Former top cops mum on SSA audit findings

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this file photo, former acting CoP McDonald Jacob speakes at a press conference at Police Administration Building. – File photo/Darren Bahaw

Although former commissioner of police (CoP) Gary Griffith has commented on the Prime Minister’s statements about the findings of the audit of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA), other former top cops were reserved.

On July 5, Newsday sought comments from several former commissioner, but they shied away from commenting.

Former acting CoP McDonald Jacob said the investigations were ongoing and he had no comment. He held the position from 2021-2022.

“The matter is under investigation. It is being dealt with in a particular manner,” Jacob told Newsday.

He made no further comment.

James Philbert, who was the top cop from 2007-2010, said it was “not right” for him to comment on the PM’s revelations.

Philbert said, “I heard some things, and they did not sound right. I heard the Prime Minister, but I do not comment on things I do not have in-depth information on.”

Stephen Williams, who served as acting CoP from 2012-2018, reminded this reporter that Dr Keith Rowley’s revelation was made in Parliament.

“There is particular protection in Parliament for particular utterances. There is no protection outside of the Parliament,” he said. “The PM’s statement was extensive. It was detailed.

“It is difficult to comment on it because when people comment in the public domain, they must be able to defend themselves against defamation issues.”

On July 3 in Parliament, Rowley cited the audit and made allegations of a plot to overthrow the Government using high-powered weapons by rogue members of the spy agency, many of whom he said were members of a cult.

He said the audit found instances of dishonesty, deep deception and disturbing practices of nepotism and opportunism.

He charged that, owing to the findings, improved management of the Controlled Equipment and Supplies Inventory is needed to accommodate and treat with the increased stock of guns and ammunition.

Rowley said the SSA bought 8,000 rounds of 9mm ammunition in 2017. But by 2022, the amount bought that year had increased to 100,000 rounds.

He said 70,000 rounds of ammunition remain unrecorded or unaccounted-for.

He claimed that in 2016, the SSA had 24 guns, consisting of pistols and revolvers, but since 2021, the number had increased to 103 of different types of calibre, including military grade.

Rowley said since March 4, an extensive internal review and audit of SSA has been ongoing.

In March, 28 workers were fired either for violations of the SSA Act and Regulations or for anomalous recruitment or faulty promotion processes and practices.

Without calling names, the PM said a self-described spy, who was an SRP appointed by the then CoP, voluntarily handed over a cache of guns and ammunition on March 5 to a National Operations Task Force member at the Cumuto Barracks.

The spy he referred to is Pastor Ian Brown, who is on bail charged with misbehaviour in public office. Brown is among three former SSA members before the court.

SSA director Major Roger Best was sent on March 2 and replaced by retired Brig Gen Anthony Phillips-Spencer.

The PM said efforts are under way to rebuild the agency to ensure its core mandate is discharged and that it operates within the law.

Rowley reminded the country that the SSA’s primary purpose is to guide the formation and implementation of national policies on the illicit trafficking of dangerous drugs and related criminal activities.

In response, Griffith, who was the top cop from 2018-August 2021, did not hesitate to give his take.

He dismissed the statement and distanced himself from the allegations.

Griffith also challenged Rowley: “State the names of the persons who were involved in forming a plot to destabilise and overthrow the Government.”

On the cult comment, Griffith said Rowley should not discredit nor demonise people for being god-fearing.

The SSA saga timeline:

March 1: The National Security Council meets to consider a Special Branch report, which the PM said warranted an “immediate intervention and the installation of new leadership at the SSA.”

March 2: The Prime Minister recalls TT’s ambassador to Washington, DC, US, Brig Gen Anthony Phillips-Spencer and appointed him as the acting SSA director.

SSA director Roger Best is sent on administrative. Best headed the agency since 2019.

The PM announces the shake-up on Facebook without giving any details.

March 9: Police raid the home of Pastor Ian Brown, a self-professed SSA spy and intelligence officer and one of his churches at Caratal, Cumuto, seizing two police uniforms and two wireless transmitters.

March 12: Phillips-Spencer suspends the SSA’s deputy director of intelligence, Joanne Bartholomew-Daniel, who has an intimate relationship with Best, and 11 other employees, all members of the Jerusalem Bride Church. Phillips-Spencer also terminated a 12-member tactical response team, a highly-trained operational unit comprising former commandos.

Brown, in a radio interview on Power 102fm, threatens to release state secrets through three attorneys if any attempt is made to kill him.

May 19: Best is terminated from the SSA after being arrested on suspicion of transferring four high-powered automatic guns to SSA employees.

May 21: Self-professed spy pastor Brown; the SSA’s former security supervisor Susan Portell-Griffith; and Sgt Sherwin Waldron, who was attached to the now-defunct Special Operations Response Team (SORT), appear before Master Shabaana Shah on gun-related charges and are released on $500,000 bail each. They were charged with separate offences of misbehaviour in public office related to the alleged transfer and possession of four prohibited firearms and ammunition on April 29, 2021, at the SORT’s base at Camp Cumuto, Wallerfield. Waldron faces four charges and Brown and Portell-Griffith face two charges.

July 3: The PM, in Parliament, releases details about an audit by Phillips-Spencer into the SSA. He said the SSA was being run under the influence of a religious cult comprising highly-trained military operators, armed to the teeth with the latest weaponry, on a treasonous mission to overthrow the Government.