Counter-intelligence for counter-revolutionary warfare: The South African police security branch 1979–1990

Kevin A. O'Brien*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


In counter-revolutionary warfare strategy, political action forms the overwhelming part; however, also central as an off-shoot of the tenets of counter-revolutionary warfare is the elimination of insurgent structures–generally a euphemism for assassination. In reality, assassination is a subset of covert paramilitary action, implemented as a consequence of counter-intelligence or even counter-terrorism. South Africa's Security Branch presents one of the best recent examples of the use of counter-intelligence techniques for counter-revolutionary warfare. While politico-constitutional intelligence was gathered by the National Intelligence Service to support constitutional efforts to achieve a settlement of the conflict and bring about a new political dispensation in South Africa, the apartheid government relied on the covert operational capabilities of the security forces (especially the Security Branch) to not only halt the ‘Revolutionary Onslaught’ of the liberation movements, but to eliminate them as a viable political and revolutionary force. In attempting to support an unwinnable political objective, the ultimate corruption of the intelligence process and the reliance of individuals overseeing it far and away on the covert operational intelligence capabilities of the state, the apartheid government brought about its own downfall. The Security Branch was at the heart of these efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-59
Number of pages33
JournalIntelligence and National Security
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2001


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