By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
OPPOSITION leader Dr Hubert Minnis is demanding a complete shutdown and full public disclosure of the National Intelligence Agency’s operations in the absence of a legal framework to govern the organisation.
Insisting that the Free National Movement would not support an “illegal government programme”, Dr Minnis said it was important for the Christie administration to lay all of its cards on the table concerning the NIA.
According to Dr Minnis, the NIA has created too many unanswered questions that in his view pose a laundry list of threats for the Bahamian people.
It was suggested last week by Deputy FNM leader Loretta Butler-Turner that the text messages, emails and phones calls of civilians were being monitored by government. She raised the legality of the NIA during a party rally last Tuesday.
Dr Minnis said he was informed that the NIA operates with a staff of 14 Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) officers, five Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) officers, three Customs officers and two immigration officers. Former RBDF Commodore Clifford “Butch” Scavella heads the organisation. Minnis said he understood that Mr Scavella was earning $72,000 per annum.
“We in the FNM, nor anyone in the general public,” he said “know the terms and conditions of the retired Commodore’s contract. For example to whom is he required to report? Does he report to the Minister of National Security whose general disposition is that he does not know what the law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies of the government are doing? What laws and regulations are the head of NIA and his office required to observe and respect?
“We also do not know what kind of information the agency is gathering, at whose behest the information is being gathered, what means and mechanisms are being employed in the gathering of information and what becomes of information once gathered. How is the information stored? To whom is the information gathered being delivered and for what purpose?
“This is why the FNM believes that it is important for the government of the Bahamas to provide to the Bahamian people full disclosure of the mission and modus operandi of the National Intelligence Agency. This is required of national intelligence agencies in the most sophisticated and powerful democracies around the world. It must be also in our small democracy.”
When asked by The Tribune if the recent seizure of FNM Chairman Darron Cash’s two laptops and cellphone by the police on May 2 were connected to the NIA’s operations, Dr Minnis said he did not know. However, he went on to caution Dr Bernard Nottage, Minister of National Security, that if any raids were to take place at his home, authorities would turn up empty handed.
“I don’t know. But the police confiscated (the items) and police are involved there (at the NIA). Now what I want the Minister to know is (if) they go into my home, all of my information is cryptic. So they won’t get anything out of there.”
Last week, Dr Nottage dismissed Mrs Butler-Turner’s concerns as “foolish” after she told supporters that the agency appeared to be engaged in domestic spying on the Bahamian people.
She made the claims in view of the fact that there has been no legislation brought to the House of Assembly to set up the agency.
The official line from Dr Nottage is that the government plans to table the legislation, which is nearly complete, by the end of the year.
Dr Nottage has gone on record as stating that only criminals known to police are being monitored. He denied prying into the personal communications of Bahamians.