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Gap between intelligence and action: why SSA probably won’t help war on crime

Really, it does not bother me that the Strategic Service Agency (SSA), or any other State intelligence agency, from the AIA to the ZIA, might want to peep through my back door, monitor what I am writing now, check my email before I do, or listen in on my telephone or family conversations at my home.

Photo: Everybody peeping...
Photo: Everybody peeping…

I have long accepted that with the sophisticated technology available to them, indeed to anyone who might want to “macco” people, the privacy that we once enjoyed, or thought we did, has ceased to exist.

The simple “smart phone” has elevated ordinary folks to directors and producers of video-clips that depict real-life action, from sex to extreme violence, which are posted on the Internet and often “go viral”, as millions of persons view them.

So what privacy can the average, law-abiding citizen expect to enjoy in an age when almost everything is recorded and posted, when social media freaks tell the world how toxic their anal emissions are, sound et al?

None!

Which is why I cannot understand the furore that erupted when Government moved to broaden the remit of the SSA: since its formation in 1996, this shady outfit was tasked with gathering intelligence on illegal drugs activities.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago police on the move. (Courtesy Heritage Radio)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago police on the move.
(Courtesy Heritage Radio)

To quote from its functions (in the original Act): “…act as an office for centralising information that could facilitate the detection and prevention of illicit traffic in narcotic drugs…for the suppression of illicit drug trafficking and drug-related matters…”

Although the process of selecting its director was not clear, the chain of command was: “The functions of the Agency shall be exercised by the Director after consultation with the Minister.”

And this: “…the Director shall be appointed by the President for a term not exceeding five years terminable at any time…”

So since 1996, three prime ministers (Basdeo Panday, Patrick Manning and Kamla Persad-Bissessar) and maybe six ministers of national security have overseen the SSA, hired and fired directors and senior staff, and been privy to “intelligence” gathered by whatever means.

But it has only now become a public and contentious issue because “it could spy on innocent citizens.”

Hello! In its 20 years, the SSA failed to bring one real drug baron to book, and the Opposition, who controlled it while they were in office (1996-2001, 2010-2015), are now raising fears about the agency wire-tapping ordinary citizens?

Photo: Reshmi Ramnarine (far right) shares a drink with former Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh (centre). Ramnarine was controversially appointed as a Security Intelligence Agency (SIA) director in 2011. She subsequently resigned after media reports that her credentials were fraudulent.
Photo: Reshmi Ramnarine (far right) shares a drink with former Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh (centre).
Ramnarine was controversially appointed as a Security Intelligence Agency (SIA) director in 2011.
She subsequently resigned after media reports that her credentials were fraudulent.

Did such illegal actions occur under their watch? I recall Mrs Persad-Bissessar, back in 2010, accusing Mr Manning of using the agency to spy on friends and foes..

How did she deal with it? She appointed a clerk, Reshmi Ramnarine, as director! When the media exposed the young lady as being woefully unqualified for the position, Ramnarine reluctantly resigned, and the PM said it was a mistake.

What followed was the dismantling of the Special Anti-crime Unit of T&T (SAUTT), mass firings of personnel, the removal and replacement of almost every senior and mid-ranked official at the SIA, SSA and other agencies…and crime marched on.

Today, the Keith Rowley Government, having terminated several senior officers and replaced them with its choices, is seeking to enlarge the SSA and broaden its scope to include all serious crimes.

Faced with murders-by-the-minute, Dr Rowley and his national security ministers and advisers are probably hoping that the new-look SSA will help stem the tide of crime.

Photo: A murder scene. (Courtesy Scenecleanmn.com)
Photo: A murder scene.
(Courtesy Scenecleanmn.com)

I am not hopeful. Its main function is to gather intelligence from its own resources and other agencies, and disseminate what it believes are “actionable information” to the relevant services or forces—namely the police and Defence Force.

It is for the latter to use the information to monitor the suspects, make arrests and lay charges.

This is where things fall apart.

I’ll share information I’ve had for many years on one particularly gruesome case to illustrate why the criminals have the upper hand.

Within hours of the Dole Chadee gang murdering four members of the Baboolal family on the night of January 9, 1994, certain senior police officers were furnished with audio-tapes of telephone conversations between Chadee, Joey Ramiah and others, and the names or nicknames of the men who committed the atrocity.

The intelligence had been gathered by another agency, through wire-tapping, so the police could not use it in court. But they could have picked up the gang, grilled them, and made an early breakthrough.

Photo: A police officer helps his colleague with his stripes.
Photo: A police officer helps his colleague with his stripes.

Instead, they dragged their feet as if nothing had happened. At weekly National Security Council meetings, the police were always “working on it.”

It was not until the PM read the riot act to the police that in May, eleven murderers were arrested, charged, and later, nine were tried, convicted and hanged.

That is an example of the yawning gap between gathering intelligence and using it to arrest crime and bring criminals to justice.

The SSA peeping up people’s orifices won’t help: an overhaul of the culture in the Police Service might.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Marisa Dick (centre) was accompanied by five police officers at the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) press conference on 20 April 2016 at the Chamber of Commerce in Westmoorings. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Marisa Dick (centre) was accompanied by five police officers at the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) press conference on 20 April 2016 at the Chamber of Commerce in Westmoorings.
(Courtesy Wired868)

About Raffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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18 comments

  1. I notice certain opposition members getting itchy whilst others keeping quiet and ducking under the radar!?! 😀 😀

  2. Yes and no…I believe they are attempting to go after some BIG fish in order to make a dent in drug crime and money laundering.
    Unfortunately, too many loopholes at all levels in the law enforcement agencies at present so the ‘I Spy’ bill may be the only legal way forward. :/
    The way I see it…”If you have no cocoa in the sun, you have nothing to fear.” :/
    Faris not interested in my going ons and so authorities not going to waste time looking at me. :/

  3. I agree with the caption on the article … “Gap between intelligence and action”. Not only is there a HUGE gap between intelligence (gathered) and action but there is a larger gap between Mental Intelligence and action.

  4. Law has been compromised a long time ago. It’s long overdue that we identify then and bring them to justice.

  5. I have always said the PNM too illiterate to run the country, crime and the police included…90% cant even read and write….

  6. Turn it around and see what you get.

  7. Yes intelligence is the word..

  8. To which I will add…many of those “in charge” don’t really know their asses from their elbows so what would you expect?

  9. Raffique nailed this one. It is obvious there is a gap between intelligence and action. Insp. Ramesar (head of police officer association) made the same point re the recent prison break. In the prison break story as in Raffique’s Dole Chadee’ story there is always the “well we get this type of Intel everyday” argument. Which suggest a sought of ambivalence regarding when to and when not to act on the Intel or rather is it Intel or just mere Info? Needless to say I recall that earlier this year two school districts in the US received terrorist threats on the same day. To add drama to the situation the threats came in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting. The LA Police chief based on his protocol validated the info/Intel and shut down the police district whereas Bill Bratton the NYPD police chief said based on his protocol could not have substantiated the info and allowed school to go ahead as planned. Thankfully neither district were attacked. However the point I note is that they both relied on established, objective, clearly not perfect, protocol. This protocol was communicated to some extent by NYPD Police Chief on the 6pm news suggesting, at least minimally, we have an approach to deal with Intel/Info. As such I share Shah’s skepticism because I’m not clear on the overall validity of our protocol. But I’m certain they have such protocols the extent to which it is an opaque policy document on a shelf or one that has been internalised and constantly going through a process of falsification beats me.

    • Policy always beats us in every walk of life. Because people seem to consider policy non-mandatory in every single case.
      From gymnastics go forward…

    • The Director of the SSA sits before the National Security Council in the presence of the PM, AG, Minister of National Security, the Commissioner of Police, the Chief of Defence Staff and other heads of Agencies. The Director informs the PM, the Minister, the AG and all present of intelligence gathered.

      Further, there is a Heads of Security meeting weekly with the Minister of National Security where info is shared.

      Suffice it to say that persons who should know – do know. The question is why don’t they always act?

      Politics trumps security…

  10. I wish Dr. Rowley good luck because this will be his swan song if he ain’t do it right

  11. What has become obvious to me is that the obvious is seldom obvious to the Trinidadian.

  12. It is a given that the State has had intelligence on crimes committed for decades now, and has not acted on it. One of the main reasons being political complicity of senior persons in National Security who do the bidding of their political directorates.

    A glaring example of that is the recent case where it was held that a now ACP ‘trumped up’ charges against ASP Adjith Persad because the latter came unto info that implicated a senior PNM Minister in larceny of trees from a forest reserve.

    It is also well known that ordinary citizens have been monitored and there is little that one can hide from the State.

    The issue is that now the illegal actions and improper conduct for political or personal victimisation will be given some measure of legitimacy. This does not only apply to persons from T&T, but has implications on diplomats and other dignitaries who visit T&T – remember the Angela Merkel /Obama affair. Even if you are not involved in criminal activity, there is cause for concern as persons can use info on you to threaten, blackmail, victimize or embarrass. The SSA Bill has not placed checks and balances in place for the SSA, but legitimises what was being done in secret.

    What if a Hollywood celebrity visits T&T and sends a text about a personal medication condition they may be experiencing, and that info is passed on to TMZ by an employee of the SSA, what recourse would the celebrity have? Very little you say? That is because there is little in this Bill to ensure accountability.

    Bringing it closer to home Mr. Shah, what if your daughter calls or texts you about a personal medical condition, and due to you not being favoured by the political elites, they attempt to embarrass you by exposing your daughter’s condition, what legal recourse would you have?

    The Reshmi issue should never have happened, but instead of implementing measures to prevent it from recurring, a questionable appointee is theoretically being given more powers. Remember, this Bill was presented by an AG who at the time, believed that citizens did not have a right to privacy – that in itself speaks volumes.

  13. We have been going around in circles for now with these issues that we are all giddy.
    It should be obvious that window dressing won’t help.

    • We are a country of window dressing. eg. The FIU and associated laws came into being because of international pressure. There are 2 classes of FIU’s; (1) those that receive, analyze and disseminate usable info (intelligence) to the enforcement agencies to arrest and charge and (2) those that do the above and also engage in enforcement. We chose (1). I think you can fill in the blanks from here.