August 3, 2004
The crime wave in Buxton-Friendship in 2002-2003 was a severe test for the national intelligence system which failed to predict the crisis, prevent criminal violence and protect innocent citizens.
This may seem surprising. Many of the bandits who perpetrated the violence were previously known to the law-enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system. They were operating in a known area of only a few square kilometres with only two motorable access roads. They carried out many of their crimes in broad daylight, making no attempt to conceal their identities. And at their most daring, they casually cruised the coastal roadways to commit crimes in East Bank Essequibo, the Corentyne, Upper Demerara and Georgetown, and return unimpeded to their lairs.
The bandits were able to hold out for nearly 16 months against Guyana's finest soldiers and policemen who were armed with adequate, if not elaborate, weapons; equipped with aircraft, offshore vessels and road transport; and financed with special funds from the Treasury.
Even if the security forces had initially been taken by surprise by the sudden escalation of violence, with proper intelligence, they should have been able to identify, locate and arrest the bandits long before their crimes became a terrorist threat to national security. But it seemed that the Forces' failure to respond quickly and decisively emboldened the villains and prolonged the crisis.
In his testimony before the Disciplined Forces Commission (DFC) last November, the Minister of Home Affairs conceded, with characteristic understatement, that intelligence-gathering by the Police Force "leaves much to be desired". He admitted that this was in part because agents of "the Police Special Branch did not have the same usefulness of years ago since they had become well known to the public and were unable to infiltrate certain areas for intelligence gathering". The Head of the Police Criminal Investigation Department was equally candid, admitting to the DFC that there was a "weakness in intelligence-gathering".
Criminals generate much information through their accommodation, transport, social habits, vehicle and telephone numbers, and contacts - all of which should be collected and collated. But Guyana's crime intelligence system seems to suffer from structural, technological and tactical weaknesses in addition to the absence of competent agents.
There seems to be no single national intelligence service which collects and collates data. The three main security forces - the Army, Police and CANU - conduct their own intelligence and the Joint Intelligence Committee does not independently possess resources to collect and collate information.
Further, despite the changing nature of crime which now involves an array of non-state and international elements, there has been no commensurate adoption or improvement in intelligence and information technology. Indeed, the Crime Chief admitted that his Department's ad hoc crime intelligence unit did not even possess a computer much less other types of technology.
Finally, the determination of the security forces during the crime wave to shoot to kill, taking no prisoners, resulted in the extirpation of the best sources of information, elimination of evidence and, fear of witnesses to come forward. Whether there were larger narcotics-related, political, criminal, commercial or racial groups arming, directing or colluding with the various gangs and squads, will be difficult to determine.
With the admission by the Minister and the Crime Chief that there were serious failures of intelligence, and the apparent continuation of 'execution-style' killings on the East Coast and West Coast Demerara, has the Administration rectified the faults in the intelligence system?