T&T Gov't Looking The Other Way On Crime?

By admin Mon, 11/15/2010 - 00:00 Newscrime

So, T&T Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has called for an inquiry, and information has begun to leak about the operations of the SIA (Security Intelligence Agency), the official government spy agency that has been listening to Kamla's phone calls. It was discovered or uncovered by Police Commissioner Gibbs two weeks ago. But in reality, it was the worst kept secret and Gibbs should have been the only person in Trinidad surprised by the existence of that agency, sinced it has been in operation since the 1990s.

In Parliament on Friday, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar read out names of those targeted by the SIA's phone tapping and email interceptions. And raised questions about while all this was going down, why the technology was not being used to catch kidnappers. Several governments, including ones she was a part of, may have the answer to this question. In fact, it is a question that cuts to the heart of the crime problem, and raises further questions about whether governments (for the past 10  years or so) deliberately look the other way when it comes to certain crimes in Trinidad and Tobago.

I wrote a story many years ago about the 15 or so intelligence agencies that were first set up to go after drug dealers. (Back in those days it sounded like science fiction. Heck, some of my editors weren't convinced.) The police had their own narco-intel unit. But they were believed to be in so deep, that the larger intel function that the government would rely on, was farmed out to the military, hence the presence of Army and Coast Guard personnel. Ask Ralph Brown how he became Brigadier, and how his men were able to catch Dole Chadee in 1994.  On a side note, the respective governments of the day all chose to bury their heads in the sand when it came to police corruption. They took the easy way out, which was to create parallel agencies to do police work. That was made possible simply by listing a single police officer as part of the operation, which fulfilled the Constitutional requirement to have the military or whomever "assist" the police.

In the more recent past, when kidnapping became a phenomenon in Trinidad, I asked my old sources, who to this day do not use cell phones or email, why the technology was not being used to catch the perpetrators. I was told that the 20 or so parallel intelligence agencies in the country were simply not sharing info with each other, or with police. For fans of the old Mad Magazine comics, it had been a spy vs spy standoff, where no one trusted the other. And kidnappings were allowed to flourish, while military cronies reigned over their fiefdoms, playing their intel cards close to their bosoms to get more money out of government.

With this recent revelation, people are outraged by the idea that "informants" were making $20,000 a month for simply being relatives or friends of those entrusted to run the secret spy agency, i.e. Army and Coast Guard personnel. The Express also quoted one of its military sources as saying that the Prime Minister should be condemned for making information about the SIA public, because it compromises the security of the country, and that it is in the public's best interest that they not know about such agencies. As someone who covered this beat for most of my reporting career in the islands, I am really excited by this theory, and I'm looking forward to hearing this point of view developed further.

Like Malcolm says, it now seems like the chickens have come home to roost. It is outrageous that the country would be allowed to slip away into the hands of the bandits for the last 10 years, while successive governments flushed millions of dollars down the intelligence drain targeting politicians and in many cases, clueless media folks. I'm not sure that a public inquiry is necessary in this case. But there's a lesson in accountability that should not go unnoticed. Taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent. And if the funds were budgeted for national security, then all those National Security Ministers who authorized the spend over the years, should be called upon to show how the funds have been used to make the country safer.