The Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS), who had simply referred to the intelligence related reports and remained silent without submitting proper intelligence, without making recommendations for the information received, and without discussing the possibility of an attack with the higher officials in compliance with the information, should be accepting the responsibility of the Easter Sunday bombing.
The above allegation was leveled by former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, appearing before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry appointed to probe the Easter Sunday Massacre on Monday (21).
Otherwise, the administrative officer, who is the defence secretary, should not be taking the responsibility for the attack without the filling of proper reporting on such intelligence, Fernando emphasised, confronting that it is unfair treatment to do so.
"The Director of State Intelligence had worked hard to find the information, but if it was the right intelligence, it should have been discussed and a decision should have been made. Only then will the relevant decision makers be able to take appropriate action. Reports are kept silent and now we do not talk about those reports. We adopt the same methodology as the US intelligence service," he said.
"The head of state intelligence in the United States is directly accountable to the President. Intelligence goes directly to the President. Mere submission of reports is not enough. The President should directly be sought and explained everything in a way that can be understood. Because they know the subject. One who does not know the subject cannot look at a report and make decisions. Submission of letters would be useless. It's the job of a postmaster. When there is a state intelligence service, information should be presented, analysed and recommendations should be made."
Fernando added, that state intelligence had provided the President with intelligence, analysed or else, during his five-and-a-half-month tenure as the defence secretary.
"The President had told me to engage in my other commitments. Since then, the Director of State Intelligence had done the entire job. At that time, I believed that the State Intelligence Service may have informed the President through coordination," he said.
The Additional Solicitor General for State questioned the former defence secretary whether he had not taken into account the information received on April 08, to which Fernando responded, "I was the one who had taken it into account. That is why I had informed the IGP in a next step. The State Intelligence Service and the National Intelligence Service deal specifically with this type of intelligence. They are the ones who should be talking about this. Nilantha did not tell me about this even on the 18th. Had I been informed, I would have somehow called the President and summoned the Security Council. I was not given any picture of the attack."
Additional Solicitor General for State: Is it because the Director of State Intelligence did not speak to you?
Additional Solicitor General for State: Although the intelligence coordination meeting was held on April 09, why was this weekly meeting not held on April 16?
Witness: New Year's leave had also been given. The group had said they have to visit places and not to hold the meeting. Sometimes, this meeting concluded in five minutes. Some days there were no information to discuss.
Additional Solicitor General for State: Defence Secretaries B.M.U.D. Basnayake and Karunasena Hettiarachchi, who have testified before the Commission, have not testified that such meetings end in five minutes. You are the one to testify as such?
Witness: I acknowledge what I said.
Additional Solicitor General for State: If that is so, has it been a shortcoming of your administration?
Witness: It is not a shortcoming of the administration, but a matter of not receiving information.
Additional Solicitor General for State: I suggest, that not working as planned is a weakness?
Witness: I deny, your honour. The attack could not be prevented or the damage minimised as no information was received in time about the possible attack until the event occurred. When something like this happens, it depends entirely on the state intelligence service.
The SIS had the sole right to probe Zahran
Due to clashes between intelligence services, the SIS had acquired about 75% of the sole ownership or investigation into Zahran Hashim, the mastermind of Easter Sunday genocide, with the written permission of the President.
"The Director of SIS admitted before this Commission that the information received on the 4th was not sent to me because it was not confirmed. But after the bomb blast, Secretary is being targeted," Fernando said, stressing that this would be very unfair.
When IGP Pujith Jayasundara met the President in or around April 2018, the President had told the IGP that Nilantha (SIS Director) will be taking care of the National Thowheed Jamaat and Zahran Hashim, Fernando revealed. The IGP was instructed to open investigation, he added.
Accordingly, Nalaka De Silva, Director of the Terrorism Investigation Division had been informed to suspend the investigations, the former Defence Secretary revealed. Fernando also said that he had learned about this after his retirement and that Nalaka de Silva had been arrested on baseless allegations.
He added, that the Terrorism Investigation Division was the first to realize that Islamic extremists were resorting to terrorism through violence and that all activities were halted as Nalaka de Silva had been arrested at a time when they were conducting open investigations.
Given the circumstances, the Easter Massacre was unavoidable and this was why Zahran Hashim was never arrested, he pointed out.
Zahran Hashim could have been arrested in 2018 had the activities of the Terrorism Investigation Division not been disrupted, he added.
The Commission further questioned the former Defence Secretary whether he had looked into the reason as to why the relevant intelligence had not been shared with others.
Intelligence Units had competition with each other on taking the credit
Commission: Have you looked into the reason as to why Nilantha refrained from talking about the information he received?
Witness: Here's the case, your honour. There was competition between the intelligence bodies, to take the credit for themselves. There were also ego issues here. The person who endured all that was the Chief of National Intelligence Sisira Mendis. One day he met me and asked me to let him go due to the problems occurred there. At the time, I told him to wait for another two months to see what happens. He implored that I cannot solve these issues, thereby asking his dismissal. Either way, the SIS had no confirmed intelligence on the attack. But, after the attack, they were able to apprehend a lot of suspects. This suggests that the SIS had the information, but the problem was that the information was kept and not referred to an essential analysis. Reporting facts alone is useless. Events should have been connected immediately.
"Had the connections been deciphered, Nilantha may have said that this would be a problem. Then Nilantha should have said that this should be discussed. But I was not received any report until the 20th," Fernando told the Commission.
Fernando further told the Commission that the information was provided directly to the President through the SIS, revealing that the SIS director and the President had a connection beyond the limits of a father and a son.
The former defence secretary also told the Commission that officials could not be proactive had the information not been presented in an accurate and analytical manner. But, the responsiblities had been fulfilled in his capacity as the defence secretary, he added.
Am I being interrogated with the preconceived notion that I am responsible for this attack?
Countering, the Additional Solicitor General for State said, "That would be what you may say. But the audience sees the march better than those who attend it, Mr. Hemasiri Fernando."
Responding, Fernando asked, "Your honour, I would like to know whether I am being interrogated with the Commission's preconceived notion that I am responsible for this attack? That is how I feel. I observed how others' testimonies were recorded. They were not the same."
Countering, the Commission Chairman emphasised that no witness is interrogated on the basis of a preconceived notion, in which case a legal representation is allowed for cross examination for this purpose. A conclusion would be made following evidence collected from all witnesses, he added.
The Additional Solicitor General further questioned Fernando as to whether the SIS Director had informed him on the 20th that an attack on or before April 21 was possible.
"On 20th, I was sent a Whatsapp message. In my age, I do not check into Whatsapp, or Facebook. If this information was that valuable, it should have been informed to me via a messenger. The distance between Nilantha's house and mine is about 2 km. Nilantha called me on the 20th and told me that he had sent me a Whatsapp message. I told him that I do not check Whatsapp. But then I saw the message, after the call with Nilantha. Then I called back Nilantha, and asked him what should be done then. He told me that he had informed the IGP and he had contacted me as he was instructed to inform me as well. Then I called the IGP whether Nilantha had sent him a message. He said yes, and told me that he was informing the officers under him at the moment. He said that this was all he could do at the moment," Fernando revealed.
Fernando added that he as the Defence Secretary had served his duty, so did Pujith Jayasundara as the IGP.
"Once a suicide bomber wears the kit, it is very difficult to detonate. Even if the target is lost, it will explode somewhere where there are people. Zahran should have been arrested a year ago. TID was going after Zahran. However, Nalaka de Silva was arrested and the investigation was stopped. You can find out more from the IGP. I cannot capture Zahran. I was not here to work in the Intelligence. I was the administrative officer, therefore, I cannot instruct on intelligence, nor the director of the SIS. Onlt the President himself had the capacity to directly instruct him," he added.
In response to a question by the Commission whether the former Defence Secretary had taken steps to hold a discussion with the IGP to address the next steps to be followed in keeping with the warning received on April 20, Fernando said that such measure was not taken.
Zahran reached to hotels and checked in. But out intelligence units didn't know
Further elaborating in his testimony, Fernando said, "There were no accurate analysis reports. This was why I contacted SIS and asked Nilantha what I should do. Nilantha asked me to inform the IGP as he had done the same. I did that. Had he told me of other things, I would have implemented it. I am a civilian, your honour, not a military person."
Responding to the Additional Solicitor General's query whether the damage was imminent, Fernando said, "Information sent to state intelligence was also sent by foreign intelligence. By that time Zahran had already checked into the hotels. But our intelligence did not know. Nor did they know how the bombs were brought to Colombo. This was why SIS should have talked about this before."
The former Defence Secretary also revealed before the Commission that Nilantha Jayawardena had not even informed him whether the intelligence received on April 20 were received from the same source from where the intelligence received on April 04.
He added, that he had contacted the President after the attack on imposing curfew, to which the President, according to Fernando, had responded, "I will be coming, let's see about it after."
Soon after the call, Fernando said that he had learned of curfew through news, and contacted the IGP thereafter.
The former Defence Secretary also told the Commission that the IGP had informed him that the President had instructed him to impose curfew.