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Security of military information and media responsibility

SECURITY: Directed by the President Mahinda Rajapaksa the military authorities would have now completed their findings of the Muhamalai debacle and the Habarana devastation. While the contributory causes and possible security lapses would have been determined, one great imponderable is the possible breach of security information.


Habarana devastation

Some newspaper reports and military analysts have commented and speculated on the possibility of the LTTE having prior information of the plans Muhamalai Operations and of the movements of the large Navy contingent on leave.

Considering the nature of the LTTE offensive at Muhamalai, cunningly luring the Armed Forces to a well laid trap and attacking from the front and rear and devastation of the Navy contingent proceeding on leave with clockwork precision tend to lend some support to the possibility of the LTTE being aware of the precise Armed Services operation and movement of the Navy personnel.

Further the recent news item in the local newspapers “Major admits spying for the LTTE. If these revelations are true it is shocking, very disturbing and requires immediate review of the present systems and strategies adopted to ensure security of information of all military operations, logistics and personnel movements.

‚ÄúThink Tank‚ÄĚ

Apart from pursuing action on the findings of inquiries of the Muhamalai debacle and Habarana devastation a ‚ÄúThink Tank‚ÄĚ should be constituted at the highest level to throw up new thinking on the entire aspect of security of information of all military operations, and allied aspects and map out fresh strategies to ensure that all military information is effectively safeguarded and secured.

It is admitted that it is easy to prescribe solutionsh, but thought has to be given to them if we are to resolve the painful dilemma thrust on us by these maniacal terrorists. They have in the past gathered information by dubious and ingenious ways which have had very adverse effects on the operations and the morale of the servicemen.

Threats to security

The general task of security, presents at the highest level two main problems. The first is that of building up a complete picture of the possible threats to security, hostile organisations and agencies, their personal methods and objectives.

The second is that of framing counter measures to contain the threat. While the assessment of the threat is undertaken at a national level, the counter measures adapted should be directed to safeguard the war strategies both defensive and offensive operations.

(A) Information
Which is principally subject to attack through espionage.

(B) Material
Which is principally subject to attack through sabotage.

(C) Morale
Morale and loyalty which is subject to attack through propaganda and subversion.

Security of information

Normally service secrets are graded according to the relative importance. While various measures are adapted to effectively safeguard all important information, during the twenty years of the ethnic conflict, the principle risks to classified information have been those arising from

(A) Espionage

(B) Infiltration

(C) Cultivation of social relationships

(D) Interception of communications and electronic transmissions

(E) Indiscrete/irresponsible news reports and commentaries by military analysts.

The services are adequately conscious of these risks and have adopted certain strategies but not with complete success due to certain insurmountable constrains.

Espionage

Espionage is procuring of official information, documents and equipment for the information of the enemy by unauthorized means. Espionage or spies as they are called work from outside by contacting personnel within. They naturally place the highest value upon access to information.

We have reported cases of some misguided service personnel who are lured by money being used by both the Northern and Southern terrorists to obtain vital information. In armed insurrection of 1971 the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna obtained vital information by infiltration and duress.

Effective defense against espionage depends in the first place of ensuring only trustworthy personnel have access to classified information. In this respect it is necessary to constantly screen these persons and regularly monitor their movements.

Cultivation of social relationships

There have been instances where both the Northern and Southern terrorists have subtly cultivated social relationships with Armed Forces and Police personnel for the purpose of gaining information or for carrying out a particular terrorist assignment.

An example of this is the suicide bomber who befriended some Army personnel to gain access to the Army Headquarters and made an attempt on the life of the Army Commander.

The effective way to counter this threat is to be continuously alert to the dangers arising from social relationships with outsiders. Without ascertaining their background and bona fides, relationships with outsiders should not be cultivated.

Interception of communications and electronic transmissions

Direct access to classified information is possible by the interception of communications. With the sophisticated methods available, the LTTE has been able to intercept and subvert vital information. It is important that proper steps are taken to safeguard all classified communications whether written, by signal, telephone or other speech systems or correspondence.

Newspaper reports

Irreparable damage has been caused to the war effort by some media persons both local and foreign by their indiscrete reports on military operations. Some of them with little knowledge of the war, logistics and allied operational aspects often make devastating comments on the operations.

The media scoops are essentially to be one above their rivals. They revel in sensation to draw the attention of the readers.

In these commentaries they tend to comment on the operations with a degree of dogmatism and infallibility and even predict the next operational moves and thrust. By comments and analysis of the operations of the war journalist tend to boost the LTTE morale.

They are of little solace to our brave soldiers and military establishments. Strangely most of the articles are critical rather than complimentary. It has to be remembered that wars cannot be fought without loss of lives and limbs.

By a piquant paradox the weekly commentaries of the security situation in the North and East have been of great benefit to the LTTE while virtually shattering the morale of serviceman.

It will be recalled that sometime ago an LTTE militant Selvadurai Senthilanathan who defected from the LTTE told the Forces the reports on the military operations have been of immense help to the LTTE.

The maps and diagrams which are often carried with the reports have been made use in planning their offensive. While some practicing journalists have published military information with circumspection and restrain others have virtually jeopardised the planned operations and caused undue embarrassment to those in authority and demoralised the soldiers, by their adverse comments and disclosure of military information.

This is why Service officials have considered the need to control the media in respect of military information.

Importance of securing information

The need to effectively and zealously safeguard military information cannot be overemphasised. This is an aspect which is inextricably interwoven with intelligence gathering and operational planning.

The effective impact and success of all military operations depend largely on the element of surprise. Taking the enemy without any prior indication of the planned operations is essential. It is the responsibility of all officers to appreciate fully the safeguarding of all operational and related information and set the right security tone over the personnel under their review.

Intelligence gathering

There may be lull periods due to build ups and negotiations between warring sections, but the prime factor that intelligence organisations may it be national or military organisations have to be hundred per cent alert and alive to the situation.

Good security coverage and good flow of intelligence are the only basis on which proper assessment could be made to counter and minimise terrorist activities and dubious methods used to obtain military information:- ‚ÄúAs intelligence is the first line of defence‚ÄĚ.

Apart from information military operations have been regularly under surveillance, the movement of high ranking Armed Forces and police officials in important positions, should be carefully monitored apart from providing them with the required security.

Information about their movements have to be kept secret as far as possible. Both in the case of Major General Parami Kulatunge and Colonel T.R. Meedin the terrorists were well aware of their detailed movements.

Education

Education is the foundation of security and if everyone is alive the reasons for zealously safeguarding security information, the risk of failure is substantially reduced and regulations in respect of security information will become fully intelligible.

The need to regularly and persistently impress on all service persons of their sacred obligation to zealously safeguard all military information cannot be overemphasised.

Media men and women should act with a greater sense of responsibility when reporting on military operations. It is appreciated that their task is challenging and unenviable.

They risk their life and limb to take photographs and obtain scoops for the press and electronic media. The soldiers risk their life and limb to save the country from sequestration. What is the greater achievement?

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