Security officials scoff at PM Rowley’s coup plot claim

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley.
Government of Trinidad and Tobago

Former top Trinidadian security experts have scoffed at claims by Prime Minister Keith Rowley that high level officials at a special state security agency were plotting a coup against his government because of information authorities have unearthed from an audit of operations.

Addressing parliament last week, Rowley had suggested that the leadership of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) within the security ministry had been undertaking a series of questionable actions in recent months including an unnecessary stockpiling of handguns, high powered rifles with the latest silencers and other pieces of equipment. He said they must have had plans to unseat the governing People’s National Movement (PNM).

“Such persons belonged to a cult which was arming itself while preaching a doctrine for trained military and paramilitary personnel with a religious calling to be the most suitable persons to replace the country’s political leadership. They were exerting high levels of influence on the affairs of the agency to the detriment of national security,” he told the house.

United Congress Political Leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
United Congress Political Leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar. AP Photo/Rob Griffith, file

Opposition leader Kamla Persad Bissessar has also scoffed at Rowley’s remarks even as he has said that a detailed investigation is still ongoing into the operations of the unit. Several high-level officials have been fired while others have quit.

At the weekend, the major island newspapers carried reactions from former senior SSA officials including dismissed former Director Major Roger Best. Best made it clear he would never be part of any plot to unseat a sitting government.

“The mention of me leading a coup or any form of destabilization is not only preposterous but ludicrous,” he told the Sunday Guardian.

Persad Bissesar argued that “fascinatingly, no members of this cult have been criminally charged for plotting the alleged coup to date.

It is also noteworthy that Rowley’s allegations were made under parliamentary privilege to prevent any legal action from being taken for defamation. This story sounds remarkably familiar: a religious group stockpiling ammunition to overthrow the elected government. Did they plan to do it later this July as well? On July 27th? Did he get this information via email? Rowley and his public relations team are not just spinning a distraction. They are orchestrating a diversion to turn attention away from critical issues such as corruption accused Jindal, crime, property taxes, forex shortages, joblessness, increasing utility rates, high food prices, poverty, and other negative issues plaguing the country,” she said.

Reacting to media queries, Security Minister Fitz Hinds has said that despite the problems at the agency, it will not be shut down or disbanded. “This is an important state agency founded on law and a mandate to carry  out. You should join me in being extremely overjoyed at the fact that something went wrong, it is being investigated and at the same time, the core business of the agency continues because it continues to carry out its work,” Hinds told the Express newspaper.

The SSA has been beset by allegations of corruption and nepotism and charges that members of a particular church in Trinidad were favored for employment at the agency.

“Shockingly, the audit discovered that the former SSA director initiated the procurement of high-grade military bolt-action rifles, complete with the most modern silencers and other accessories. The SSA was engaged in training specially selected questionably hired personnel in the skill of the use of such weapons.” He also said that the agency had established a highly militarized and trained tactical response unit but authorities are unsure of what exactly it did. “Why would an intelligence-gathering organization, with a mandate to collect and share information with operational units in other law enforcement and defense agencies, find it necessary to secretly have an operational unit of that nature and magnitude,”? Rowley stated.