CoP: Police don’t possess, haven’t used spyware

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

McDonald Jacob –

Acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob says police are not in possession of Pegasus Spyware.

At a Ministry of National Security media conference on Sunday, Jacob said other software was purchased by the former commissioner of police (CoP) but was not currently in the possession of the police nor had it been used before being handed over to the the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) last year.

Jacob explained, “I want to make it clear and reinforce the point that was made in Parliament and otherwise that the police service never had in its possession any spy software such as Pegasus. Never.

“I know as a fact that, at some time, the former commissioner of police had, in fact, purchased software that does not reach the level of Pegasus. That software was in two parts. For a certain period of time certain, aspects of it were in the possession of TTPS and the other was in possession of the SSA and, without merging and coming together, nothing could have happened.”

Jacob further explained that the part of the software originally held by police was later handed over to the SSA in September 2021. He said the software had not been used because of a lack of trained officers to do so.

“I got the assurance from the director of the SSA, with its technical persons in exactly how the software works and if there were any sort of interaction, or what we called hits, to say that someone had used it, it would have been able to be identified.

“So, during the period up to September 10 (2021) when the police had the barpack in their possession there were no indicators of anything hitting the server. Training had to take place in order for this software to be utilised.

“The question of the police utilising software to spy on anybody could not have taken place even in 2022, if this was handed over in September (2021). Therefore, the police service had no possession of such software.”

He said the software was to be used to target criminal elements in the country and to deal with transnational crime, terrorism. It was not to be used on ordinary citizens.

“The head of SSA, CoP and Chief of Defence, we are the persons who would meet and discuss how and who to utilise this particular software.

“We had no such meeting or conversations yet in relation to it because I know for a fact that training needs to be commenced,” Jacob said.

Hinds: Interception software used in accordance with law

Also speaking at the press conference, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds said it had become necessary to purchase armaments and tools to protect citizens and the State.

He said that was done based on the Interception of Communications Act 2020 to allow the State to monitor people who were out to hurt citizens and the country.

Hinds supported the Prime Minister’s statements made in Parliament on Friday that the procurement of an interception of communication solution by former CoP Gary Griffith was not approved by the National Security Council.

Fitzgerald Hinds –

Dr Rowley was responding to Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s public claims that Pegasus Spyware had been acquired by Government and had been used, illegally, to spy on political opponents, media personnel and members of the judiciary.

Rowley said, “The procurement of this intercept device by the former CoP was not authorised by the National Security Council for use by the police service and the CoP was immediately instructed to provide the hardware and software to the SSA, which he did.”

He added that the technology was never used by the police to intercept any data or information.

On Sunday, Hinds said Persad-Bissessar was being reckless with her accusations, and it was not the first time such callous behaviour was displayed, which was also supported by people who should know better.

“There are others contributing to this scandal and this noise, who ought to know better, jumping in the middle and getting involved. The PM’s statement was focused as a response to the Leader of the Opposition in recognition of her attempts, with disturbing, false narratives, to mislead the population.”

On Friday, in response Rowley’s statement in Parliament, Griffith said Pegasus was not in TT and such equipment could not be purchased without the knowledge and approval of the National Security Minister and the head of the National Security Council.

He said the software that he purchased was split between the TTPS and SSA to allow both organisations to serve as check and balance on each other and each agency needed to each other for its use.

Earlier Sunday, at a UNC press conference, Princes Town MP Rodney Charles called on Government give the name of the software that was actually being used.

He also asked the Government to come clean on the software’s capabilities.

“What are the capabilities of the spyware, if any, in the hands of the State and are its capabilities and functions similar to, or more intrusive than, Pegasus?” he questioned.

Charles posed several other questions to the PM such as, “Does the director of the SSA have the necessary security of tenure and arm’s-length distance to confront an errant minister of national security? Or can he be fired at will, for any reason, at any time, on the minister’s discretion?”