PM denies ordering East Indian SSA purge ‘I don’t even know Dennie’

Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley

A war of words has bro­ken out be­tween Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley and for­mer di­rec­tor of in­tel­li­gence at the Strate­gic Ser­vices Agency (SSA) Carl­ton Den­nie and at the cen­ter of it is the is­sue of race, which has pushed Row­ley in­to a de­fen­sive mode.

Den­nie ap­peared on the plat­form of the Unit­ed Na­tion­al Con­gress (UNC) on Mon­day night, al­leg­ing that when the Row­ley-led ad­min­is­tra­tion came to pow­er in 2015, he was asked to “fire all East In­di­ans” at the SSA.

“I am the per­son they asked to fire all the East In­di­ans in the SSA and I told them no, I am not do­ing that. This made the dai­ly news­pa­pers. I re­mind­ed Kei­th Row­ley and the then min­is­ter of na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty Ed­mund Dil­lon that in this coun­try every creed and race will find an equal place. I told them no, I am not fir­ing the East In­di­ans,” Den­nie told the meet­ing.

But hours lat­er Prime Min­is­ter Row­ley called an im­promp­tu news con­fer­ence at the Diplo­mat­ic Cen­tre Tues­day to re­spond to the claims, say­ing he was hor­ri­fied at Den­nie’s state­ments which were re­port­ed in the me­dia.

Row­ley said at no point was Den­nie SSA di­rec­tor, nor did he have rea­son to at­tend any meet­ing of the Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Coun­cil.

“And there­fore to go on a UNC plat­form and say that he was asked to fire peo­ple was noth­ing but a fool­ish lie,” the PM said.

The PM in­sist­ed that such an in­struc­tion could nev­er even be pos­si­ble be­cause he nev­er met Den­nie.

“I have nev­er in my ca­pac­i­ty as Prime Min­is­ter spo­ken to Mr Den­nie in any ca­pac­i­ty, not on the phone, not in writ­ing, not face to face, I don’t know the man.”

At the news con­fer­ence, which last­ed just about 45 min­utes, the PM quot­ed from doc­u­ments he de­scribed as se­cret files be­long­ing to the Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Min­istry. In it, he said was a re­port dat­ed Oc­to­ber 23, 2009, to the Per­ma­nent Sec­re­tary which out­lined “un­ac­cept­able forms of be­hav­iour” on the part of Den­nie. Those, he said, ranged from in­sub­or­di­na­tion to out­right lies.

Row­ley gave no ex­pla­na­tion as to why no ac­tion was tak­en against Den­nie de­spite the con­tents of the re­port.

He, how­ev­er, went on to re­veal the con­tents of a 2012 SSA re­port which he said al­leged­ly put Den­nie and an­oth­er of­fi­cer at a serv­er room in Pi­ar­co re­mov­ing sen­si­tive equip­ment which al­so re­sult­ed in the shut­ting down of the in­tel­li­gence net­work. He ques­tioned if this was known to the then prime min­is­ter Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar and won­dered why noth­ing was done.

Row­ley then trained his guns on the UNC, ques­tion­ing the op­po­si­tion par­ty’s mo­tive be­hind putting Den­nie on its plat­form.

“The UNC is a dan­ger­ous or­gan­i­sa­tion led by Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar, who will not hes­i­tate to use race racial ha­tred and oth­er un­de­sir­able traits in an at­tempt to get in­to of­fice.”

He de­scribed the in­ci­dent as just an­oth­er at­tempt to as­sas­si­nate his char­ac­ter but was quick to de­fend him­self, say­ing his record in the pub­lic ser­vice speaks for it­self and he can in no way be ac­cused of racial bias.

The Prime Min­is­ter called on the pub­lic to re­ject the racial sen­ti­ments, which he said was on­ly meant to cre­ate hate and which if al­lowed to fes­ter could have far-reach­ing con­se­quences for the coun­try.

“To­day I con­demn this not for me, but for all those who would have been af­fect­ed by this de­vel­op­ment be­cause this has the po­ten­tial to per­ma­nent­ly sep­a­rate us in­to racial camps and we know where that leads.”

Ex-SSA boss: I will bring ev­i­dence

But for­mer Strate­gic Ser­vices Agency (SSA) di­rec­tor Carl­ton Den­nie is stand­ing by his claims and says he in­tends to com­pile ev­i­dence with the names of the peo­ple of East In­di­an de­scent who were pushed out of the SSA when the Kei­th Row­ley-led Gov­ern­ment took of­fice.

Den­nie mount­ed a UNC plat­form on Mon­day night with a sor­did al­le­ga­tion that he was asked to fire all the In­di­ans in the SSA af­ter Row­ley be­came Prime Min­is­ter in 2015. This ac­cu­sa­tion was hot­ly de­nied at a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day by Row­ley, who claimed Den­nie was noth­ing more than a “ju­nior sub­or­di­nate em­ploy­ee who was nev­er in the po­si­tion to in­ter­face with the Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Coun­cil or with the Prime Min­is­ter.”

But Den­nie told Guardian Me­dia Ltd it was not the first time he had spo­ken about the re­moval of the In­do-Trinida­di­ans in the SSA, not­ing that in 2016 the is­sue had been pub­li­cised in the press.

Asked how many In­do-Trinida­di­ans had been fired, Den­nie said he planned to com­pile the sta­tis­tics and hold a press con­fer­ence lat­er this week.

“I am an in­tro­vert you know, I don’t like the spot­light but I had to do this to let peo­ple know what was tak­ing place,” Den­nie said.

He added that he al­so has a pend­ing court mat­ter for wrong­ful dis­missal from the SSA.

“I want to be very care­ful with my re­sponse be­cause of this. I made the state­ment on a pub­lic plat­form and I don’t want to bring the UNC par­ty in dis­re­pute. I am go­ing to re­view what was said by the Prime Min­is­ter and make a state­ment in the com­ing days. He is call­ing me a liar and I will deal with that,” Den­nie added.

He al­so said the al­le­ga­tion raised by Row­ley that he was named in a re­port for the “re­moval of sen­si­tive equip­ment of the serv­er room at Pi­ar­co” will al­so be ad­dressed.

“That is go­ing to bring shame to the Gov­ern­ment. The Prime Min­is­ter is go­ing to be ashamed of the peo­ple who gave him that re­port. I blame the peo­ple who gave him that re­port,” Den­nie said.

The Pi­ar­co serv­er room had been the nerve-cen­tre of the SSA, ac­cord­ing to Row­ley, who claimed the coun­try’s in­tel­li­gence sys­tem had been dis­rupt­ed for days.

Mean­while, al­though Row­ley named Den­nie as a ju­nior em­ploy­ee of the SSA, a court judge­ment ob­tained by Guardian Me­dia dat­ed April 16, 2018, iden­ti­fied Den­nie as the for­mer di­rec­tor of in­tel­li­gence at the SSA.

The judge­ment was de­liv­ered by Jus­tice Mar­garet Mo­hammed. In it, the Judge ruled that the Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Min­is­ter had erred in his de­ci­sion to ap­point an in­ter­im di­rec­tor, as this was a post that nev­er ex­ist­ed.

In his speech on Mon­day night, Den­nie claimed he was giv­en a di­rec­tive to fire all the In­di­ans af­ter Row­ley took of­fice.

“Af­ter Row­ley fired the le­git­i­mate di­rec­tor of the SSA in 2015 and re­placed him with the il­le­gal in­ter­im di­rec­tor, I was the per­son that they asked to fire all the East In­di­ans from the SSA. I told them no!” Den­nie claimed.

He added, “I re­mind­ed Row­ley and the then Min­is­ter of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty, Dil­lon, that in this coun­try, every creed and race must find an equal place. Our na­tion­al an­them tells us side by side we stand.”

Race on po­lit­i­cal plat­forms

Mon­day’s ac­cu­sa­tions at the UNC Mon­day Night Fo­rum is not the first time race has been a top­ic of dis­cus­sion on a po­lit­i­cal plat­form in the re­cent past.

In 2013 then PNM can­di­date in the To­ba­go House of As­sem­bly elec­tion, Hilton Sandy, was crit­i­cised for say­ing that a Cal­cut­ta ship would be ar­riv­ing in To­ba­go.

In 2015, Laven­tille West MP Fitzger­ald Hinds re­ceived sim­i­lar crit­i­cism for his “al­li­ga­tor in a murky la­goon” state­ment. The PNM lat­er said his state­ments were mis­un­der­stood.

As it re­lates to the UNC, Op­po­si­tion Leader Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar was chas­tised for re­fer­ring to the Prime Min­is­ter as an Oreo last year.

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