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Easter Sunday bombings and spy agencies in Sri Lanka – Part II

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Saturday, 22 June 2019 00:11


The DMI and other 

agencies have not 

continued the groundwork 

in the last three years due to some reasons, whereas SIS shared the most 

accurate advanced 

intelligence on the 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. 

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

Intelligence is all about 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. 

The Easter Sunday bombings by Islamist 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. 

It seems neither the Prime Minister Wickremesinghe-led coalition party nor Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa-led Joint 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 the 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. 

Inadequacy of the committee members

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 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 to Mufti Rizwe on his earlier opinion on those who are refusing to dress niqāb and burqa 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 in the top 500 in the world. He has enough power to de-radicalise 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? 

The intelligence community in the country

However, the Easter Sunday bombings are 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 enemies existing beyond 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 the information received was 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 foreign intelligence agencies which are 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 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 groundwork of intelligence officers of local agencies. Local intelligence officers gathering information of this kind through an 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 is followed to share or transmit 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 NATO defines it, 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. The State Intelligence Service, Special Branch, Directorate of Military Intelligence, Navy Intelligence, and Air Force Intelligence are others. Apart from these main bodies, the newly-established small intelligence body run by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is also playing a pivotal role. 

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 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 the 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 categorised 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 categorise 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 Special Compartmentalised Information (SCI). 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 limited its sharing with the IGP whereas none of the other bodies 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 is mainly managed by 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 the Easter Sunday bombings was received and passed on by 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 the public domain by citing as it was received by the CNI from SIS and shared with the Inspector General of Police more than 10 days prior to the attacks.

“01. As per an input; Sri Lanka-based Zaharan Hashim of National Thawheed Jamaat 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. Zaharan Hashim

2. Jal Al Quithal

3. Rilwan

4. Sajid Moulavi

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 remains a mystery. Moreover, in its hearing the PSC too evaded the question on why the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Premalal Dassanayaka has omitted the President’s Security Division when sharing his warning letter. 

Next – the chart shows the Special Branch, a small but powerful intelligence unit coming under the Inspector General of Police. Neither PSC nor any other competent authority questioned about the role of this unit when the ex-IGP Pujith Jayasundara 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 has been 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 organisation using a slightly amended PowerPoint which was prepared four years ago. The DMI has not continued the groundwork in the 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. 

However, the presentation delivered to the President visualised the basic structure of the Muslim community and it has quite correctly tried to explain the behaviours of the different sects within the community and the origins of spreading Islamic State ideology. The presentation gave priority to the first family that joined ISIS in Syria. One of the interesting slides presented during the briefing to President Sirisena visualised the family of the Abū Shurayh 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 Islamic extremist activities since 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 units 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 clearly leave us room to understand not only the structure but also that there is only one local intelligence agency that acted with utmost responsibility while others were imitating the role of Rip Van Winkle in a short story by Washington Irving. 

The missing links

The chart is an abstract structure of what really happened before the Easter Sunday bombings. This will help us to read the 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.

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 Islamist extremists in Sri Lanka and requirements of intelligence reform’.)

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