The report, entitled “Summary Report of SAUTT’S Achievements 2003 — 2010” was released yesterday afternoon, hours before the Local Government Elections polls closed, by the Ministry of National Security. According to the ministry’s media adviser, Irene Medina, the report was collated in response to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The report, dated July 19, details how SAUTT’s funding increased more than ten-fold since 2003 and how its percentage of the country’s total national security budget has increased steadily to almost ten percent.
Additionally, for the first time, the report gives some details of how one of the controversial “Blimps” – referred to as Skyship 600 – has been used by the State to conduct surveillance. According to the report, the Blimp “enhanced the capability to monitor crime hotspots (not specified) and has been used as an investigative aid, a hot spot management tool, an intelligence gathering tool and an operations coordination platform.” Specific examples include: use of the Blimp for “surveillance support to various operations which resulted in the seizure of significant quantities of illegal drugs and firearms and the arrest of major players (not named) in the criminal underworld”; providing a key role in digital mapping; supporting law enforcement agencies during events such as the Tobago Jazz Festival; supporting ground operations during kidnapping investigations and preparations for the visits of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in March 2008 and of the Ghana President John Kufor in July 2008, as well as the Fifth Summit of the Americas.
More widely, in terms of intelligence gathering, the report notes that, “SAUTT has also provided intelligence to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS), international law enforcement agencies and other units under the Ministry of National Security.”
Lawyers and constitutional experts have argued that the SAUTT potentially infringes on the scope and responsibilities of the Constitutionally-governed TTPS. As such, they have called, unsuccessfully under the last administration, for legislation to establish SAUTT, legislation promised by the People’s Partnership coalition in the general election campaign.
The report released this month makes no reference to this controversy, but its detailed picture of the relationship between SAUTT and the TTPS, as well as the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force, Customs and Excise Division and other authorities, will renew concerns over SAUTT’s legal framework.
According to the report, a TTPS departmental order has mandated that all firearms recovered at a crime scene be taken to a unit of the SAUTT called the Special Evidence Recovery Unit (SERU). Additionally, SAUTT has “acquired over $3 million worth of cutting-edge technical equipment for the TTPS” under unclear procurement procedures. This included, “purchasing and equipping a fleet of bespoke Crime Scene Investigations vehicles for the Police Service.”
SAUTT has worked with police closely on kidnapping cases: “over the past seven years, SAUTT intelligence contributed to the release or rescue of 11 hostages.” Additionally, while the police has its own Homicide Bureau of Investigations (HBI), SAUTT has set up a Homicide Investigation Task Force (HITF) to focus on gang crime. It boasts “rapid response” to crime scenes “once a call is received from the TTPS officers, the first responders to every homicide.” Between September 2008 to May 2010, the HITF was charged with investigating 132 gang-related murders.
SAUTT also took part in “over 200 anti-crime operations in support of the TTPS, TTDF (Coast Guard); Customs & Excise Division; Immigration” and other unspecified authorities. The body, which is referred to in the report as “a new specialist law enforcement organisation”, has provided training to 7,527 personnel from the Police Service and other agencies, according to the report.