Robert Allan Gates makes stunning claim at Rodney Commission –McLean, Lewis, Roberts vital to dark Rodney plot
GEORGETOWN’S political past haunts it to this day. And, let out of his prison cell at the Camp Street jail on Monday, colourful personality, former military spy Robert Allan Gates unveiled dark and sinister forces that operated in our capital city to silence Dr Walter Rodney’s crusade for justice in his homeland.Gates became a household name when he testified last year at the Rodney Commission of his role as double agent, spying for the late former Commissioner of Police, Laurie Lewis on Dr Rodney’s political party, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), and for deputy WPA leader, the mysterious Dr Rupert Roopnarine, on behalf of the Joint Intelligence Command, a secret spy outfit of the State under the Government of the People’s National Congress (PNC).
Gates on Monday unveiled testimony of stunning detail, naming Lewis; former head of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Norman McLean; and former Crime Chief and head of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Guyana Police Force, Cecil ‘Skip’ Roberts as vital players in a deadly PNC State plot to assassinate Dr Rodney.
Commission Chairman, Sir Richard Cheltenham questioned Gates in detail about these assertions, ascertaining that Gates spelled out his testimony with clear and precise information.
The Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry is holding its first sitting of 2015. President Donald Ramotar convened the Presidential Inquiry in June last year, with the Commission comprising distinguished legal luminaries from the Caribbean in the persons of Sir Richard Cheltenham of Barbados; Ms Jacqueline Samuel-Brown of Jamaica; and Mr Seenath Jairam of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Commissioners are probing how and why Dr Rodney was assassinated on the night of June 13, 1980 during a brutal bomb blast that rocked Georgetown, just outside the Camp Street jail, where Gates now serves his prison term. Gates told the Commission that Monday marked one year since he’s been in jail. He was jailed in an unrelated matter involving business dealings.
Several high-profile witnesses testified at the Commission over the past eight months, and the Commission’s Secretariat has compiled a large body of documents and testimonies that may implicate the PNC State machinery in a sinister plot to assassinate Dr Rodney.
The case went unsolved for 34 years, before President Ramotar convened the Commission, in the face of intense opposition and protest from the PNC and its sympathizers, who questioned the Terms of Reference for convening such a body, and accused President Ramotar of starting a political witch-hunt. What these critics have ignored is the fact that Dr Rodney’s assassination remains the single worst political assassination in the history of the Commonwealth Caribbean, and that the Commission’s findings and report could not only bring closure to the case, but also provide a platform for truth and reconciliation to play a major role in Guyana’s healing.
DARK PAST REAL AND ALIVE
Gates testified how real and alive are the wounds of that dark past of Georgetown’s history that still haunt the nation, and told the Commissioners he believes he is today being persecuted for his intimate knowledge of events before and after that tragic day of June 13, 1980.
He worked as undercover agent for the Joint Intelligence Command, which Laurie Lewis ran from a building in Ogle, and moved about Georgetown, spying on behalf of the PNC State machinery. But he also became double agent for Dr Roopnarine, relaying inside information and misinformation between Lewis and Roopnarine.
Having become disillusioned with Lewis in 1992 when Guyana won its first free and fair elections in 28 years, Gates wrote then President, Dr Cheddi Jagan, advising him not to trust Lewis.
He told the Commission Monday that after learning that he, Gates, had warned Dr Jagan to beware of him, Lewis started persecuting him. Gates said Lewis went so far as to have his employment with the Guyana Police Force terminated in the late 1990s. He finally quit the Force in 1996, and sought employment with the private sector, but, he testified, Lewis stymied his livelihood.
Gates said he became fearful for his life because of what he knew of Dr Rodney’s assassination, and threatened Lewis through a back-door message saying that he would spill the beans to the CIA in the US.
His astonishing tale of the shadowy political intrigue that gripped Guyana for decades, causing the assassination of various political leaders and to some extent the demise of Georgetown to this day, details a storyline that would fit any Hollywood blockbuster script.
Looking alone and defeated in his collar-and-tie, standing there in the witness box, shoulders slouched and facing the Commission, telling the world of his role in the assassination of one of the world’s great Black intellectuals, Gates unraveled a tale of shocking espionage, and dark, deadly plotting.
He said that though he remained loyal to the PNC as an intelligence officer of the State, he also felt loyal to the WPA, as he sympathized with the political cause for which that Party was fighting.
“I was in sympathy with the WPA and what they were going through, but I had to make a choice. And that choice was to be loyal to the Government and the State,” Gates said, adding:
“I felt confident that Roopnarine thought they could remove the Government by force, and I would have been offered a position at Special Branch. So I did an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of WPA.”
Yet, he played along with the PNC, as “they succeeded in eliminating individuals.”
Gates said, under questioning from Samuel-Brown, that Roopnarine collected ammunition from him. But he also saved Dr Roopnarine’s life, he testified. “I failed, refused or neglected to carry out my duties; and that’s why Roopnarine escaped the State’s killing plot. He knows that! And he owes me his life!” Gates said in answer to a question from Commission Chairman, Sir Richard Cheltenham.
‘Gates testified how real and alive are the wounds of that dark past of Georgetown’s history that still haunt the nation, and told the Commissioners he believes he is today being persecuted for his intimate knowledge of events before and after that tragic day of June 13, 1980’
SIX PLOTS TO ASSASSINATE
The PNC State was responsible for plotting to kill people, Gates said. He was aware of six such plots, he said, four of which he remembers as being Dr Rodney, Dr Roopnarine, and WPA activists Kwaama and Dublin. “I know the State wanted them killed;all were successful. The only exception was Roopnarine, because I let him go,” Gates said.
“Kwaama,” he said, “was seen as someone trafficking arms to WPA. He drove WPA vehicles around.”Gates said the Police Force never tried to arrest Kwaama or persecute him; rather, they moved to assassinate him.
Gates said he was at a bar on Robb Street when he met Detective Sergeant Andrews, better known as ‘Agent’, and one Corporal Cuffee, both members of the ‘Death Squad’, and there learned of the plot to assassinate Kwaama and Dublin. “We all served on ‘Death Squad’ together,” Gates said, adding:
“‘Agent’ was a cold-blooded killer; a man of very few words. I thanked him for the information that Kwaama was ‘to be sent home’; home being a term for the Le Repentir Cemetery. I did not inform WPA, as ‘Agent’ was giving me friendly advice. Kwaama was killed about two weeks after that meeting.”
Gates said Kwaama was ambushed and killed in the East La Penitence area, and “as was normal at that time, arms and weapons were placed in the trunk of his car.”
Asked by Commission Counsel Latchmie Rahamat why he testified that it was the PNC State itself that had plotted to kill Dr Rodney, Gates told her that the Police Special Branch, the Guyana Defence Force and the then Government all wanted Dr Rodney “out because he was affecting the smooth running of the country.”
Gates gave details about McLean’s involvement with several persons he knew personally. These were either relatives or close friends, “who relayed information of what was happening.
“Ashton Barker was assigned a certain task. Ashton Barker is a former member of GDF; he was sent to French Guiana by Norman McLean to keep an eye on Gregory Smith.
“Ashton was a relative, and I thought it best, for my own security, to communicate with people like him. He told me he was going to Cayenne (French Guiana’s capital) and what he was going to do. Norman took security precaution to keep tabs on Smith, as when anyone is involved in activities for the State, it is important that counter-surveillance methods be put in place; that he doesn’t talk to the wrong people, and he wouldn’t give out any information on whatever activity he was involved in.
“On July 15, 1980, I met Ashton at my birthday celebration, and he told me of his Cayanne move.”
Asked by Rahamat whether he was aware of any tabs on Smith prior to Rodney’s death, Gates replied: “GDF soldier, Aubrey Jones was my next-door neighbour, and I was told he was husband, or ex-husband, of Gwendolyn Jones. He was also the technician who tapped Gregory Smith’s land-line.Jones and I went to school together, and we were both from Sandhills, up the Berbice River. His mother was my headmistress, Ms Jean Jones; he was a family-friend; we kept in contact.
“I saw it necessary for me to know what was going on in and around me, and in and around the country, so we shared information. Jones himself told me what he did; Jones was neighbour to Smith on Russel Street.”
‘He worked as undercover agent for the Joint Intelligence Command, which Laurie Lewis ran from a building in Ogle, and moved about Georgetown, spying on behalf of the PNC State machinery. But he also became double agent for Dr Roopnarine, relaying inside information and misinformation between Lewis and Roopnarine’
COMMON –LAW RELATIONSHIP
Continuing with his testimony, Gates said: “Patricia Austin and Norman McLean were involved in a common-law relationship which lasted for years. She’s my first cousin, and is also known as Pat Christiani.
“I visited their home on a number of occasions; I saw him coming and leaving, but I had discussions with her brothers, Clement Austin, who was given a job in the National Service and given the rank of Sergeant. Also Tony Austin, who became a Major in the GDF.”
“Pat introduced me to McLean in New Amsterdam, at her mother’s home, at around 1976 or 1977,” Gates said, his details and naming of names providing serious information to the Commission.
He recalled that the code name on military communications unit for McLean was ‘Moonraker’. “I was issued a radio set during my assignments, and we were given the names because you would frequently hear transmissions; so we had to know the ‘call-signs’ of the various officials. I was given the set a week after starting duties with Dr Roopnarine.”
Gates said he found out during investigations he conducted in the late 1990s that President Forbes Burnham met with Laurie Lewis, Norman McLean and ‘Skip’ Roberts at about 8pm at the then Presidential Residence at Belfield on the East Coast of Demerara. Also present at this meeting was Cecil Ram Doobay, “a close confidante of Burnham’s, who lived on East Coast Demerara, and frequently went horse-back riding with Burnham.” This meeting occurred “two or three days before Rodney killed,” Gates said, adding:
“Special Branch was in charge of Presidential security, and two of my Special Branch colleagues, a Sergeant and a Corporal, who were stationed at the Presidential Residence at Belfield, told me of the meeting. After, GDF officer, Sergeant Mark Johnson, who resides in the US now, told me the President was briefed on the Rodney plot at that meeting.”
Gates said others persons at the meeting were not happy with Ram’s presence, but the President insisted on his being there.
Commission Chairman, Sir Richard, wanted to know if Burnham was only being briefed, or was a part of the plot. Gates response was: “My understanding is that Burnham was being briefed only.”
He added: “My intention was to find out whether Burnham had knowledge before and after. I know the Rodney killing was State-sponsored, because of who was involved, and who Gregory Smith was reporting to: Norman McLean and Laurie Lewis.”
For decades, suspicion has swirled around Gregory Smith as the GDF soldier who executed the plot that assassinated Dr Rodney, when he gave a deadly bomb, disguised as a communications device, to Dr Rodney on the fateful day of June 13, 1980. The Commission heard testimony that the bomb blew up, by remote control trigger, in Dr Rodney’s lap, killing him instantly as he sat in his car that night.
“After starting my private investigation company in the late 1990s, I wanted to know more about Rodney’s death; if Burnham was involved. I wanted to use it as a form of security, because I was being hounded by Mr Laurie Lewis while he was Commissioner of Police; he always felt threatened that I would tell what I know. I made sure Lewis got a message that I am fearful for my life, and I would tell the CIA all I know,” Gates said, agreeing with Commissioner Samuel-Brown that this was only a “concocted” message to Lewis.
“After the PPP got into Government in 1992, Lewis remained as Commissioner; he ensured that he knew something about everybody. Even after he came off as Commissioner, he was appointed to a post at the Office of the President, and he had a lot of intelligence on the other side,” Gates said.
“McLean and Roberts did not hound me,” he said. “Lewis felt I was working for the CIA, and he felt threatened. And one time Police searched my house and found some documents that he claimed proved I was in association with the US. I explained how I came to be in possession of those documents, but he didn’t buy it.”
The drama in the unveiling of those political plots and espionage that stifled Guyanese democracy, and damaged Guyana for decades. Those shadowy movements in the streets of Georgetown in those days, provide gripping revelation of how serious the PNC State manoeuvred the Police Force, the GDF and State workers like Gates to assassinate Dr Rodney and other activists. The Commission’s sitting continued yesterday.