Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Friday provided Parliament with full details of a covert spy operation that was authorised by the previous Manning PNM administration to spy of prominent law-abiding citizens, including President Max Richards.
She said her administration cannot condone such behaviour, which presents "a clear and present danger to our democracy. She said it was a tragedy that the illegal activity was sanctioned by the executive arm of the State without reference to the elected representatives of the people and the Parliament.
She said the "extremely dangerous precedent...shows that the country was being run by executive decree instead of parliamentary approval."
Persad-Bissessar said several agencies were engaged on the illegal activity and they reported directly to the Minister of National Security and the Prime Minister at the time, who was head of the country’s National Security Council.
"In some cases this power was misused to spy on political opponents and perceived political enemies. In other cases no clear justification exists on the grounds for interception remain dubious and questionable."
The Prime Minister lamented the fact that while "our children were being kidnapped and the Anti-Kidnapping Squad (AKS) seemed powerless and unable to trace the several telephone calls demanding a ransom, the SIA was busy listening to our conversations – conversations of prominent members of society who had no connection with criminal activity."
The spying was widespread and involved people in various professions:
- Members of the judiciary
- trade unionists
- Editors and journalists
- media houses
- radio talk-show hosts
- persons in the entertainment industry
- former opposition MP’s
- government Ministers
- sports personalities
- newspaper columnists
- advertising executives
- county councillors
- lawyers and in some cases, the children of such persons
"Words cannot express the deep sense of personal outrage and hurt I feel about this matter," the Prime Minister said.
"Such an unwarranted and unjustified invasion of citizen’s privacy is a cause for alarm. Why on earth would a government wish to engage in such unproductive illegal activity when the country was under siege as a result of criminal activity?"
She provided a list of victims of the illegal activity, which she said was code named "Operation News", which she said started in March 2005 and has been ongoing since then.
- The UNC’s head office
- Constituencies offices of UNC members of parliament
- Kamla Persad Bissessar
- Anand Ramlogan
- Suruj Rambachan
- Gerald Yetmin
- Wade Mark
- Manohar Ramsaran
- Roodal Moonilal
- Roy Augustus
- Winston Peters [Unlink]
- Robin Montano
- Jack Warner [Unlink]
- Fuad Khan
- Carolyn Seepersad Bachan
- Winston Dookeran
- Gary Griffith
- Anil Roberts
- Ashworth Jack
- Keith Rowley
Members of the judiciary who were targeted included:
- Chief Justice Sat Sharma, his wife Kalawati Sharma and his son Shiv Sharma
- Justice Herbert Volney
- Justice Narine
- Madam Justice Carol Gobin
Persad-Bissessar said the media were also under attack, with the SIA eavesdropping on journalists. "Freedom of the press is enshrined in our constitution and the widespread wire tapping of journalists and the media houses undermines this important pillar in our democracy," she said.
She gave the names of some of the media personnel who were tagets:
- Dale Enoch
- Sasha Mohammed
- Shelly Dass
- Francis Joseph
- Ian Alleyene
- Inshan Ishmael
- Ken Ali
- Devant Maharaj
- Peter O’Conor
- Camini Marajh
The Trade union movement was also under attack in the illicit operation. Among the victims were:
- Errol Mcleod
- Clyde Weatherhead
- Rudy Indarsingh
- David Abdullah
- Robert Guiseppi
- Lyle Townsend
Other prominent persons included:
- Former (Ag) Commissioner of Police James Philber
- Former CEO of the San-Fernando city corporation Marlene Coudrey
- Comedian Racheal Price
- Former Security Chief Mr. Richard Kelshall
- President George Maxwell Richards [Unlink]
- Sat Maharaj
- Ato Boldon
- Emile Elias
- Former Chief of Defence John Sandy
- Gary Aboud
Not even the PNM was spared. "The dictator was not content to spy on opposition MP’s and the aforementioned list of persons. Former Government Ministers were also the subject of wire tapping," Persad-Bissessar said. The targets included:
The Prime Minister said the illegal activity went beyond eavesdropping on personal telephone calls. The spy agency was also intercepting emails.
"One list provided by the Commissioner of Police contains the name of every single government Minister in the People’s Partnership. Sadly, Mr. Speaker the names of our children are also included on this list," she said.
"I regret the further intrusion into the private lives by virtue of this disclosure but I felt it necessary to do so to demonstrate by reference to hard evidence the depth and extent of the dictatorial operations of the former administrations.
"Under the former Government, Big Brother seems to have taken a very keen interest in ordinary citizen’s private lives and affairs.
"I want to reassure you that I do not intend to move from Big Brother to Big Sister," she said.
Posted by Jai Parasram at 11/13/2010 09:06:00 AM 0 comments Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz
PM Kamla calls illegal spying a "dark and sinister side of governancne"
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar told the House of Representatives on Friday she now has proof that her predecessor, Patrick Manning [Unlink]
, was spying on her and her political colleagues as well as members of the judiciary, the media, trade unions and even Manning’s own party members.
“Very recently I indicated to the country that I believed that the former administration was intercepting private conversations of citizens, including my own. I now know this to be true,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar noted that the unregulated and unauthorised interception of communication of citizens without the people’s consent through the Parliament is contrary to democracy and represents “a dark and sinister side of governance and is symptomatic of a creeping dictatorship”.
She said several security agencies with the capacity to intercept communications were operating under the Manning regime with authorisation by Cabinet “to intercept private communications of unsuspecting, innocent citizens in circumstances where it is not at all clear what the justification was.”
She said initially she thought that the eavesdropping was done only by the special SAUTT agency that Manning had established without ever getting Parliamentary approval for it. She reminded MPs that when she fired former director of SAUTT Brigadier Peter Joseph she thought the government had fixed the problem.
Then she discovered – about two weeks ago – that there was another spy agency, the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA).
She said at that time she learned that “sensitive information obtained via illegal wire tapping of government ministers phones was being supplied to a certain MP from the opposition bench.”
She did not name the person but added, “That MP, now sits in this honourable House and served the highest level in government under the previous administration.”
Persad-Bissessar said she alerted Police Commissioner Gibbs to investigate the matter. “Experts were flown in from Canada and a high level team from the special branch of the police service moved in at 6:15am on Saturday 23rd October, 2010 and took control of the operations of the SIA,” she told MPs.
“The investigation conducted by the police service revealed a frightening picture involving and financial impropriety and illegal wire tapping of a wide cross-section of civil society.
“Reports from the Special Branch indicate that the SIA was a virtual law unto itself. It reported directly to the Minister of National security and the Prime Minister. There are serious concerns about accountability and transparency.
“Special branch officers found $5.9 million dollars in cash and an undisclosed quantity of firearm and ammunition were seized. Initial audit reports reveal that some $15 million cannot be accounted for,” the Prime Minister said.
She added that evidence suggests that “a massive sanitization operation took place after the general elections…records of taped conversations and transcription of conversations have been removed and/or destroyed. We may never know all of the persons whose right to privacy was compromised by the unlawful intrusion of wiretapping.”
She said in the circumstances, she advised the President to revoke the appointment of Nigel Clements, the director of the Strategic Service Agency (SSA) and the Secret Intelligence Agency (SIA).
The Prime Minister added that Commissioner Gibbs is now conducting a financial audit into the operations of the SIA. At the same time she said all the equipment used for the illegal activity would now be properly utilized to assist in the fight against crime.
“It is my hope therefore that the police service will now be able to benefit fully from criminal intelligence that can be lawfully gathered by these agencies,” she said.