Sri Lanka: Security Services Appear to Have Screwed Up

Sri Lanka: Security Services Appear to Have Screwed Up

Sri Lanka: Security Services Appear to Have Screwed Up

It’s still too early to make an assessment about the details of did or did not happen before the horrific attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter morning. The attacks are still under investigation, and from what we do know right now, a radical Islamist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath is responsible for the attack. We also know that Sri Lankan security services apparently screwed the pooch.

Ten days before the bombings, a top Sri Lankan police official warned the security services that a radical Islamist group was planning suicide attacks against churches, but no action was taken against the group. It was unclear what other precautions, if any, the security agencies had taken in response to the threat warnings.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Sunday that neither he nor his cabinet ministers had been informed of the warning, highlighting the power struggle between him and President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the defense minister. Late last year, the feud led, for a time, to there being two officials claiming to be the rightful prime minister.

It appears that the stovepiping of information and political games led to this particular intelligence failure that resulted in so much death and carnage!

Does it sound familiar to anyone else?

In the 9/11 Commission’s report detailing the myriad of failures that led up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Commission specifically zeroed in on failures in information sharing.

We learned of the pervasive problems of managing and sharing information across a large and unwieldy government that had been built in a different era to confront different dangers.


Each intelligence agency has its own security practices, outgrowths of the Cold War.We certainly understand the reason for these practices. Counterintelligence concerns are still real, even if the old Soviet enemy has been replaced by other spies.

But the security concerns need to be weighed against the costs. Current security requirements nurture overclassification and excessive compartmentation of information among agencies. Each agency’s incentive structure opposes sharing, with risks (criminal, civil, and internal administrative sanctions) but few rewards for sharing information. No one has to pay the long-term costs of over-classifying information, though these costs—even in literal financial terms—are substantial. There are no punishments for not sharing information. Agencies uphold a “need-to-know” culture of information protection rather than promoting a “need-to-share” culture of integration

Anyone who wants some very interesting insights into the battle between law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community leading up to the 9/11 attacks should pick up a book called “The Looming Tower.”

Twitter screen capture

It seems Sri Lankan authorities faced similar problems. The Defense Minister was never informed about the attack plot, even though law enforcement did share the information with security services, who apparently promptly ignored it.

There were some warnings issued as early as April 4, according to the Sri Lankan Health Minister, but once again, the Prime Minister had not been informed, and the lack of cooperation is so pervasive, that when the Prime Minister recently called a security council meeting, panel members refused to attend.

Meanwhile, the letter you see to my left, provided information about the impending attack. According to the New York Times, the April 11 letter “not only named the group believed to be planning an attack, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, but also named individual members, and even gave addresses where they could be found.”

The intelligence failure resulted in nearly 300 dead, hundreds more injured, and a world horrified once again about how this could have happened.

In a world where ISIS amir Abu-Du’a last year continued to encourage followers to attack the West, where ISIS affiliates like al-Shabaab launch attacks against hotels, where ISIS affiliates in the Philippines bomb churches, and where a resurgent, more determined al-Qa’ida plots against the West, it’s difficult to believe that any security service would ignore credible warnings from law enforcement.

But they did, and now hundreds are dead and injured.

I haven’t seen anything suggesting links between National Thowheeth Jama’ath and ISIS or al-Qa’ida, but as one security expert put it, these attacks “look as if they came right out of the ISIS, Al Qaeda, global militant jihadist playbook, as these are attacks fomenting religious hatred by attacking multiple churches on a high religious holiday.” And given that Sri Lanka did have a bunch of ISIS supporters lend a fighting hand in Iraq and Syria, it’s entirely possible that at least some of them returned from the battlefield to wreak havoc at home.

Regardless of whether ISIS, al-Qa’ida, or National Thowheeth Jama’ath conducted these coordinated attacks, the security services had a specific warning and appear to have taken no action thanks to political and inter-service rivalries.

I hold them partially responsible.


Featured photo: St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade, one of the targets of yesterday’s terrorist attacks. CC BY-SA 4.0

Written by

Marta Hernandez is an immigrant, writer, editor, science fiction fan (especially military sci-fi), and a lover of freedom, her children, her husband and her pets. She loves to shoot, and range time is sacred, as is her hiking obsession, especially if we’re talking the European Alps. She is an avid caffeine and TWD addict, and wants to own otters, sloths, wallabies, koalas, and wombats when she grows up.

  • Kristian says:

    And now we have the intelligence services being used for law enforcement (drugs) and political reasons (Senators, TDS, and maybe SCOTUS?). We need a better compromise.

  • Scott says:

    “I haven’t seen anything suggesting links between National Thowheeth Jama’ath and ISIS or al-Qa’ida,”

    I assume that you mean other than the glaringly obvious one Marta, that they’re MUSLIM!..

    The fact that they are apparently NOT connected in any other way should be starting to make it clearer even to the densest of folks that the real problem here is the ideology of the blood cult to which they all pledge fealty… So called “moderate” muslims are really just “bad” muslims, in that they are the ones that fail to adhere to the teachings of Mo, and his terrorist manual the koran…

  • Nicki says:

    Scott – not all Muslim extremist assholes are the same. ISIS and AQ are actually enemies. Hurrass al-Din thinks ISIS are a bunch of pussies. NTJ is not the same as any of those. Some don’t have the resources to launch an attack on this scale. Some don’t focus on the West, but on their home countries and regions and target westerners only if opportunity arises. They have different goals and means. Are they all Muslim? Sure. But different sects and philosophies will keep them at each other’s throats. Hell, some AQ assholes think that other fundamentalist assholes are not fundamentalist asshole enough.

    • Scott says:


      No doubt there are differences, and some of the groups hate some of the others, I didn’t mean to imply that they were all buddy-buddy, only that they all have the goal of establishing islam over all else, and killing any and all Christians / Jews that do not convert or submit to their blood cult. I agree, if there were a way to stay safe, and just sit back and enjoy the show while they attack each other, I’d be all for it. Problem is, they all will attack us, within the scope of their capabilities, whenever they have the chance.

      • GWB says:

        killing any and all Christians / Jews / Hindus / Buddhists / Animists / Sikhs / Secularists that do not convert or submit to their blood cult

        And concur on the internecine squabbling stuff. They are united by a single purpose, and will gladly cooperate (remember the lie about how Iran would never help out the jihadis in Iraq being proclaimed regularly while the Iranians gladly supplied arms, bombs and personnel to the Iraq jihad?) to kill Westerners. Then, after they’ve killed us, they will go back to killing each other.

      • Nicki says:

        Scott, no disagreement there. But I would also submit that if we are to track and destroy them, we need to understand them – and not just their goals and motivations, but their links, connections, financiers, etc. 🙂

  • GWB says:

    I haven’t seen anything suggesting links between National Thowheeth Jama’ath and ISIS or al-Qa’ida
    Very definite link: fundamentalist islam, and its command for jihad.
    That’s all the link you need.

    And, yes, the gov’t screwed the pooch there, it seems.

    • Nicki says:

      Links = actual connections. Not linked purposes.

      • GWB says:

        Who cares if they have actual legal connections (and I’m betting they do – in funding, at least)? The point is that they DO all have one great, glaring commonality: fundamentalist islam. If you want to stop all this “terror” (AKA “jihad”) then you have to address the commonality.

        I know there are muslims who do not support jihad. Fine. And a bunch more probably don’t, but can’t say so because they’ll lose their life if they do. But islam – in its basic writings and fundamentalist teachings thereof – is an ideology of world conquest, using religion as a shield and a mask. Every fundamentalist muslim imam everywhere should be stomped into the ground, thoroughly and as often as necessary. Fundamentalist islam is incompatible with western civilization.

        (One of the things I hated about my initial-sake president is that “we are not at war with islam” tripe. We might not be, but they are most certainly at war with us.)

        • Marta Hernandez says:

          My reference was, in fact, to ACTUAL connections, vice what you’re talking about. This is correct. The discussion on Islam is another issue than the one I’m discussing here. Considering that ISIS and AQ hate one another, and there’s a ton of infighting in those groups even among members, a discussion on actual links is appropriate. I haven’t seen anything indicating that they share facilitators, funding, etc. If I were to write about fundamentalist Islam, this would be a much different post – and probably much longer. And while I do not disagree with you on the fundamentalist Islam commonality, this is not the purpose of this blog post, so she is correct.

  • sound awake says:


    its not islamophobia if they really do want to kill you

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