Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe lied to Parliament on November 11, 2021, that not a single active intelligence officer had been killed after his UNP government exposed the infamous Millennium City Safe Home maintained by Intelligence Services. Here we reproduce the situation report published by the Sunday Times in Colombo some decades ago after this great betrayal in history. Unfortunately, MPs with the same political roots continue to play blunders on the country’s intelligence services. Who will have to pay for the actions of these feeble-minded politicians? – Editors
Tigers crack Mike mystery after Safe House blunder
From June to December 2001, the six month period ahead of the last Parliamentary General Elections, was most hectic for men from the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs).
The men from the Army’s Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), operating in Batticaloa and Amparai, had attacked several targets within Tiger guerrilla dominated areas in the two districts. As one leader after another fell victim, fear had gripped the guerrilla leadership.
It rose to fever pitch levels after Karikalan, the Political Wing leader for Batticaloa, escaped an LRRP attack on October 18, 2001. So much so, the “Military Commander” for the East, “Colonel” Karuna and his senior colleagues did not attend that year’s “Maveerar” (Great Heroes) Week ceremonies in the Batticaloa district in November. This most observed event in guerrilla dominated areas marks religious observances in memory of guerrilla cadres who died in the separatist war with Security Forces. It culminates with the annual address (on November 27) by Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
There was one man who was responsible for all the panic. His name was a closely guarded secret. Only the head of the LRRP team, Captain S.H. Mohamed Nilam dealt with him. He knew the man only as Mike. It was Mike who in turn liaised with a network of operatives as well as informants, including one time guerrilla cadres, in the Batticaloa and Amparai districts. He liaised with the LRRP team. Together they had set off the worst fear psychosis and panic.
Soon after the General Elections, on January 2, 2002, a Police team led by then SP (Special Operations) in the Kandy district, Kulasiri Udugampola, conducted a raid on the DMI’s Safe House in the Millennium City in Athurugiriya. It was made out be a hide out from which the country’s military leaders planned to assassinate leaders of the United National Party (UNP) that won the elections and formed a United National Front (UNF) Government.
There was a massive media blitz over the matter. There was a public outcry that some top men in men in uniform, under the guise of fighting the Tiger guerrillas, were in fact plotting to eliminate UNP leaders. This was after the military hardware discovered at the Safe House was displayed to the media from the Cinnamon Gardens Police Station. Captain Nilam and his men, the LRRP team, were transported under Police guard and placed in remand cells of the Kandy Police together with common criminal suspects.
They had been arrested as terrorist suspects. Detention Orders against them had been obtained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), the tough laws promulgated to deal with Tiger guerrillas. The men were incarcerated as their investigators readied to put them on trial for plotting to murder political leaders.
But revelations in The Sunday Times (Situation Report – January 6, 2002) put paid to all their efforts. Headlined “How a ‘top State secret’ became public,” the report said “….a more shocking blow came when Police conducted a raid last Wednesday night on a Safe House at Athurugiriya, operated by the Directorate of Military Intelligence, to conduct counter terrorist operations. Assisting in the raid were men from the Army’s Military Police…”
The report added: “That the Army leadership pre-occupied with their own problems, was unable to prevent a serious breach of national security when this happened, could not avoid a dangerous situation developing and allowed the LTTE to get to know state secrets, to say the least, is most damning.
“The greatest irony of all this is the fact that an officer and five men are now detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and are being interrogated by a Police team led by SP Kulasiri Udugampola. Until last night, they are all being held at a secret location in Kandy. All of them are in one room and have to tolerate the ignominy of a stinking toilet whilst they answer questions from their interrogators.
“These very men were at the forefront of the fight against terrorism. The Sunday Times has learnt since the Police raid, their arrest and the resultant publicity, the LTTE has come to know details of some matters that have remained a top secret for security reasons…..”
One man who was closely watching these developments in the guerrilla dominated Wanni was LTTE’s intelligence boss, Pottu Amman. The man who plotted the assassination of late Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, ordered his intelligence cadres to crack down on operatives and informants helping the DMI. That included not only those who were suspected to be in contact with the Army, but all those civilians in the “border” areas who had continued to help carry out attacks. Later on, Pottu Amman travelled to Batticaloa to personally over see the “elimination” of all those who were “collaborating” with the Army.
On January 16, 2002 guerrilla intelligence cadres launched a secret operation in the Batticaloa town. They abducted V. Vidyarathan. He was taken to a hideout in the guerrilla dominated Kokkadicholai area. He was subjected to torture and intense interrogation for four days. The man cracked under heavy pressure and pain. He confessed he was Mike and had been helping Captain Nilam and his LRRP team. He was shot dead on January 20.
It saw the beginning of a campaign of arrest, interrogate and kill. On February 10, Lance Corporal “Clarry” was abducted in a secret operation in Chenkalady in Batticaloa. Soon, details of how agent Mike worked with Captain Nilam began to unfold. LTTE Intelligence cadres and pistol gangs fanned out from Batticaloa to mount surveillance on the names of the operatives and informants that had emerged. Similar exercises were also carried out in Batticaloa and Amparai districts.
A stepped up campaign to unfurl the network of DMI operatives helping in LRRP operations had been launched. The Sunday Times today reveals (see box story) the names of civilian informants and operatives directly connected to the Safe House activity who were killed after its existence came to be known. Besides them, guerrillas also came down hard on other suspected informants of Police and other services during the crackdown.
By July, 2002, Tiger guerrillas had obtained a fuller picture of the LRRP operations and how they were conducted with the help of Mike. On July 3, 2002 guerrilla cadres abducted Lance Corporal Saundrarajan, a key operative who had taken part in an abortive attack on “Jim Kelly,” an LTTE cadre. He had also taken part in the attack on guerrilla area leader Babu on September 17, 2001 and the abortive attempt on Karikalan. He had also later taken part in the ambush and attack on two other guerrillas, Swarnaseelan and Devadas on November 26, 2001.
By December, 2002, guerrilla intelligence cadres had tracked down some of those assisting the LRRP and were moved from the East to Colombo. On December 11, 2002, the first informant, Ganesha Moorthy alias Thilakaraj was shot dead by a pistol group. This was followed by the murder on January 3, 2003, of Lance Corporal Pulendrarasa. He was an operative who had worked closely with Mike. Another close associate of Mike, Kadirgamathamby Ragupathi alias Ragu was shot dead on March 18, 2003.
Neither the Security Forces nor the Police were able to launch any cordon and search operations to track down the Tiger guerrilla intelligence operatives or the pistol gangs. They had not only infiltrated the City but were operating with impunity. The UNF Government did not to want to order any crackdown on their activity for fear that the Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE would be affected.
The guerrillas continued their witch hunt. On April 2, 2003, Sinnathambi Ranjan alias Varadan, who worked closely with Mike was shot dead. On April 26 of the same year, Lance Corporal Devarasa, an operative who took part in LRRP operations and worked closely with Mike was shot dead. He had left a military camp where he was living for reasons of security to visit his family in Dehiwala when the incident occurred.
In the wake of these killings, requests made by state intelligence agencies to senior officials in the then Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Interior to launch a comprehensive “search and clear” operation in the City were not heeded. This was after intelligence reports that guerrillas had increased their Safe Houses and smuggled in more military hardware into them.
A guerrilla pistol gang, who had conducted surveillance and kept following Lance Corporal Paramanthan Ravindrakumar trapped him at a City intersection. They poured six bullets into his body on July 15, 2003, wounding him seriously. He survived after surgery and was moved to a safe location thereafter.
It is in the backdrop of all these developments that the controversy of the Army Safe House in the Millennium City at Athurugiriya had continued for more than two years. At first UNF politicians denied the existence of such a Safe House. They insisted that the revelations of activities at the Safe House did not lead to any killing of operatives or informants – a claim which is proved wrong as details on this page today show.
Soon after The Sunday Times revelations that the Safe House was in fact part of the DMI’s counter terrorist operations, then Defence Minister, Tilak Marapana, directed Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle to appoint a Court of Inquiry. This Court of Inquiry concluded that the activities of the Safe House were legitimate and all military hardware found therein was obtained after proper procedures were followed.
This led to Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe, ordering (through then Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando), that another Court of Inquiry be appointed to probe how information about the existence and activity at the Safe House were leaked. This was with the intention of meting out punishment to those found responsible for such leaks or related activity. Though the Court brought out its findings, no such punishment was meted out by the Army leadership. The UNF now wants to probe this aspect too through a Parliamentary Select Committee.
Amidst public controversy and rising number of incidents in the killing of operatives as well as informants, President Chandrika Bandarnaike Kumaratunga appointed a Commission of Inquiry to probe the Safe House fiasco. It was headed by retired Appeal Court Judge D. Jayawickrema.
The Commission held that the raid was a “total betrayal and absolute treachery to the nation.” In other words, this ruling meant that besides compromising national security interests, by conducting the raid, those directly responsible had engaged in an act that amounted to treachery. Needless to say such acts are serious in nature compared to other misdemeanours for which those in the Security Forces or Police are punished. The Commission report listed the names of those responsible for the omissions and commissions in the Army and the Police.
In seeking to punish those in the Army, President Kumaratunga sought advice from the leadership. That was from the very leadership that had not acted on the earlier Courts of Inquiry. Now, the punishment meted out has raised a serious controversy and raised questions whether they were commensurate, fair and just with the lapses reported to have been committed.
The senior most officer in the Army to be dealt with by the Commander, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, is the Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Ivan Dassanayake.
He has been called upon to retire from service on March 31, this year – three months ahead of the date (June 30) when he would reach his mandatory maximum period of three years as a Major General. If an extension of service until his 55th birthday on December 16, was not allowed Maj. Gen. Dassanayake would have to retire. In such an event, in any cause, he could opt to go on leave preparatory to retirement on March 31.
Maj. Gen. Dassanayake has strongly denied any improper involvement in the Safe House fiasco. He has told so to Lt. Gen. Balagalle and is said to be seeking legal recourse against this action. He feels that punishment has been meted out to him without his being called upon to show cause.
Compounding the situation further is another development. In a move that appeared to be an afterthought, early this week Lt. Gen. Balagalle wrote to Maj. Gen. Dassanayake informing him that he had been relieved of his responsibilities as both Colonel Commandant of the Sri Lanka Corps Military Police (SLCMP) and as Adjutant General. He had just been attached to Army Headquarters.
Here is a hilarious situation – a Major General has been told to retire on March 31 after Lt. Gen. Balagalle’s own recommendation to President Kumaratunga. Yet the Army Commander does not want him to serve in the posts allotted to him until the date of that retirement. He is merely attached to Army Headquarters. What is he expected to do? Is it not to while away his time. Is this a punishment? Such action seems unprecedented in the Army.
Questions have also arisen about why only some officers and men on whom strictures have been made by the Presidential Commission were punished whilst others were allowed to go completely free. Here again, the question is whether it was prudent to have asked the Army leadership to recommend punishment on those against whom strictures have been made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry.
If there was a failure to include recommendations on punishment as a term of reference of the Commission, highly placed military sources told The Sunday Times it would have been better for President Kumaratunga to have used her prerogative as Commander in Chief and ordered on the course of action. This is particularly in view of the failure of the Army high command to act on the recommendations of the Courts of Inquiry and also in view of allegations of serious partiality. The fact that there have been various pressure moves to avoid punishment being meted out on some is no secret.
The punishments, which no doubt arose from the Commission’s findings that those concerned have committed acts amounting to treachery, were fixed to take effect not immediately. They were decided upon weeks earlier, but January 30 was fixed as the effective date. The move is in marked contrast to prompt punishment meted out to officers or men accused of murder, rape or other acts of misconduct. But in a case where a Presidential Commission has held that the lapses amounted to treachery, advance notice has been issued on those concerned. Must one say anything more about how things have become comical in the defence establishment where there seems to be little or no control now?
The hilarious chapter on Army action is now over. President Kumaratunga also wrote to Police Chief, Indra de Silva, about action on former SP (and now ASP) Kulasiri Udugampola, who conducted the raid and others in the Police who assisted him. He has already set up a special team. (See box story).
In the meanwhile, the Supreme Court, the nation’s highest judicial body, has ruled that the fundamental rights of Captain Nilam and his LRRP team, were violated by Mr Udugampola. He has been ordered to pay within three months a sum of Rs 50,000 each to five of the LRRP operatives. The State has been ordered to pay Rs 750,000 each for them.
Only the outcome of the Police probe now remains. The curtain thus falls on the Athurugirya Safe House episode, at least until such time the Parliamentary Select Committee begins its own probe. From the developments so far, the action taken by those responsible seem to raise more questions than they answer. Whether they would find a chapter in the Guinness Book of Records or a humorous corner in Sri Lanka’s military history remains the question.
The LRRP men who paid the ultimate price
The Sunday Times today reveals details of intelligence operatives and civilian informants who were closely associated with LRRP operatives by the Directorate of Military Intelligence.
They were all tracked down and assassinated by Tiger guerrillas after the existence of the Safe House became public.
January 20, 2002
V. Vidyarnthan alias Vidya alias Nidhi –
Informant – Abducted on January 16, 2002 and killed on January 20, 2002.
February 09, 2002
Clary alias Gadaffi
Ex- guerrilla cadre – abducted from Chenkallady town and killed.
July 22, 2002
Saundarajah A alias Arinjan
Ex-guerrilla cadre – abducted from Batticaloa town on July 3 and killed at Vakarai.
December 11, 2002
Ganeshmoorthy alias Thilakarajah Samithambi
Informant – killed by LTTE gun-men in Colombo.
January 03, 2003
Pulendrarasa alias Cashier
Ex-guerrilla cadre – abducted in Kallady and killed.
March 18, 2003
Kadiragamthambi Ragupathi alias Ragu
Informant – killed by the LTTE gun-men in Colombo.
April 13, 2003
Sinnathambi Rajan alias Varadan
Informant – to be enlisted to the Army shot dead by the LTTE pistol group in Colombo.
April 26, 2003
Devarajha L. alias Ashok
Ex- LTTE cadre – killed in Colombo.
May 21, 2003
Kumar Perumal Perimban alias Master
Ex-PLOTE cadre – killed in Batticaloa town.
Besides the above, among intelligence operatives, soldiers, para military troops who were not connected to LRRP operations but were killed after the Safe House activities came to be known were:
August 14, 2002
Tamil soldier – abducted and killed.
December 02, 2002
Soldier – abducted and killed.
April 23, 2003
Tamil soldier – abducted and killed.
May 19, 2003
Tamil soldier – killed in Batticaloa.
August 03, 2003
Police Sergeant – abducted and killed in Trincomalee.
August 08, 2003
Vivekanada Sammugarasa SP
Tamil soldier – abducted and killed.
September 14, 2003
Tamil soldier – killed in Palameenmadu.
Among civilian informants (not connected with LRRP operations) but killed after activities of the Safe House came to be known were:
March 11, 2002
Pulendrarajha – abducted and killed in Muttur.
July 06, 2002
Thangarajha Premadasa alias Varuman – killed with his mistress in Welikanda.
March 20, 2003
Nagoorkanee Ashish – abducted and killed.
April 13, 2003
Subramaniyam Jayadewan – killed in Batticaloa.
April 23, 2003
Sellaiya Puvendrarasa – killed in Thunnalai.
May 16, 2003
Ariyanandan Hemachandran – Killed in Jaffna.
July 17, 2003
Abdul Bahir Fauzi – Killed in Uppuveli.
August 30, 2003
Sebamalai Vimalkumaran – killed in Vavuniya.
Erambamurthi Sabanayagam – Abducted in Matale and killed in Batticaloa.
Police Chief taking action
Police Chief, Indra de Silva, has set up a team headed by a Senior Superintendent of Police to conduct investigations against Policemen on whom strictures have been made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry over the Athurugiriya Safe House fiasco.
The team is to question former SP (and now ASP) Kulasiri Udugampola who conducted the raid. Also to be questioned are a one time senior Police official, a DIG, two SSPs and a number of Police officers.
This Police probe is a sequel to the findings of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry that probed the Safe House raid. It was headed by retired Appeal Court judge, D. Jayawickrema. President Kumaratunga had asked the IGP to take follow up action.
According to highly placed sources, the outcome of this inquiry will determine both Departmental and legal action against those in the Police Department (both serving and retired) who have been named in the Commission report. These sources said such action will be determined after the team’s report is handed over to Police Chief, de Silva. This is to be done in consultation with both the police Commission and the Attorney General’s Department.
These sources admitted that earlier Police Chief de Silva had forwarded the Presidential Commission report to the Police Commission and asked them to take action. This was on the basis that it was the Police Commission that was empowered to take disciplinary action against Policemen. However, the Commission had pointed out that it was not empowered to act on the Commission’s recommendation and called upon the Police to first conduct their own probe.
Meanwhile The Sunday Times learns that Police Chief de Silva recommended to the Police Commission that ASP Udugampola be sent on compulsory leave. This follows last Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that he violated the fundamental rights of the LRRP team that operated from the Safe House at Athurugiriya. The team was led by Captain S.H. Mohamed Nilam.
Ranjit Abeysuriya, Chairman of the Police Commission told The Sunday Times “I have received the recommendations. The matter is under consideration.” He said, “There was a problem earlier, but that does not arise now since there is a Supreme Court ruling on the matter.”
A three judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice Sarath N. de Silva and comprising Shirani A. Bandaranayake and P. Edussuriya, unanimously held that the fundamental rights of Captain Nilam and four of his colleagues were violated.
In an additional observation to the judgement, Justice Edussuriya, who referred to the conduct of ASP Udugampola noted that “if he did not act with any ulterior motive then, he has acted like an over – enthusiastic blundering schoolboy and has thereby displayed his incompetence.”
(Courtesy: The Sunday Times)