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The Fly-by-night Squad
“The term (plausible deniability) most often refers to the denial of blame in (formal or informal) chains of command, where senior figures assign responsibility to the lower ranks, and records of instructions given do not exist or are inaccessible, meaning independent confirmation of responsibility for the action is nearly impossible. In the case that illegal or otherwise disreputable and unpopular activities become public, high-ranking officials may deny any awareness of such act or any connection to the agents used to carry out such acts.”
The Free Encyclopedia
By the very nature of his office, Garvin Heerah, the director of the National Security Operations Centre, must surely be aware of the doctrine of plausible deniability. It allows his boss, the Minister of National Security to say: “I know of no Flying Squad, I have no contract with any Flying Squad, no letters between any Flying Squad and me. I have no e-mails between me and any Flying Squad. There is nothing between the permanent secretary and any Flying Squad.”
According to Wikipedia, the doctrine dates back to the 1960s Kennedy Administration in the United States, where the Cold War against the Soviet Union and its satellites was the justification for employing tactics that were often illegal, at times unconstitutional and always offensive to many of the moral and spiritual values for which the vast majority of Americans claim to stand.
While implicitly sanctioning the actions, there were to be no fingerprints, so that if the operative were to be captured or killed, in the words of the Mission Impossible line, “The secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”
For many people, the war against crime (it is a war with a daily list of casualties) has become so desperate that it is one they feel the State has no chance of winning unless it adopts the modus operandi of the criminal. The killing of police sergeant Hayden Manwaring last week is only the latest reminder of the gravity of the challenge.
Given these major obstacles, it is easy therefore to understand the grasp at every half-measure, uninformed by theory, policy or plan, that suggests a possibility for success. And Minister of National Security Jack Warner is clearly desperate enough to try anything.
The problems with such fly-by-night approaches, when employed in a culture where respect for the rule of law is tenuous at the best of times, is that they eventually lead to officially sanctioned criminal enterprises like the Flying Squad.
The Scott Drug report, which was commissioned by the PNM’s George Chambers administration and published in redacted versions under the NAR, found testimony to the dangers of this policy of allowing policemen to so bend the law.
At one point, a visiting official of the World Health Organization testified that policemen were seizing drugs from one block only to sell them at another: “The commission is in no doubt that very many members of the Police Service are close associates of drug dealers and drug pushers and there is abundant evidence that several policemen and also one policewoman are themselves directly engaged in the illicit drug trade or assisting others in it.
Evidence was given that some policemen passed valuable information to dealers and pushers whilst others provided protection.” This is part of the legacy of the institution Warner was trying to revive.
There is no doubt that there were policemen in the Flying Squad, as in the rest of the service, who were conscientious guardians of the law, working to ensure the safety and security of the population. The Scott Drug report, however, suggested that key members of the squad morphed into facilitators of criminal enterprise.
Although its finding were subject to much legal wrangling, when the smoke cleared (as the crime stories at the time used to say), Police Commissioner Randolph Burroughs was placed on several charges and the Flying Squad which he led was disbanded. Although Burroughs was eventually freed, the damage to his reputation never recovered as the public had already opined that “not guilty” did not mean “innocent.”
Warner is by training and pre-FIFA profession, a historian. He is also a man given to thinking aloud at the best of times, and his suggestion of the resurrection of a “sanitised” Flying Squad should have put us on greater alert, especially when, despite much pleading, the National Security Minister consistently refuses to divulge the details of his crime plans. We have been down this road before.
Warner was given the benefit of the doubt (at least by the Prime Minister) when the Mayor of Port-of-Spain, Louis Lee Sing, accused him of arranging a meeting with gang leaders (by then illegal), for which he failed to turn up and another official of his ministry was present. Strangely, many of the subsequent social initiatives announced by the Ministry of National Security match the demands made by the gang leaders for giving up their life of crime.
The next step in his anti-crime arsenal of measures is a bill, shortly to come before Parliament, which seeks to precept soldiers with powers of arrest.
All societies must at some point, face the sacrifices which they are prepared to make in dealing with crises like our long-running crime situation. T&T must, however, do so against the background of having, as the leader of our fight against crime, a national security minister who has been adjudged by an international tribunal as a person who is “economical with the truth.”
The National Security Minister did not deliver his promised report on the alleged revival of the Flying Squad in Parliament on Friday. Based on the evidence, we can only conclude that “not guilty” again does not always mean “innocent.”
Maxie Cuffie runs a media consultancy, Integrated Media Company Ltd, is an economics graduate of the UWI and holds an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School as a Mason Fellow in Public Policy and Management.
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