PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD - Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar says there will be more probes into other agencies following the shocking discovery that the State’s Special Intelligence Agency (SIA) had been spying on private citizens and politicians, including her, for several years.
She confirmed a newspaper report yesterday that the little-known unit had been illegally wiretapping cell phones and landlines and intercepting text messages and emails for several years but she was never informed, as chairman of the National Security Council, about the spying operations.
Persad-Bissessar said the situation was “frightening”, noting that those whose privacy was invaded in this unlawful way included parliamentarians from all parties, media persons and members of the judiciary.
"We actually have the evidence that this was taking place over a period of five years. I cannot answer with respect to if there are other agencies, but we will be looking into that and have the investigations be done in that regard," she said at a press conference at the Piarco International Airport yesterday, on return from a trip to the United States. “The truth should come forward as we have found out with this.”
According to the Prime Minister, the SIA spying continued up until two weeks ago.
Commissioner of Police Dwayne Gibbs led the investigation that resulted in the discovery and the shutdown of one the unit’s offices in the capital. Special Branch and the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau officers who went to the office also found TT$5.8 million (US$917,721) in cash and several firearms in a vault.
Unnamed political party allegedly involved
The Prime Minister is expected to give more details about the SIA’s secret operations in Parliament today, but she told members of the media yesterday that she only became aware of the illegal wiretapping after it was brought to her attention that members of a certain political party, which she did not name, requested transcripts and tapes from the SIA two and a half weeks ago.
Persad-Bissessar has questioned the purpose of the wiretapping.
“What were you doing with the information after you would have tapped the phones and emails and text messaging? What use was being made of that? And it cannot be that it was being used to fight criminals because the persons who were being tapped do not have any record of criminal activity and certainly no propensity to criminal activity," she said.
"It's a frightening bit of information that we discovered only by chance, and the tapping of these phones continued after May 24th, after the government had changed,” added the Prime Minister, whose People’s Partnership coalition replaced the People’s National Movement (PNM) following the May elections.
She said that Congress of the People leader Winston Dookeran and PNM leader Dr Keith Rowley were among those being spied on even after the polls.
A forensic audit into SIA’s illegal activities is underway.
Another special agency which also falls outside the domain of the police force, the Special Anti-Crime Unit (SAUTT), has also been investigated following allegations that it had tapped Persad-Bissessar’s phone before and after the general election. The Prime Minister said she expects to receive a report on SAUTT by year-end.