent RS 167 Williamson – decided to keep his mouth shut about important details of his penetration of the IUEF. He has done that for 40 years now.
But today, the missing pieces of history fall into place.
A bad start
Jyllands-Posten has obtained access to key documents in the Danish National Archives in Copenhagen, Craig Williamson is prepared to break the silence, and at the long-expected meeting he brings top secret South African investigation material which has never been published before.
Despite all the preparations, it almost ends in disaster, as the now 69-year-old ex-spy rolls to the meeting point in a clean, white Range Rover.
When the green iron gate in the entrance slowly slides up and the car drives in, the photographers from TV2 and Jyllands-Posten are already in full swing, and that makes the main character furious.
“This is a bad start, a really bad start. We did not agree to that,” Williamson hisses, while the companion he has brought with him tries to cool down the situation.
The reason for his rage is that for security reasons, Williamson does not want the car’s license plate filmed, and after a few heated minutes the solution is that the photographers promise to delete their pictures.
The interview can finally begin.
It is believed that around 4 million mainly black South Africans were evicted from their homes and resettled by force as part of the ethnic “whitewashing” process
Craig Michael Williamson was born on April 23, 1949 – the year after the conservative National Party won the majority in South Africa’s parliament in an election where only the white population could vote.
The victory for the National Party was a turning point in South Africa’s history, because it gave the country’s new government free hands to cement the racist apartheid system with several laws that created hatred, distrust and centuries of bloody conflict between blacks and whites.
At that time the country had in fact been under white rule for almost 300 years, and in the first half of the 20th century blacks were deprived of several civil rights. But the election victory of the National Party accelerated the racial segregation.
By law, the entire population was divided into four different races with different rights and life chances. The white minority took the place at the top of the racist pecking order with Asians and colored (mulattos) in the following places. At the bottom was the big, black majority of the population, shackled to a life of hopelessness and poverty.
The racial categorization was made according to ingenious criteria, and a special office oversaw reclassification, if some were to be moved from one racial group to another. The categorization was decisive among other things for: schooling, access to hospitals, work, settlement, choice of partner – yes even which bathing beach or queue in the post office that one could use.
Everything was fully controlled because of the color of a layer of skin.
In 1949, marriage across racial segregation was prohibited, and the following year the state also criminalized such sexual relationships.
Sex outside of marriage between whites and non-whites could now be punished by up to seven years of imprisonment, and mixed race couples lived in endless fear of the police, which ransacked on the slightest suspicion and even took the sheets as evidence.
The racial segregation was completed when Group Areas Act of 1950 divided all of South Africa into separate areas for whites, Asians, colored, and blacks – with by far the largest and most attractive areas reserved for the white population, while the black majority was crammed together in special reservations, the so-called homelands. It is believed that around 4 million mainly black South Africans were evicted from their homes and resettled by force as part of the ethnic “whitewashing” process.
Blacks were, in other words, stripped of all civil rights in their own country, and if they wanted to get out of the homelands – e.g. in order to work – it was prohibited to carry a passport.
But pressure creates counterpressure, as we all know.
At first, the South African government succeeded in avoiding comprehensive international condemnation, but the international community could not close its eyes on 21 March 1960, when the police opened fire against a large group of black demonstrators in the township of Sharpeville.
The activists were protesting the hated pass laws, when police officers began shooting into the crowd. There is still discussion about the details, but 69 men, women and children lost their lives.
In addition, almost 200 were injured.
The Sharpeville-massacre really put Apartheid on the international agenda, and in South Africa the battle lines were further drawn. The white regime declared a state of emergency and among others banished the black liberation organization, The African Congress (ANC), which concluded as a result that politically inflammatory speeches, demonstrations and peaceful protests were not enough to shake the regime.
The armed branch of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the nation) arose under the leadership of among others the later president, Nelson Mandela. Over the following years, several of the organization’s leaders were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment for life. Mandela spent 27 years in prison, before he was freed in 1990 as part of a political agreement.
An offer too good to refuse
While the heavy political storms swept in over South Africa, Craig Williamson and his two sisters grew up in a happy, wealthy, white family in a suburb of the metropolis Johannesburg. Like his father, Craig was admitted to the prestigious boarding school St. John’s College, where his course of life took shape.
The young Williamson took an early interest in politics, and at the age of 13 he was highly preoccupied with the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. According to the book "Spy" by journalist Jonathan Ancer, this became the beginning of his life-long obsession with anti-communism and the Cold War.
In 1967 South Africa introduced compulsory military service for white men, but like many others Craig Williamson used an alternative option, when he was drafted in the following year. He wanted to do his military service with the police. Here, colonel Johann Coetzee of the police’s Special Branch spotted the obviously intelligent and committed Williamson.
Special Branch was the white regime’s spearhead in the fight against the opponents of the apartheid system.
Surveillance, espionage, infiltration and recruitment of informants was part of the task, but in addition came darker and more brutal branches with death patrols that took care of abduction, imprisonment without trial, torture and killing of adversaries.
Coetzee was the head of Section 4, and he made Williamson an offer too good to refuse: Special Branch would pay him both salary and education, if he accepted spying at the Witwatersrand- university in Johannesburg.
The placing of Williamson in the left-wing university environment was part of Operation Daisy. It was all about placing as many agents – sleeping and active – as possible in and around the South African left-wing environment. By the way, the inspiration was in the working methods of the Soviet KGB, the agent explains.
After finishing his spy education, Williamson let his hair grow, while at the same time in 1971 he drifted over into the white student environment. The following year he started at the university. Nine years of double life as undercover agent RS 167 had begun.
Only Williamson’s parents and his girlfriend, the Danish medical student, Ingrid Bacher, got to know the truth. The two later married which they remain to this day. She is the daughter of a former EAC manager in South Africa, and he did not like her new boyfriend, who was both long-haired and – as the father-in-law thought – left-wing.
“He refused to come to our wedding, but later we were reconciled. Among other things, he accused me of having organized a trade union demonstration against the EAC. He really disliked me. My wife was never a spy, but as a wife and partner she helped me with different things”, says Williamson and explains that he did not have the conscience to marry without first telling his coming wife about his secret life.
Williamson slowly worked himself into the activist student movement, Nusas, which was against apartheid. He was open about his past in the police, but he said that the years with the police had only made him even more critical about the regime. Most people new that the student environments were thoroughly infiltrated by the security police, but Williamson managed to lie himself out of any suspicion.
Here, he was helped by the fact that unlike almost all other white agents he was born English-speaking and did not have Afrikaans as his first language as did the Boer. At the same time, he was a diligent, efficient and dedicated activist who soon became vice president of the organization.
That alone was considered a giant victory for the intelligence service, but colonel Coetzee had far bigger plans for the talented agent RS 167. He was to penetrate the heart of the resistance against apartheid. Into the ANC and the organization’s ally, the Communist Party.
Craig Williamson’s access to the banned organizations would come through the relatively unknown umbrella organization, International University Exchange Fund (IUEF), in Geneva, Switzerland.
It collected money in Denmark and other countries, a lot of money.
Abroad, it was not only the UN that laid down the glove and condemned the brutal methods of the apartheid regime after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. In addition, national governments, trade unions, ecclesiastical organizations and NGO’s, especially in Scandinavia, took up the fight – and in 1961 quite a few activities were joined by the IUEF, an organization with a main purpose of helping fugitives from e.g. Southern Africa get an education.
In 1965, the Swede Lars-Gunnar Eriksson – a glowing Social Democrat with close ties to the activist and charismatic leader Olof Palme – was placed as head of the organization.
Eriksson’s burning commitment could not be curbed by funding rules and bureaucratic procedures. Through secret channels he got money through to South Africa for projects, networks, organizations and individuals partaking in the fight against the white regime.
Some were involved in underground activities against the apartheid regime, others were organizations that had not yet not been banned by the regime.
Among them the ANC – which after 1960 had to operate from bases in the neighboring countries – were considered with funding that the liberation organization itself took a share of.
The money came from Norway, Sweden, Holland, Canada – and as said, Denmark.
“The ultimate target of my infiltration was the Communist Party and the ANC. The IUEF was considered a steppingstone. But it did not go as planned. When I joined the IUEF, we suddenly realized that we had landed in an organization, which was involved in practically every single political venture in South Africa. It was unbelievable. The IUEF had its fingers in a lot of focal points”. Williamson’s first step was to convince Lars-Gunnar Eriksson, the Swedish director of the IUEF with whom he managed to arrange a meeting in 1975.
“Lars-Gunnar was a highly dynamic and intense person – a man with a mission.
He knew what he wanted to achieve, and he was on the lookout for individuals and organizations that could help him. Not only politically, but also on an organizational level” ‘He was an anti-communist?‘ “Indeed, but in the beginning, we [the intelligence service, red.] were not sure. The first year or more was spent on finding out what Lars-Gunnar Eriksson really stood for. Was he CIA, was he KGB or did he just support the Swedish Social Democrats and Socialist International? I concluded that he certainly collected intelligence, but I don’t think he worked for an intelligence service.
He was the secret service of Socialism International,” Williamson thinks.
He describes the Swede as ‘a romantic revolutionary,’ but from day one there was a good chemistry between the two men, who got closer and closer to one another.
While Williamson infiltrated the IUEF, tensions rose in South Africa, where the temperature in 1976 hit the boiling point in Soweto; the enormous township outside of Johannesburg. The reason was the white regime’s decision to introduce Afrikaans as the main language of instruction in black schools. Quick as lightning, the pupils’ protests developed into a rebellion against the hated regime. Historians have estimated that 20,000 black students took part in the wave of demonstrations.
According to official figures, clashes with the police cost 176 lives, and had the effect that thousands of young blacks went into exile to join the banned liberation movements.
Williamson possesses a special ability to build trust, and with his committed manner and a cobweb of lies, he soon won many new friends
The first gunshot victim was the 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, who was hit when the police opened fire against the demonstrating children. Press photographer Sam Nzima was caught amidst the bloody chaos, where he caught eye of the 18-year-old Mbuyisa Makhubu, who risked his life by picking up Hector Pieterson and carrying him to safety, while the sister of the dying boy, Antoinette, ran panic-stricken next to him.
The day after, his picture hit newspaper front pages all over the world and caused an international outcry.
“In 1976, we saw the first mass mobilization against the South African government. Until the Soweto revolt, the revolutionary pressure had been quite minimal. The ANC led a so-called armed struggle from the early 1960s, but apart from sporadic activities it was neither military nor politically an efficient organization. But when the youth took matters into their own hands, it opened quite a new aspect to the conflict,” says Craig Williamson.
Internationally, the motivation grew to help South Africa’s suppressed black population to a new level, and money was rolling into the account at the IUEF in Geneva. That also from Denmark, which alone in 1978-79 allocated more than 18 million kroner of taxpayers’ money to the good cause. The money came partly from the politically controversial apartheid fund, which was managed by the Foreign Ministry’s aid organization Danida, and partly from Danida’s general account.
The Danish money was intended for programs in Southern Africa – and for a lesser part – activities among oppressed people in Latin America.
But it went quite differently. The millions from the Danish taxpayers were in fact used for infiltrating and unravelling the South African resistance movement, which fought against the apartheid regime.
In 1976, Craig Williamson staged his own “escape” from the security police in South Africa.
This was without any risk, since the intelligence service ran its own escape route from the neighboring country Botswana. The main characters were agents, who acted as apartheid opponents. The route was popular among system critics, because no one – for good reasons – was caught. On the other hand, the intelligence people could keep track of whether the enemies of the state were in the country, and the illegal organization’s secret courier mail could comfortably be copied, before it was handed over to the recipient.
The “fugitive” Williamson – who brought Ingrid with him – was received with open arms by Eriksson, who as of January 1, 1977 employed the South African “left-wing activist” in a position as information officer.
Williamson possesses a special ability to build trust, and with his committed manner and a cobweb of lies, he soon won many new friends. Among them was Eriksson, who pushed his efficient information officer forward. Despite warnings to the IUEF about his police past, Williamson became the Swede’s trusted deputy director in record time, with responsibility for all projects in the Southern Africa and Latin America.
“I have no idea why. I did not ask to become the deputy director. I saw all the external applications for the position, and there were many qualified among them. I did not even apply.
But one night, when I sat drinking with Lars-Gunnar, he said that he would propose me. It came as a big surprise,” says Williamson.
He believes that he got the job, because Lars-Gunnar Eriksson trusted him and thought he knew how Williamson thought.
This was the Swedish director’s biggest mistake.
Williamson used this unexpected opening and overtook control of quite a big part of the operation – at least in relation to the South African projects, which were his and the apartheid regime’s prime interest.
Eriksson considered his deputy director the expert on South African conditions, and he often listened to his advice and opinions, which were in fact formed in consultation with the intelligence service headquarters in Pretoria. The relationship between Williamson and Eriksson was so close that you can rightfully ask today, who was really in charge.
“Lars-Gunnar was often away – I was the boss,” says Williamson himself.
Step by step, the intelligence service overtook the real control among others over the projects that received Danish support.
Today, the extent of the apartheid regime’s ”intelligence coup” is only clear after a visit to the Danish National Archives in Copenhagen. In 1980, tons of archive material were moved from the IUEF to the Danish National Archives, where the enormous collection of documents as mentioned should be kept under lock for 80 years. In other words, the papers should remain secret until 2060.
However, through the Danish Refugee Council Jyllands-Posten has obtained unlimited access to endless boxes of documents that were pulled on pushcarts into the reading room at Proviantgården [Provisions Yard] at Christiansborg Castle in Copenhagen.
The papers reveal names and aliases of hundreds of apartheid opponents who risked their lives in the fight against the white minority rule. By far the largest part are activists who operated individually, in networks or in organizations inside the country, but there are also names of and information on many hundred fugitives and exiled politicians.
Further, extremely detailed descriptions of their illegal activities, organizational charts, travels, meetings and political plans against the regime in Pretoria – and names and personal data on plenty of young, black students, who assisted by the ANC and the IUEF received an education in exile.
Williamson had access to this entire wealth of confidential information, and thus got large parts of the resistance movement served on a silver platter.
“An agent is like a vacuum cleaner. You suck up information, pass it on through your channels to the headquarters, where it is compared to other information, assessed and analyzed and then passed on,“ says Williamson.
Agent RS 167 had an extremely effective suction ability.
“When I think back on it, I don’t know how I could manage to make my intelligence reports and simultaneously perform my job at the IUEF. At times, it was completely ridiculous.
In some periods, I only slept four hours a day. For security reasons, we [the intelligence service] could generally not use the phone, and hence we only had two channels of communication. The one was dead letter boxes, and the other was personal meetings, which did not take place in Geneva, but mostly in Brussels. As I travelled at lot, one of my lead officers would book into the same hotel as me.
Then we could meet in one of the rooms for a few hours late at night. But that was not easy either, because you had to make counter-surveillance and spend time walking around to make sure that he was not under surveillance. We kept out of Geneva, because that was one of the world’s spy capitals,” says Craig Williamson.
Dead letter boxes were formerly one of the spy trade’s most commonly used forms of communication, because it was relatively safe. The agent drops his material at an agreed place, which can be anything from a hollow tree to an old letter box at an abandoned holiday home. Afterwards, the material is collected by another agent, and the two of them never meet.
Williamson explains that for security reasons his dead letter boxes were often a three-hour drive from Geneva – either in Switzerland or in France. He does not know who collected his material but, assumes that it was intelligence colleagues posted at one of South Africa’s embassies in Europe. They could then forward his material to South Africa in sealed bags as diplomatic mail.
Jyllands-Posten has obtained insight into many of Craig Williamson’s reports recorded on cassette tapes or hammered down on a typewriter in his apartment. The reports are also full of names and information from the numerous meetings and conversations he had at all levels of the anti-apartheid environment.
Add to that the mass copying of confidential documents in the IUEF. They were either copied or photographed on microfilm.
“Generally, I brought the documents home for microfilming, but some were photographed at the office. Typically, I went there at 8 at night and locked the door behind me. I always had an excuse to be there and time to hide the camera away, since the door was locked. But all employees knew that I was involved in the secret IUEF-operations, so no one asked any questions. No one ever saw me with the wrong people or doing the wrong things,” says Craig Williamson.
In South Africa’s intelligence service, only very few people had any knowledge of the super agent’s identity, but the vacuum cleaner material from RS 167 was the basis of a giant intelligence operation inside the country.
“The many other [intelligence agents] that I managed to ease in, pave the way for, spot or identify – over the in total 10 years of infiltration – became an octopus with grabbing arms out in the entire target area (the anti-apartheid movement, red.)” South African intelligence agents gradually infiltrated the IUEF underground projects in the country, and in some instances Williamson and his superiors themselves invented entirely new organizations and projects that could put the vacuum cleaner hose even further down into the anti-apartheid environment.
One of Craig Williamsons most trusted agent colleagues inside South Africa was Karl Edwards, who had also infiltrated the NUSAS – the activist student movement dominated by white left-wingers.
Edwards – with the code names Charles and Mark – founded the "environmental organization" Environmental and Development Agency (EDA), which according to documents at the Danish National Archives received money from the IUEF – among others for remuneration of the "managing director Karl Edwards".
Another organization under full control of the intelligence service was the Prisoners Support Trust, which on its face helped families of political prisoners – in real terms it was all about keeping them under surveillance. Here, the leader was Craig Williamson’s sister, Lisa-Jane; lieutenant in the intelligence service and agent number RS 183. Development aid from Denmark was delivered to her – in some instances through a Danish-South African middleman, and a Danish confectionary, which was a cover address in Johannesburg.
It was well-known in the underground environment that the IUEF had lots of money, and Williamson did everything he could to boost that impression. It made still more activists come out in the open and directly into Craig Williamson’s vacuum cleaner mouthpiece.
“I tried to make sure that money was not given to people that we did not want to have the money, and we tried to prevent financing of people or projects that we were not involved in,” says Craig Williamson.
“Almost all the money was used in support of the programs they were intended for, but it gave us a great advantage to be the ones handing out the money. We knew who it went to and what they were doing. Another advantage was that we could tell these people that we must know what you are doing to justify giving you more money. So, they all became small agents for us. Our so-called contact payments [payment for information from informants and secret agents] was financed with money allocated for purposes that the donor governments wanted to support, e.g. aid for families of political prisoners and trade union projects. We were happy to pass the money on to them. It was a wonderful intelligence operation. We knew everyone that received money, we knew what they spent it on, and they even gave us written reports on it,” says Craig Williamson.
‘So, your intelligence system in South Africa was among others financed by Danida in Denmark?’ “Yes. A lot of people worked for us without having any idea of it. They were agents under false flag and thought that they helped the IUEF – and they believed it was good – or they believed that the organization and the people I worked for was on their side. We gave them money and got information in return. They worked for the South African intelligence service without knowing it themselves,” says Williamson.
With the immense intelligence material, it was possible for the apartheid regime to checkmate large parts of the resistance movement.
“It was an intelligence game, and when you were in it, you didn’t think much about the consequences. You played a role; you played the game. But a lot of the people we involved ourselves in were either arrested or imprisoned, and some of them died. Because in the end, it was not a game, and it became more serious as the years went by,” says Craig Williamson.
He admits that “mentally it is not easy” to build trust in people and subsequently betray them. But he saw himself as a soldier
The number of deaths caused by Craig Williamson’s infiltration has never been mapped, and he does not know himself, he says.
But he emphasizes that many of the apartheid adversaries he identified through the IUEF had more value for the intelligence service alive rather than dead – and sometimes it even paid off letting the resistance movement have a bit of success.
“It was a cost benefit balancing,” he says.
For example, the intelligence service refrained from liquidating certain leaders of the ANC, even if it had information about them through his infiltration in the IUEF and hence the possibility, says Williamson.
“We knew a lot about them, we were close to them, and we had people around them. And now we arrive at the less intellectual part of this: The people who were arrested and killed were often those that by means of surveillance were identified as someone performing concrete tasks for the leadership,” says Craig Williamson.
He admits that “mentally it is not easy” to build trust in people and subsequently betray them. But he saw himself as a soldier.
“We were fighting a war,” says Williamson.
That the South African intelligence service for years had the opportunity to hand-feed an entire network of agents and informants with among others Danish taxpayer’s money could be ascribed to another strike of extreme luck for Craig Williamson.
Lars-Gunnar Eriksson was not only willing to bend the rules to reach his political goals. He went even further, and clearly also crossed the line to solve two big problems: First, to make ends meet at the IUEF, because the administration costs were considerably higher than the 15% of the grants that the donors accepted. Second, he needed money for purposes that for instance the Danish Parliament would not support.
He decided to commit fraud in the good cause.
Williamson discovered the creative bookkeeping when he joined the management group of the IUEF.
“I could see that money for specific projects was not spent according to plan. It passed through the bookkeeping and was used for covering gaps on other accounts,” says Craig Williamson.
In 1976 – before Craig Williamson really entered the picture – Eriksson established a company in the tax haven of Liechtenstein. The name of the company was Southern Futures Anstalt (SFA). It was top secret and should officially be used for channeling IUEF-money to the underground work of the Apartheid opposition.
It was said that with Liechtenstein’s bank secrecy the South African regime could not trace that the money was in fact derived from the IUEF. But this did not hold true. For instance, Lars-Gunnar Eriksson’s private address was on the stationary from SFA – so it was not any more secret than that.
In fact, documents at the Danish National Archives reveal that Lars-Gunnar Eriksson used the company for accounting fraud and money laundering.
Example: On 17 August 1978, the IUEF transferred 49,445.12 Swiss Francs from Danida project account 39 to the company in Liechtenstein.
Thereupon, Danida was informed that project 39 had been completed and paid in full. That was not true, however, because the same day in August approximately the same amount (CHF 51,949.15) was transferred back from Liechtenstein to the IUEF and distributed on several other project accounts running in deficit.
This way, Eriksson juggled the money around that he could, in essence, spend as he liked. This was discovered by Williamson, who as of 13 November 1978 in a ‘strictly confidential’ office memo (the time’s paper-based answer to e-mails) became responsible for all financial affairs regarding Southern Futures.
‘The sky is clouding’
The money laundering machine in Liechtenstein is the reason that the misuse of Danida monies cannot be mapped krone by krone.
Apparently, Lars-Gunnar Eriksson’s biggest fear was the National Audit Office of Denmark, which controlled the administration of Danida’s funding to the IUEF. Eriksson hated the dispatched Danish auditors, who were manipulated and deceived when they tried to reconcile the IUEF's Danida accounts.
On March 16, 1979, Lars-Gunnar Eriksson wrote an office memo to his closest colleagues under the heading ‘The sky is clouding’: “For some time, there has been a fight between Danida and the National Audit Office of Denmark (which apparently – and we have quite some experience in this field – is the most stupid and troublesome in the Western world) regarding bookkeeping and reporting. They are obsessed that there must be a signed receipt for every single penny, and in the case of the IUEF they want each scholar to sign a piece of paper every month,” Lars-Gunnar Eriksson wrote, and he ordered his employees to ‘clean’ all Danida accounts completely, so that they would balance when the auditors arrived.
When the scandal had broken less than a year later, the Danish auditors plunged into the accounts of the SFA, where they found “a number of irregularities and different illegal acts” – for instance that no bookkeeping had been made since 1979, and that the money had been spent on “projects and purposes that had not been approved by the donor countries.”
“During the South African agent’s employment with the IUEF a total of CHF 505,020 had been paid to him from the SFA’s bank account for transmission to projects etc. in South Africa. It has not been possible to establish to what extent these means have reached their intended recipients.” Craig Williamson withdrew giant cash amounts from the SFA, and he was later accused of embezzling funds, which he still denies.
All the money was – according to him – pumped into his rapidly growing South African intelligence network. According to the key figure himself, no one in the IUEF posed any questions, because it was accepted that for security reasons many of the deputy director’s projects and contacts should be hidden behind code names and secrecy.
Apparently, once again no questions were posed, when a new and top-secret project appeared in the IUEF papers. The code name was COCO – an un-heard of audacity on the part of Williamson, because it was named after his mentor and lead officer in Special Branch, colonel Johann Coetzee (COlonel COetzee).
Coetzee had gotten into a tight corner, because one of the branch’s so-called safe houses near Pretoria – a farm west of the capital – was put up for sale. The police had rented the place, Hill Farm, which Special Branch, according to Williamson, used for training of agents, but now the owner of the property wanted to dispose of it, and Coetzee lacked the money to buy.
Therefore, Williamson designed a false project, which was officially about buying a safe house for resistance people involved in the struggle against the white regime. According to secret intelligence documents, the purchase price of 20,000 South African rand was camouflaged as school fees and purchase of school uniforms for the aid program for families of political prisoners. The project that Craig Williamson’s sister, undercover agent RS 183, ran among other things with Danish taxpayers’ money.
In other words, Denmark was involved in financing the purchase of the farm.
The real intended use of Hill Farm – which was later renamed Daisy Farm – is much debated.
During a reconstruction, one of the houses got a basement with a heavy steel door.
The room was named ‘Slovo’s Suite’ – named after the communist leader Joe Slovo. Slovo should allegedly be locked up there, if the apartheid regime ever caught him. This never happened.
In an interview with Jyllands-Posten in 1997, a former leader of the death squads of the Special Branch, Dirk Coetzee, [he is not related to Johann Coetzee] said that the basement was used for torture: “Here, the prisoners were interrogated. Some of them died,” he said.
That the Special Branch used Daisy Farm for interrogations and abuse, at least in the 1980s, was further confirmed during a hearing in the South African “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in 2000. Several officers gave testimony about the capture and interrogation of the ANC member Jabulani Sidney Msibi, who was taken to Daisy Farm in 1986.
Jabulani Sidney Msibi was shot in 1988, but before his death he gave a statement: “During the evening interrogation cigarette butts were nipped on my face, and an attempt was made to set my hair alight. A tire was put on my neck and a threat made to necklace me [pouring petrol on the tire and setting it on fire]” During Jyllands-Posten’s meeting with Dirk Coetzee in 1997 he took us out to Daisy Farm, which was situated out-of-the-way in a hilly landscape west of Pretoria – a four-kilometer walk from the nearest earth road.
The buildings were already in ruins.
All pipes were gone, and parts of the roofing was stolen. Today, it is impossible for us to find Daisy Farm. Apparently, time has deleted all of its traces.
Dirk Coetzee died five years ago, but in 1997 he said to Jyllands-Posten: “Hey, those Scandinavians were too naive. We could twist them around our little finger.” And the man who twisted the Scandinavians around his little finger was Craig Williamson. Not only did he manipulate his contacts in the anti-apartheid environment, but also the donors that supplied the money, and thus the fuel, for his intelligence machine.
In Denmark, the support for the fight against the regime in Pretoria was based on a political compromise on the so-called apartheid grant.
To put it bluntly, the left-wingers wanted the racist regime ousted as quickly as possible, while parts of the right-wing were more cautious. They were also opposed to the regime’s violent methods, but on the other hand they saw the white rule as a safeguard against communism. There was also money at stake, because Danish power plants imported cheap coal from South Africa.
The compromise changed over the years, but in the 1970s the short version was that money could be given to soft and relatively uncontroversial purposes such as humanitarian aid and education. The money was channeled through NGOs, and for the IUEF among others the Danish Refugee Council and The Danish Youth Council (DUF) were important links to the vast Danida-chest at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
As Lars-Gunnar Eriksson’s second in command, Craig Williamson travelled to Copenhagen on a regular basis, where he met with representatives of trade unions and NGOs – and not least the DUF.
“We did not control what the Danish development aid funds were granted to, but we had great influence on it. If for instance the Danish Youth Council had heard about a project in South Africa that they wanted to support, then I would say ‘No, no, no, they just want to steal the money,’ if it was something that we didn’t control. We tried to create as many problems as possible and at the same time achieve as much control as possible. The Danish Youth Council had a seat on the IUEF board and operated as counsellors to Danida.” “Did Danida listen to the recommendations from the Danish Youth Council?” “Yes, because the view was that the Danish Youth Council was well-informed about the conditions in South Africa because of the seat on the board of the IUEF.”
“You also had direct meetings with Danida. Were you, during these meetings, able to influence which projects should be supported and which should not?” “Yes, of course.” Craig Williamson’s minutes on meetings in Denmark – among others on 11 September 1978 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with former Director-General of Danida, Kaj Repsdorph – confirm that the South African spy acted as a sort of political sounding board. He reported these meetings on a routine basis to the intelligence service in Pretoria.
Apparently, it was in the air that the IUEF fiddled with the Danida-funding in correlation with the approved purposes.
“Personally, I believe that we must try not to attach too much importance to him, but on the other hand I can’t help thinking about the bad things he has done
In a secret report from Williamson to the intelligence headquarters in Pretoria, he quotes a former Danida-employee for saying “it is well-known that the IUEF had since its foundation been used as a ‘secret branch’ for changing Scandinavian governments, especially the Swedish. He said that they used and still use the IUEF for doing things that they could not openly support in conjunction with their foreign policy.” The report is dated September 27, 1978.
Danida did not want to participate in this article.
Due to the key position of DUF in the relationship with Danida, the developing country consultant, Poul Brandrup, was a special target for Williamson’s attention and manipulation.
Brandrup was the DUF contact in the IUEF, and hence he got special treatment by the South African intelligence service.
Today, Brandrup holds a position on the executive committee of Danish political party Alternativet [The Alternative].
In 1978, Poul Brandrup was on a round trip in South Africa. It was choreographed in detail in advance by the apartheid regime.
“Quite a few people came on that type of trips. They mainly met with people that we co-operated with, so that they could return and tell enthusiastically about it”. “And these trips were completely controlled by the intelligence service?” “Yes, and they also met with people that we gave IUEF-money to. We would tell these people beforehand what they should say and not say to the visitor, and they did. But of course, they didn’t know themselves that they worked for the intelligence service. They thought that it was the IUEF that sent people in.” The high point of the trip was a visit to Daisy Farm – Brandrup thought that it was a safe house for opponents of the apartheid regime, which had been acquired among others for Danish taxpayers’ money. He had no idea that he himself was an actor in a play with South African intelligence agents as the other actors.”
All the people that Brandrup met on the farm were spies for the intelligence service, but they pretended to be part of the fight for freedom.
On the way out there, he was probably also blindfolded or placed in the bottom of a car, so that he didn’t know where he was being taken to. They made it dramatic for him to get into the heart of the fight for liberation.” “So, were you able to give him the thoroughly calculated message when he stayed at the farm surrounded by intelligence people?”’ “Yes, that was the entire purpose, he should meet the right people and be shown the right things that he could take back home and report positively about”. “Was Brandrup naive?” ”I cannot criticize him for being naive, because when you come from a country like Denmark, and the major political fight you have been involved in is an academic discussion at the university about democratic socialism versus Marxism, you have no idea what you are up against. The farm was a highly romantic place in the middle of the bush, and here he met people that allegedly worked underground against the apartheid regime – and some of them were blacks. The guys were good at their job. It must be added, that Brandrup also met some ‘real’ resistance people that didn’t know that the intelligence service ran their project, provided them with IUEF-money and saw to it that their reports were sent to Pretoria, before being passed on to Geneva, Copenhagen or Stockholm.” Poul Brandrup – today 69 years old – still remembers that trip to South Africa and the visit to Daisy Farm.
”I cannot say for certain, if I stayed the night at the farm. But I think it was weird, and that there was no reason for my being there,” says Brandrup, who believes that he was met by 10-15 people at the desolate farm: “In the afternoon we generally talked about the political and social development in South Africa, but it was really on a superficial level, and I didn’t really think that it let anywhere. There was a social get-together in the evening,” says Brandrup, who denies having been blindfolded during the trip out there. “But it may well be that the car had blinded windows,” he says.
Poul Brandrup describes how his meetings during that trip were on the whole shrouded in a layer of mystery with unknown people who kept walking back and forth, while he was talking to his sources.
“Were you naive?”
“I will not say that I wasn’t naive, maybe not naive, maybe credulous. It was a matter of the good purpose. One wants to hear, what one believes is right. That is how one is,” says Poul Brandrup.
He had a considerable co-operation with Craig Williamson, and on a few occasions, they also met socially – and because of Ingrid’s background, there was much talk about Denmark. For instance, she considered finishing her medical studies in Copenhagen, but it never got to that.
“It was a typical bourgeois family with a highly formal structure and linen napkins during dinners and all that stuff. Even though my family had the same background, my generation was not like that at all. It was a bit different,” says Brandrup.
“Craig was generally well-oriented, but he didn’t have this highly dedicated focus that some of us had, he was almost professionally distanced or something.
In afterthought, I have wondered a lot, whether he posed a lot of questions that perhaps should have aroused my suspicion.
I can hardly think of anything. But it is obvious that we shared names with people we had met,” says Poul Brandrup.
“Personally, I believe that we must try not to attach too much importance to him, but on the other hand I can’t help thinking about the bad things he has done. He was a small piece in a far larger game, and this he was for a highly cynical reason.
He has several lives on his conscience. That is what comes to mind, when I think about him today.
I had met some of the people who died, and it is terrible to know that he was in that role. We were led astray by him, and he created a lot of destruction,” adds Brandrup.
On January 2,1980 – while Craig Williamson was taking a bath in his apartment in Geneva – it all began to fall apart. On the radio he heard that a police agent from the South African Special Branch had defected to Great Britain. It appeared to be Arthur McGiven, who was a closet gay and lived secretly together with a man. In South Africa homosexuality was ranked in line with communism – it could hardly get any worse, and when the secret got out, McGiven chose to flee the country with a suitcase full of secret papers.
It could hardly get any worse for Craig Williamson, because he knew that Arthur McGiven could probably pull the rug out from under him and the entire IUEF operation.
Williamson felt convinced that he was close to being able to infiltrate the ANC completely, so instead of pulling the plug and fleeing to South Africa, he remained in Geneva after having placed Ingrid on a plane to Johannesburg.
Instead, his lead officer Johann Coetzee appeared in Switzerland. He was part of a plan to save the operation.
On 17 January 1980, Williamson called Lars-Gunnar Eriksson and requested a meeting at a hotel in Zürich the following day. The Swedish director was to be confronted and blackmailed with all the dirt that Williamson had on him.
“I am really captain Williamson, this is general Coetzee, and your worst nightmare has just become real,” was the message to Lars-Gunnar Eriksson, who had often said just for fun that it would mean the death of the IUEF, if Williamson turned out to be an agent.
Williamson and his lead officer tried to blackmail Eriksson with threats of scandalizing him and the organization – and to reveal the Swede’s creative handling of the funds. The South Africans were willing to let the Swede off the hook, if Williamson in return got the possibility to work himself further into the ANC without being disclosed.
“To him the alternative was Armageddon for the IUEF. He got pale – white, white, white. Sat completely silent in shock, and then he emptied a whole decanter of white wine.” Eriksson requested a pause for thought. He was dumbfounded and felt so threatened on his life that he had his family brought to safety in France.
After the meeting at Hotel Zürich, South African agents kept the panic-stricken Swedish Director under surveillance to assess, whether he would say yes or no to their offer.
Lars-Gunnar Eriksson didn’t reply, but he did not contact the Swiss police, which he was later criticized for. Instead, he decided to go to British newspaper The Guardian, which a few days later – simultaneously with the devastated Eriksson holding a press conference in Stockholm – uncovered Williamson. He had vanished in the meantime, and he says today that he travelled around Europe by train, got a passport in a false name and a flight ticket to South Africa.
Craig Williamson was received in South Africa as a hero.
”It triggered an earthquake in South Africa, when he returned home. He was portrayed, as if he had infiltrated both the ANC and the Soviet intelligence service, KGB,” says Jonathan Ancer, author of the book Spy on Craig Williamson’s career.
The South African Sunday Times gave the story full measure under the heading ‘Our man in Moscow’. ”He spied against the KGB, he sent vital information back, he visited terror bases, he was the James Bond of the real world,” the paper wrote.
Although there was much spin in the apartheid regime’s presentation, the fact is that RS 167 Williamson crushed the IUEF, which had to close. Lars-Gunnar Eriksson had a nervous breakdown after the affair and died in 1990 at the age of only 48.
In the remains of the white intelligence environment in South Africa, Craig Williamson still ranks as one of the three most important spies in the history of apartheid rule.
‘What does it take to become a good spy?’
“You have to be a good actor. I have seen actors reported as saying that they sometimes lose their own personality and become the character that they play in the movie. That is what happens. And you need to have a good memory and remember what you have told people. And then you have to be cautious and disciplined – you cannot get drunk and say too much.”
‘Were you a good spy?’
“Yes, I was good.”
Photo: Cover on the South Africa newssite Daily Maverick.
Jyllands-Posten is Denmark’s largest morning newspaper. Came internationally in 2005 after cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed in an article about self-censorship and freedom of expression. After the events surrounding Charlie Hebdo in 2015, the magazine decided to step up security.
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