SSA facing legal threat over firing – Ex-spy threatens SSA with lawsuit

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Acting SSA head, Brig Gen (ret’d) Anthony Phillips-Spencer. –

AN ex-employee of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) is threatening to take the elite spy organisation to court over his dismissal because his post allegedly did not exist.

Attorneys for David Benjamin, a former investigator with the SSA on a three-year contract beginning May 13, 2022, wrote to SSA director retired Brig Gen Anthony Phillips-Spencer on June 3. They demanded full remuneration under his contract, including the 14 months’ salary he would have earned had he not been fired on March 23.

Benjamin is also seeking gratuity.

“Our client’s total separation package ought to have been in the sum of $427,024.97.

“His demand is an undertaking to meet this obligation,” Benjamin’s attorney Don Marie Adolphe said.

Also representing Benjamin is Arden Williams.

The SSA director was given 28 days to provide the undertaking to liquidate Benjamin’s damages for the breach of his contract. If there is none, or if refused, his attorneys will file a claim in the High Court.

Adolphe said Benjamin’s contract stipulates that he could be terminated “for cause.”

“He was not.”

She said there were also no allegations of breach of agreement or misconduct.

The letter said it appeared from correspondence from the SSA that Benjamin was terminated because the position he held was either abolished or no longer relevant.

However, Adolphe said from the correspondence, it also appeared that the agency had decided to abolish the Tactical Response Team/Special Response Team (TRT/SRT), which was said to be a unit that did not exist in the SSA’s organisational structure.

“You, therefore, cannot abolish something that does not exist.”

Benjamin was hired as an Investigator I with the TRT/SRT by then-director Major Roger Best.

“Though you had the authority to recruit/contract my client, your office made a material misrepresentation of fact which induced him to contract. What is deeply concerning is that your office must have known whether it had the authority to comply and contract with my client.”

Adolphe said the issue of whether positions were approved or not was fact-based.

“It is either they were or they were not.

“My client is being made to suffer loss because of your office’s negligent and/or fraudulent misrepresentation. Your office’s representation that the position of Investigator I did exist falls into the categories of fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation.”

Benjamin’s firing followed a shakeup of the SSA in early March, when the Prime Minister, as head of the National Security Council, recalled Phillips-Spencer from his ambassadorial post in the US to replace Best.

Dr Rowley announced Best’s suspension shortly after returning from a meeting with the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other top US intelligence officials in Washington, DC. Rowley cited an impending threat to national security as the reason for the decision.

Best was eventually fired on May 18, while he and three others were in police custody for questioning in relation to the transfer of weapons.

On May 21, self-proclaimed spy Pastor Ian Albert Ezekiel Brown, another former SSA employee and a police sergeant formerly assigned to the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) were charged with misbehaviour in public office related to the alleged transfer and possession of four prohibited firearms and ammunition on April 29, 2021, at SORT’s camp in Cumuto, Wallerfield.

On May 19, Rowley told reporters the scandal at the organisation had blindsided the government.

Speaking with the media at Piarco Airport after a trip to Ghana and India, Rowley said the government had nevertheless acted quickly and decisively.

Rowley said little about what had been found in the ongoing audit of the agency, adding, “We expect that we will rectify it and return the agency to its purpose.”

Newsday understands more dismissed employees, including municipal police officers, have approached the Ministry of Labour, which in turn referred them to a trade union for contracted workers to argue their dispute.