Answers still needed on SSA

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. - File photo by Roger Jacob
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. - File photo by Roger Jacob

TODAY MARKS a month since Anthony Phillips-Spencer was appointed acting Strategic Services Agency (SSA) director.

Since his appointment, too many questions have arisen concerning the past conduct of SSA officials, as well as the organisation’s present state.

These questions demand answers, if only to assuage the concerns of the public and to restore confidence in this intelligence agency.

There is no tradition of SSA directors speaking about operational matters. The agency’s whole point is that it is secret; every member swears an oath.

Notwithstanding this, the organisation does have a tradition of communicating through the release of an annual report laid in Parliament. Further, its oath of secrecy is subject to the “sanction of the director,” who may authorize disclosures.

But all this assumes regularity in its operations. That is precisely what is in doubt. Lack of accountability has led many a state agency astray.

If ever there was a moment when an SSA director, acting or otherwise, might have reason to break with tradition and to set a new precedent, this is it.

The claims emerging daily – from officials as high as the Prime Minister and as low as shadowy pastors/spies with apparent propensities to don Rasta wigs – paint a picture of a gun-happy, rogue organisation.

“Hit squad” does not seem to cover it. The decision that it was necessary to assign Brig Gen Phillips-Spencer to weed out bad apples was, on its own, enough to trigger a crisis of confidence unlike any the SSA has seen.

Because distrust in politicians, public institutions and the police is currently so high, there is a risk this commess will further the perception of a breakdown of law and order in this country.

The acting director, recalled from serving as ambassador to the US, would seem an individual well-reposed with the diplomatic and military skills to steer the SSA – which sits awkwardly between the political directorate and law enforcement – out of this quagmire.

All over the world, there has been a gradual shift in the role played by intelligence agencies in public affairs, even amid distrust.

For instance, the CIA in recent years issued public warnings relating to US elections, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and last month’s terror attack in Moscow. Officials in MI5, in the UK, and the FBI, in the US, even make joint public addresses now.

The Rowley administration at least twice enhanced the powers of the SSA. The task of Brig Gen Phillips-Spencer is to convince the weary public, whether he speaks up or not, that this powerful organisation is fit for purpose as part of the national security apparatus.

He has only five months before his own appointment is subject to Cabinet review. The clock is ticking.


"Answers still needed on SSA"

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