Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Military secret sacrificed on the altar of politics

Then Superintendent of Police in charge of "special operations" in the Kandy Division, Kulasiri Udugampola, raided No 844, Millennium City, Athurigiriya, on the night of January 2, 2002.

He seized a booty of military hardware - Light anti tank weapons, anti tank mines, land mines, assault rifles, claymore mines, thermo baric weapons and green stripe uniforms used by Tiger guerrillas among them. He arrested a Captain and four regular soldiers of the Army's Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI). Also arrested was a former Tiger guerrilla cadre who surrendered and was helping the Army.

The goods and the men were brought to the Military Police Headquarters in Narahenpita. Crowds of media personnel including TV cameraman failed to gain entry there. Later the same night, they were moved to Cinnamon Gardens Police Station.
Whilst the men were detained in a room, the media were allowed to view and photograph all the military items displayed inside the Police Station. Thereafter the Army men and their helper were driven in a vehicle to Kandy guarded by two armed policemen. In the wee hours of the morning, they were thrust into remand cells where common criminals were kept. Detention Orders to hold them in custody were issued under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

It was made out that premises No 844 at the Millennium City was a secret hide out from where military men had planned to carry out assassinations on United National Front (UNF) Government leaders. The Police raid had busted their plans, or so it seemed.

On January 6, 2002, The Sunday Times (Situation Report) revealed exclusively in a report headlined "How a 'top State secret' became public" that the hide-out was in fact a Safe House run by the Army's Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI). It was from this "forward operations cell" that Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs) infiltrated areas in the guerrilla dominated east to attack targets. The men, far from being suspected terrorists, were those hunting them down during top secret operations.

The Sunday Times said that just before the raid, the LRRP team's most accomplished task was the assassination of Thambirasa Kuhashanthan alias Nizam, guerrilla Military Intelligence leader for Batticaloa. It was Nizam who had been directing all suicide and other attacks in the City at that time. One of his prize targets then was former Cabinet Minister, C.V. Gooneratne.

Despite this revelation and more disclosures in The Sunday Times, sections of the media continued a relentless campaign to make out that no LRRP activity existed. This was whilst guerrillas launched a vicious campaign against LRRP operatives and informants. Until now, over 44 persons, enlisted intelligence operatives, policemen, civilian informants and members of Tamil moderate political parties have been assassinated. There have been 31 attempted killings and 17 abductions. Tiger guerrilla chief peace negotiator, Anton Balasingham, also complained on numerous occasions about LRRP operations. He called them deep penetration units of the Army.

And now, after a year and eleven months, a one man Presidential Commission of Inquiry that probed the matter has declared the raid "was a total betrayal and absolute treachery to the nation." It has concluded that Mr. Udugampola "backed up with political patronage" stalled these covert operations and "betrayed this gallant unit."
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry "into the disclosure of the existence of and the raid on the Safe House operated by the Sri Lanka Army at Athurugiriya" comprised D. Jayawickrema, retired Judge of the Court of Appeal.

Chapters dealing with "FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS ONLY" in the 202 page (with annexure) was released to the media by the President's Office on Thursday. They constitute 29 pages and contain the findings on each term of reference. Based on that, the Commission has also made its own conclusions. The Commission sat from August 2002 to November 2003 and heard 69 witnesses. I was one of them. Its report was handed over to President Chandrika Kumaratunga on December 5.

Mr. Udugampola, is now an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), after he was reverted to his substantive rank in an unrelated fundamental rights case. Whilst carrying out the raid, he said, he was armed with a Court order. The Commission has found that such a Court order was non existent. He has admitted this fact in his evidence. In other words, he lied.

Pointing out that the "raid itself cannot be faulted if it was conducted on the basis of searching for a suspect in the Udathalawinna murder, namely Chanuka Ratwatte," the Commission has ruled that "the evidence suggests this was a cover up."
An informant (Morasus Mathoj Nilanga) has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on behalf of Mr Udugampola in a fundamental rights case against him. "But the Investigation Officers of this Commission were not able to find the informant in the given address or anywhere else. Nilanga's informant Ajith was reported to be dead," the Commission report said.

The fundamental rights case referred to has been filed in the Supreme Court by the DMI Officer and his men. The Sunday Times did not disclose their names in the past. However, since they are now in the public domain and are referred to in the Commission report, the officer and men can now be identified as Captain Mohamed Nilam, Staff Sergeant Edirisinghe Jayamanne, Sergeant Ananda Udalagama, Lance Corporal Mohamed Silmy and Corporal Nissanka Herath. The civilian is Saras Subashkaran.

Though a propaganda campaign was mounted by interested groups to cover up the controversy over the Police raid on the Safe House, there were several behind the scene manoeuvres for damage control. This was at the highest levels of the UNF leadership. The Sunday Times learnt that at least three senior Cabinet Ministers and two top officials brought pressure on Captain Nilam and his group through various means to withdraw their fundamental rights case.

They were assured handsome cash rewards, jobs in diplomatic missions or even residence in a country of their choice with sufficient funds to start a new life with their families. The overtures, however, were turned down. The judgement in the fundamental rights case is now pending.

The commission said: "ASP Udugampola has not noted down the information he received regarding a murder suspect hiding or visiting the Safe House nor has he made any surveillance before the raid. In fact ASP Udugampola admitted in his evidence that one of the reasons he had in his mind when he decided to raid this Army Safe House, was the information and publicity given in the media before the Elections that a DMI unit was being trained to attack the United National Party leadership and their campaign bus by using thermo baric weapons. The IGP, DIGs, and SSP in the Kandy region giving evidence faulted ASP Udugampola for not recording the information said to have been received by him about Chanuka Ratwatte, and also for not making surveillance prior to the raid."

The Commission held that the action taken by Mr. Udugampola was "illegal, immoral and in violation of all the rules and regulations of the Police." He has acted "arbitrarily and capriciously," it said. Noting "if one is to accept the totality of the evidence led before the Commission," the report has declared that "ASP Udugampola was immune to any supervisory procedure and he has behaved as a Supreme Commander who was above the law." Therefore, it has held that "there were no compelling reasons whatever for ASP Udugampola to raid the Safe House at Millennium City, Athurugiriya or take further action in the manner he did in taking into custody of the Army personnel."

How did the raid on the "Safe House" come about? The Commission says Mr. Udugampola conspired with a set of Army officers. The report sets out the chronology of events: There is strong evidence Col. D.P. Dissanayake, USP psc, made attempts to obtain the address of this Safe House before the 2001 December General Election, and also just a few days before the raid through Major M.B. de S. Jayatillake, RSP MIC - GSP 1 DMI, and Corp. M.P. Anura Peiris, MPA MIC. The evidence of these officers themselves proves this fact. Knowing Cpt. Nilam very well there was no necessity for Col. D.P. Dissanayake to find out the address and the whereabouts of Nilam through his junior officers. If he wanted he could have directly contacted Capt. Nilam and got whatever information he wanted. Col. Dissanayake's explanation was that he wanted to contact Capt. Nilam to get his assistance in respect of the house Col. Dissanayake was building at Malabe.

"The evidence before this Commission further discloses the fact that Lt. Col. Padmasiri Udugampola, SLCMP, brother of ASP Kulasiri Udugampola, Major General Ivan Dissanayake and Colonel K.H.N. S.S. Dharmaratna, Major A.C.A. de Soysa, SLCMP, Major A.S.P. Podiralahamy, SLCMP, Major K.U. Jayanetti, SLCMP, Major B.M.A.N.S.K. Karunaratne, MIC, Corp, J.H.A.P de Silva, JHAT-MIC, Corp. M.P.A. Pieris, JHAT-MIC, were all aware of the impending raid and have directly and indirectly assisted ASP Kulasiri Udugampola in raiding the Safe House.

"If these officers had any doubts about the Safe House they should have brought it to the notice of the Army Commander and moved the Military Police to investigate. But these officers, without doing so, have conspired with Kulasiri Udugampola to raid this Safe House for their own personal benefits. Moreover, none of these officers have informed Army Commander (Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle) or the Director, DMI (Brigadier Kapila Hendavithana) about the raid before the raid."

The Commission has held that the Army Commander Lt. Gen. Balagalle came to know about the raid only after it was carried out. He had been informed by Brigadier Hendavithana. The Commission said: "But ASP Udugampola has been in contact with Major General Ivan S. Dassanayake, Provost Marshal in the Military Police, since December 2001 in respect of the Udathalawinna murder case seeking his assistance to arrest some Army Officers who were supposed to be absconding. This was just after the General Election of 5th December 2001. ASP Udugampola was known to Major General Ivan Dassanayake as ASP Udugampola's brother Lt. Col. Padmasiri Udugampola was also attached to the Military Police. Ivan Dassanayake detailed Major Clifford de Zoysa to assist ASP Udugampola in respect of arresting any Army officers who were supposed to be suspects in the Udathalawinna murder trial.

"Major General Ivan Dassanayake in his evidence said that ASP Udugampola did not specify any officer by name in seeking his assistance. But ASP Udugampola has obtained an order from the Acting Magistrate, Teldeniya Magistrate's Court, to release Major Clifford de Soysa to assist him in the Udathalawinna murder case. According to the evidence ASP Udugampola has selected Major Clifford de Soysa for this purpose on his own as he was known to him.

"Although the above order of the Acting Magistrate is addressed to Commander of the Army, Lt. Gen. Balagalle, there is no evidence whatsoever that this letter was shown or presented or submitted to the Army Commander. The contents of this order contradicts the evidence of Major General Ivan Dassanayake to the effect that ASP Udugampola did not specify an officer by name and that he himself named Clifford de Soysa to assist ASP Udugampola.

"In any case, ASP Kulasiri Udugampola's intention to raid the Safe House or the names of the Army Officers to be arrested was not disclosed to the Army Commander or any officer on his behalf before the raid. Even the names of the Army suspects in the Udathalawinna murder case were not disclosed to the Army Commander or any other senior officers on his behalf. This clearly shows the sinister motives of ASP Kulasiri Udugampola."

The Commission also deals with the political aspects. It apportions blame on the Government, Prime Minister and Ministers. That for allowing a "situation where Mr. Udugampola was immune to any supervisory procedure and behaved as a Supreme Commander."

The report points out "...The presence of retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, Lal Ratnayake, Private Secretary to Interior Minister John Ameratunga at the Military Police on the night of the raid on the instructions of the Minister of Interior, and the Minister of Interior contacting the Secretary to the Ministry of Mass Communication and Secretary to the Defence Ministry, and ASP Udugampola contacting the Minister of Interior on the telephone leads to the only conclusion that due to political patronage ASP Udugampola has behaved as if he was above the law and that he can act the way he wanted to."

"In fact the Army Commander and Brig. Hendavithana accepted complete responsibility in respect of the Safe House and its legality which was of no avail due to the obstinacy of ASP Kulasiri Udugampola," declares the Commission report.
The Sunday Times learns that President Kumaratunga will soon write to Army Commander Lt. Gen. Balagalle and acting Inspector General of Police, Indra de Silva, directing them to take action on the recommendations made by the Commission. The move is to include the placing of those on whom indictments are made on compulsory leave. This is prior to further investigations and the framing of charges.
In its conclusions, the Committee report notes that "The United Front Government's continued silence, in the wake of the obvious embarrassment, made matters worse in the case of the Athurugiriya Safe House fiasco."

It is true indeed. The raid came barely a month after the UNF Government was voted to office. Instead of attempting to cover up the issue, if immediate remedial measures were taken, lives could have been saved and the irreparable damage caused to national security interests could have been very easily avoided. That such inaction humiliated the nation's intelligence community and hampered their work by distancing them from their own informants is unpardonable. The lack of co-ordination after the Police department was handed over from the Defence to the Interior Ministry is now clear.

The Safe House fiasco was a colossal blunder. The same can be said of the so-called Defence Reforms Committee appointed by the UNF to bring about reforms in the defence establishment. Despite repeated disclosures in The Sunday Times the Committee, which came to be called a "one man show" did not seek broader public consultation or a greater cross section of the armed forces. It only focused on recommendations to strip the powers of the President and Commander in Chief.
This week Defence Secretary Cyril Herath executed a Presidential directive calling upon the Defence Reforms Committee to halt all its work from December 31.

ccordingly its only functioning member, retired Army Commander Lt. Gen. Denis Perera, has called off all Sub Committee meetings and other consultations he had planned. The DRC's office at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall is being shut down. This is after millions of tax payer's money has been wasted.
If these were serious lapses under the UNF government, in the sphere of defence there were more. Since the ceasefire of February 22, 2002, the military balance changed with a Tiger guerrilla strengthening of their military machine. This was through increased recruitment and smuggling of more state-of-the-art military hardware. This was whilst desertions in the security forces increased and their requirements to update equipment or supplement dwindling stocks of ammunition were neglected.

Priority attention by the UNF was focussed on down sizing the Army and finding placements for personnel in the UN Peace keeping Force. This in the mistaken belief that a peace settlement has already been reached. It is in this backdrop that President Kumaratunga took over the defence and interior portfolios. This was together with mass communication. It is in this same backdrop that the UNF leadership is demanding the defence portfolio back. That is on the grounds that the peace process cannot proceed any further without it.

It is now over a month since President Kumaratunga took over the defence and interior portfolios though not much has changed substantially in the defence establishment since then. One of the biggest setbacks for her appears to be her own Presidential media apparatus. It is causing her both embarrassment and considerable damage.
Last Thursday, the findings and conclusions of the Athurugiriya Commission report were released to the media. If President Kumaratunga's objective in taking over defence and interior portfolios were to protect national security interests (besides the recent Supreme Court ruling), her own media staff do not seem to be fully conscious of this important fact.

In releasing this 29 page report to the media, her staff has also made available a five page portion which deals with "measures required to enhance the safety of informants of the Directorate of Military Intelligence." As a result, all these safety measures will now have to be re-formulated. Whether such a move will be possible at all remains to be seen. A few examples will explain the reasons:

"Living in Army Camps
All will be confined to Army Camps; and as far away as as possible from the native areas of Informers as possible. Even in Colombo they will be confined to Camps.

Families to see the Informers
Opportunities will be given for their families to visit them in camps.

Training in side-arms
They will be trained in firing and other useful tactics, self defence etc., in Commando Complexes in Ganemulla and Kuda Oya and issued side-arms. The use of side-arms will be monitored to prevent any misuse that will imminently become a threat to the community.
Limited Int. Ops.

They will never be employed for Intelligence Operations alone, but with Military officers in vehicles and only for limited purposes such as "spotting." Tinted vehicles will carry them to withhold identity.

Classes for Informers to instill an awareness
Instruction classes will be held by D/MI to ensure their Personal Safety - viz: Avoidance of careless and loose talk; routine movements, safe meeting places; also the nature of the current threat to them, and to be always on the alert when they move; action to be pursued when any threat is observed or "felt" etc.

Instructions to Handlers of Informers Only one Agency to run an Informant
Any Informer should be run by ONLY ONE AGENCY. For instance, REGUPATHY and VARDAN who were killed were also spies of Police. An Informant run by the DMI or DII should be left alone by Police. The Defence Advisor (MoD) will ensure correct guidance in this respect.

Allocation of Lands for Informants
Moves to identify and allocate lands for families of Informers to live in reasonably close proximity to Camps where the latter are billeted are under consideration on an urgent basis. The Army Commander is presently pursuing action in this respect. Such informant communities or colonies will be given security cover by the Intelligence Authorities in co-operation with the Army/Police.

Foreign employment
Opportunities to afford Foreign Employment to Informers whose lives are acutely imperilled, are under consideration; e.g. as Welfare Officers in the Middle East, as required by the Ministry of Labour and Employment. The Army Commander/Defence Advisor will take appropriate action in this regard.

Selective Enlistment as Soldiers
Since all such Informers cannot be mobilized and called upon to live in Army Camps, a selected number will be considered for enlistment as soldiers based on eligibility, and confined to Camps. They will be permitted to visit homes only in unavoidable circumstances, and under Armed Escort; arrangements will be made for their safety/security.

Those not enlisted as Soldiers - will be necessary to relocate them immediately in Safe Houses OUTSIDE areas where they presently reside. Minimal contact with them will make it difficult for LTTE to spot them.

I have chosen to list some of the above as examples from a lengthy list. This is among the pages of the Commission report officially released by the President's office to the media, except to The Sunday Times. I obtained an official copy on Friday, a day following the release, after appealing to Janadasa Peiris, Director General (Media) of the President.

More often such appeals for press releases have to be made to Mr. Peiris. That is even a day or two after they are made available to other media. The commission report has now been widely circulated since it was formally released. Therefore, isn’t the release of details concerning safety measures for informants not a serious security breach? How could intelligence authorities ensure the safety and protection of their informants in the future? One cannot help but say, that though not intended, this callous negligence by officials is also a form of betrayal.

That such blunders are continuing to be caused by the Presidential media staff since November 4 seems to have not caught the attention of anyone responsible in the Presidency. It began with reports on the declaration of a state of emergency, leaked by the staff though there was no such declaration. The catalogue is too long to list.
Matters relating to defence were badly neglected by the UNF prompting a take over. Now that defence is in President Kumaratunga's hands, she cannot allow it to be much worse. Far too many blunders are taking place in just five weeks after take over. If the declining trend is not arrested, a nation will be defenceless.