T&T blimp and attack helicopters ‘toys’ – US cable

(Trinidad Guardian) In a leaked 2006 diplomatic cable from the US embassy in Port-of-Spain, “the much-maligned blimps and alleged attack helicopters” were described by US officials here as extravagant crime-fighting “toys” of the Patrick Manning administration. The disclosure comes via the controversial Web site Wikileaks, which made all 251,287 diplomatic cables that it obtained last year available in several locations on the Internet.

The revelations about the military spending of the People’s National Movement came in the form of a January 26, 2006 official dispatch from the US Embassy in Port-of-Spain in the name of former US Ambassador, Roy Austin. The diplomatic cable followed a Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT) meeting with the US Justice Department’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Programme (ICITAP).

The dispatch says that “due to the Govt’s ability to buy the toys they want (such as the much-maligned blimps and alleged attack helicopters), US Government assistance should target building up basic skills and creating sustainable, self-perpetuating training programmes in Trinidad and Tobago.” The ill-fated US$15 million blimp has since been taken out of service and is being sold while two Augusta Wesland AW139 attack helicopters were commissioned by the military Air Guard in June this year. In the leaked cable, former SAUTT director, Brigadier General Peter Joseph, is said to have complained during the consultations with US authorities that the Unit was being asked by the government of the day to “creep, walk and run at the same time.”

In the leaked diplomatic cable, the US embassy says Brig Joseph lamented the fact that SAUTT had been having a hard time working with the Organised Crime and Narcotics Unit (OCNU), “which causes some problems because of organisational turf wars.” During a briefing with ICITAP officials, Joseph is described as wanting “to make a perceptible impact on crime by reducing the murder rate and reducing kidnappings.” “He also wants,” the leaked diplomatic cable says, “to change the perception that people can walk around Trinidad carrying weapons without repercussions.” Part of achieving these goals, the document says “will be to work closely with the police force and other security agencies to supplement their skills with SAUTT’s abilities that focus on kidnapping and murders.”

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