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.