Zahran was the actor, Naufer was the script writer, who is the producer and director? ~ Rauf Hakeem,MP, Parliament Easter Sunday debate 7th April 2021
A mother searching for her child identifies her daughter from the shoe she was wearing, her body lies covered under a white cloth. A lifeless foreigner being carried away, a body blown out to pieces lying from the breakfast area on the ground floor. These are all life changing scenes that I witnessed on the 21st of April 2019. By an act of fate, I survived along with my family by a delay of about three minutes while walking to have Easter Sunday breakfast . Two years have passed and still for entire month of April the general public keeps hearing different parliamentarians speaking on the PCOI (Presidential Commission of Inquiry Report on the Easter Sunday Bombings) report.
Two years after the Easter Sunday terror attack that killed 260 innocent civilians in Sri Lanka there have been three reports produced by two governments and still no prosecution nor vital information of external factors produced. The initial report immediately after the attack was prepared by three members headed by Justice Vijith Malalgoda(PC) and thereafter the Parliament Select Committee report(PSC) and the present PCOI warranted on 21st September 2019 by former President Maithripala Sirisena to enable a committee for future legal action. Interestingly, the same committee appointed by President Sirisena finds him guilty of negligence leaving the Prime Minister at that time without any charges. Two years down the line, the public has lost faith in the authorities who promised to bring justice to the victims. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith on the Easter day pointed out directly to implement recommendations put forward by the new report ,the Presidential Commission of Investigation(PCOI) on easter Sunday where former President Maithripala Sirisena, former Secretary Defence, Inspector General of Police, Director State Intelligence Service and several others were clearly identified for prosecution under legal provisions on negligence of duties, while leaving out the former Prime Minister of all charges. Another six-member Ministerial Sub Committee headed by Minister Chamal Rajapaksa was appointed in February 2021 that submitted its separate report on March 15th 2021 to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa identifying 78 recommendations of the PCOI report for implementation though it reportedly had different opinions on the original PCoI recommendations.
The PCOI report according to an earlier statement on 15th March by Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith is “incomplete“. Cardinal also finds a (external) political hand, explaining “Our brethren were not attacked by religious extremism, but it was done by those who used religious extremism as a cat’s paw to strengthen their political power..”. According to Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, it was Naufer Maulawi who was the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attack and who is currently in the custody of the Sri Lankan Police. However this is old news resurrected from the past and not a new finding. The report also points to another, Abu Hind. The question was who was behind them, the external forces? Post attack I was working to find answers of the external factors. While I discovered many vital information from terrorist experts and senior international diplomats and policy makers from other countries, there was an invisible hand which pushed me out diplomatically as a transfer to another country.
While studying the PCOI report here are several areas I found clear limitations and also positive trends in the report. PCOI volume one with 475 pages with annexures, document is a better assessment with much more information than the previous parliamentary select committee(PSC) report published in 2019. The esteemed panel has collected diverse views and evidence from 457 witnesses. While the collection is a herculean task in a year, the due credit of the entire exercise has to be given to all officers of the PCOI. However, what PCOI lacks is rigorous analysis. Some important points hang in isolation without substantial connection to the relevant data points and some information fails to capture the existing knowledge in the security domain. This might be because the PCOI analyzed the circumstantial evidence in a rush while allocating more time for data collection. Here are few limitations I would like to point out from the report:
1. PCOI recommends preparing a National Defence Policy(NDP) on page 447.
According to the report ‘It is recommended that a National security and defence policy be drafted and adopted’.
National Defence Policy was prepared by Sirisena-Wickramesinghe Government and approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on 2019 November 14th. Cabinet Paper Cabinet Paper No.19/313211031173. The NDP was prepared by tri-forces along with Chief of Defence Staff officers and INSS( Institute of national security studies) during my time serving as the Director-General 2016-2019. The NDP process commenced in 2016 and present Army Commander and many distinguished officers from all three forces were part of the process and completed the task in 2019. However there was a significant reduction of content that was eliminated. The entire National Security Policy the first half of the initial document was stricken off. The importance of NDP was understood and was fully supported and accelerated after the Easter Sunday bombing since the initial document captured possible extremist threat to the country. Although NDP was ready from 2018 multiple amendments and four defence secretaries for four years kept the document in a preparatory mode not seeing the important areas of varied security threats the nation would face such as extremism and terror threats. The proposed structural adjustment to defence establishment including the National Security Council to be instituted as a legal body to make better decisions and face the threats, were fundamental reforms that could have strengthened Sri Lanka’s preparedness to face such an internal threat.
This author having testified in writing 13 pages and verbally in front of the PCOI for almost eight hours in two days, did speak of the NDP which was earlier prepared and this was not captured instead the PCOI recommends a new NDP without any reference to the previous document. Rather than investing time to reinvent a fresh NDP it’s worth looking at the existing NDP which was never shared with the general public. The document was declassified before visiting the Cabinet office for public view but it never came out from the cabinet office. NDP must have undergone a rigorous process of development with inputs from multiple stakeholders including civil society, public expertise and intellectuals as since national security is a topic that affects all cross sections of society. National Security Policy, the first half of the book was taken out thereby weakening the defence policy. NSP and NDP should be handed over to the PCOI for their assessment. The PCOI recommendation on ‘the party in power should have no control over the priority given to national security and national defence is an important recommendation and should apply to the present government, while not simply replicating the efforts of the previous government.
2. PCOI assesses that “Zahran spoke on lack of Good Governance and Juridical System” therefore he committed suicide based on this fact Page 423. There is no rationality to this argument. Extremists don’t commit suicide due to a lack of Good Governance. there are many social and ideological issues behind such a decision. The PCOI refers to the ‘Staircase Model’ of terrorism by Fathali M. Moghaddam which I produced and explained during my statement to the PCOI. This fact is not elaborated further nor given reference on the PCOI report on page 11. ‘There is a staircase to terrorism’ says the report bringing a fact without further applying the model in it’s analysis. There is no connection , if you believe in incremental steps such as the ‘Staircase Model’ of becoming a terrorist then why refer to lack of good governance?
3. Prof.Rohan Gunaratna’s name is mentioned several times (page 75,147,275) in the report and reference to the Singapore model of countering extremism. Under the missed opportunity Chapter 12 page 147 referring to a newspaper interview. Why is the Singapore model of counter-terrorism recommended by PCOI is a serious question? Why were’nt there any other suggestions of other examples and other leading experts on the issue of terrorism? Was he the only expert? Has the PCOI looked at other nations?
4. Implement the Harmony Act of Singapore in Sri Lanka. Again why Singapore? and why all these recommendations from Singapore? Will you arrest everyone who speaks of religious disharmony? Has the government considered how much this would impact the democratic space of the country? How much has the harmony act impacted democracy in Singapore? Has our security researchers done an analysis to find out the success of the harmony act in Singapore? Under the harmony act, you can arrest without a warrant, is that correct? Is the government adding one more layer to the PTA which will further reduce the democratic space. Sri Lanka has a strong democratic model and using Singapore’s unique governance model might not work in Sri Lanka. Is the same assessment coming from the Singapore Professor and terrorist expert?
5. Singapore, referred again on p431 on deradicalization program. Again, why Singapore? Any other nation better than Singapore? Have we analysed this data enough?
6. Terrorism Financial Act is a positive suggestion. Further introduce individual profiling softwares to analyse illegal wealth accumulation and strengthening the Financial investigation Unit of Sri Lanka should be a priority. This point is a very important area PCOI has highlighted.
7. A unique and new subject to teach all religions is recommended and religious reconciliation is also recommended for Grade 1-10 all students. The Education Minister elaborate on how such a subject would be brought into the curriculum? And then share the proposed curriculum with educational experts? This again is a good initiative but needs a smooth implementation.
8. “No Foreigner should be allowed to work in Sri Lanka without security clearance.” P439. This will further depict us as a military state. Such actions will further portray an image of militarization in the international arena.
9. Hotels and motels check-ins monitoring. This information has to be considered as intelligence information and explaining this information on the PCOI document is not necessary. It would be appreciated if the PCOI refers to INSS(Institute of National Security Studies) who recommended this in their earlier discussions several years before the Easter Sunday attack that Extremist could target hotels and importance of hotel check-in info.
10. Creating Sri Lankan identity is important as recommended but creating minority religious sanctions Burka, Madrasa ban will not assist. We alienated our Muslim community from force cremation and we need to be extra careful with these culturally sensitive concerns. I want to point out to France where 30 attacks took place in 8 years where President Macron is struggling with Islamophobia. It is very easy to ban but it’s difficult to reintroduce after the damage. In the present context investment in the new French “institute of Islam” to promote understanding in France of the Islamic world’s contributions to science, philosophy, art and literature have been introduced. There is a price for taking strict measures. Security analyst inputs are essential in this regard and Sri Lanka has its unique society which we can’t compare to France or Singapore.
11. Arabisation and Wahabism ban. Has the PCOI thought enough about this sensitive area? There should be more discussion and incremental steps when bringing in the regulations. Certain countries will take this as a serious concern.
12. INSS(Institute of National Security Studies) is recommended to work with intelligence on Page 440. This is incorrect it’s a think tank made for security research. It also recommended INSS head should be a terrorist and extremist expert according to the PCOI. What about other areas of national security concerns such as maritime security, food security, water, cyber and all other non-traditional security areas. Is it a pre-orchestrated plan to bring a terrorist expert from somewhere (Singapore)?
13. Apart from the PCOI recommendation, an Integrated Threat Assessment Centre(ITAC) should be considered where all information will flow in one direction to better analyse the process. PCOI report highlights multiple stovepipes of information not flowing in one direction. Former director SIS says “it’s only information only not intelligence” they got from India, there was no sync between SIS/DMI/CNI/IGP and the political body. In reality this is fundamentally because there was no proper analysis of that information and a lack of coordination between the various intelligence agencies. Even after the 9/11 commission, ITAC was proposed by RAND corporation which was implemented in the US. I proposed the creation of an ITAC in May 2019 at the National Security Council Meeting. Importance of this recommendation was discussed at the Parliament on 25th March 2021.
14. PCOI Recommends Senior Public Officers should not hold more than one post referring to former secretary Defence Hemasiri Fernando page 456. This observation is correct and should be immediately implemented. Please apply the same recommendations to the present Government, such as Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage who is the Secretary Foreign Ministry and Director General of INSS the Institute of National Security Studies from February 2020. One can question issues of conflict of interest, especially if such responsible officials are receiving two salaries. If any such officer has drawn one salary as Secretary and another as Director-General or Director at a state institute then this should be investigated by the auditor general and the public services commission.
15. “A balance must be struck between ease of doing business and national security”, “supervision of annual reports” p424. Under the guise of national security is the government trying to create a new militaristic model unique to Sri Lanka. Who is going to go through the annual reports? Is it the Ministry of Defence? The ease of doing business is an index we should improve. Terrorist will use shadow companies/ Narco trade, this is a job for the intelligence and financial intelligence nothing to do with Ease of doing Business balance and national security.
16. This PCOI report is Volume 1, where are the other volumes? Are we to study one by one? If volume 2 is evidence, then we need to see if it’s sufficiently captured or partly captured. A rigorous analysis should be done by security researchers to ensure
17. This Easter Attack is a unique case. On the same day of the attack in the morning hours of the attack, there was an intelligence warning. After the attack, it took a few days to identify the claims by ISIS. Why was there a delay? One suicide attacker didn’t detonate at Taj, there was an incoming call during the attempted detonation time at Hotel Taj Samudra. This very same detonation took place a few hours later in Dehiwala. Abu Hind is the person according to the report who has given instructions and advice and also he is a virtual person created by ‘provincial Indian intelligence apparatus’ page 219. Is this correct? The former SIS director is the “only witness to have testified impeding the identity of a possible foreign involvement” p218 is this correct information? Out of 457 witnesses, there was only one who said about a foreign hand?
18. PCOI captures the threat forecast (Monthly Threat Forecast) written by this author in January 2019 clearly identifying there is a national security threat after the discovery of detonators in Wanathawilluwa requesting to find ‘foreign connection behind the discovery’ Page 257,262 under President Maithripala Sirisena’s section and dysfunctional government section page 352. Why was this limited to these sections and wasn’t the threat forecast a missed opportunity? The previous MTFs produced and discussion video in 2017 are they not missed opportunities? What makes the Singaporean Professor’s comment so important than the local assessment?
19. Politicization of Intelligence – Intelligence reports had to contend with the political environment and administrations in power and their Presidents conflicting personal impressions and preference. President Maithrpala Sirisena’s statement on his assassination plot by Indian intelligence was one such incident straining the relationship and questioning the credibility and accuracy of such information. SIS Director DIG Nilantha Jayawardena’s comments at the PCOI saying Indian intelligence shared was ‘mere information’ page 158 and not intelligence, and his assessment of Indian Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra’s visit on the 7th April 2019 for the Indo-Lanka Defence Dialogue questioning ‘whether the Secretary of Defence of India will visit the country if there was in fact a security threat as informed on 4th April 2019’ page 220. While PCOI assesses there is no credibility saying Indian Secretary Defence was a diversion from the intelligence provided as there was enough actionable information to prevent the attack. Why was such vital information go unheard? Was it politicized by the regime? To assess the degree of politicization of intelligence prior to the 4/21 attack I have presented Prof.Eugene de Sillva’s model (STARR model) to the PCOI. The STARR model was applied to Vietnam Estimates in 1963, 9/11 and Iraq war 2003. According to Prof Eugene De Silva “The pathway to declaring war on Iraq was another classic case of politicization of intelligence”.
The STARR model has five facets that are considered in quantitative analysis.
System – Refers to the unit in charge of the intelligence process for a particular task Timeline- Refers to the total period of inception of the intelligence process to the final report and evaluation.
Access- Refers to the extent to which intelligence officers are provided with accessibility to operational activities. Resources- Refers to the total resources used by the intelligence personal throughout the intelligence cycle until the completion of the task. Re-evaluation- Refers to the produced reports are re-evaluated for accuracy and errors
Modified Staple Scale is the range of scale limiting to -2,-1,0,1,2. Number 2 denotes extreme polarization either towards the objectives of the policy maker (+2) or away from the objective (-2). Scale of +2 is given when there is hard politicization and +1 for some politicization. The zero indicates when there is non-politicization and absolute state. The values do not indicate if the final intelligence report prepared is favoring the objectives of the policy maker or not. The scale only indicates if there has been any politicization towards or against the policy makers objectives.
The STARR model was applied to the Easter Sunday Bombing by this author with consultation of the STARR model founder Prof Eugene De Silva to find out the degree of politicization of intelligence in the process.
The recess was taken from the day the first intelligence report was sent to Sri Lankan authorities from India at the beginning of the month of April 2019 and subsequent warnings leading towards the 21st April attack.
Degree of Politicisation according to modified Staple scale
0 – Non politicised state
+1 – To an extent politicised towards the objectives of the policy maker
+2 – Extremely Politicised towards the objectives of the policy maker
According to this assessment +8 signifies high politicization of intelligence. Higher the degree of politicization there will be less space to take accurate action due to adulteration of data from the political cycle. President Sirisena’s prior assassination plot accusing India and trust deficit with India could have played a heavy hand on decision making and processing the available information giving due weightage to the intelligence.
20. PCOI was correct in observing the information provided was intelligence and there was enough actionable information for the authorities. At the PCOI the esteemed council was raising a question: what if you were told of the April 4th 2019 intelligence information what would you have done? My answer was it would match perfectly with the 2019 January threat forecast I wrote and I would immediately take actionable steps to prevent such an attack. But there is always a shield to keep you out of such vital information or keep you out of the entire establishment by few individuals.
* Author is a geopolitical analyst and author of ‘Conundrum of an island’. He was the former Director General of the Institute of National Security Studies. He can be contacted from firstname.lastname@example.org