TIGHTEN ACCESS: National Security Minister Gary Griffith

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GRIFFITH: STOP THE LEAKS

National Security Minister weighs in on the New Flying Squad Report controversy, hits out at ‘mailbox politics’

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

The National Security Council (NSC) never received any reports in relation to the Flying Squad from either the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service or the Police Complaints Authority, National Security Minister Gary Griffith stated yesterday.

He was responding to questions from Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, on whether the NSC ever discussed the report of the Police Service on the New Flying Squad Investigative Unit (NFSIU) between December when it was completed and the present time. 

Rowley also asked the Prime Minister, the Minister of National Security and the acting Commissioner of Police, who are all members of the NSC, to say whether they ever discussed the matter of the NFSIU. Rowley had noted the Ag Commissioner of Police had the report since December.

Griffith, in a statement yesterday, also announced measures would be implemented to “tighten up” the access to sensitive information. 

In two statements on the issue, the minister categorically denied the NSC had either of the reports on the Flying Squad, which indicated head of the National Security Operations Centre Gavin Heerah was instrumental in facilitating the operations of the Flying Squad, an unauthorised unit.

“As the Minister of National Security, I can confirm that at no time was this matter ever put as an agenda item as it is improper and out of the purview of the National Security Coun­cil to make any such decisions, with relation to any matter that is being investigated by independent bodies such as the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) and the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS).

“Additionally, at no time did the NSC ever receive any correspondence from the PCA or the TTPS on this matter, and rightly so.”

The minister’s statement did not address the question of whether the acting Commissioner of Police, Stephen Williams, had the police report on the NFSIU.

Griffith stated had the NSC received, made decisions or made recommendations on any matter while it was still being investigated, “then it could be perceived that the NSC was acting prior to a decision being made by the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) and even trying to influence the outcome”.

The minister stressed: “The NSC does not become involved in investigative matters between law enforcement and the DPP or other such bodies, nor is the NSC privy to the details of such matters.”

He further emphasised: “The Police Complaints Authority and the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service can confidently state that at no time was any such correspondence of this report ever sent to any Government official as both reports were sent to the DPP, and rightly so, as the National Security Coun­cil should not be involved in any way in the actual pro­cess of any matter that is under police investigation, in similar manner to the incident of the US$100 million drug bust recently.”

Griffith reiterated the only time he was made aware of the report was when it was revealed by Opposition Senator Faris Al-Rawi in Parliament. 

“Senator Al-Rawi did not reveal the findings of the report, thus, my focus is not so much on the messenger, as little was said of the actual contents, but instead, the ugly head being raised of breaches of confidentiality taking place in abundance by those who hold strategic positions and using those positions to get access to secret information and then passing on to their political leaders, for the childish game to be played of ‘Ah-ha, I catch yuh’.”

He added: “This unfortunately is at the expense of critical independent institutions being affected, in this case, including the Police Complaints Authority, the Office of the DPP and the Police Service itself, as somewhere, someone with access to confidential information decided to be mischievous and leak sensitive information to the Opposition and to the media, strictly with the hope for political brownie points to be gained, but instead, all it has done is to hurt institutions that have a critical role to play in the law enforcement and justice system.”

“So my focus is...on the...the security breach as to how the message was actually copied, delivered and acquired because if these leaks are not stopped, it not only affects institutions but also breaks down public trust and confidence, which is critical to ensure a reduction in crime,” Griffith said.

He said measures would be implemented which would include tightening of access of such sensitive infor­mation, a more stringent vetting process for persons with access to such information, to name a few, and this includes the confidentiality of sensitive and private reports being submitted to the police and having them revealed to the public.

The minister said this was the only way the public could regain the trust and confidence so badly needed to allow them to pass on critical information which can be turned into intelligence and then evidence.

Griffith said the recent controversy following the leak of the reports “again shows the dangers of this new type of ‘mailbox politics’ ”,which involves documents coming to the knowledge of members of Parliament from unknown sources.

“The important difference between the emailgate matter and this one is that we are fully aware of the author of the Flying Squad corres­pondence, and the reason for this importance is that the Opposition Lead­er has questioned if the Honourable Prime Minister or the National Security Council ever received these reports, one of which was completed in December 2013,” Griffith stated.

On the emailgate probe, the minister said after he submitted his electronic devices, it was confirmed there were absolutely no such e-mails ever received, sent, deleted or archived from his e-mail account. 

“So it meant that somebody used the cheap access of mailbox politics to cause mischief, and in the process, also setting up the Opposition Leader to present false documents, with the House Speaker having to remind him that he has to take full responsibility for the statements made in Parliament about these bogus e-mails on that day,” Griffith said

Griffith said he wanted to clarify the role of the NSC. He stated that body, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, considers threats to the national security of Trinidad and Toba­go and formulates policy at the strategic level.  

In essence, the NSC is a strategic body that gives overall policy direction on national security-related issues and threats, he said.

He said further, Cabinet agreed to delegate to the NSC decision-making authority, in respect of, inter alia, matters pertaining to:

• specific intelligence agencies

• acquisition of security equipment for intelligence agencies

• overseas travel and training of intelligence personnel

• special operations of the intelligence community

• witness protection and related matters.

Cabinet also agreed to delegate to the NSC decision-making authority, in respect of matters which, in the opinion of the Prime Minister and chairman of the NSC, impinge upon the national security of Trinidad and Tobago.

 

NSC concerns

Matters that would engage the attention of the NSC, according to Griffith, include:

• establishing a maritime security wall around Trinidad and Tobago, inclusive of the acquisition of naval and air assets.

• enhancing the work of the Police Service to deal with criminal and securi­ty matters: policies on the Rap­id Response Unit, National Operations Centre and CCTV (closed-circuit television) systems.

• reviewing the overall strengths and weaknesses of the national security sector as a whole and by its parts, such as the responsibility for port security, prison system, forensics, disaster preparedness and ma­nagement, energy security, and pro­­tec­tion of critical infrastructure, etc.

• integrating intelligence-sha­ring mechanisms nationally, regionally and internationally, via the radar system and other means/capabilities.

• considering policies and ap­proach­es towards regional and international partners, regarding secu­­ri­ty-related issues and agreements.

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