Leader of the Opposition Dr Keith Rowley is describing as "absolute nonsense" claims by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar that she was unaware of the existence of Strategic Intelligence Agency (SIA) until recently. Rowley said Persad-Bissessar, as attorney general and acting prime minister in the 1995 to 2001 governments of Basdeo Panday, would have served on the National Security Council and, as a consequence, would have known about the work of the SIA.
Rowley was addressing about 500 people at the 42nd Annual Conference of the People's National Movement's Women's League at the Seamen and Waterfront Workers' Trade Union hall, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. "There is no way that Kamla Persad-Bissessar could not have known of the existence of the SIA and what they were up too," he aid.
Rowley noted that the SIA was formed after the 1990 attempted coup, which was staged by the Jamaat al Muslimeen. He said it was based on a recommendation from Scotland Yard officials, which led to the establishment of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA), which was governed by legislation and the SIA which had no legislative status. Rowley said while there remained an urgent need to legalise the operations of the agency, Persad-Bissessar revealed the names of people being spied on by the SIA to deflect attention from the controversial dismissal of Fazeer Mohammed for a current affairs programme on state-owned Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG).
Rowley said every single arm of the state's security, including the army, coast guard and special branch police, were engaged on spying on the population. He said army, coast guard, police, SSA and SIA intelligence "were all�engaged in obtaining information in a clandestine manner." Rowley said former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj "had a great interest in using the SIA." Rowley added: "If the truth be told, it was not the first time that UNC ministers and Opposition members came to the attention of the secret services and they had files on them," Rowley said. "The files would have their date of origin under the very UNC cabinet under the stewardship of Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj."
Rowley said he wanted Persad-Bissessar to answer a few questions which were:
�2 "Tell me that it is not correct to say that a lot of the information that came to us about the famous flat in London and the (then) prime minister's children and their private affairs in London came to them by the said SIA and similar spy agencies. Tell me that is not so."
�2 "Tell me that the last prime minister, Basdeo Panday, was not in control of the SSA and somebody else was in control of the SIA and part of the collapse of the UNC government had to be with the countering of these two agencies in different hands. Tell us so." Rowley added: "So when you (Persad-Bissessar) come to buss the mark on Friday and want to make it look like it's something the PNM created in this country and want to blame the PNM, we will not accept that."
Rowley said the issue now in the public domain over the illegal spying on private citizens was a "scandal, a mess and a national security concern." He insisted the disclosure demanded the immediate attention of citizens. He said, however, it cannot be "that the Government must be allowed to cherry-pick what they want to tell us� and what they don't tell us." Rowley declared: "I will not be comfortable with the Government being the sole arbiter and rectifier in this matter because what they will do is selectively remove from the body of information collected anything detrimental to them." Rowley said the People's Partnership Government would "promote and use anything detrimental to anybody else...That is not how a country treats with a crisis like this."
He wanted to know how the Government would deal with the issue of guarding the guards in this country. Rowley said there remained the need for security agencies to continue to find out what people were doing, especially the criminal element. He said, however, there must also be legislation to abuse their power against law- abiding citizens of this country. The Opposition Leader said what was causing the public outrage against the disclosure was the identity of the names on the so-called spy list, people who do not appear to be linked to criminal activity.