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Spy Agencies and Parliamentary Select Committee in Sri Lanka – Part Two

The DMI and other local intelligence agencies have not continued the ground works in last three years due to some reasons, whereas SIS shared the most accurate advanced intelligence on Easter Sunday Bombings

by Bentota Unnanse

Intelligence operations are never dull. These facilitate the opportunity to know the other side of our world. Most of the high ranking intelligence agencies around the globe were born out of strong state policies which were protected against compromise for personal gains. In most of the strong nations, political differences in local bodies were kept secondary to state policies by aiming to protect the dignity and core values of the particular nation.

Sri Lankan security personnel stand guard at entrance to the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo on April 21, 2019 following an explosion.


However, any nation shall be haven for enemies if that nation weeded away the committed and intelligent operatives in the intelligence community by replacing with ambitious political stooges. They will not keep the people and the nation safe from enemies.

Intelligence is all about the evaluation and feedback. Though it has come under severe criticism in the latter part of the discourse, the basic intelligence cycle drives us to understand the basic formula of intelligence remittance. First, planning and direction; second, collection; third, processing and exploitation; fourth, analysis and production; fifth, dissemination and integration -these are the major interrelated categories of the intelligence cycle that generally apply to an intelligence mission.

Easter Sunday Bombings by Islamic extremists ideologically inspired by the self-proclaimed Islamic State is a case study to envisage this basic outline of the intelligence cycle, local intelligence agencies and their activities in Sri Lanka.

However, as highlighted in the first part of this series over and over again it has been proven that the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) appointed by the Speaker of the Parliament in Sri Lanka is not only incompetent to execute the objectives of committee but is also causing damages that will not be able to be undone in near future.

Meanwhile, fuelling the crisis the haughty behaviours of the three main segments of Sinhalese political power cycle in the country are attempting to win the minds of the people by deceiving them without completing their homework on the very issue that they are dealing with - national security.

Its seems neither Prime Minister Wickremesinghe led collation party nor Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa led join opposition segment or the President Maithripala Sirisena led micro-SLFP subunit are competitive and capable enough to identify the gravity of the threat imposed by the newly emerged enemy inspired by self-proclaimed Caliph Ibrahim known as Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, an elusive leader of the Islamic State. This is where teamwork and unity are essential. But, unfortunately, as usual, none of them are paying attention to working together. They would rather find their own piece of the cake to gain political advantages out of the carnage.

Nonetheless; the members of the Parliamentary Select Committee must prove to the public that they are competent with adequate knowledge to question any person not just because of the civil status that they have earned by being legislators of the house but also due to wisdom in the subject which is causing an impact on every life on this Island nation. There is nothing more than the politically motivated questions are being flagged by the committee members.

The inadequacy of the committee members yet again was proved when they questioned Ash-Sheikh Mufti M.I.M. Rizwe the Honorary President of the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama. None of the members was to open their mouth about the role of Fatwa committee of ACJU. None of the committee members had a question, Mufti Rizwe on his earlier opinion on those who are refusing to dress Niqāb and Burqa expressed that they were prostitutes. None of the committee members questioned Mufti Rizwe on his opinion about the promulgation of Sharia Law or child marriage.

Ash-Sheikh Mufti M.I.M. Rizwe is one of the most powerful Muslims of top 500 in the world. He has enough power to de-radicalize Muslims who are walking towards extremism. Did any of these legislators who are searching for the truth behind the Easter Sunday Attacks have the courage to question this powerful man about his suggestion about his plan to prevent such attacks in the future?

However, Easter Sunday Bombings is an eye-opener for the country which was locked-up in its island mentality for decades. With the attacks, the general public has started thinking about the enemies existing beyond the local boundaries. At the same time, it has opened an opportunity to have a bird’s eye view of the intelligence community in the country.

It is widely believed that prior intelligence warnings were received by the local intelligence agency from a foreign intelligence agency. Some newspapers and other media reports further cultivated the assumptions by stating that information received is from the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s external intelligence agency.

As there is no official confirmation, the intelligence could be worked out to have reached the local agencies via three channels or sources. First, as the story goes, the intelligence may have shared by the foreign intelligence agency, which is closely spying on Sri Lanka such as R&AW, CIA and Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence). Second, the intelligence could have been received from the rival groups within the Islamic community in the country. This could be understood in intelligence as WALK-IN – an unsolicited volunteer.

Third, the intelligence on possible attacks by the extremists could have come through the ground works of the intelligence officers of the local agencies. Local intelligence officers gathering information of this kind through informant, “a legitimate member of a target group providing intelligence to the surveillance team” Whatever it may be, there are no rights to disclose the sources unless and until required by the due process of the law. The PSC as a preliminary body does not have such rights to hear.

In this part, it is important to understand the HUMINT structure that follows to share or transmit the intelligence received by the local intelligence agency (SIS) over possible attacks by Islamic extremists. There are several techniques to gather intelligence. HUMINT is the main technique out of all. As the NATO defines - HUMINT is "a category of intelligence derived from information collected and provided by human sources." HUMINT is interpersonal communication used since the beginning of espionage.

In the chart prepared here, we have attempted to understand the web and vacuum of the local intelligence agencies existing in Sri Lanka. There are six major intelligence agencies to spy on defence affairs for Sri Lanka. First and the foremost agency is the Chief of National Intelligence. And, State Intelligence Service, Special Branch, Directorate of Military Intelligence, Navy Intelligence, and Air Force Intelligence are others. Apart from these main bodies newly established, small intelligence body run by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is also playing a pivotal role.

(Chart 01: HUMINT structure that follows to share or transmit the intelligence received by the local intelligence agencies over possible attacks by Islamic extremists)
Established in 2006 by replacing the National Intelligence Bureau, the Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) is the competent authority for directing and overseeing the other intelligence agencies in the country. Moreover, CNI is a constitutional body that owns the legitimacy not only to coordinate with other local intelligence agencies but also to deal with foreign counterparts.

However, CNI has not confirmed whether the advanced intelligence on the Easter Sunday Bombings was received from its external sources. But it has confirmed that the intelligence on possible attacks was received from the local agency and shared with Inspector General of Police according to due processes.

The former head of the CNI confirmed before the PSC that he has shared classified “top-secret” information categorized as “eyes only”. The “eyes only” in intelligence goes for “documents that may be read but not discussed.” It is unclear why the CNI decided to categorize same classified “top secret” document as “eyes only”. In intelligence, there are a few ways to classify secret information. The document with secret information is classified based on its volubility as, Confidential, Secret, Top Secret, and (SCI) Special Compartmentalized Information. However, the document published in the public domain proved that the classification method used by CNI has further complicated the issue.

Meanwhile, it is important to notice why the CNI was limited its sharing with IGP whereas none of any other body coming under the purview of CNI, received the advanced intelligence on the alleged attacks. It is clear that the CNI has breached the fundamental responsibilities constitutionally vested upon the institute.

Secondly, the chart has demonstrated the role of the State Intelligence Agency (SIS). The SIS mainly managing by the officers attached to the Department of Police but accountable for the Ministry of Defence and the Chief of Armed Forces in the Country. The SIS has confirmed that the advanced intelligence on Easter Sunday Bombings was received and passed them accordingly.

Subsequently, the information received by the SIS was shared with the Chief of National Intelligence, Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, and Inspector General of Police. As most of the testimonies by the witnesses confirmed, the SIS has shared the advanced information not only once but several times, formally as well as informally.

The following intelligence information was disseminated through public domain by citing as it was received by the CNIfrom SIS and shared with the Inspector General of Police more than ten days prior to the attacks.

[“01. As per an input; Sri Lanka based ZaharanHashim of National ThawheedJamaat and his associates are planning to carry out a suicide attack in Sri Lanka shortly. They are planning to target some important churches. It is further learnt that they have conducted reconnaissance of the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka and it is one of the targets for the planned attack”.

“02. The input indicates that the terrorists may adopt any of the following modes of attack;

a) Suicide attack
b) Weapon attack
c) Knife attack
d) Truck attack

“03. It is also learnt that the following are the likely team members of the planned suicide terror attack

1. ZaharanHashim
2. Jal Al Quithal
3. Rilwan
4. SajidMoulavi
5. Shahid
6. Milhan and others

“04. The input may kindly be enquired into on priority and a feedback given to us”]

The IGP has shared the information with most of the security division but the letter was not copied to the President’s Security Division which remained a mystery. Moreover, in its hearing the PSC too evaded the question on why; the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) PremalalDassanayaka has omitted the President’s Security Division when sharing his warning letter.

Next - the chart shows the Special Branch, small but powerful intelligence unit come under the inspector general of police. Neither PSC nor any other competent authority questioned about the role of this unit when the ex-IGP PujithJayasundara constructing an argument in favour of him. Did this unit receive any information on the attack? If this unit did not receive any information, does it mean this agency like many others in the country dismantled itself?

Next, the chart is showing the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), the largest intelligence body in the country. Since 2015, significant changes were reported in the DMI over replacing the officer-in-charge. The DMI was collecting/gathering, assessing and evaluating information on Islamic extremist movements since the early 90s. It has boosted its operations after the vanquishing of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) as it identified the emerging new threats.

In his briefing to President Sirisena, the head of the DMI a few days after the Easter Sunday carnage described the evolution and progress of the Islamic organization using the slightly amended PowerPoint which was prepared four years ago. The DMI has not continued the ground works in last three years due to some reasons. It seems that the DMI’s capacity has been sunk and it is suffering from the inadequacy of intelligence gathering expertise.

[One of the interesting slides presented during the briefing to President Sirisena has visualized the family of the AbūShurayh as-Sīlānī, who was killed in Syria]
However, the presentation delivered to the President visualized the basic structure of the Muslim community and it has been quite correctly tried to explain the behaviours of the different sects within the community and the origins of spreading the Islamic State ideology. The presentation gave priority to the first Sri Lankan family that joined ISIS in Syria. One of the interesting slides presented during the briefing to President Sirisena has visualized the family of the AbūShurayh as-Sīlānī, who was killed in Syria;

However, it is surprising that the DMI did not receive any information on the ISIS from its counterparts though it has been spying on the Islamic extremist activities since the radical-Islamic thoughts started dispersing into the local community in the country. DMI was the first local intelligence agency that hunted almost all details about the formal ISIS activities of those of Sri Lankan origin, since 2015. Then why did the DMI not receive any prior notice on Easter Sunday Attacks?

Furthermore, small intelligence unit operated by Navy, Air Force and Chief of Defence Staff too did not receive any hints over the Easter Sunday Attacks. Therefore none of these parties has officially shared any intelligence with regards to the possible attacks by the Islamic terrorists, with any authorities.

Question marks and correction marks in the chart are clearly leaving us room to understand not only the structure but also there isonly one local intelligence agency acted with utmost responsibilities while others were imitating the role of Rip Van Winkle in a short story by Washington Irving.

This chart is an abstract structure of what really happened before the Easter Sunday Bombings. This will help us to read missing links of the intelligence activities and responsibilities vested upon other officials to ensure national security in the country. This will help us to avoid the unnecessary blaming and shaming game. This will help us to re-think, re-design and re-engineer where we have to change the country to move forward. This will help any genuine policymaker who thinks about the country and its people more than anything else to protect and drive committed men and women in the field to continue their service. This will help all of us to surpass caged thoughts that are preventing us from merging with the big picture of the senesce.

As General William Joseph Donovan, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency said, "In a global and totalitarian war, intelligence must be global and totalitarian." Sri Lanka, the strategic geopolitical territory in this part of the world is facing the new global reality and it is time to tame the political thoughts that undermine, attenuate, and enfeeble national interests.

To be continued

The Next Part: Rise and rise of Islamic Extremists in Sri Lanka and requirements of Intelligence Reform

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