Rowley: SSA pastor had high-powered machine guns

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Rowley – ROGER JACOB

THE Prime Minister says he had been concerned for almost two years about the Strategic Services Agency (SSA), where it has been uncovered recently that certain employees had access to high-powered police guns.

Dr Rowley was addressing Wednesday’s post-Cabinet briefing at Whitehall, Port of Spain on Wednesday.

He said retired brig-gen Anthony Phillips-Spencer is examining the SSA after its former director Major Roger Best was placed on administrative leave.

The SSA was found to possess military-grade weapons and to be staffed by members of an Arima church.

“This investigation is taking place now at the very highest level and a pastor appeared from some nondescript church in Arima and of course, the police had good reason to speak to this pastor,” Rowley said. “The pastor turns out to be heavily armed with State sub-machine-guns from the TT police service. These are not things that are supposed to happen.”

He said until it was approved last November, SSA officers were not supposed to be armed.

“We are discovering now that the SSA was armed, heavily armed, well-armed, well before that time.” Rowley wanted to know if the firearms were used in criminal activity.

He said now, the SSA operations were under control. The PM expressed confidence in Spencer-Phillips, who was working alongside the police investigation into the SSA.

Asked about public confidence, he said he was disappointed in the SSA but very heartened by the work of the police. Asked about media claims of a hit squad within the SSA, Rowley could not verify that report.

“What I could say is serious concerns emerged in some of our security operations. “Very serious investigations are underway. Very decisive actions are being taken.”

The PM denied the police Service Research and Analytical Unit (RAU) was intercepting communications like the SSA did.

The police have no interception equipment, he said, but rely on the SSA. Saying the National Security Council (NSC) denied approval to the police to do interceptions, he said a past commissioner of police (CoP) had still sought this equipment, which the Government then sent to the SSA.

He said the RAU did not report to the PM or National Security minister but to the CoP. Rowley said the Special Branch tells a PM what was happening in national security.

Asked about any failings in hiring by National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, the PM said hiring was done by the SSA director (like the CoP).

He said the SSA had hired an SRP, but when he became a security problem, the PM’s Office and NSC got involved.

Asked about negligence in the SRP’s hiring, he said Hinds could not know everything about everyone. “You put people in place, you structures in place, and there is a requirement of trust and a requirement of monitoring.”

He said expectations were not always met.

“So as you begin to investigate, you realise that ‘that’ didn’t happen and ‘this’ didn’t happen.” He said things happen, whatever organisational structure exists. “When there are human failings, the question to ask is are we in a position to know that?

“In this case, what we expected to happen was not happening and thankfully, it was discovered and we are taking what, in effect, is the appropriate action – investigate, find the facts and you act on the facts.”

He said if SSA managers were failing, one must be able to discern and correct that. “There is a lot that has to be unpacked to understand what went on there.”

He did not know the SSA’s Pastor Brown. Rowley said his suspicions arose two years ago.

“As head of NSC, I had to respond to a particular development. Two people in police custody were killed and the authorities in the police could only tell the State they fell off a chair.” He said he inquired but was allegedly blatantly lied to by the (then) CoP.

Griffith, in a voice-mail to Newsday, alleged Rowley was a liar.

“Let him show where I ever said that anyone died because they fell off a chair.”

Andrew Morris and Joel Balcon died in police custody in 2021 when arrested for the murder of Andrea Bharatt.

Griffith said the two men had 60 charges of rape, sexual assault, grievous bodily harm to women.