Sunday, March 20, 2016

Power outages: Don’t rule out sabotage

Edward Gunawardena
In the recent power breakdowns that included the longest power outage in twenty years to rule out sabotage is ridiculous.

Never, perhaps in Sri Lanka’s post-colonial history, has a democratically elected government been made to undergo excruciating difficulties by a viscous opposition that has not only lost unbridled power which was abused with impunity when in power, but has been made to live with the imminent possibility of being incarcerated and shamed for the gross abuses of power and the mass scale misappropriation of public funds.

Arguably, the last regime was a de facto autocracy within a democratic framework. The ruling cabal, predominantly one family acted without concern for the opposition, the public, the media and even the Judiciary. There was nothing called accountability. State funds were siphoned off to obscure destinations with audacity.

Usually, autocratic regimes are thrown out by violent means and the changes of personnel at all levels of administration are effected ruthlessly by the incoming regime. The regime change that took place in January 2015 was unique. It was peaceful and democratic. Unlike in a violent overthrow, the leaders as well as supporters and beneficiaries of the defeated regime have lived to fight another day.

The new regime committed to democracy and human values, ostensibly lacking the co-operation of many key officials who served the last regime, is struggling to expeditiously complete investigations and bring those who swindled the country to justice. The culprits who know best what is in store for them and who are sensing the noose tightening round their necks have already organized themselves to offer formidable resistance. To escape from this certain predicament they have to bring this government down or weaken it to the extent that even their support will be sought by the government for its survival.

The economy is at a low ebb. Indeed, it has become the Achilles heel of the government. Enhanced taxation. soaring prices of consumer goods and the unbearable cost of living have pushed the government against the wall, Willful attacks on the economy’s nerve centers with the intension of further crippling the economy and discouraging prospective investors can drive the government to a point of ineffectiveness. Sections of the opposition are working to a plan. Sabotage is the most destructive and effective weapon in their armoury. Its time the government realized this.

The government’s opponents, albeit defeated at the polls, have not lost their die-hard loyalists in key places. Appointments had been made with impunity. Many officials as well as employees at all levels, particularly in key places, are lackeys of the former regime. They are privy to the inner mechanisms of many sensitive organizations. The expertise is in their hands. As a junior Rajapaksa famously remarked ‘the lions tail has been trampled and the animal is furious’. Out of this fury sabotage can flow in abundance. Prospective saboteurs do exist in all sections of the administration. They have the burning desire, motivation and the hope of a better life if the anti-government forces regain power.

This is a universal phenomenon. In the late sixties as a Fulbright scholar preparing for a Masters degree at the Michigan State University, a four credit course that I followed entitled ‘Internal Security in a Democracy’ was conducted by a Senior Professor who was also an advisor to the Director of the CIA. I am personally aware of the manner in which the CIA mounted surveillance immediately after Richard Nixon’s victory in 1968 on the Columbia Broadcasting Service (CBS), The Atomic Energy Authority, NASA and sections of the Pentagon. Officials who held key positions in sensitive organizations were shuffled or removed and new appointments made.

In 1978, when I was the Director of Intelligence, even additional personnel had to be trained as the goings on in many state organizations, including Broadcasting, SLTB, Port of Colombo and Lake House had to be watched. Changes were effected in key positions by the Jayewardene government based on confidential reports presented at meetings of the National Security Council.

It is common knowledge that organizations such as the SLTB, Colombo Port and the Power and Energy Sector are packed with political appointees of the last regime that lasted over a decade. They are not only grateful to, but under obligation to politicians who helped them get appointments. Making such types cats paws in the execution of planned acts of sabotage needs no special effort or money.

Prevention of Sabotage is a highly complex task. Trained saboteurs are not foolish enough to attempt destroying installations that are being openly guarded by armed security personnel. Sabotage involves more subtle means, making the role of intelligence in sabotage prevention most vital. Surveillance of suspect insiders that will help discover their communications with politicians opposed to the government, underworld criminals etc. is of paramount importance.

The intelligence units of the Army and other services will certainly be more appropriate and meaningful than armed combat units in the war against possible sabotage. This is applicable not only to power and energy, but also to other vital sectors eg. Water Supply, Transport and Communications, TV and Broadcasting, Hospitality Industry etc. Government needs to seek the advice and assistance of the Intelligence experts of the Police as well as the services in this regard as a matter of high priority.

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