Trinidad probes spy agency

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she wants a full probe into the operations of the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA), which was used to spy on several prominent people in Trinidad and Tobago including politicians, journalists, trade unionists and businessmen.

The SIA was using high-tech equipment bought by the former Patrick Manning administration from Israel in 2002 during the 18-18 tie in parliament after the 2000 general election.

In a statement in parliament recently Persad-Bissessar read out a list of people whose phones she said were tapped.

The list includes President Max Richards, Persad-Bissessar (when she was in opposition), her party’s headquarters, other United National Congress (UNC) politicians and politicians from the Congress of the People, while the PNM was in office between 2002-2010.

The prime minister said she was shocked to receive a recent report, which suggested that the SIA may have been involved in political wire-tapping along with the Special Anti-Crime Unit (also formed by the former PNM government).

She said information suggested that sensitive information obtained via illegal wire-tapping of government ministers’ phones was being supplied to a certain member of parliament from the opposition bench.

A few of Manning’s ministers were also on the list, which was seized by the police during a raid of the SIA office where more than TT$5 million in cash was also found.

Persad-Bissessar said she asked the commissioner of police to investigate the matter.

The prime minister revealed that experts were flown in from Canada and a high-level team from the Special Branch took control of the SIA operation on Oct. 23, 2010.

“The investigation conducted revealed a frightening picture involving financial impropriety and illegal-wire tapping of a wide cross-section of civil society,” she said.

Persad-Bissessar said the agencies reported directly to Minister of National Security Martin Joseph and former Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who was head of the National Security Council.

“In some cases, this power was misused to spy on political opponents and perceived political enemies,” she told parliament.

She claimed a covert project, code-named Operation News, commenced in March 2005 and has been ongoing.

The prime minister also claimed interception included the monitoring of people’s e-mail.

The former prime minister who at the time was parliament (as was the MP for San Fernando East) told said at a news conference after nobody is above scrutiny in Trinidad and Tobago.

“I never asked who do you monitor or not monitor. They conduct their business and if in the conduct of their business they see a need to monitor individuals, they do that,” he explained.

‘The parameter we set is that you are not authorized to monitor anybody who is a law-abiding citizen,” he added.

Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley said the prime minister did nothing wrong when she revealed in parliament that phones of prominent citizens were illegally tapped by the SIA.

He said the opposition People’s National Movement was prepared to support the government in urgent moves to approve legislation to allow for phone-tapping under a system of judicial review.

Dr. Rowley said he was not surprised that his name was also on the spy list.

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