Griffith on PM’s statements on overthrow plot: SSA coup a ‘red herring’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former commissioner of police Gary Griffith –

FORMER commissioner of police Gary Griffith on July 4 scoffed at the Prime Minister’s claim of Strategic Services Agency (SSA) members planning a coup against the Government.

Dr Rowley, head of the National Security Council (NSC), had read a statement in the House of Representatives on July 3 based on the findings of a probe into the spy agency by Brig Gen Anthony Phillips-Spencer.

He said the audit found 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.

The SSA is authorised to intercept communications, phone calls, WhatsApp, e-mails and other modes after obtaining court orders under the Interception of Communication Act. It was first established in 1995 primarily “to guide the formulation and implementation of national policies on illicit trafficking of dangerous drugs and related criminal activities.”

The role and function were expanded in 2016, under the PNM, “to act as an office for centralising information that could facilitate the detection and prevention of serious crime, for co-ordinating operations for the suppression of serious crime and for co-operating with the services or the corresponding services of other countries.”

On July 3, the PM had said individuals in the SSA had bought 100 guns and 100,000 bullets, of which 70,000 now remained unaccounted for. He also alleged a diversion of police firearms to the SSA. Rowley had said the SSA had neither the budget nor authorisation to buy firearms and asked why the acquisition was made.

Griffith served as CoP from August 18, 2018 to August 17, 2021.

In a telephone interview on July 4 on Radio 95.5 FM with hosts Tony Lee and Dale Enoch, Griffith seemed bemused by Rowley’s narrative and distanced himself from it.

“The Prime Minister is gearing up for an election,” Griffith said.

He said the ministry would be clueless if it did not know about a coup happening under its nose.

“This is a red herring, expecting that Gary Griffith was involved. I have nothing to do with it, as you would have seen, based on all the reports.

“If you are stating these individuals are in a Jim Jones cult, call their names and call their names outside of Parliament.

“You have eight persons who belong to an organisation, out of 400 employees and you turn that into a ‘cult.'”

He said Rowley should not discredit nor demonise individuals for being god-fearing.

“If you are stating that, go out on your political platforms and say they are involved in cult behaviour.

“State the names of the persons who are involved in terrorist activities. State the names of the persons who were involved in forming a plot to destabilise and overthrow the Government.”

Saying this was an allegation of a mutiny or a coup, he marvelled that not one person was arrested.

“That is madness. How could a Prime Minister tell a country that there was a virtual coup to overthrow the Government and no one has been arrested?”

Hinds: Govt acted promptly

Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds on Thursday replied to urgent questions asked by Independent Senator Paul Richards in the Senate.

Hinds said the SSA reports to the National Security Council chairman (Rowley) bimonthly and meets with Hinds monthly.

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds –

Asked how the episode could have occurred, Hinds said such things may happen, adding, “We acted promptly.”

Replying to more questioning by Richards, Hinds said the Government could not now act precipitously or whimsically but must act widely and deeply in the national interest.

The minister said a full, thorough audit of all aspects of the SSA was now ongoing.

Pressed by Richards, Hinds admitted that missing ammunition posed a “grave and serious threat.”

He said the police were pursuing the matter, although not yet seeking help from foreign counterparts. He said the investigation was within the capacity of the police service.

Police Service communication manager Joanne Archie sent Newsday a statement on behalf of herself and DCP Suzette Martin on Thursday.

“These investigations are being actively pursued and we would be unable to comment at this time,” Archie said.

“A full disclosure would be made on completion.”

Moonilal: Lay full SSA audit in Parliament

Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal, in a voice note to media houses on Thursday, said if this matter did occur, it happened under the NSC and Minister of National Security.

“This Government has now embarked on a pattern of proposing what they call ‘external civilian personnel’ to conduct sensitive investigations, arrive at conclusions and then keep the report private in the Parliament generally, where they are protected by privilege (and) indicate under privilege very damaging statements on personnel, very damaging statements on events, all from secret reports.”

Opposition MP Dr Roodal Moonilal –

He said these secret reports were then used as the basis for changes in policy, personnel and law.

“This is a very dangerous and dictatorial tendency to initiate secret reports as a basis for taking action in public policy. That is something dictators use a lot.”

Moonilal demanded the report on the SSA be laid in Parliament.

“It must be produced in public for us to look at it.”

He hoped to learn the basis of the report, such as whether the investigator had interviewed employees or accepted submissions, oral or written.

“Have they consulted the Auditor General, who has oversight over a statutory organisation like the SSA?

“Dr Rowley speaks of an attempted coup, so then one should ask Dr Rowley whether he is prepared to undertake a commission of inquiry into the SSA attempted coup of 2024?”

Saying the SSA had been used as a training agency for bodies like the police service, Moonilal said any rapid increase in its weapons cache would have left a paper trail.

“That required a deeper independent public investigation to ascertain if Dr Rowley is telling the truth.

“I think Dr Rowley has reached the point where nobody believes him any more. We must remember he told the country they were not closing down Petrotrin.”

The SSA saga timeline:

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. Phillip-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 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.”

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 Phillip-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.