‘Came to know of ‘note’ only on April 21 through social media’

Army Commander Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake who had testified at the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) mandated to probe the terror attacks on Easter Sunday testified for the second time yesterday.
The session which was chaired by Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne said that the PSC had only posed questions regarding Minister Rishad Bathiudeen and the committee had more questions to ask in view of the other testimonies.

The panel is denoted by their initials JW for Jayampathy Wickremaratne, SF for Sarath Fonseka, NJ for Nalinda Jayathissa, RK for Ravi Karunanayke, RH for Rauff Hakeem, AM for Ashu Marasinghe, AS for Abraham Sumanthiran and MS for Army Commander Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake.

JW: You were informed during your proceeding last time that we may have to recall you when the need arise.

SF: We could not speak in length last time. You said in your last testimony that we cannot guarantee that terrorism has been eradicated. And this was proved by a few arrests during the last few days including the arrest of the brother-in-law of Zahran. We are with you on your thinking and we agree to it.

AS: That is Sarath Fonseka’s opinion.

SF: Do you not agree?

AS: I don’t think its right to question me before this forum.

JW: I don’t think we need to debate this. It’s understood. Let’s move along.

SF: Last time, when I wished to pose a question, the media was asked to leave. Tell me about how this threat has been countered?

MS: We have worked in union to counter the threat of terrorism. Even during the last Security Council meeting and intelligence coordination meetings, we have worked closely and coordinated well with each other. This has availed us and the police more opportunities. We are also training the police force. The threat level has gone down, but we remain vigilant.

SF: What I am asking, how long do you think it will take? Can you give us a guarantee of a time-frame to neutralise the threat?

MS: I can’t say if it would take a week, months or years. But, we have got the opportunity to defeat this threat within a short period of time. You can’t entrust national security to the Army alone, everyone has a responsibility and needs to be vigilant.

SF: The CIA, RAW has taken 10 or 15 years.

MS: If you take our country, given the strategic location, this continent has become very important and it will take us much more time.

SF: During your last testimony, you said that the CNI should bear more responsibility and the government should support in ensuring that all are answerable to the CNI. You also believe that the CNI is a powerful official. So, are you saying that the CNI is powerless? He himself said that he was a merely a postbox and had no authority.

MS: Incorrect. I would like to highlight that it is not of the individual, but the position. He has the right to collect, corroborate and enforce action based on intelligence information. We don’t have more time to deliberate. At the same time, as an official, his position yields respect and response.

SF: When he spoke, he said that he was powerless and when you spoke of the same, we got this impression. You mentioned that when the incident happened, there had been a wealth of information beforehand. You said that there was a lot of mistrust where it should not be. Tell us more of this information that had been available and not known?

MS: I am where I stated the last time. We have discussed the Islamic extremism and will be following the necessary actions that are needed. We are also exchanging information, we had informed the Defence Secretary of the protection that had been offered to various institutions. It is because we were aware that we were able to swiftly make arrests and we will continue. By April 26, we were able to bring this under our control because we were aware of the threat.

SF: Do you think if there had been prior warning, more preventive action could have been taken?

MS: I cannot comment on the advice that was given. Once we have discussed it, we can initiate action. If my intelligence unit informs me the need to arrest an individual, I have the responsibility to make that arrest. I cannot merely wait for orders to come to me.

SF: There were shortcomings and it is why we are here.

MS: I honestly believe that the fact that Police and Army being under the same ministry have helped. In the past, when the ministries were divided, it was not easy to exchange information or initiate action.

SF: You mentioned you have documents? Can you share that with us? What are they on?

MS: For example, ‘Figure X’ has done such and such and he has been arrested subsequently. The first page of this document says that he must be arrested. I have many such documents which show the action that must be taken.

NJ: You mentioned that the information that was shared with the Army had been informed to the Police frequently.

MS: Since latter part of 2017.

NJ: Is this being discussed?

MS: Even though it is discussed, there are different teams designated for various tasks. There would probably be a team investigating the relevant individual.

NJ: Did you take part at the intelligence coordination meeting on 9th?

MS: Yes.

NJ: If this was discussed, do you think you could have contributed to this conversation. What is the nature of the relationship with the SIS?

MS: We associate with him very closely. We speak over the phone, and confidential matters are spoken on Whatsapp and Viber. We also meet.

NJ: Hemasiri Fernando said that some action needs to be taken since the SIS does not like questions being posed.

MS: This is the first time I’ve heard of his testimony. I am not referring to the SIS, but to the TID. When I referred to mistrust, I was referring to that issue.

NJ: There had been evidence on April 4, and it was exchanged by April 6, if you had been informed, could you have taken action?

MS: Yes. It is regretted to note that it was not brought to my notice. We have a force necessary to eradicate the threat.

NJ: Are you aware of the Digana incident? It happened during your time. What action could have been taken to prevent it?

MS: We should work regardless of the caste, religion or ethnicities. We work in union on the mandate given to the Army and nothing more.

NJ: Was the brining of the Army to the area your decision?

MS: The President spoke to me and we took a decision to deploy the Army. I cannot take a decision alone, but I was entrusted with a duty. The Police can request our assistance, particularly the IG.

NJ: On 20th, did you receive any information?

MS: I need to know if anyone in the Army was aware, I have initiated an investigation. If any officer knew, he is duty bound to inform.

JW: You mentioned that you were in constant touch with the SIS. Was there any institutional barriers?

MS: No.

JW: You said that the TID had issues with certain individuals. We have noticed that the director was changed. Was there an issue before or after the new appointment?

MS: Before.

JW: At what point was there an issue? Can you name the individuals?

MS: I do not want to name individuals or the investigations as they are before courts. But there was mistrust regarding certain cases. For instance, there were detections in Kilinochchi of suicide vests, but when we initiated investigation, there were issues related to our activity.

JW: Everyone talks of two ministries, but it cannot be so hard because there is one minister.

MS: What happens is that I need to divert my concerns through the secretary, but when it’s under one ministry, I can directly access the secretary. The chain of command is disrupted as I need to seek approval from another individual before taking action.

Few days ago, before I came here today, there were issues in Kinniya, we were able to resolve it swiftly. Because of this collaboration mechanism, we could solve the problem. If it was not, I would have to report it to the President before anyone else does.

AS: As the Army Commander, you report it to the Commander-in-Chief, who is the President. The division between law and order and defence happened in 2013, even so it was under the same minister until January2015. Thereafter, there were two separate ministers even before two secretaries were appointed.

MS: Between 2010 and 2013, I was out of the country.

AS: I apologise. But, in October 26, 2018, the Law and Order Ministry came under the same minister. The Police have been gazetted under the Defence Ministry. From October last year, there has been one minister and one secretary. The issues you may have had with the TID due to the change in leadership, was that resolved? That happened before October last year. So for about six months prior to the attack, law and order was under one ministry and the TID leadership was changed. You told at the last instance that if you had received the note, you would have discussed it at the meeting on 9th.

MS: Even without a meeting, an action could have been taken.

AS: When did you come to know of the note?

MS: On social media after the event.

SF: Even the STF Commandant said he came to know after the incident.

AM: You may have answered this question. When were you appointed the Army Commander?

MS: July 24, 2017.

AM: How many times did you attend the SC meetings? Do you have any records of that?

MS: I have records from January 18, 2018 up to May 29. I have participated 17 times.

AM: How many times did they meet? Who was there?

SF: When you look at the composition of the Security Council, there were times when we have discussed without the denoted officials.

MS: I am talking of the Security Forces. There is defence secretary, ministers, commanders of the tri-forces, STF chief, secretary to the ministry of finance and foreign affairs.

AM: Before the incident on 21, when did you last participate?

MS: I joined the meeting held in March 26.

AM: I am asking of the SC meeting, not the coordination meeting.

MS: March.

AM: Did you meet every month?

MS: I can’t say for certain.

AM: Did you meet twice a month?

MS: I can’t say that it did not meet. We are given an announcement to the effect that we must participate. We always discussed security matters.

SF: There is a certain group of people who should be present. I am talking of the formal meeting of the SC. There are ones who should take decisions in the council.

AM: This council which discusses matters of national security, it says that it should be summoned by a certain person, when you compare it with the present context, how often do you think it should meet?

MS: Due to the peaceful situation that prevailed it may not have been given priority, but in the recent past, it is mandatory for us to meet often. I think we should meet twice a month. As there is an intelligence review meeting weekly, we should meet twice. They analyse the intelligence reports on Monday and talk of what will be discussed on Tuesday.

NJ: Was it after the attack that the monthly meeting was held?

MS: It was after the attack that Kottegoda took over and I was invited.

NJ: When you get an important piece of intelligence information, would you meet on Monday?

MS: I don’t know.

NJ: Please tell us when the SC was held since January.

MS: January 14 and February 5.

AM: You are the Army Commander. The Defence Secretary is superior, followed by the CDS and the President. If you do not take instructions, you are informed to do so by the Defence Secretary. As you may be aware that important topics were not discussed.

MS: We spoke up about Zahran during the SC. The Defence Ministry (MOD) gives us instructions in that regard. I do not expect him to tell me what to do. I should be allowed to decide, we are the ones in uniform. The person at the head table cannot say who should be arrested, we are responsible for that. Those who enforce the law should know it.

AM: I have to ask the question asked by Sumanthiran in a different manner. You mentioned that law and order and defence were under one, in this perspective all have to take responsibility, what is your idea?

MS: You mentioned that it is after October 5 that these two ministers were amalgamated. Even in 2017, we discussed the matters, but action had not been taken. There is the incident in Wavunathivu and the motorcycle explosion. What I see is that the law was not implemented properly.

SF: Those who participate at the meeting regularly, should they always be present?

MS: Those who participate in the meeting should be present and not have other appointments on the same day.

AM: Do they have other pressing matters? You mentioned that necessary recognition was not given to the CNI? Why was this?

MS: A tradition was upheld and it cannot be broken, but it was. Practically, if things are not done in a certain manner, it will be a problem. I feel, that is why this happened.

AM: The CNI was not given responsibility, it was merely a post?

MS: He was not empowered. For instance, today we have been entrusted with providing security. Others should not give us instructions, but we do so on our own.

SF: I need to mention this, that you need not receive instructions to the IGP and Army Commanders. Here, you cannot take decision alone, you need to discuss it with those who have more power over you. When you do operations, you need to take the permission from the head of the SC.

MS: The Army has the mandate to inform the political hierarchy of the action that need to be taken. When the bomb went off near Shangri La went out and took action.

AM: Who can summon people to SC meetings?

MS: The Defence Secretary. Those are who are responsible for the defence and national security should be summoned before the meeting.

AM: You spoke of the lessons learnt. Based on this incident, what sort of action should be taken? Some who came to the meeting said there is a need for biometrics and boarder security. We need to include those lessons learnt. What sort of technological advancement should we take?

MS: At the end, it is all about human intelligence. Some institutions may do their job very well, but there are doubts if they can work well with other agencies. For instance, if you take customs of the Air Force, they do their duty very well. But, are they doing it with other agencies in the same manner?

AM: What technological advancements do you need?

MS: As you mentioned biometrics, we don’t have such systems. We need to open files and ask the Grama Sevaka of any individual.

MS: Security is expensive, but insecurity is more costly. That is where the problem lies. We have to spend to be secure. If we don’t spend on the modernisation of what we need to do now, even after 10 years since the end of the war, we will be vulnerable. That problem is not doing so. It maybe a financial issue, but the importance of it needs to be understood.

AM: I want to ask a question about explosives, the explosive which was used in the bombing was stored in safe houses. What do you think of this?

MS: Commercial explosives, goes through C-FAB and there should be a more strict regulation on where this is being used.

AM: For instance, customs need HS codes, did you feel the same?

MS: Our command in Welisara has this. There is a responsibility on those individuals who allow for the importation. There are many lose ends.

AM: How do we prevent this?

MS: We have held many meetings to discuss this.