Questions over new spy agency to replace SIA… How far will the NIA go?

Even before the Government’s much touted National Intelligence Agency (NIA) gets off the ground, it is facing mounting criticism from various ranks  of the Police Service who have deemed it a waste of taxpayers’ money. Officers working in specialist units are calling on the Government to make public the    specific mandate of the NIA and are questioning whether the proposed agency would be another spy unit operating under a different name. The Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU) has a mandate to gather criminal intelligence, including intelligence relating to acts of terrorism. It also assists in gathering information relating to threats to high-profile figures.

The CIU used to be headed by then acting police commissioner James Philbert. With the NIA set to begin operations in October, members of the CIU, who described their unit as a “broad-based intelligence gathering body,” are calling on the Government to reveal who would be treating with sensitive information gathered by the NIA. They also called on Government to clarify the role of the Special Branch which operated more like a “bodyguard unit” than an intelligence gathering body.

CIU members have also raised the following questions:

• Will the NIA gather criminal intelligence?

• Will the information be passed on to the police?

• If not, how will sensitive information be treated and by what body?

• Will the NIA be involved in wire-tapping. If so, who would be targeted?

• Will members of the public also be subjected to wire-tapping?

• To whom will that information be disseminated and for what purpose?

Criminal intelligence must be handled by law enforcement

According to CIU officers, the establishment of the NIA might be a futile attempt to repair damage the Government suffered after the Reshmi Ramnarine fiasco. “Damage has already been done but it seems that the establishment of the NIA is some feeble attempt to repair that damage… But nothing could repair that,” a CIU officer said. Total mess of T&T’s security system—Rowley Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said while Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was busy “running around the world to elevate herself,” an “entire mess” had been created in the country’s national intelligence security system.

“The Government has succeed in making a total mess of the country’s security intelligence system, whether it be the SSA, the SIA or the NIA, because the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing,” Rowley said. He also accused Attorney General Anand Ramlogan of being at the “centre of the confusion.” “All Ramlogan is interested in was political advantage and benefiting himself,” said Rowley. “I am asking the Prime Minister to please stay home instead of running all over the world and focus on the business of T&T.

“There are very urgent matters she needs to address and national security is certainly one of them because the people need answers.” Since Persad-Bissessar held the position of chair of the National Security Council, Rowley said she owed it to the country to clarify the exact roles and functions of the NIA. Rowley also wondered whether the proposed organisation would be a replica of the SIA to spy on people in high office. The SIA came into public glare last year when Attorney General Anand Ramlogan revealed that the agency was illegally spying on citizens.

Subsequently, in an address to Parliament, Persad-Bissessar called the names of several citizens, including members of her Cabinet, Opposition MPs, journalists, trade unionists and even President George Maxwell Richards, whom the SIA had been spying on. “Scary” was how Persad-Bissessar described the revelation. Rowley noted, however, that the very spy operation that the Prime Minister openly condemned might now be replaced by the NIA with far worse repercussions. “The very thing that they once condemned is what they are creating through the NIA and the repercussions will be far worse,” he said. Rowley said the only way for the Government to restore some level of credibility was by SIA deputy director Julie Brown and interim director Colonel Albert Griffith.

“They need to appoint people with proper credentials. “The Prime Minister still has not said what part she played in the hiring of Reshmi Ramnarine… She has continued to remain silent and that is unacceptable.” The Opposition Leader said when the People’s Partnership Government assumed office last May, they were provided with a template of how national security intelligence agencies should operate. “There was an organisational chart in place and that was done by a consultant and the Government told us they would be following that but what has instead happened was calamity,” he said.

Country in trouble

The lack of cohesive and efficient national security agencies had also engaged the attention of T&T’s regional partners, according to Rowley. He said T&T had been made a laughing stock of by major drug traffickers. “T&T is now a paradise for drug and arms trafficking,” he said. “There have been serious complaints raised by our Caribbean counterparts in light of the fact that our national security system is in total shambles. “The drug dealers will have a field day because our eastern and northern coasts remain unprotected.”

Rowley said when the PNM administration was in power, criticisms were levelled against it for creating Sautt which was deemed illegal. Almost a year later, the Persad-Bissessar led administration continues to condone an “illegal Sautt” he added. Gaping holes and duplication was how Rowley summed up the NIA. Saying there was a “clear danger” to the public, the Opposition Leader said he might also become a target of the Government’s political propaganda. “We are in big trouble in the hands of these jokers and I, as Opposition Leader, speaking out against the Government, may very well become a target of these people… I have to look out for it,” he said.

What really is the NIA?—Ragoonath

Political analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath has also joined the chorus of calls for proper disclosure of the functions and objectives of the NIA. “There already exists various intelligence gathering authorities within the Police Service and if you have to pool all your resources together how far does the NIA go? We need to make this public,” Ragoonath urged.

Under whose purview does the NIA fall?

When contacted Attorney General Anand Ramlogan shied away from comments on the NIA, saying the unit was under the purview of the National Security Ministry. When approached, Minister in the Ministry of National Security Subhas Panday said, however, that the NIA was the AG’s responsibility. Pressed as to what would be the primary role of the NIA, Panday said “intelligence gathering.” Repeated calls to the cellphone of National Security Minister Brigadier John Sandy went unanswered. Messages which were left at his office were not returned. Deputy Police Commissioner (Operations) Jack Ewatski said the NIA did not fall under the purview of the Police Service. “The NIA is not even an entity as yet… It is in the process of setting up,” he said.

Eradicate turfs in Police Service

Member of the Police Service Commission, Martin George, said for far too long there existed “turfs” within the Police Service which must be eradicated.  “We have seen turf issues between Sautt and the Police Service, with the politicians getting in the mix also with charges and counter-charges of who is trying to control what and who wants authority to direct which organisation,” he said. George said there was a “definite need” for a rationalisation and streamlining of the country’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies. If that was one of the objectives of the NIA, it was “laudable”, he added.

“The legislative hurdles and implications of trying of streamline and rationalise our intelligence services under the NIA are myriad and legion, as there are several considerations which must come into play, including the question of the transfer of authority, the transfer of staff, their contracts their appointments and their tenure,” he said. He said while there were challenges facing the NIA, they were “not insurmountable,” but must be approached with the greatest care to ensure continuity and improvement in T&T’s national security apparatus.

About the NIA

The NIA will be a combination of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA), the Special Anti-Crime Unit of T&T (Sautt) and the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA). It will be staffed by civilians and some officers from Sautt.

Extracted From: The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper

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