FBI Apologizes to South Africa
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The FBI expressed regrets to South Africa this week for any misunderstanding over a sting operation involving a South African official that led to the arrest of three Americans accused of spying.
The meeting in Washington between South African diplomats and senior FBI officials apparently stemmed from bruised feelings caused by the FBI’s use of an exchange of letters between one of the accused and a South African official as a springboard for the sting operation.
``Senior officials of the FBI met with South African officials, and the FBI expressed regret as to any embarrassment this investigation may have caused to the government of South Africa or to any officials of the government,″ FBI spokeswoman Debbie Weierman said.
The FBI was already investigating the espionage case when a major break developed when South African Deputy Defense Minister Ronnie Kasrils, a communist movement leader, received a letter from ``Lisa Martin,″ praising a book he had just written. In early 1996, Kasrils sent a thank-you note in return.
The original letter was actually written by Theresa Squillacote, then a Defense Department analyst under FBI surveillance.
Though not explicit, the letter to the South African official implied a willingness to open up a working relationship as an espionage source, according to the FBI. Undercover agents then sent Squillacote a letter, purporting to be from Kasrils, offering to arrange meetings between her and agents in the United States.
Bureau officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told reporters this week that the FBI learned of the letter through the South African government. But a statement issued by the office of South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki said the FBI learned of the exchange because Squillacote was already under surveillance.
``Mr. Kasrils has never been in contact with the U.S. government about the open communication,″ Mbeki said. ``Neither the South African government nor any of its agencies has been involved with any of the people who have been charged with espionage in the United States.″
Mbeki also said that neither the government nor any of its agencies was in contact with U.S. officials in connection with the sting operation.
Weierman confirmed those statements, pointing to a statement issued earlier this week by the FBI and the U.S. attorney handling the case that the South African government was not involved in the investigation.
Squillacote and her husband, Kurt Alan Stand, a labor union representative, and James Clark, a former Army paralegal, are charged with conspiracy to commit espionage. Squillacote and Stand are also charged with attempted espionage and obtaining national defense information.