I spy, with my electronic eye…

By Raffique Shah
November 20, 2010

Raffique ShahAs I write this column, Government is before Parliament presenting the Interception of Communications bill, which it expects to pass in a marathon sitting. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she hoped to get support from the opposition PNM, which I feel certain she will.

Whatever reservations some people may have, the Bill will become law. We can only hope the flaws noted by the Law Association, which would still leave citizens open to invasion of their privacy, are addressed. I have not studied the bill, but I have followed with interest the PM’s revelations on operations of the SIA (Strategic Intelligence Agency), which prompted Government’s rush to enact new legislation.

If the SIA was indeed monitoring electronic communications of the persons named by the PM, and those not named, then officers guilty of breaching the mandate of the agency must face the consequences of their illicit actions. I don’t know that existing legislation allows for criminal proceedings in such matters. However, those who were victims of “maccoing” (why else would anyone monitor President Max Richards or my journalist colleagues?) must be entitled to recourse, if it means merely clearing their names of a perception of wrongdoing.

Those who are licking their chops in anticipation of huge monetary compensation for violation of their privacy may well be deluding themselves. My understanding is the only entity they can sue is the State, not the personnel who may be culpable. Even ex-prime minister Manning, to whom SIA officials are said to have reported, may be beyond their reach. If anything, the State may take action against Manning or former officers of the SIA. But that’s a legal issue, and I am sure the attorneys will have their say.

My focus is on just how much privacy do citizens, be they official-on-high or ordinary-Joes, enjoy in this age of sophisticated eavesdropping. The new laws, while they offer some measure of protection against locals who use State equipment to intercept private communications, cannot prevent foreigners or foreign agencies from committing similar violations.

Take computer hackers as a case in point. They exist among us here and across the World Wide Web. They are computer geeks who have nothing better to do than “hack” into your computer, or mine. They can go so far as to “steal” our identities, maybe access our bank accounts or capture our credit card numbers to steal from us. Will the new legislation protect us from these cyber-predators?

I do not believe so. Hackers have accessed national security systems of governments as powerful as those in Washington, London and Moscow. Except for a few who have been caught, charged and jailed, infinitely more remain at large continuing their nefarious activities.

But it gets worse. For those who believe the Interception Act (as it will become when the President proclaims it) will offer protection of their privacy, they are deluding themselves. The US government’s various intelligence agencies have capabilities to monitor global communications “traffic” anywhere in the world, Trinidad and Tobago included.

These include all mobile and land line telephone conversations, all Internet communications, video-conferencing, and more, much more. Echelon (as the main instrument is called) “is a worldwide network of clandestine listening posts capable of intercepting electronic communications such as e-mail, telephone conversations, faxes, satellite transmissions, microwave links and fibre-optic communications traffic.”

In other words, even as we rein in our minuscule SIA, Big Brother in America has the capability to do exactly what we are trying to stop in our jurisdiction. It has always been this way, but it got easier for Uncle Sam to “macco” us as information technology advanced. So whenever we talk on our phones, send e-mail, engage in “chat” online, we are being monitored.

The Prime Minister would be shocked to know that BAE Systems (yes, BAE of OPVs notoriety) is the principal provider of billions of dollars worth of eavesdropping and monitoring equipment to US spy agencies. Those agencies may have as priorities suspected terrorist and criminal elements across the world. But what is to stop them using sensitive information gathered on, say, our Prime Minister, to leverage their way (in the case of BAE) into extorting money based on the aborted OPV contract?

One does not need the inept SIA to tell us what these international agencies and companies are capable of doing. A simple visit to BAE’s website reveals the following: “Our sophisticated, all-source analysis program is led by Dr John Gannon, vice president of Global Analysis and former deputy director for intelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency. Dr Gannon is ably supported by a range of seasoned senior analysts and managers from the intelligence community…”

In other words, if the Government believes that exposing the SIA’s illicit activities, reconfiguring its operations, and that enacting laws that carry heavy penalties would protect us in T&T from being “maccoed”, think again. Leveraging intelligence for personal gain or power did not start with notorious FBI head, Edgar Hoover, or die with him.

Now, more than ever, these agencies, among them Britain’s GCHQ (forget MI5 and MI6—they are petty in the game), the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and the Mossad, have spread their information gathering wings across the world. Since we bought Israeli intelligence equipment, who is to say the Mossad, or rogue elements from that agency, are not gathering sensitive information on our politicians, our judges, hell, our overall security systems?

(To be concluded)

13 thoughts on “I spy, with my electronic eye…”

  1. Well done Raffique, I hope this will enlighten the persons that are playing smart with foolishness. Maybe you can bring some sanity to so called Journalism in T&T.

  2. Shah went on the internet, found some info on US spying and created an article in his usual oppositional style. He missed the main point of the objections in T&T, and that is the invasion of the privacy of those citizens who are law abiding, mainly for a megalomaniac to retain his grip on power.

    1. Yet the megalomaniac could not use the intelligence to know , not to hold an election two years before it was due. What the hell have you been doing for the past 24 years you have been languishing in the Land of the Maple leaf T-Man ? Was it eating prison food in some Canadian maximum security prison? You sure don’t seem to have learn very much my friend.
      This country it is becoming more and more evident ,is laden with a host of intellectually depraved , mental pigmies, but there is hope for the likes of you yet T-Man.

  3. Tonight’s 60 Minutes program (CBS) detailed how various US agencies compiled a set of data on an arms dealer from Russia called the Dealer In Death. This man turned internecine fighting in Africa and south Asia from sticks and stones, and machetes to armies of superior firepower, and killing fields since 1980. To bring him down, they had to appear to be dealing with criminals. They tricked him into believing they were Columbian drug delers wanting to bring down the US government. They met him in Thailand in a room with all conversation monitored, and arrested his butt.They could not have done this without electronic surveillance. They could not have done it without monitoring world-wide communications across national and international lines, but, after fighting extradition for two years in Thailand, he landed in New York in leg irons.
    Watching this story, I wondered how many people in TnT were armed by his group. He had the capacity of making secret drops in many countries at night. Haiti came to mind, and Columbia, Venezuela and and our two little islands where throwing stones gave way to AK47’s and Ghalils. Thank God we never got to Anti-aircraft shoulder launched missiles.

    Would not my people want such an angel of death and mayhem monitored, even if it also involved listening in to the conversations of innocents? Remember, we caused the arrest of th ebombers of the Cubana airliner off Barbados, because a taxi driver overheard a conversation between his two passengers. Listening to two people planning a marbles tournament is no big thing, but if marbles is a code word for bombs, we need to be aware. We say we are a sophisticated people. Let us not forget that eternal vigilance is the price of order, and the net of vigilance may catch a few children, really playing with marbles.

  4. Who cares , especially if most ahhwe delusional folks ,still cannot seem to recognize ,who the real enemies of this country are?
    So we have jilted lover, multimillionaire ,country leeching businessman, Carl Khan, de Freeport chicken farmer , then Calder Hart a white Canadian foreigner , then Sharrine Hart a Chinese and her whole foreign Malaysian family, who collectively stole from our country left , and right without spy network doing a think to keep us inform . Fast forward today , and a black idiot representing San fernando East ,is in the House of Parliament and he is being blamed left right and center for all sorts of things, but never for serving almost 40 years, without looking out for the needs of African people across this nation , that he like other jokers like him , have repeatedly failed to look out for .
    What a tragedy!


    Dr Williams you have left a wonderful legacy for your protegee Patrick to follow , need we say Japanese Garden Errol Mahabir and his bring out the Hindu vote for Dada Eric PNM, Kamal Mohammed of ADB , agricultural lands , and Health Ministry corruption apparatus , do as you please ,as long as you bring in the Muslim votes,Ponzi schemes,and finally, Johhy Ohalaran ,steal the country dry , like the rest of your Westmoorings , Maraval , Federation Park ,Valsayn ,high color ,French Creole community members , that shared the same gene pool of Dr Eric the fake African.


    “My friend don’t tell me , money ain’t no problem!” Sing shorty

  5. No one disagrees with legal, professional and targeted surveillance carried out by qualified, professionally trained agents of any state.
    What transpired in T&T is far removed from any degree of professionalism and legality.
    For certain individuals on this information highway to support the desperate traversty which occured under Manning is downright disgusting and blindly loyal to tribe and party.
    And they often refer to themselves as experienced, educated individuals!Pity.

  6. Andree Bagoo reported in the Express today:

    SINCE June 2009, officials from the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), after speaking with local Members of Parliament, expressed concern over apparent delays on the part of the then PNM Government to table legislation to regulate wiretapping and deal with crime, sources aware of these talks, said yesterday.

    Obviously Manning was more interested in maccoing rather than productive, professional surveillance.

  7. if it could be shown that the Manning Cabinet spied on law abiding Trinidadian Jews – would such act be Anti-Semite?

    1. Stan , this is the 21st century, and we are a professed civilize , and highly literate society my friend. Please note that we do not identify any people by their religion in our country.Since Judaism is not a race , then there are no Trinidadian Jews living here. Simply try to bite into the concept of Trinis, Trinidadians, Trinbagonians or similar concoctions.
      Therefore to answer your question , no one ever engaged in anti Semitic acts in our country.
      Tell you what , perhaps it just might be that time for our government to place a ban on all foreign TV viewing in T&T ,while also placing a moratorium on foreign travels to advanced countries , for most citizens ,until say 2014, as folks like stan , are developing dangerous , and destructive foreign ideas, yes?

  8. Dear sir, please allow me this space to take time to thank MR.JACK WARNER,for being a man who is committed to what he promises.On behalf of the residents of upper WHARF TRACE MARACAS ST JOSEPH we wish to thank you MR.JACK WARNER for the lovely roads and drains that was constructed in our area,it has been long over due,we have seen at last a promise is a promise especially one made by you,so thanks thanks and thanks may you continue the great work you are doing…

  9. Could you imagine if this spying was linked to the following declaration?
    It will be recalled that when Thomas-Felix returned to private practice as an Attorney at Law she held a party at her chambers which, to the surprise of many, was attended by the sitting Chief Justice, Ivor Archie. Many felt it quite inappropriate for the Chief Justice to attend a party hosted in the chambers of a practicing Attorney at Law and even more so when the Attorney in question was understood to have close links to a political party. Now it looks as if that same Attorney may be taking legal action before the Courts over which the Chief Justice presides. Once again the Chief Justice has compromised himself and the office of Chief Justice. It is important, especially in a small society like Trinidad and Tobago, for those who hold judicial office to exercise great care in their social as well as professional lives so as not to be perceived as having bias in favour of any attorney at law or prospective litigant before the courts. Archie obviously seems unable to grasp this fundamental principle and once again displays his unsuitability to hold the office of Chief Justice.
    Yes we are in a sorry state of affairs.

  10. While I was an educator,my friends were educators, with few exceptions. Now that I see myself in a different role, my friends include poets, businesswomen and men, board members of various globally oriented NGOs and such.
    Now, Trinidd is a small place, a very small place indeed where certain family names are still associated with some small vilages, like in Scotland and Wales. I guess if the CJ did not attend parties in the chambers of lawyers, he would have NO ONE to whose parties he can go. A party by a similar person, in a restaurant or hotel, would be the same, but a more expensive venue, and harder to keep out unwanted persons.

    Now, a US co-relate. I was thrilled recently when a former student of mine here in Houston Texas, was called to practice at the Bar of the Supreme Court of The USA. Now there was a reception, after the formal presentation of the young lawyer, at which some of the Justices were present, as was her sponsoring attorney. Should she be hired by anyone to argue their case before the Supreme Court, she would be presenting to those same nine justices. There will be no conflict of interest. These are mature people who know attending a reception given by anyone, is not enough to contaminate people of integrity.If the president attends a funtion where others are present, he has not compromised himself, just honored someone with his presence. This is a straw caseMr. Hussain, a red herring, deliberate obfuscation, a non-sense issue. Am I clear enough? I hope so.

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