Spying victims express outrage

Elias, chairman of NH International (Caribbean) Limited (NHIC), was among several prominent figures who were reportedly under surveillance by the SIA under the previous regime.

In the Lower House on Friday, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar revealed a list of names against whom the agency had engaged in illegal wiretapping. These included this country’s President, politicians, members of the Judiciary, media personnel, trade unionists and other prominent personalities.

The PM said that these were just “a few of the names” from a long list.

“I was advised in 2008, both my cellphone and my land lines at my home and my office were being tapped and even though I knew in a sense that this was so, it came as a great shock to me to see it confirmed that this was the case,” Elias said in a telephone interview, yesterday.

Elias said he was also told that his land lines could not have been tapped without cooperation of people from the Telecommunication Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT).

“So, they have questions to answer as well. I have asked my attorney to look into how I might be able to bring an action to this illegal conduct against the individuals concerned. I have no interest in bringing any constitutional or other kind of motion which would require the taxpayers of this country pay for the wrongdoing of Patrick Manning (former prime minister), Martin Joseph (former national security minister) and all the others who cooperated in this illegal wiretapping,” he said. Elias said he would go after the individuals concerned in a way that would not cost the taxpayers any money by bringing actions of a particular kind that required the Attorney General to get involved.

Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGO’s (FITUN) president, David Abdulah, stated that while he was “not entirely surprised” that he was among several trade unionists who were under electronic surveillance, the widespread use of the spy agency by a former high-ranking member of the previous administration was another reason why the trade union movement had joined forces with other groups and political organisations to remove the PNM.

Abdulah, who is also OWTU general secretary and a Government Senator, described the revelations as “frightening” and an “exceptionally dangerous threat to the democracy” of the nation. “This was a rogue agency which was being used by a rogue politician to engage in wiretapping of citizens who were not involved in illegal or criminal activities, but who were perceived to be opposed to the then Government and that is truly frightening,” Abdulah said.

Abdulah said this action was aimed at the heart of the nation’s democracy and the freedom of expression and civil liberties. “What is also disturbing is that this surveillance was carried out on persons ranging from the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to the Commissioner of Police, to both PNM Government ministers and the extent of the network is horrendous, disturbing and frightening,” he said. “And this reaffirms why we had to struggle to get rid of the PNM administration because one can only imagine what would have happened had this been allowed to continue,” Abdulah added. Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, Satnarayan Maharaj, said he was offended by the fact that he was one of the people named on the PM’s list.

“I feel offended that TT is a free democracy and I am only the leader of a religious organisation, and here we have a man who proclaims himself to be a religious person with his own prophetess, leading a spy agency spying on ordinary citizens and it will appear it was done without legal sanction,” Maharaj said.

However, he said he felt gratified that TT was still a democracy because Persad-Bissessar was able to “let the whole world know what was happening in TT”.

“The President, whose person we must protect, the Chief Justice of a country... they are under surveillance and this information was being fed to one or two people. This is absolutely wrong. We were being turned into a dictatorship,” he said.

Maharaj added that the SIA was not supplying the police with information, but party leaders.

“While kidnappings and so on were taking place these surveillance people were not directed at that. When we thought that the blimp in the sky was supplying information to the police it was quite the contrary, it was supplying information to politicians. This must never be permitted to ever happen again. I am advising that the Prime Minister put a committee in place that assures that this doesn’t take place again,” Maharaj said.

Journalist Dale Enoch said up to Friday evening when his name was called he felt he should not have been surprised and was not. However, that feeling did not last for very long.

“When I pondered it I became outraged. I saw it as a clear violation of my privacy, and for what reason? I am hearing people denying it, and they did not sanction it, and that ‘they did not report to me’.

“This is wrong especially as we know there are no laws that manage how these agencies work. It is vexing, insulting and an invasion of my privacy,” Enoch said.

He questioned what made him a national security risk.

“Because I have a big mouth? Because I speak about the issues? Or is it because people have paranoid minds or a way to keep them entertained?” Enoch asked.

Columnist Peter O’Connor said he did not feel too outraged because he felt what he did was inconsequential.

“I’m a critic of various governments, but I am not as outraged because maybe I always kind of expected it. My cellphone is one that would light up in the night for a long time now. It’s now been confirmed, but I don’t feel I have cocoa in the sun. My e-mails are to Newsday and friends and so on. However, it is dreadfully wrong and it is even more wrong that they are letting Manning have the last say, so to speak, to suggest that this unit is being dismantled to pay drug cartels.

O’Connor said the case against drug lord Dole Chadee, who was hanged along with his gang, was made by wire tapping, which he said was the last major drug case.

“Since then, with all of Manning’s talks he hasn’t had a major drug arrest, far less a conviction. This is disgraceful and I don’t believe Manning when he says he didn’t get the information. Martin Joseph says he know nothing about it, but I don’t believe that,” O’Connor said.

In a news conference on Friday, Manning said he never authorised any agency to look into the private affairs of citizens.

Special Branch shut down the operations of SIA two weeks ago when the wiretapping scam was discovered.


"Spying victims express outrage"

More in this section