Secrecy in the armed forces

Reports on the raid of a house at Athurugiriya by a special team from the Kandy police, said to be in connection with the Udathalawinna killings and subsequent reports that this house was being occupied by a Deep Penetration Unit of the army’s military intelligence appear to be like the bungling of Thompson and Thompson , the two stupid detectives in theTin Tin comic strip

The reports do make humorous reading except for the fact that they appear to be connected with high security problems. Initial reports said that it involved a plot to assassinate the newly elected Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, which is now discounted. Then reports said that the raid was conducted by a special unit deployed on the Udathalawinna killings, where the two sons of former minister Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte are alleged to be involved. Other reports said that a Deep Penetration Unit of the army, which had successfully laid traps and killed prominent terrorists of the LTTE, was occupying the house.

Whatever the case may be information regarding these investigations which should have been closely guarded had leaked to the country at large and does no credit either to the army or the police to have had their own versions published in the media. If indeed this had been a raid on a house where a crack team of commandos was operating from, the wide publicity given would have done irreparable damage to such operations. Deep penetration operations, if they were conducted, had been kept a closely guarded secret till this event occurred.

This event raises the issue of secrecy maintained by the armed services with regard to military operations. One reason attributed for the disastrous defeats of the Sri Lankan forces and the success of LTTE operations is that whereas the services secrets leak through a sieve, the terrorists secrets are very closely guarded. This is an aspect, which the new Minister of Defence,Mr.Tilak Marapone, should go into.

If he does go into media reports in depth, it will be apparent high ranking officials in the services are leaking news against their rivals that will be damaging, even if they are very highly sensitive military information. While media persons cannot be blamed for ferreting out such news and developing such contacts, rivalry among officers should not jeopardise security operations. In this respect the Editors’ Guild had drawn up guidelines in reporting on security operations, which the new minister should have a look at. We are not advocating censorship or a clamp down on news from the armed services but it is quite apparent that if military secrets are constantly spread across pages of mass circulating papers, it will cripple military operations.

Ego deflation

New brooms sweep well and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe is doing an excellent job of sweeping away some of the ministerial privileges that ministers had enjoyed at the expense of the public.

There has been open public resentment at the vulgar opulence enjoyed by ministers. Mr. Wickremasinghe’s call for simplicity is in accordance with the mood of the public. Limitations placed on the use of vehicles and restrictions on official residences will be greatly appreciated.

Limiting coverage by the state media on events attended by ministers may not be to the liking of his ministerial colleagues because the natural inclination of politicians is to bask in the limelight. The Prime Minister’s move, however, will protect ministers from ‘overkill’ in the media which ministers in power commit without realising the harmful effects.

The above mentioned limitations and a common policy on display of ministers’ photographs at public places are all ego deflating exercises that had not been practised for decades. What happened over the years was that ruling party politicians kept on increasing their display and opulence perhaps unaware of the public resentment that was building up against them. Perhaps, it was only after a severe political rout that they, like Humpty Dumpty, who after the great fall, realised how fragile they were. The curbing of ministerial opulence, extravagance and waste of public funds will not be popular measures among ministerial ranks but it was high time that political leaders stopped playing to the gallery.

As we said earlier, new brooms sweep well and it is very important that the Prime Minister should continue this exercise for a long time because there is quite a heap to be swept away.

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