In recent articles to newspapers, former Inspector General of Police Frank de Silva (The Sunday Island, June 2) and former Deputy Inspector General B. Anton Jeyanathan (The Sunday Times, June 2) outlined the intelligence gathering function of the Police. These two articles are at variance in regard to the intelligence gathering function.  Dr de Silva [...]

Sunday Times 2

Intelligence gathering: Police duty arrogated by empire builders


In recent articles to newspapers, former Inspector General of Police Frank de Silva (The Sunday Island, June 2) and former Deputy Inspector General B. Anton Jeyanathan (The Sunday Times, June 2) outlined the intelligence gathering function of the Police.

These two articles are at variance in regard to the intelligence gathering function.  Dr de Silva bases his assertions on Sec. 56 of the Police Ordinance which is the Law of the Land.  Section 56 E reads as follows:  It shall be the duty (of every Police Officer) “to collect and communicate intelligence affecting the public peace.”

When I was first posted to the Galle Police Station in 1958, I remember the importance attached to intelligence gathering. Every police officer going out on duty, whether it be beat duty, day patrol, night patrol or investigations, had to take down information, including flagged information, from the daily information sheet from Police Headquarters, regarding the prevailing situation and matters to be followed up. The police officer had to make a report on each of them on his return to the station.  Any information/intelligence so gathered, leading to a successful detection or important revelation, was entered in his intelligence sheet, and such entries helped him in his upward progress. ‘Duties of a police officer’ had to be known by-heart.  Those who failed got standing black marks.  Intelligence gathering then was good.

There were also the District Intelligence Bureaus (DIB), especially detailed to gather intelligence.  DIB officers gathered most of their intelligence by visiting police stations with trained eyes and years.

Up to 1984, expert officers in the Special Branch had evaluated and collated the intelligence so gathered, while the intelligence gathering apparatus had been on an even keel.

In 1984, some senior police officers, together with Defence Ministry officials, convinced the authorities to set up the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) under the Defence Ministry.  Cynics called it ‘Empire Building’.  The attraction was access to the ‘secret vote’ from which big monies were drawn or paid as rewards for secret information provided.  Intelligence gathering was, in effect, brought under the purview of the NIB.  The DIBs were also taken under the NIB. It became carnival time for NIB officers and Defence Ministry officials. The net result was the taking away of the paramount police duty from the Police Department in violation of Section 56 of the Police Ordinance. Intelligence sheets were done away with. This move led to police officers losing interest in procuring intelligence.

Police officers, by the very nature of their duties, interact with society, enabling them to pick up information and cultivate informants.  Intelligence flows not only from ‘sources’ of information but also from investigations.  Police are specialists in this regard and, therefore, should always be the first choice in any network to collect intelligence.  Other experts, whether they be NIB or Special Branch, trained to evaluate and collate intelligence, can then take over.  The NIB taking over the task of intelligence gathering, smacks of expediency.

In December 1994, IGP de Silva, made an attempt to re-establish the Special Branch of the Police Department.  In January 1995, he also made a strong bid to re-institute the intelligence function of the Police by his circular titled, “A strategic direction of the Police Function of the Sri Lanka Police.”  But with the retirement of IGP de Silva, there was no follow up of the guidance to the strategic objectives outlined therein.

When the Special Branch was re-established in December 1994, I was appointed its Director. In early 1995, I brought the DIBs back under the control of the Special Branch. Several NIB experts, too, were attached to the Special Branch.  With the control of the DIBs coming back to the Police Department, Intelligence ‘sources’ of the NIB dried up.

In reviewing reward applications submitted by NIB officers, there were shocking revelations: Reports received from the DIBs were recast and submitted as intelligence gathered from ‘their sources’.  Furthermore, monthly sums were drawn to maintain those sources. This was in addition to special allowances, like risk allowance, paid to them. When NIB Special Branch officers submitted such applications, I turned them down, calling for the intelligence drawn that had led to any successful detection or revelation. Some of these officers then told me that they needed the monthly payments to pay off housing loans etc. as paid to them in the NIB, and wanted to get back to the NIB.

I then made an application that officers of the Special Branch be paid the same allowances as those in the NIB. The application was recommended by the IGP. In September 1995, the Special Branch was closed down by an order from the Ministry of Defence, and the DIBs reverted to the control of the NIB.  The directors of the CID and the NIB played a role to effect this change. The Special Branch was subsequently reopened after I retired in December 1995.

In the article appearing in the Sunday Times 2, retired DIG Jeyanathan, in fact, confirms my contention.  Excerpts from it are reproduced for purpose of illustration:

“Information is gathered by covert and overt methods.  Overt methods are generally freely accessible if the intelligence officers look for such information.  Newspaper articles, publications, leaflets and any other notification by the target organisation, and public meetings organised by target groups, are sources of overt information.  Another source of overt information is through interrogation of suspects arrested in connection with offences relating to national security.  Interrogation by local police is unlikely to yield such information, but when such suspects are interrogated by officers of specialised units such as the CID, TID and Special Branch, valuable information can be extracted.

“Information through covert or secret means is a professional task, where the enemy organisation is targeted and penetrated by way of planting an agent or informant, who will be working for the intelligence agency for financial or other benefits.  Penetrating or infiltrating an organisation is an onerous, painstaking and risky task.  Cultivating an informant or an agent from the targeted enemy organisation is replete with danger until the informant or agent is tested for many years, as he could turn out to be a double agent.”

However, in his article, there is no reference to intelligence gathering by police officers in their normal course of duties, in spite of them not only being duty bound, under Sec. 56 of the Police Ordinance to do so, but are undisputedly the first choice in any network to gather intelligence.

((The writer is a retired Senior Superintendent of Police and human rights activist.)


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