|Turnquest defends drone testing|
Published: Jun 27, 2012
Comments attributed to the minister of foreign affairs on the conduct of unmanned surveillance over The Bahamas and commented upon in your editorial of June 26 are woefully uninformed and reflect a Cabinet minister seemingly ignorant of his role and responsibilities.
I am especially surprised and disappointed that rather than using this occasion as an education moment The Nassau Guardian used its editorial to feed the irrational xenophobia so often promoted by segments of the present government to obscure their ineptitude and to “whip up” anti-foreign sentiments among our people.
Bilateral anti-criminal and specifically anti-drug and anti-human trafficking initiatives between our government and law-enforcement agencies with those of the United States of America government have a long and respected history. These are joint and or approved surveillance programs and not “spying”, which would suggest unauthorized, and hence illegal, surveillance.
Particularly since the 1980s and the introduction of “Hot Pursuit” initiatives which placed Bahamian law enforcement personnel on U.S. Department of Defense and or U.S. Coast Guard vessels and craft to facilitate the interdiction and detention of criminals operating in and through The Bahamas, cooperation between our two countries has been critical to Bahamian anti-criminal initiatives, especially as regards countering the impact of sophisticated trans-national criminal organizations.
Even before that time the U.S. government had established a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) presence in The Bahamas. And the formalization of the Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos (OPBAT) anti-drug initiative resulted in the stationing of DEA agents and helicopters in both New Providence and Exuma. Today, millions of dollars are being invested by the U.S. government in constructing improved facilities for joint U.S. and Bahamas defence force operations in Inagua.
And, as you may or may not be aware, The Bahamas government maintains a Bahamian police officer and a customs officer presence in its Miami consulate general and an immigration officer or defence force officer presence in its embassy in Haiti. None of this is done secretly or covertly but rather with the full knowledge of the host governments, although I do not think that these initiatives were the subject of public announcements to the Florida or Haitian public.
It is a matter of public record that The Bahamas served as host to two U.S. government surveillance balloons beginning in the mid-1980s. Indeed when plans to launch a third surveillance balloon was abandoned in the early 1990s because of prohibitive costs, the U.S. undertook, at the request of The Bahamas government, to continue to provide aerial surveillance for joint Bahamian-U.S. counter-criminal initiatives from radars located on the U.S. mainland.
Surveillance technology is not static. Heightened threats to world peace from international criminal cartels and, particularly since September 11, 2001, from terrorist organizations and their client states, have resulted in the development of significantly improved surveillance capabilities by agencies of the United States government. One such capability is the use of unmanned surveillance drone aircraft; an untethered surveillance balloon so to speak. As a partner with the United States and all peace-loving states of the international community, The Bahamas continued to lend assistance to international and bilateral counter-criminal initiatives.
Certainly the minister of foreign affairs and your editorial board would agree that covert anti-criminal initiatives are frequently necessary if governments and law-enforcement agencies are to identify, locate and stop criminal activity detrimental to the public peace and to the general welfare of the people. Similarly, it must be understood by any minister of government that sensitive matters relating to national security and law enforcement are frequently time-sensitive and secret and are not responsibly disclosed to the media and the general public so as to safeguard the lives of dedicated law enforcement personnel.
As I said when asked by your newspaper about the existence of this drone testing exercise over The Bahamas, the government is aware of all bilateral and international anti-criminal exercises taking place in The Bahamas. A review by the minister of his turn-over notes and of his ministry’s files would elucidate many things for him as would discussions with his senior advisors. He might also consult with the minister of national security and the prime minister on the matter, as handover notes and ministry files in those portfolios would be similarly informative.
Having served previously in the capacity of minister of foreign affairs (2002-2007), Fred Mitchell would be aware of U.S.-Bahamas bilateral anti-crime fighting initiatives. Simply familiarizing himself with developments over the past five years would bring him up to date on the current status of arrangements. I would have expected that this would have been the first order of business for a new minister.
Further, The Bahamas public service has a permanent establishment for a reason. Those professional and technical advisors in our ministries and in our law enforcement agencies are guardians of continuity. They ensure that governments do not make decisions in isolation or ignorance. The minister should, if he has not done so by now, engage his advisors in a discussion of his portfolio responsibilities.
I take issue with your editorial concern that small countries like The Bahamas need to be jealous of and safeguard their sovereignty and not give sanction to initiatives that we cannot “monitor or control”. Let’s be reasonable, if we could afford and if we had the capacity to monitor and control sophisticated radar surveillance of the entire Bahamas, we would not need to enter into bilateral arrangements with anyone to facilitate such surveillance. We are indeed fortunate that the U.S. government is interested to make this level of surveillance available in The Bahamas.
We are not so naive as to believe that the U.S. government does this only from the goodness of its heart. Bahamian governments recognize fully the considerable benefit gained by the U.S. government and its law enforcement agencies from the conduct of such exercises in a friendly country. This is in keeping, for example, with the benefits to the U.S. government from being able to operate an important research facility in Andros (AUTEC) which predates even our independence but which was continued by the first independent government of The Bahamas and which has been continued by every subsequent government of The Bahamas. Does The Nassau Guardian wish to suggest that The Bahamas government ought to be monitoring and controlling the U.S. research at AUTEC?
As regards your query as to what the U.S. will tell the minister, the minister does not need to ask the U.S. anything. He must simply inform himself from the records of The Bahamas government. He might then use that information to inform his future discussions with U.S. government representatives going forward. This is the normal conduct of government business and this is how diplomacy works.
Finally, my comments on this matter would be incomplete if I did not remind your editorial board of the significant and important assistance which results from the long-held joint cooperation initiatives between the U.S. and Bahamian governments which are not provided for in the terms of any of our cooperation agreements, but which are routinely called upon by us and provided by the U.S. government and its agencies: that is, U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue missions for missing Bahamian vessels and aircraft; emergency relief assistance to distressed seamen and passengers in Bahamian waters; medical emergency assistance, particularly in our Family Islands during inclement weather, and relief and rescue assistance directly connected to hurricanes. The assistance extended by the U.S. Coast Guard to the victims of the MV Sea Hauler tragic accident on the high seas, and more recently their safe rescue of all passengers and crew from the grounded MV Legacy off the coast of Abaco, are but two vivid reminders of the special relationship we share with the agencies of the United States government.
For all those acts of kindness, Bahamian governments and the Bahamian people are grateful and appreciative to our near neighbor, friend and ally, major trading partner and overwhelming market for our tourism sector.
– O.A.T. (Tommy) Turnquest