Saturday, February 17, 2018


Reshmi's appointment no 'misstep'

Julie Browne, the deputy spy chief who made the politically explosive recommendation to appoint her very junior technician, Reshmi Usha Ramnarine, 22 rungs up the agency ladder was asked to do so, a source with knowledge of the situation has said.

Sunday Express investigations into the ongoing spy scandal have also revealed that the Ramnarine appointment was not discussed at Cabinet as disclosed by some members of the Kamla Persad-Bissessar government, that Cabinet Note 92 which made the case for Ramnarine's appointment to the top spy post in the country's premier intelligence gathering agency, SSA or Strategic Services Agency, was presented as an ad hoc note to Cabinet and pushed through on the recommendation of the Prime Minister herself.

Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar was not immediately available for comment yesterday but sources familiar with the matter told the Sunday Express that Ramnarine was a political appointee whose credentials were fixed to match the spy chief job specifications. Ramnarine, a Technical Operator 1 in the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA), was secretly appointed to the top spy post on January 14 following the Browne nomination for her accelerated promotion.

She resigned nine days later after a series of Express exclusives revealed that she lied about her academic qualifications and strident public calls for her head and an explanation from the government.

The government got itself embroiled in an angry first response to public criticism, a series of misstatements and, by the Prime Minister's own admission, several missteps. The Prime Minister and her lieutenants in the House consistently defended the Ramnarine appointment before conceding they had erred.

Browne has so far escaped unscathed from the debacle surrounding Ramnarine's falsely-stated credentials which was submitted as an appendix to Cabinet Note 92. Deputy SSA director Browne, who wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for the 31-year-old intercept technician, has failed to respond to repeated calls from this newspaper about the central role she played in getting Ramnarine appointed to the director's chair.

No explanation has been forthcoming for why she went outside of her remit to make the nomination, why she submitted her nomination to the Prime Minister and not her line minister, why she failed to conduct standard security checks or why she permitted an embellished resume to go forward.

Moreover, she is yet to give an account for why her January 10 letter of recommendation sent to the Prime Minister described Ramnarine as a senior member of the agency. Her letter said this: "As a member of a transformation team comprising senior members of the SSA and SIA, who are spearheading the merger of the SSA and SIA, Ms Ramnarine has met the criteria" for the post of interim SSA director.

Ramnarine's CV omits mention of this senior position or the post of acting Chief of Telecom Technology in the Ministry of National Security. In one of the submitted CV's under the heading "Experience", she is listed as a Technical Operator 1 June 1, 2002 to the present.

In the CV appended to Cabinet Note 92, this experience was changed to read: "Ag Chief of Telecom Technology, Ministry of National Security of Trinidad and Tobago." How or when this Telecom appointment was made is still a mystery.

Browne has not commented on whether she was a willing conspirator to the controversial appointment or why she qualified Ramnarine as a suitable candidate for the sensitive high-level appointment when she knew or ought to have known that Ramnarine had embellished her work experience.

The deputy spy director has been with the shadowy agency for 14 years, according to insiders and were familiar not only with Ramnarine, who joined the SIA in 2002, but also with the laid-down security protocols for thorough background security clearance relating to academic and work experience.

The already existing rigorous vetting process in place, the Sunday Express was told, also look into the character, background and connections of the candidate under consideration. In the Ramnarine case, Browne said: "She has confirmed that she has completed her degree at the University of the West Indies, in Information Technology."

As reported previously by this newspaper, Ramnarine does not have an IT degree from UWI or anywhere else.

Two of the references listed on her resume, Keithan Browne, no relation to Julie Browne, and Sharon Sharma have also denied giving Ramnarine permission to use their names as references.

The first Browne, a senior official with Caricom Implementation Agency for Crime and Security, said she gave Ramnarine authorisation to list her as a reference only for a study-related application to UWI.

She said nobody from the SIA, Ministry of National Security or the National Security Council, of which the Prime Minister is chairman, made a call to her.

Deputy SSA director Browne is among the four references listed in the Ramnarine resume. The other person is Shireen Ali, brand marketing manager at SM Jaleel and Co and close friend of Ramnarine.

Another Ramnarine friend, who spoke to the Sunday Express on condition of anonymity, said Ramnarine spoke about her SIA intercept work relating to the Vindra Naipaul kidnapping.

Ramnarine, a close friend of the Prime Minister's public engagement and policy adviser, Sasha Mohammed, was also identified as one of the sources to a multi-part TV6 expose entitled Spy Games. The series were produced by Mohammed, a former TV6 reporter.

Neither Mohammed nor Ramnarine responded yesterday to requests for a comment. Also, neither answered their phones which went to voicemail.

Sources in the intelligence community said the reported disclosures were in breach of the standard confidentiality contracts signed by all employees of intelligence agencies. Sources also raised concern as to whether there were matters in Ramnarine's personal life that could lead to compromise, including blackmail.

Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar on Friday failed to give a full account of how a junior technician made it to the top director's chair in the country's premier intelligence agency and why nothing worked to protect the State from a potential national security disaster.

She conceded in the House on Friday that "the buck stops" with her and that her government was "human" and liable to make mistakes. She also said: "We will ensure that in all our action, merit trumps political affiliation."

The difficulty with this scripted explanation, however, according to evidence revealed so far by this newspaper, is that the Ramnarine appointment was not a "misstep" but a deliberate act that breached existing security protocols.