Who kept Kulatunga out of Army HQ

* Serious security lapses allowed terrorist to get another top officer
* LTTE's grand designs emerging; theatres of operation likely to change
* Tigers buy information from underworld and military men; Army captain arrested

A leading United States expert on national security once observed that intelligence warnings fail for three reasons: because warning is not given at all, or is not given in time for anything to be done about it, or is not taken seriously by those with the power to do something about it. He adds that rarely are these failures due to simple stupidity or irresponsibility.

His observations are quite aptfor Sri Lanka, now on the brink of an all-out war. A close study of recent attacks by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) raises the critical question of intelligence. Was there a forewarning and, if so, what did those who had the power to act do? Were their failures due to simple stupidity or irresponsibility?

Bringing the issue to the fore once more is last Thursday's attack by a suicide bomber on the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army, Major General (promoted posthumously to Lieutenant General) Parami Kulatunga. The third in command of the Army did not pay with his life sacrificing a 35-year-long military career due to a top secret operation becoming public only after it was executed.

All that remains of the car used by Lt. Gen. Parami Kulatunga is the mangled body.

That the hierarchy of the Army was high profile targets was well known. The State Intelligence Service (SIS), the country's national intelligence network and the Army's Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) had repeatedly issued warnings. The subject had figured prominently during weekly meetings at the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH) - the unified apparatus of the security forces and the police tasked to carry out counter-terrorism operations. The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), armed forces commanders, the police chief and senior intelligence officials attend this meeting.

Fears of such attacks were heightened after a female suicide bomber successfully infiltrated Army Headquarters on April 25. She made an attempt on the life of the Commander, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. It failed but he is still recovering from the effects of that attack in a Singapore hospital. It is now clear the guerrillas have learnt lessons from this incident. Exactly two months after, they enhanced the quantum of explosives to create greater devastation when they attacked Lt. Gen. Kulatunga. If the car used by Lt. Gen. Fonseka was partly damaged, the one in which Lt. Gen. Kulatunga travelled was left with only the mangled body frames. See pictures on this page.

The irony of Thursday's incident was the fact that Lt. Gen. Kulatunga was aware he was a prime target. Many a time a close friend, a keen student of guerrilla warfare, had warned him quoting a pithy Chinese adage - the deer forgets the trap, but the trap never forgets the deer. So be careful at all times, he would warn.

Though holding the number three slot in the Army, Lt. Gen. Kulatunga epitomized the present dilemma of the military hierarchy - how to protect their own lives in the wake of guerrilla threats. Armed escorts, no doubt, are on hand. They are a powerful deterrent and are useful. Otherwise, it would be an open invitation to the enemy to attack. But, what else do they have and who has the power or responsibility beyond that? What more have they done to prevent the country's top military men falling prey easily to guerrilla attacks?

Lt. Gen. Kulatunga wanted quarters inside the Army Headquarters (AHQ) complex. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his immediate superior and close friend, Major General Nanda Mallawaratchchi, Chief of Staff of the Army. The latter received repeated warnings and was accommodated inside the AHQ complex in March last year. This was done by former Commander, Lt. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda.

In directing his request, the Deputy Chief of Staff wanted to make it difficult, if not impossible, for an assassin to get at him. But he did not get one. He neither asked for motor cycle outriders nor was he given. The news that he was denied quarters had reached even President Mahinda Rajapaksa this week. He raised the matter during the weekly National Security Council meeting on Wednesday. He wanted Maj. Gen. Mallawaratchchi to go into the case and report back to him.

Among the buildings that remained vacant then was the quarters inside the AHQ vacated by outgoing Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Susil Chandrapala. The Sunday Times learnt his request for this quarter did not meet with approval. In addition, another building was fully renovated and furnished at great cost for use by a senior official. He, however, made clear he had no plans to go there. Hence, this fully furnished quarter has continued to remain vacant.

The partly damaged car used by Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka who was attacked by a suicide bomber inside Army Headquarters.

A Major General who retired in January, this year, continues to occupy his quarters inside AHQ. Funny enough, the reason cited by him are threats from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) though for many years now they have renounced violence and entered the democratic mainstream. This is whilst others who became top targets of the LTTE when in service have to make do without security or accommodation. Some are still finding themselves helpless.

So Lt. Gen. Kulatunga had little choice. He had to travel every day from his quarters in the Army cantonment at Panagoda to Army Headquarters in Colombo, a distance of 28 kilometres. That meant having to spend two hours a day on the road traversing 56 kilometres both ways. The fact that he travels to work every morning along the High Level Road became a public secret. If meticulous planning by the guerrillas had gone into the attack inside Army Headquarters on April 25, the one last Thursday was relatively easier for them. They had the wide choice of picking a spot within a 28 kilometre stretch to carry out the suicide attack. They chose a point between Pannipitiya junction and Maharagama town.

The guerrillas were able carry out surveillance on Lt. Gen. Kulatunga's day-to-day travel. That is disturbing enough. More disturbing is proof, once again, that during the more than four years of ceasefire, the guerrillas had established a stronger network in the City of Colombo and suburbs. There are suicide cadres, pistol groups, intelligence cells and other operatives. They were communicating with ease with their leaders in the Wanni. They had brought in sizeable quantities of weapons and explosives. The dismantling of checkpoints after the February 2002 signing of the Ceasefire Agreement and a halt to search operations paved the way. So did the free movement of traffic from Colombo to the north and vice versa which went largely unchecked. Whilst talking peace, the LTTE followed the well known dictum - prepare for war.

Barely 12 hours after Thursday's suicide attack, there was proof that the guerrillas were bent on targeting more military officials. Two of them on a motor cycle were taking photographs of the private residence of another senior Major General, known to be high on the list of the LTTE. He lived not so far from the scene of Thursday's attack. Three wheeler scooter drivers in the area who saw this happen gave chase but they disappeared. Veteran soldier Major General Shyaman Kulatunga, who was named to succeed Lt. Gen. Parami Kulatunga as Deputy Chief of Staff has also been cautioned of possible attempts. He was earlier Commandant of the Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Force (SLAVF). That post is now being overlooked by Major General Lawrence Fernando in addition to his duties as Director General - General Staff (DGGS) at the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH).

Maj. Gen. Shyaman Kulatunga is also the head of a tri services inquiry that is probing the death of five civilians in Pesalai near Mannar on June 17. One of them died in a church whilst four were killed on the beach.

The attack on Lt. Gen. Kulatunga came soon after the LTTE failed to pull off what would have been a devastating incident - the attack on the Colombo Port on June 16 or 17. Details of how this was plotted were revealed in The Sunday Times (Situation Report) last week. Rough seas prevented four Sea Tiger suicide cadres from attaching bombs to the hulls of eight different ships in the port. There were also plans to attack naval vessels. Here again, the State Intelligence Service (SIS) warned of an impending attack on the port and confirmed that the guerrillas had carried out surveillance. The subject figured during meetings at the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH).

The guerrilla focus on attacking targets in Colombo and suburbs assumes greater significance for many reasons. The LTTE has not only been strengthening its military machine during the ceasefire. It has also been appreciating, during the ceasefire, the newer threats it would face should hostilities break out. Landmines protected a war-scarred zone with buildings in ruins and abandoned fields. Most of them have been removed. Some are still being removed by international and local groups. These mines were placed there during hostilities to prevent a security forces advance. Development work under way had transformed the environment there, created a new infrastructure and boosted economic activity.

Such a new environment, the LTTE was aware, allowed the security forces unimpeded access and was vulnerable to attacks in the event of a war. Hence, their plans had to include moves to carry the war outside the areas they dominate, particularly the City of Colombo and suburbs, if they were to achieve their final objectives. The measures thus formulated to meet the new threats perceived by them, will no doubt, see a change in the character and intensity of a full-blown Eelam War IV. Whilst the LTTE grand design is yet to emerge, some of the unfolding events give one a glimpse.

Debilitating attacks on targets in the City and suburbs, like the attempt on the Colombo port, would only necessitate a greater security presence in the city. That means having to thin out from the theatres of war in the north and east. Attacks on the military hierarchy, which pro-LTTE web sites claim are retaliatory for the purported "deep penetration unit" attacks on guerrilla leaders, leads to a problem of morale in this backdrop.

There is a new facet to the LTTE moves. They have privatized this new phase of the escalating separatist war. They are bribing heavily civilians in the south to obtain intelligence information to plan their attacks and secure help. Strong evidence has surfaced during recent investigations.

In the murder of Lt. Col. Nizam Muthaliff on May 31, 2005 it came to light that an accomplice in the south was paid Rs 1.3 million. At least three soldiers are under investigation by the Military Police for alleged links with the LTTE for money. The probe into the failed attempt on the Colombo Port has revealed that large sums of money were paid to a wealthy Negombo fisherman, his son and nephew. His house was used as a hide out. Nixon, a guerrilla leader used a communications set, located in this house, to speak to Sea Tiger leader Thillaiampalam Sivanesan alias Soosai. He was overseeing the operation.

A more startling case of LTTE infiltration and money in exchange for intelligence operation came to light last week in Trincomalee. The Navy there arrested a guerrilla. Upon interrogation, he disclosed that he was regularly obtaining valuable information from an Army Captain, a volunteer officer. He met him regularly and briefed him on various plans and actions by the security forces. He had even shown the locations where some officers lived. Navy interrogators set a trap. They got the guerrilla to telephone the officer who was in his camp and invited him for a meeting. The Captain turned up and was soon apprehended. The Navy handed them over to the Army's Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) for a debriefing. They are to be handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) this week for further inquiries.

It has now come to light that the LTTE, which had established links with Colombo's underworld and paid them handsomely for killings, have gone a step further. They were using them also on surveillance tasks and to obtain information about specific targets.

The question that begs answer in the light of these developments is whether successive governments appreciated the new threats that emerged from the LTTE building a stronger military machine. That is during the ceasefire. Sadly, the answer is an emphatic "no." If they did, it would not have been difficult to put into effect some simple counter measures. One such case would be to enhance accommodation facilities for senior officers inside the Army Headquarters complex where adequate space is available. In the alternative, if such a threat to officers was acknowledged, a well-secured housing complex could have been built.

Whilst simple issues were not addressed, the more complex issues like preparing the military to face the new threats posed by the LTTE also did not receive consideration. This is besides these new threats not being appreciated. The needs of the security forces in the light of this were also not paid heed to. That left the security forces and police at a very low level of preparedness.

As a result, like on past occasions, with the threat of a full scale war looming large, hurried preparations have to be made. New military procurements are rushed through, hurried battle plans formulated to meet attacks and security preparations enhanced for villages bordering guerrilla dominated areas. Security forces were under Government orders this week not to refer to them as "border villages" but only as "threatened villages." Roads are closed and checkpoints have been established in various parts of the country. If past experience over procurements is anything to go by, such situations have led to widespread corruption that spawned millionaires in uniform and outside it. It has also shown that the capabilities of the enemy have often been underestimated and consequently the response was equally underestimated. Above all, it was the politicians, and not the military, that prosecuted the war.

Amidst these preparations, there seems a marked shift this week in the Government's approach to LTTE attacks. Unlike on previous occasions, the suicide bomb attack that killed Lt. Gen. Kulatunga did not see any retaliatory bombing raids by the Air Force or artillery attacks on guerrilla positions in the north and east. There was total silence in the battlefields. Among the many reasons, The Sunday Times learnt, was international pressure including those from the region following fears of the outbreak of an all-out war. Sections of the diplomatic community were using this restraint to seek a similar response from the LTTE but many questions remain. Among them is whether the LTTE would agree. Another is whether such a restraint could be maintained for long by the Government if LTTE attacks continue. Intelligence sources fear it would.

As a journalist who witnessed the transformation from moderation to militancy and covered the separatist war from its very beginning, I am left with the feeling that successive governments did not know the enemy adequately. Nor did they want to find out. It is no different today be it on the peace front or in the battlefield. With near two decades of fighting, and a shaky four-year ceasefire that has seen the birth of a low-intensity war, both sides have grown militarily. Hostilities continue amidst peace initiatives.

The words of Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu more than 2,500 years ago ring true even today. He said:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

CJ cites ST report in restraining Sandagiri

The Supreme Court on Thursday restrained Admiral Daya Sandagiri from functioning as Deputy Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Public Safety, Law and Order.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva made the order following a fundamental rights violation application filed by Charles Peter Wiggin of Gunnepana near Kandy. Other members of the bench were Justices N.K. Udalagama and N.E. Dissanayake.

The Court held that the restraining order will apply until the hearings, which begin on October 30, are concluded.

The Chief Justice referring to The Sunday Times (Situation Report - January 1, 2006) said in his order that the article titled "SANDAGIRI GUN DEAL FIRED DOWN" was not merely speculative. He noted that the deal had been fired down by the Attorney General's Department. This report drew the attention of the Chief Justice from among newspaper accounts on Admiral Sandagiri filed in support of the application.

The article, an exclusive report by The Sunday Times, revealed how the Government cancelled over a billion rupee deal where former Commander of the Navy and then Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Daya Sandagiri ordered 20-year-old guns for the Navy's Fast Attack Craft (FAC) fleet on the grounds they were brand new and made an advance payment running into millions for the weapons that were not in production. The report disclosed that the Attorney General's Department has ruled after studying the contract conditions that the 20 -year-old guns cannot be accepted as "brand new." They recommended that the deal could be rejected and a refund of the advance claimed.

Petitioner C.R. Wiggin has cited Admiral Sandagiri as the first respondent together with the Cabinet of Ministers and the Attorney General. He has said that he finds the ongoing war between the defence forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has on numerous occasions restricted his full enjoyment of his fundamental rights. Among the other points made in his application, supported by attorney at law Wasantha Wijewardane are:

* The Petitioner (Mr. Wiggin) believes that corrupt actions of some leading personalities of the defence forces have led to the weakening of the fighting abilities and the morale of the members of the defence forces. He believes this is the main reason why the war has dragged on for so long.

* In the backdrop of this the Petitioner welcomed the appointment by His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa of two Commissions of Inquiry to investigate corrupt deals.

* One of the leading personalities being investigated, according to the media, happens to be the 1st Respondent who during his career has held the posts of the Commander of the Navy as well as Chief of Defence Staff.

* On or around 13th of June 2006 the Petitioner came to know through reliable sources that by a Cabinet decision the 1st Respondent has been appointed Deputy Secretary of Defence.

* The Petitioner verily believes that this appointment will have the effect of demoralizing and scaring off the would be witnesses at above inquiries and furthermore act as an incentive to other corrupt officers to further engage in putrid deals thereby endangering the security of the nation.

* The Petitioner further believes that the Cabinet of Ministers have no authority to make the above appointment since after the 17th Amendment (to the Constitution) only heads of departments come under the purview of the Cabinet of Ministers.

Counsel Wijewardane told Court Admiral Sandagiri has been appointed to a non existent post. Under the Constitution there were only Secretaries to Ministries and there were no deputies. He said the Cabinet had no authority to create such a post. The tax money the Petitioner pays, he said, would be utilized in an illegal manner to pay for a person holding a non existent post.

Senior State Counsel Indika Dewmini told Court that a post titled Deputy Secretary to Treasury existed. However, the Chief Justice pointed out that this was an old designation. In this instance, it referred to the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance. The office was also referred to as DST or Deputy Secretary to the Treasury but there was no such post in other ministries.

Admiral Sandagiri was appointed Deputy Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order by a Cabinet decision on June 8 2006. This followed a recommendation made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa who is Minister of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order. Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa had wanted to continue to retain his services.

Following the news of the Supreme Court ruling reaching him, Admiral Sandagiri did not report to work on Thursday afternoon. Until then he has been handling some important subjects at the Ministry of Defence. That included chairing top level conferences about security for parliamentarians as well as dealing with key intelligence issues. Last Wednesday, he attended the weekly meeting of the National Security Council. This was in the absence of Defence Secretary, Gothabaya Rajapaksa who is now on a visit to United States.


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