It was a damning report by all accounts. It answered some questions that had been troubling Sri Lankans of many, if not all, communities and religions since that dastardly terrorist attack on Easter Sunday, killing many innocent people, some of them at prayer on this holy day for Christians. This act of indiscriminate terror revives [...]


Sorting out this holy mess


It was a damning report by all accounts. It answered some questions that had been troubling Sri Lankans of many, if not all, communities and religions since that dastardly terrorist attack on Easter Sunday, killing many innocent people, some of them at prayer on this holy day for Christians.

This act of indiscriminate terror revives memories of the Tamil Tiger attack on Buddhist worshippers at the venerated Sri Maha Bodhi and its environs at Anuradhapura on May 14, 1985 that killed some 140 persons, including Buddhist monks.

Three journalists — BHS Jayewardene, Iqbal Athas and I flew to the ancient capital in the company of Mahaweli Minister Gamini Dissanayake who was instructed by President J.R. Jayewardene to visit the site of the tragedy and offer whatever assistance was needed on behalf of the government.

There was one significant difference between what happened at Anuradhapura and Easter Sunday. The LTTE chose one target, the first outside the Northern Province, killing the largest number of civilians at the time.

The Easter Sunday terrorist attack was on multiple targets in the east, west and in Colombo and almost at the same time that morning which indicated careful planning and coordination.

Those attacks might not have been executed or their impact minimised, had the intelligence alerts from Indian sources, the first alerts more than two weeks before Easter Sunday had been acted on expeditiously. That did not happen, as the Select Committee report clearly states.

The Select Committee inquiry has been able to answer several questions which were of major public concern and still being debated several months after the bomb attacks. One crucial question was who in our intelligence services first received the information from Indian intelligence, when and what did he do with it?

As anybody who is acquainted with the work and habits of ‘spy’ agencies would have some idea of how they operate. There is no single method employed by each and every one of them.

While there are conflicts and antagonisms between some of them, national security is not a matter to be played around with. Nor is intelligence received from external sources or gathered locally part of somebody’s personal treasure trove.

The Select Committee places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the head of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) which is the apex body in the country’s security apparatus. The head is identified as Nilantha Jayawardena, Senior Deputy Inspector-General of Police.

“Whilst the greatest responsibility remains with the SIS Director, others too failed in their duties. Within the security and intelligence apparatus, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) and Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) failed in their responsibilities. All were informed of the intelligence information prior to the Easter Sunday attacks, but failed to take necessary steps to mitigate or prevent it,” the PSC says in its report.

But when were they informed, that surely is the vital question. If the initial Indian intelligence alerts were sent on 4 April, was the intel reports passed on to the relevant security/intelligence agencies immediately or were they pushed aside to be dealt with at a time more convenient to SIS? Is that what it was or was there some other darker secret as sections of the public still keep asking.

The Select Committee was obviously perturbed at the conduct of the SIS as more evidence accumulated pointing to the crass inefficiency or neglect of the lead intelligence agency of the country.

It is reported that the then secretary of the Defence Ministry had by name called on the director SIS to brief the Intelligence Coordinating Meeting (ICM) on 9 April. But director SIS had avoided that meeting saying he will update the information and send a report in writing.

Whether he did so or not, one does not know. If he did it would be interesting to read it to see what is said in it. The Select Committee report is so structured and laid out that it would take some time to sort out whether there is any information relating to it.

Another crucial question that needs to be explored is when Director SIS informed the President who is also Defence Minister and Commander-in-chief. It has been mentioned by the former defence secretary that Director Nilantha Jayawardena briefs the President directly and so he does not do so.

If that is correct or not, the issue is whether he did inform the President about the Indian intelligence alerts warning of jihadist attacks was conveyed to Sirisena or not. If it was when was he informed? Was it immediately the Indian intelligence alerts were received or much later if at all?

The conduct of Director SIS raises other questions, too. On or around April 8, 2018 — that is last year — he had written to the IGP requesting him to shut down investigations by other arms of the intelligence apparatus — in this case the TID — into the activities of Zahran, said to have been the mastermind of the Easter Sunday attacks.

So SIS had taken over completely all information-gathering relating to Zahran and his activities. What did this concentration in the hands of SIS eventually produce?

Political leaders are not excluded from the Select committee criticisms. The PSC observes that the President failed on numerous occasions to give leadership and also actively undermined government and systems including having ad hoc NSC meetings and leaving out key individuals from meetings.

It points out that whilst the fissures in Government were evident in 2018, amplified with the Constitutional Crisis — meaning the attempt to supplant Prime Minister Wickremesinghe — these also impacted on the security apparatus.

The report also mentions others such as the prime minister; the State minister for defence and the Attorney General’s Department as having failed in performing their duties.

But to me, the most interesting and important observation the Select Committee makes relates to any nexus between state officials and politicians.

“The PSC also observes that further investigations will be needed to understand whether “those with vested interests did not act on intelligence so as to create chaos and instill fear and uncertainty in the country in the lead up to the presidential election to be held later in the year.”

Such a situation would then lead to the call for a change of regime to contain such acts of terrorism. Coincidently or not so coincidentally, the security situation and fear would be unleashed months away from the presidential election, the report says.

The PSC also notes that this occurred in the context of changes in the leadership in the Sri Lankan Army and DMI in 2019.

“These are extremely serious observations that can impact the democratic governance, electoral processes and security of Sri Lanka and must require urgent attention.”

Putting the security of the nation at risk and ignoring the death and devastation that would result from the ensuing chaos is indeed a serious matter that needs proper and systematic investigation.

It is a common practice in Sri Lanka to sweep under the carpet serious crimes because they involve important or influential individuals or groups. Politicians and their lackeys tend to talk of the rule of law, how the law applies equally to all and of the independence of the judiciary.

It used to be said that crime does not pay. How silly! Crime pays and pays very well. President Sirisena was threatening to hang one or two people before he hangs up his presidential sandals, to show that crime actually does not pay. Oh yeah?

Meanwhile, the sooner he does that the better — I mean hang up his sandals.

Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
Comments should be within 80 words. *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.