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Rowley reveals letter of advice to PM to pick Reshmi as SIA head

By Anna Ramdass anna.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

The scandal surrounding the appointment of Reshmi Ramnarine as head of the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA) in 2011 was as a result of a recommendation made by a senior superintendent of police directly to the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley said on Tuesday night.

Rowley read a letter at a People's National Movement (PNM) public meeting at Hi-Lo car park, St Augustine, which he said was written by then Special Branch acting senior superintendent Surajdeen Persad to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on October 15, 2010. The subject was: Security Intelligence Agency (SIA), Re Illegal Tapping of Telephones.

In 2011, Ramnarine, who was a junior technician at the SIA, was appointed to head the organisation with an embellished resume.

She resigned amidst the controversy and a year later changed her name to Shashi Rehka.

On Tuesday, Rowley claimed Persad, unknown to the commissioner of police (at the time, Canadian national Dwayne Gibbs), wrongfully reported to the Prime Minister bypassing all his superiors.

The Prime Minister, he said, chose to take the advice of a "mid-level police officer" above that of the people on her national security council, which included the head of the Army, Coast Guard and Customs and Excise.

Rowley noted that the recommendations made in the letter to the Prime Minister were followed through—including the appointment of Ramnarine and the firing of over 25 SIA employees, including former head Nigel Clement.

The Express obtained a copy of the letter yesterday from the Opposition's office.

The letter from Persad to the Prime Minister, with the heading "Secret" stated, "At 12.15 p.m. on Monday 11, October, 2010, I was contacted by the Honourable Prime Minister, Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar at Special Branch Headquarters, Port of Spain via telephone number 624-2358."

Persad, according to the letter read by Rowley, stated the Prime Minister voiced her concerns over the illegal activities of Clement—whom she said was in the process of transcribing tapes that contained her private conversations with persons.

"The Prime Minister instructed that the matter be investigated and steps be taken to stop Mr Clement from carrying out his illegal activities," the letter stated.

The letter read by Rowley, said Persad stated that he was unable to access the tapes, but was able to confirm through his sources that in 2005 the SIA obtained spy equipment which was used to spy on Persad-Bissessar and former prime minister Basdeo Panday.

In the letter, Rowley said, Persad made Clement appear to be a PNM loyalist who was feeding the now PNM Opposition information on Persad-Bissessar and her new Government through the SIA.

The reports, the letter stated, were shared with former head of the Special Anti-Crime Unit Brigadier Peter Joseph and head of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) Michael Maxima.

The letter stated there were 130 SIA employees, six of whom were attached to the Intercept Suites Unit—responsible for tapping phones.

"They are supporters of the PNM and extremely loyal to Mr Clement. Other members of the SIA are not permitted to enter that room," the letter stated. The letter also names the six employees.

The letter also listed the names of some 25 SIA employees whom he claimed "are very loyal to Clement and still maintain close links with the PNM and occupy senior and influential positions at the SIA".

The letter also stated Clement failed a polygraph test, but was still accepted to the SIA because of assistance from Brigadier Joseph. He stated further that Clement was close to former acting police commissioner James Philbert and former acting deputy police commissioner Clive Reyes.

According to the letter, the situation warranted immediate action, as it could topple Persad-Bissessar's Government.

Five recommendations were made to the Prime Minister—the first being that Clement and all persons whom he named to be PNM loyalists be fired.

The second recommendation was that Ramnarine lead an interim management committee comprising Carlton Dennie (surveillance operator), special branch acting inspector Doolam Rekha and Kerron Ganpat, an analyst. It recommended this should be done until Julie Brown completed an assignment she was on.

The letter advised further the SIA computers be seized and handed over the forensic experts and the spy equipment be given to the Special Branch technical unit to use in the crime fight.

SSA head Michael Maxima, it stated, should be fired and replaced with Taradath Harrilal—a former special branch officer who served as Oma Panday's personal escort.

The letter also recommended that the SIA, SSA and SAUTT and the Criminal Investigations Unit (CIU) be merged to create a new intelligence entity—the National Security Intelligence Agency—headed by Ganpat and assisted by Brown.

Rowley told the meeting, "So now you know the answer as to how Reshmi Ramnarine was selected and appointed, under recommendation to a brand new prime minister by a rogue police officer."

Rowley said it was from Persad's recommendations that the People's Partnership Government established the National Security Operations Centre (NSOC).

"Here's a Prime Minister wholly unfit for the office that she holds, is guided by this man and destroys the country's national security system," said Rowley. He said the country can now understand why criminals were smiling and why even after a state of emergency, crime is out of control.

Contacted for a comment last night by telephone, acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams said he does not know of the letter to which Dr Rowley referred. Asked about where Persad was currently, Williams said he was on vacation.

National Security adviser to the Prime Minister Gary Griffith also told the Express that at no time did the National Security Council discuss any such letter from Persad to the Prime Minister. He added that he had no direct links to Persad, but understood that he (Persad) no longer operates at Special Branch and was shifted to another security unit.

Efforts to contact Persad yesterday proved futile.

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