July 24, 2005
By Raffique Shah
WITHOUT doubt national security as it relates to terrorism, sabotage and crime demands the attention of a government that is groping for answers. National Security Minister Martin Joseph needs to understand this is why people were perplexed that he would just "ups and disappear" during what seemed to be a crisis period, however insignificant it may have been, and however short the duration of his absence. Real leaders come to the fore during crises, and like military generals, they inspire confidence in their people, matters not which way the war goes.
This country is crying out for such leaders and that kind of leadership. The politicians, both those who hold office and others who aspire to displace them, are yet to show such mettle. In 1990, barring then Prime Minister Ray Robinson's call for the armed forces to "attack with full force", what we witnessed were ministers running around like headless chickens, incapable of devising strategies to deal with the attempted coup. Luckily for them, some officers in the armed forces and the police were able to rise to the occasion and lead the country safely out of what could have turned into a very bloody affair. It was little different in 1970: when the true story of the army mutiny is written, people will see who were the unsung heroes of the day, which politicians were on the verge of fleeing the country, and which senior officers went into hiding, only to emerge as "Rambos" when all was safe.
Prime Minister Patrick Manning cannot easily dismiss the bombing incident in downtown Port of Spain, the threat of a hurricane, or the seemingly unstoppable crime wave. While there are many ordinary citizens like me who, in spite of these clear and present dangers, insist on carrying on with our lives regardless, the bulk of the population remains scared, jumpy, expecting mayhem and murder any second. I wrote last week that we can never fully insulate ourselves from so-called terrorist attacks, since they are so easily carried out. Nor can we dictate what nature may seek to inflict on us, be it an earthquake or a hurricane. In the battle against lawlessness, which encompasses the threat of terrorism, the key weapon is not the rifle or the "blimp", but intelligence, knowledge of who the enemies or potential enemies are. We must know where they are located, their movements, their associates. We must not only pursue, say, car thieves, when we know the bigger fishes, those who buy the stolen vehicles, must be taken out, one way or the other. What of those who "fence" loot like jewelry, cellular phones, computers, appliances?
Those culprits must be caught and made to pay for their crimes (yes, they are criminals, since those who "did the deed" to supply them with the goods, may have maimed or killed others in the process). And we cannot exclude "white collar" crime, which, some swear, is worse than other types of crime.
That kind of information can only be gathered on the ground. It takes well trained and well equipped officers to conduct such exercises: intelligence gathering is a long, painful, and at times dangerous process. But it must be done. It's the only way we can hope to prevent crime rather than wait for it to happen and then arrest the criminals. There are times, though, when I wonder exactly what kind of training our officers undergo. For example, there is the basic principle of monitoring the "small fish", allow him/her to get away with minor infringements (say "pipers" or even car thieves), but stick with him until he leads you to the real criminals, the "big fish". Here, "pipers" caught with "rocks" clog the courts and jails, but the big dealers are hardly even known, far less arrested or jailed. And how many of those "businessmen" who thrive on dealing in stolen vehicles or jewelry are caught and brought to justice?
When last have officers of any branch of the protective services infiltrated the ranks of drug dealers, money launderers, and provided intelligence that led to major arrests? What of organisations that spawn fanatics of varying hues?
Do we know what's happening there? Without pouring cold water on plans to place surveillance cameras in the city, or on the "blimp", the battle to win back our country from the clutches of the criminals has to be waged on the ground. Air support is welcome through the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, like the "blimp" and "drones").
But, as in every war, it's the foot soldier who determines the outcome. Ask the US High Command and its generals in Iraq and Afghanistan, where, incidentally, they have used both types of UAVs. They have the finest electronic surveillance devices in the world. But they cannot stem the tide of insurgency, nor can they infiltrate the inner circle of Osama bin Laden, who attended Oxford University, not West Point or Sandhurst.