22 Jan 2011

The blot thickens

THERE were conflicting reports over the qualifications and appointment of the new spy chief yesterday, with Minister of National Security John Sandy and acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith naming different agencies to which Reshmi Usha Ramnarine was appointed.

In addressing the Parliament yesterday, Sandy said following consultations with members of the National Security Council and Cabinet, Ramnarine, whom he described as being a University of the West Indies (UWI) graduate, was appointed as director of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA).

However, a release from the Office of the President yesterday confirmed that she was appointed to the post of director of the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA).

"His Excellency, Senator Timothy Hamel-Smith, acting President of the Republic, issued the instrument of appointment to the new SIA Director on Friday 14th January, 2011," a release from the Office of the President said.

However, Sandy's statement did little to quell concerns of employees attached to the SIA yesterday about Ramnarine's inexperience for the post. Sources said the employees maintained that Ramnarine does not have the expertise, experience or educational background to preside over such a sensitive post, even if it is for a six-month period. The employees were also extremely concerned over the appointment, since according to the Interception Act, only three persons can order that wiretapping be conducted—the Chief of Defence Staff, Commissioner of Police and the Director of the SIA.

Noting that Ramnarine is not qualified to head a government spy agency, the source said intelligence analysis or intelligence operations are two major areas in the world of intelligence gathering, experience which Ramnarine lacks.

Responding to the support Ramnarine has from Cabinet ministers, as reflected during yesterday's Parliament sitting, the source denied Ramnarine has been employed at the SIA for the past nine years.

"This is absolutely incorrect," the source said.

In 2007, Ramnarine sent her CV to numerous media houses seeking employment.

Among the objectives listed on her cover letter then was her intention to do a BSc in Geography and the Environment which was "carded to begin in September 2007". At the time, Ramnarine listed herself as being employed on a three-year contract as a Technical Operator III at Research Associates of T&T.

In addressing Parliament yesterday, Sandy said that Ramnarine was a graduate of UWI, but failed to state what field and what qualification(s) she obtained while at the institution.

In his address to Parliament last evening, however, Foreign Affairs Minister Surujrattan Rambachan said Ramnarine possesses a BSc in Information Technology and is currently a second year student at UWI pursuing a degree in Psychology.

However, sources called immediately after hearing the statement to raise questions about when Ramnarine would have been able to earn her degree, having been employed full-time at SIA. As a full time employee, they argued, she would have had to pursue the degree as a part-time student at best, which takes longer than the stipulated three-year period.

Commenting on the issue last evening, former prime minister Basdeo Panday called on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to clear the air on the appointment.

In a telephone interview with the Express, Panday said: "The Prime Minister owes it to indicate to the public the reason behind such an important appointment. Why was this person hired? And unless we can have from the Prime Minister the criteria and qualifications which led to this appointment, then we can see whether she (Ramnarine) is qualified."

Efforts to contact Ramnarine were unsuccessful as calls to her cellphone went unanswered last evening.

If someone attends a short course at a tertiary level institution, is that person a ‘graduate’ upon leaving? if not, what would make them a graduate? A degree? An associate degree? A diploma?

The information coming to the fore here is that this woman has an MCSE – Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer – which now is an entry level qualification in IT.

A resume, dated 2007, however, shows that she could only have worked with the organisation for four years and that she had done a computer course — Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer between April 4, 2005 and May 12, 2006 — with UWI up to that time.

Don’t get me wrong, I never said it was ‘easy’. It is a comprehensive course. However, does that make her a graduate if she completed this in 1 year at UWI? I recall MCSE and CCNA were actually part of the first year when I was pursuing a BSc in ICT, including other subjects such as media design, photography, business management etc. Yeah, this was all in the FIRST year. And guess what? The first year wasn’t even part of the degree (the grades did not count towards awarding the degree), just a ‘pre-qualification’. In other words, you had to pass the first year to get on to years 2 and 3 – the real thing so to speak.

In the mean time, Keith Rowley (Opposition Leader) is asking some pertinent questions:

"Is it that this person was the whistle-blower to which the Prime Minister made dramatic and copious reference? ... and by the way, I would say there was a UNC party hosted by Sasha Mohammed (former TV6 journalist) a few weeks ago ... and in that party, Miss Ramnarine was introduced as the whistle-blower of the SIA. I'm asking the Government today if that is the same person who was appointed to this position?" Rowley said.

Rowley also asked whether spying was continuing on members of the Opposition.

"Now that this disastrous clandestine appointment has been confirmed, is it true that she has been detailed to continue spying or monitoring members of the Opposition and persons of interest to the Prime Minister, and that the six-month appointment is deliberately crafted to provide her with enough time to screen and remove information detrimental to the Prime Minister and her Government?" Rowley asked.

"Is it that the sensitive intelligence information of this country and other countries who work with us on these matters, is now being placed in the controlling hands of this patently unqualified party or lackey of the Prime Minister? Is this a payback for the information provided which tipped the Prime Minister off for the alleged improper conduct of SIA officers prior to November 2010?"

I can ask a couple of questions. Regarding the appointment of former journalist Sasha Mohammed as an adviser to the Prime Minister, what is the relationship between Sasha and Reshmi? What influence, if any, did Sasha have with the Prime Minister for her friend to be appointed to such a sensitive position?

This is yet another blot upon the reputation and integrity of the PP, and it thickens quickly.