Intelligence failures, political failings blamed for terror attacks

Thursday, 24 October 2019 01:48 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

From left: Special PSC member MP Nalinda Jayatissa, MP M.A. Sumanthiran, City Planning, Water Supply and Higher Education Minister Rauff Hakeem and PSC Chairman Ananda Kumarasiri at the media briefing yesterday – Pic by Chamila Karunarathne


  • Greatest responsibility for failure to prevent attacks placed on SIS Director

  • SIS Director failed to share vital intelligence information related to attacks with relevant intelligence, security personnel

  • President, PM, security and intelligence apparatus too failed in responsibilities

  • Says further investigations needed to determine if intelligence reports deliberately ignored to create chaos, instil fear in lead-up to Presidential Election

  • Recommends essential reforms in security and intelligence sector

  • Says rise of religious extremism, including Wahhabism, must be monitored, controlled


By Chandani Kirinde

Bungling by the country’s intelligence agencies and failings by the country’s top political leaders resulted in their inability to prevent or mitigate the Easter Sunday terror attacks, which left hundreds dead and scores injured, the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) which probed the attacks said in its final report yesterday.

The PSC apportioned the greatest responsibility for failure to prevent the attacks on State Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Senior Police Deputy Inspector General Nilantha Jayawardana, while it found several others, including President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, to have failed in their duties in the lead-up to the attacks.

“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 report said.

The Report said that the failure by the SIS has resulted in hundreds of deaths, injuries, and immeasurable devastation to Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans, and that must not be treated lightly. The report said that culpability of key individuals requires further investigation, and the PSC also recommended that indictments and prosecutions are initiated, in the event sufficient evidence is collected to demonstrate fault.

Committee Chairman Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri presented the report to Parliament yesterday, and later briefed the media on the Committee’s findings. “Had the SIS passed the intelligence warnings it had received from foreign and local sources to the defence authorities, the disaster could have been averted, or at least mitigated,” he said.

The PSC noted that that intelligence information related to the attacks was first received by the SIS Director on 4 April, but there were delays in sharing it with the relevant intelligence and security personnel from his end. 

The SIS Director was called by name by the then-Secretary to MOD to brief the Intelligence Coordinating Meeting (ICM), which functions under the Ministry, on 9 April, but failed to do this, by saying he would send a written update on the intelligence received. This, the PSC notes, is a major failure from the SIS Director, the lead in the intelligence apparatus who had received pride of place at the ICM and National Security Council (NSC).  

The PSC also noted the failure on the part of the SIS to act up on the subsequent intelligence information received after the explosion on 16 April in Kattankudy.

This, the PSC said, is compounded by the fact that since 8 April 2018, a full year before the incident, the SIS Director had in writing requested the IGP to shut down investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks mastermind Zahran by other arms of the State intelligence bodies, which resulted in the SIS becoming the sole investigator into Zahran and his group’s activities.

The Committee said that the SIS missed a series of events that should have alerted the State security apparatus to the impending attacks, and demonstrated to them the importance of the intelligence information received. “Other incidents since 2018, described in detail in the findings, demonstrate how the lead intelligence party should have been more vigilant, and taken steps to keep the ICM, NSC and other relevant parties informed,” it said. 

“The PSC makes this observation considering attempts made to shield the culpability of key individuals, and the need to hold all individuals responsible without further delay,” the Report said.

The PSC made very serious findings in terms of the status of the State intelligence apparatus, where intelligence information known to a few was not shared with relevant parties, adding that further investigations will be needed to understand whether those with vested interests deliberately did not act on intelligence, so as to create chaos and instil fear and uncertainty in the country in the lead-up to the Presidential Election.

It noted that such a situation would then lead to the call for a change of regime to contain such acts of terrorism, with fear unleashed months away from the Presidential Election.

The PSC also noted 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.”

The PSC said it is important to undertake a comprehensive review of national security priorities, identify gaps and weaknesses, and areas that require reform/strengthening. This should be coupled with an immediate review of the present structures in place for security and intelligence and to map out tasks, responsibilities, and possible overlap, it said.

With regard to the failings on the part of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, the Report said that while he had told the Committee he was left out of NSC meetings since October 2018 on the direct instructions of the President, he had failed to raise it either in Cabinet or in Parliament, but remained silent on his exclusion from the NSC for over six months. 

The Report added that while the Prime Minister informed the PSC he was briefed of some security developments by the then-Minister of Law and Order, this was no substitute for actual presence and participation in the NSC, and his opting to rely on a third party for information is unacceptable.

With regard to the role of the State Minister for Defence, the Committee noted that he of his own volition should have raised the fact that he was left out of the NSC meetings in writing to the President, and made a statement in Parliament. “None of this occurred, and the State Minister is also at fault,” the Report said.

The PSC made several recommendations which require urgent attention. These include essential reforms in the security and intelligence sector, establishment of an enhanced financial supervisory mechanism, controlling and monitoring the rise of religious extremism, including Wahhabism, holding politicians/people’s representatives accountable, and reforming the Attorney General’s Department so that the issue of laws delays can be addressed. 

Reforming the educational sector to counter growing extremism, and countering fake news, were also noted as issues requiring urgent attention by the Committee. 


Daily FT report figures in PSC report