Hinds: SSA members not legally allowed to take guns home until last year

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds at a national security media conference at the Ministry of National Security on Abercromby St on April 2. – Photo by Faith Ayoung

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds has said it is too early to pronounce on the future of the SSA. He said he was constitutionally responsible for the organisation, but was not responsible for the agency’s recent struggles.

Speaking at a media conference hosted by the National Security Ministry on April 2, Hinds referred to comments made by former police commissioner Gary Griffith, who said the authority to allow the SSA to be armed is a constitutional one and not governmental.

Griffith was responding to statements by the Prime Minister, who said until it was approved last November, SSA officers were not supposed to be armed. The SSA was found to possess military-grade weapons and to be staffed by members of an Arima church.

“We are discovering now that the SSA was armed, heavily armed, well-armed, well before that time.”

Hinds said, on November 1, 2023, there was a proclamation of an amendment to the Firearms Act. He said following the ruling in the Vishal Singh case that off-duty prison officers can’t carry guns, the law passed in June 2023, and was proclaimed in November.

“The PM was surprised, as was I, that (former SSA employee and self-professed spy pastor Ian) Brown was in possession of four assault military-type weapons, even though he was a member of the special reserve police, assigned by Gary Griffith inside the SSA.

“That was the Cabinet’s, my, the Prime Minister’s, the National Security Council’s understanding of the matter.

“It was that to which the PM makes reference. We included the SSA to allow them to keep and carry weapons, and that’s why the PM spoke in the way he did.”

Hinds referenced the Firearms Users Act, which said certain categories did not need to be licensed to carry firearms, including the police, SRPs, and firearm users’ employees certificates (FUEC) holders, like security companies and the SSA.

“So when this churlish, childish CoP on contract speaks as though the PM was unaware of what he was speaking about, that has to be firmly and flatly rejected as his ignorance, because we are aware that the SSA from a long time past, in fact, six or seven previous directors of the SSA and other intelligence agencies before that, would have had an FUL for the purpose of giving FUECs to some of its members. In the case of the SSA, largely for guard duties of SSA properties and equipment, quite different from keep and carry personal firearms 24 hours a day.

“We have now been told, and this is what is surprising the PM and those who know, that officers of the SSA were allowed, long before November 1, to keep and carry weapons. That is the discrepancy between what the PM would have said on the basis of his knowledge and understanding and firm belief as opposed to the folly coming from the former commissioner.”

Hinds said more information had come to light in the matter.

“We are now aware that it was he that made those four military-type weapons available to the SSA before November 1, 2023, a matter which is in itself under investigation, among many more questions. There are many questions to answer around all that has happened to take us to the point we have to intervene and treat with the SSA in the way we are now.”

Hinds said it was the police who brought the state of the SSA to the NSC, and the police were conducting a number of different investigations.

“Once the state of affairs became known to the government, after briefing from the police, the government considered what it had heard was sufficiently important for governmental action to be taken, and it was promptly taken. It sent the administrative director on administrative leave, with no presumption of innocence or guilt. A new director is in place, he is doing audits and making sure things are continuing to operate, and out of that, reports will come and decisions will be taken.”At this point it is quite early for me to comment beyond that.

“I am responsible to the Cabinet, to the Parliament, to the people, which is partly why I am here today. Responsibility to the Constitution is quite clear. Blame is one thing, responsibility in the constitutional sense is another, something I have tried to share with the nation in the past. I could not have known who the SSA was hiring, whether it was members of one church or one family or a next. As a matter of fact, had I known that, I might have stopped it long before now.

“If you had heard I was inside there making decisions, there would have been a whole-page story about ministerial interference.”