Friday, 8 February 2013 12:00 AM
Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 14: The Special Branch
Extract from my memoirs
The Special Branch was ably commanded by a Chief Superintendent, designated as the Director of Special Branch who was tasked with the collection and collation of security intelligence and for keeping me, as Commissioner of Police, and through my office the Government, informed of all matters of security interest.
The Branch was staffed by police officers who had received specialist training in their duties, including for the most senior, such as the Director and his Deputy, a Chief Inspector, training in the United Kingdom.
The personnel of the Branch were relatively small in number and accommodated at police headquarters at Rove, but with some field operatives working in provincial centres throughout the island chain.
The Branch had a particular role in the monitoring of events taking place nation wide and the protection of prominent people, including the Governor- General and the Prime Minister and who might be exposed to potential threats to their personal security.
The Special Branch also contributed to risk assessments with input acquired through intelligence sources, internally and externally.
The effectiveness of the security branch proved highly beneficial in the run-up to the General Election in 1997 and to the prior operational deployment of police when covering major soccer matches, disputed and controversial court cases and land disputes which had the potential for trouble.
The fact that no major threats to internal security occurred from the commencement of my appointment in July 1997 until the outbreak of militant GRA actions in late 1998, can be attributed to the sound intelligence I received and was able to use when planning police operations and deploying police personnel.
When trouble first started to break out in the wards on the northern plains to the east of Honiara and around Tambea Resort, I was given early warning of GRA actions and an evaluation of an expected upsurge in their militant activity.
The intelligence gained allowed me to present a report to the Prime Minister as early as November 1998 warning of the consequences of the militancy and the political nature, as it was viewed, of the uprising. I have given a full account of that report in a later chapter.
The members of the special branch relied on human intelligence sources for information gathering and they had no covert means of gaining information. As the militant –inspired expulsions of Malaitan plantation workers and their families intensified, coupled with violence and destruction of their properties, the field officers were unable to go about their duties safely or to collect adequate information to write their assessments.
I requested the government to recruit three specialist special branch officers from overseas to aid the work of the local members and this was still under consideration until almost the day I left the Solomons.
When RAMSI arrived in the Solomons the Special Branch was disbanded and replaced with a kind of Crime Intelligence Unit. I am of the opinion that ‘crime’ intelligence is divorced from ‘political’ intelligence and a security intelligence branch, as opposed to either a crime or anti-corruption branch, is a strong desirability, although an Independent Anti-Corruption Office is much needed in the Solomons with personnel of such an office having wide powers of investigation and prosecution.
At the time of the Chinatown riots in 2006, the police was found to have been largely unprepared for what took place outside the National Parliament and the subsequent rioting, looting and burning of large parts of the Chinese owned properties.
I wrote at the time that Chinatown was always a vulnerable area in the event of rioting and in the past special branch intelligence and effective planning and deployment of police personnel combined to have prevented such a thing from happening.
To be continued
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Frank Short, CBE and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.