Chief of Defence Staff saved ex-SSA spy chief from possible criminal charge

Chief of Defence Staff, Air Vice Marshal Darryl Daniel. - Photo courtesy Parliament
Chief of Defence Staff, Air Vice Marshal Darryl Daniel. - Photo courtesy Parliament

Chief of Defence Staff Air Vice Marshal Darryl Daniel was the person who saved Major Roger Best, the former director of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA), from a possible criminal charge of being in possession of a prohibited weapon, police said.

Daniel gave investigators an additional statement on the weekend of May 18, after Best and three others were arrested, between May 15 and 16, and subsequently released on May 18, on suspicion of misbehaviour in public office for the transfer of four high-powered weapons from the now-defunct Special Operations Response Team (SORT) base in Cumuto to SSA's St Vincent Street, Port of Spain base in April 2021.

Police said Daniel claimed that under the provisions of the Defence Force Act he had activated Best as a reservist, which gives Best full authority as an enlisted military officer, and therefore authorised to be in possession of automatic weapons. Section 6 (2) of the Firearm Act prohibits anyone, with the exception of the police, defence force, customs officers, prison officers and the director of the Forensic Science Centre, from possessing an automatic weapon.

Best, who has been described as combat expert certified in the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga, has been instrumental in training the army's Special Forces, military sources said. He is also a trained firearm expert.

Former SSA director Roger Best. -

Questions sent to Daniel through the Defence Force's communications officer Lt Sherron Manswell on May 24 were acknowledged and a request was made for time to provide a response. There was no response up to press time.

Military sources said Daniel and Best trained together when they joined the military.

In November 2021, the Government amended the Firearm Act to allow the SSA director and those appointed by the officeholder to bear firearms during the execution of their duties.

The SSA is authorised to intercept communications after obtaining court orders under the Interception of Communication Act. The agency reports directly to the National Security Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, which includes the Minister of National Security and the Attorney General, among others.

The National Security Council is charged with monitoring matters relating to defence and national security and is serviced by a secretariat.

Investigators assigned to the Professional Standards Bureau, under the command of Snr Supt Alva Gordon, had questioned the four primarily on the transfer of two Sig Sauer MPX 9 mm automatic submachine guns and two Sig Sauer 516 automatic rifles, which carries 5.56 ammunition, for use by six police officers assigned to the SSA.

Best was also questioned about possession of a prohibited weapon, a MP5K Heckler and Koch automatic submachine gun, in contravention of the Firearm Act. Police said Best surrendered the weapon to the Air Guard at Piarco in March, after he was sent on administrative leave on March 2.

In an initial statement, Daniel told police that he had loaned the military weapon to Best for his personal protection, police said. Best has a firearm user's licence and is allowed to keep and carry a pistol and shotgun.

Police rearrested three of the suspects on May 20, after tying up loose ends.

Police acting on the advice of Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, SC, on May 20, charged former SSA security supervisor Susan Portell-Griffith, Sgt Sherwin Waldron, who was previously assigned to SORT and former SSA intelligence officer Ian Albert Ezekiel Brown, a pastor of the Jerusalem Bride Church in Malabar, Arima with a total of eight criminal offences relating to misbehaviour in public office by transferring the four automatic rifles. They were each allowed bail of $.5 million when they appeared before High Court Master Shabaana Shah on May 21.

During the investigation, police also questioned former commissioner of police Gary Griffith, who denied giving any authorisation for the transfer of SORT guns to the SSA, police said.

In mid-March, Brown returned the four high-powered rifles to the Regiment's Camp Cumuto base, days before he was dismissed as a special reserve police officer by Commissioner of Police Harewood-Christopher.

Retired Brig Gen Anthony Phillips-Spencer, acting SSA director. -

On May 18, Cabinet met in an emergency session and advised acting President Nigel de Freitas to terminate Best's appointment with immediate effect, based on his decision to hire people to work at the SSA without proper qualifications.

In early March, the Prime Minister, as head of the National Security Council, announced Best’s removal from office shortly after he returned from a trip to Washington, DC, where he met with the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other top US intelligence officials. Dr Rowley cited an impending threat to national security as the reason for the decision. He based his decision on a mind-blowing report from the Special Branch, which claimed senior officers of SSA had been brainwashed by the leadership of a church whose membership comprised senior military officers. Some members of the church had been hired by the SSA without the necessary qualifications, the report claimed.

Several members of the church, including Brown, his wife Sharon and son Jahrel, were employed as agents of the SSA under Best.

The PM recalled retired Brig Gen Anthony Phillips-Spencer, ambassador to the US, to replace Best.

Since then several agents of the SSA, including deputy director Joanne Bartholomew-Daniel, have been terminated. Phillips-Spencer dismissed a total of 13 civilians, including Brown, his wife and his son.

Phillips-Spencer did an audit at the agency over the last two months, in an effort to weed out those who were allegedly compromised, national security sources said.

A team of 12 highly-trained operatives, all former soldiers, who were assigned to the SSA's Tactical Response Team, were also dismissed.

On March 19, Rowley made the shocking claim that state agencies have become one with criminal elements during a sod-turning ceremony for the Caura Housing Development, in a clear reference to details emerging from the probe into the SSA, which is based at Knowsley, Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain.


"Chief of Defence Staff saved ex-SSA spy chief from possible criminal charge"

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