DBS Jeyaraj

David Buell Sabapathy Jeyaraj (popularly known as David Jeyaraj or DBS in short) is a senior journalist and political commentator based on Toronto, Canada

Sri Lanka: Diabolical mind of LTTE Spy Chief – Part 2

The first part of this article published last week narrated certain aspects of the life of Sivashankar alias ‘Pottu Ammaan’ the much-dreaded intelligence chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Although my original intention was to write a two-part article, I have been compelled to make it a three-part article in order to do justice to the information that I have been able to gather about Pottu Ammaan.

Sivashankar known as Pottu and Pottu Ammaan joined the LTTE in 1981. He obtained Indian arms training after July 1983 in Uttar Pradesh as part of the first batch of tiger trainees. After getting Indian training, Pottu functioned as one of Prabhakaran’s bodyguards. It was during this period that Pottu became a fanatical follower of his leader. He served the tiger ‘numero uno’ with slavish devotion. Pottu’s personal loyalty to Prabhakaran was unswerving and unquestionable.

After a stint as the boss’s bodyguard, Pottu was sent to be in charge (poruppu) of the “Karai” (shore) operations in Vethaaranyam area on the Tamil Nadu coast. The LTTE had set up camps in this area. Pottu was in overall charge.

Coastal operations were of paramount importance in the eighties of the last century as the LTTE was heavily dependent on Tamil Nadu as a rear base. Arms, medicine, fuel and other vital supplies were sent to northern Sri Lanka via sea from the Tamil Nadu coast. There was also a steady flow of cadres to and from Tamil Nadu by sea.

In charge at Vethaaranyam

Pottu discharged his duties efficiently but ruthlessly. One of his lesser known responsibilities at Vethaaranyam was the liquidation of cadres who fell foul of the leadership or were suspected of being traitors and double agents.

They were clandestinely killed, stomachs slashed and bodies dumped in the sea. Family and friends in Sri Lanka would think the persons concerned were in India while those in India would think they were in Sri Lanka. But the poor victims would be in Davy Jones’s locker.

LTTE old timers remember a particular incident illustrative of Pottu Ammaan’s monstrous cruelty. A cadre from Nelliaddy called “Chandran” was suspected of being a “traitor”. About to be executed, Chandran managed to run away after injuring a few cadres.

Pottu was enraged. The escapee was caught and brought to Pottu who trussed him up in a sack tied to a rope on a tree. The sack was dashed again and again by Pottu himself on the tree trunk. He then battered the sack with an iron rod. Chandran was reduced to pulp.

But Pottu’s stay in Vedaranyam had its pitfalls too. A calamity that befell Pottu in Vethaaaranyam in 1985 had its repercussions in Madras now Chennai.

PLOTE abducts Pottu

What happened then was that Pottu Ammaan, in charge of the LTTE coastal camp in Vethaaranyam had got into a heated argument with People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) operatives in the Tamil Nadu coastal region. In those days, the PLOTE had more cadres than the LTTE. Pottu and his bodyguard were outnumbered by the PLOTE contingent. Suddenly the PLOTE members seized Pottu and bodyguard and whisked him away to a PLOTE camp. Pottu Ammaan had been abducted by the PLOTE.

A furious LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran assigned to his deputies Shankar and Aruna, the task of freeing Pottu Amman. A round of talks between PLOTE military commander Jotheeswaran alias Kannan and Sornalingam alias Shankar took place in the residence of a Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Member of Parliament considered to be close to the PLOTE leadership. The talks however failed.

Shankar then revised his strategy and telephoned Dr. Sivanathan of the Tamil Information Centre (TIC) at Mahalingapuram in Chennai and asked him to arrange a meeting with the PLOTE’s Kannan the military leader. Kannan arrived with his retinue of bodyguards and engaged in discussions with Shankar at the TIC. At one point Shankar whisked out his gun, fired on Kannan’s foot and quickly placed his gun against Kannan’s head.

Shankar pulled out Kannan’s firearm and began firing into the air, while prodding Kannan with his own gun towards a waiting vehicle with Aruna as driver. The PLOTE bodyguards could do nothing as their leader was taken captive. Later, the LTTE negotiated from a position of strength with the PLOTE and exchanged Kannan for Pottu Amman and his bodyguard.

The extraordinary lengths to which the LTTE went to free Pottu Ammaan illustrated the regard with which he was held by the tiger supremo Prabhakaran.

Shankar who later pioneered the LTTE Air wing was killed by the Army’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) on the Oddusuddan-Puthukkudiyiruppu road on 26 September 2001. Kannan who along with PLOTE leader Umamaheswaran alias Muhunthan engaged in a shoot-out with LTTE leader Prabhakaran alias Karikalan and Sivakumar alias Raghavan at Pondy bazaar, Chennai in 1982 met with an equally tragic end later.

Kannan along with a group of PLOTE members including deputy leader Vasudeva and senior leader Subash were lured for “talks” to Pulipaainthakal near Kiran by the erstwhile eastern tiger commander “Col” Karuna in 1987 during the ceasefire period after the Indo-Lanka accord. It was a trap and they were massacred by Karuna and his cohorts.

Pottu relocated to east

After the humiliating abduction incident, Pottu was relieved of his duties on the Tamil Nadu coast and relocated to the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. He functioned in the Batticaloa and Amparai districts as a key associate to Basheer Kaakaa, Aruna and Kumarappah when they were in charge of the eastern region at different times. Pottu’s stay in the east was very eventful. It was in Batticaloa that Pottu met, loved and got married to his wife Vathsala.

It was also in Batticaloa that a gun-toting Pottu suffered the ignominy of being walloped with a broomstick by a Tamil woman who knocked the pistol out of his hand. The brave lady who is no more was none other than the irrepressible Kala Tambimuttu. Kala was the wife of former Batticaloa district MP Sam Tambimuttu and daughter of ex-senator Manickam. The only son of the Tambimuttus, Arun, is a budding politician in Batticaloa. The above mentioned incident and Pottu’s marriage will be delved into in greater detail at a later stage in this article.

When war erupted with the Indian army in October 1987, Pottu was recalled from Batticaloa and sent to Tamil Nadu again to oversee the smooth flow of supplies from the state. He moved from place to place utilising Indian fishermen to help transport goods often posing as a smuggler dealing in contraband.

On one occasion Pottu along with some Indian fishermen was arrested on charges of smuggling. Fortunately for Pottu the Indian officials thought he was an ordinary smuggler and not a tiger operative. After languishing in jail for a while Pottu bribed his way out to freedom. On another occasion he was involved in a shoot-out where an official vehicle of the Indian Customs was damaged.

Tied “Thaali” in Tamil Nadu temple

Pottu then returned to Jaffna and engaged in guerrilla operations against the Indian army. Pottu sustained injuries in his stomach in a skirmish and recuperated in the Wanni where Prabhakaran himself had relocated to. Thereafter Pottu went to Tamil Nadu clandestinely for further medical treatment. It was indeed an irony that tigers injured in fighting with the Indian army on Sri Lankan soil were able to get clandestine medical treatment in Tamil Nadu. Vathsala too went to Tamil Nadu. Both entered wedlock ceremonially in a Hindu temple where the groom tied a “Thaali” around the bride’s neck. Earlier their marriage had been registered in Batticaloa.

After full recovery Pottu returned to Sri Lanka and was entrusted in mid-1988 with the responsibility of administering the LTTE’s intelligence wing. It was called the Tiger Organization Security Intelligence Service or TOSIS. The TOSIS chief Vasanthan had left the LTTE after the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord.

After taking over, Pottu revamped the intelligence division and remained in charge for the next 21 years. As the years progressed he began acquiring a fearsome reputation. His status in the LTTE grew. Pottu became Pottu Ammaan.

Running the intelligence wing

As stated last week Pottu Ammaan was autocratic in running the intelligence wing. An incident related by a veteran government official is rather revealing. This gentleman had to shuttle between Colombo and Jaffna on account of his duties during the war days. His son had joined the LTTE and was working with explosives.

Pottu Ammaan enlisted or intimidated the officer into carrying things from Jaffna to Colombo and vice versa. The official had to obey Pottu’s diktat. One day Pottu summoned the official and showed him two boys. He was ordered to take them to Colombo and arrange for their stay. The official who had been for long a schoolmaster and had interacted with young boys took a look and expressed misgivings about one. He felt the boy in question was not up to the task.

“I am telling you from experience Ammaan. Not this fellow. He will be caught,” the official demurred. But an adamant Pottu snapped back. “Old man you take both or I will put you in the bunker prison.” The official had no choice other than to take both to Colombo. As he feared one of the boys was caught by the Police. As a result the official himself was arrested and detained for several years until his release after the 2002 ceasefire. This incident was personally related to me by the official concerned.

Another Tamil journalist living in Colombo had a similar experience with Pottu Ammaan. The journalist was in contact with the LTTE and had met some leaders including Pottu. Thereafter Pottu used to telephone him and chat. The journalist was thrilled. But one day two tigers turned up at his residence claiming that Pottu Ammaan had sent them. He was asked to accommodate them. The journalist living in a Sinhala neighbourhood refused and turned them away. Pottu was angry and threatened him. Fearing the worst the journalist soon left the country with his family.

Pottu’s power grows

In the initial stages after the intelligence division was restructured (explained in detail in article last week) most intelligence department heads reported to Prabhakaran as well as Pottu Ammaan. Gradually Pottu Amman became the intermediary through whom everything was reported to the LTTE chief. Pottu would meet the LTTE supremo at least four or five times a week.

There came a time when Prabhakaran was virtually inaccessible to senior LTTE leaders. Only Pottu Ammaan could see the supremo at any given time. Also Pottu Ammaan was the only tiger leader who could meet with Prabhakaran while carrying arms. All others had to hand over their arms before being granted a rare audience.

This state of affairs was caused by a massive threat perception. The Indian espionage agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) as well as the LRRP deep penetration squads of the Sri Lankan Army were greatly feared. The fear of the “enemy within” made a paranoid Prabhakaran become increasingly alienated from tiger leaders and cadres. Pottu Ammaan became all powerful and at one point was “controlling” the day to day activities of the leader.

Kiruban escape

The suspected RAW operation of staging an “escape” in Tamil Nadu and sending the “escapee” Kirupan to assassinate Prabhakaran was one attempt allegedly foiled by Pottu and Kapil Ammaan.

Kirupan masterminded the massacre of 13 members of the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) including its secretary-general Padmanabha, Parliamentarian Yogasangary and North-Eastern provincial minister Kirubaharan. This happened on 19 June 1990. Kiruban was arrested at a security roadblock near Pudukkoattai and held in the Vellore jail.

Kiruban allegedly made his escape when being transported under armed Police escort from Vellore to the Pudukkoattai courts. He reportedly shot dead two Policemen when fleeing to the Rameshwaram coast. He returned to Jaffna and regaled the LTTE supremo and other tiger leaders with tales of his sensational escape. But Kiruban’s “escape” was viewed suspiciously by Pottu and his deputy Kapil Amman.

They suspected that RAW had “turned” or converted Kiruban into a double agent and enacted a staged escape to hoodwink the LTTE leadership. Kiruban had been sent by RAW to assassinate Prabhakaran was the conspiracy theory of Pottu and Kapil. So Kiruban was tortured and executed after he was made to confess.

There is however a school of thought that believes Kiruban was innocent and was not an agent of the RAW. He had displayed much innovative acumen by undertaking such a daring escape to reach home only to be executed as a suspected RAW agent. It was felt that Pottu had acted over zealously or with an ulterior motive in handling Kiruban.

Mahathaya “coup d’etat”

The other and more important counter-intelligence success claimed by Pottu Ammaan was the crushing of the so-called Mahathaya “coup d’etat”. The Kirupan episode too was allegedly connected to the Mahathaya affair in which the LTTE’s deputy leader Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias “Mahathaya” was executed for conspiring to assassinate Prabhakaran and other top leaders. Again the RAW was blamed for “poisoning” Mahathaya’s mind and for “turning” a tiger cadre called “Engineer” into a double agent.

Pottu first arrested Engineer who returned from India after obtaining a Jaipur foot artificial limb. His leg had been blown away earlier in a landmine explosion. Thereafter it was alleged that the tiger deputy leader was conspiring with the RAW to stage an internal coup and oust Prabhakaran. It was alleged that Mahathaya was planning to execute Prabhakaran, Pottu Ammaan and 10 other senior tiger leaders and seize the LTTE leadership.

Mahathaya was arrested and tortured by Pottu Ammaan and a “confession” extracted before his execution. The videoed “confession” was screened to all cadres in order to justify the execution of the deputy-leader.

Thousands of cadres and leaders were detained and interrogated for suspected complicity. These included senior leaders like Jeyam, Yogi and Thamilselvan’s elder brother Paramu Balasubramaniam alias Moorthy. All three were reinstated later.

Many of the interrogated senior tigers were Pottu’s friends and colleagues. Embarrassed to supervise the interrogation personally, Pottu delegated the task to some juniors. They inflicted much physical harm and torture. The former political commissar Yogi’s hearing was affected as a result of the torture. Jeyam then the Vavuniya district commander had his nails removed.

Hundreds of others suspected of being Mahathaya loyalists were tortured and killed. These included members of the tiger contingent functioning as Mahathaya’s bodyguards.

Gowrikannan alias Susheelan

One of the senior leaders killed was former Kilinochchi district commander Rasanayagam Gowrikannan alias Susheelan. He was arrested months after Mahathaya’s arrest. The circumstances of Susheelan’s arrest and execution shed much light on the cruel and diabolical mindset of Pottu Ammaan.

Susheelan had got married barely a month before his arrest. Three siblings of his wife were LTTE cadres. The chief guest at Susheelan’s wedding was none other than Pottu Amman himself. He participated joyfully cracking many jokes at the bridegroom’s expense. He took his leave after wishing the new couple many years of wedded bliss.

Barely one month later, Pottu’s henchmen arrested Susheelan. He was interrogated and tortured. The Rasanayagam family in Nelliaddy had been supportive of the LTTE and had a cordial relationship with many senior tigers including Pottu Ammaan. They made pathetic entreaties to Pottu Ammaan but nothing could move the intelligence chief.

Susheelan’s mother whose favourite child was her youngest son was heartbroken. She died soon after her son was detained by the LTTE. Despite many appeals Pottu Ammaan refused to let Susheelan attend his mother’s funeral. Susheelan himself “died” in captivity later.

A close friend was to ask Pottu later as to why he encouraged Susheelan’s marriage and attended the wedding ceremony weeks before his arrest. Pottu’s reply in Tamil was characteristic. “If I tried to block his marriage or declined his wedding invitation, Susheelan would have got suspicious and fled from Jaffna. I attended the wedding to lull him into a false sense of security.”

Despite claims of an intelligence triumph by Pottu Ammaan over the Mahathaya affair there are many who doubt whether the ex-deputy leader was indeed guilty. It is said that Prabhakaran was resentful of Mahathaya’s popularity after the formation of the LTTE’s political front the Peoples Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT). The proponents of this theory feel that Pottu was acting at the behest of Prabhakaran to “frame” Mahathaya on a conspiracy charge. This was how the former Soviet Union’s intelligence chief Beria functioned as the “running dog” of ruler Stalin.

“Col” Karuna revolt

Another instance where Pottu Amman scored and increased his clout with Prabhakaran further was the Karuna Ammaan revolt. Pottu apparently was warning Prabhakaran that the LTTE’s former Eastern regional commander, Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias “Col” Karuna was treacherous and urging pre-emptive action. But Prabhakaran who had a soft corner for Karuna would not listen and restrained Pottu from acting. Karuna himself was not too worried about Prabha but was very fearful that Pottu could fix him.

Matters came to a head when Karuna defied an order from Prabhakaran summoning him to the Wanni and revolted openly. This reinforced Pottu’s position that Karuna was conspiring and was not to be trusted. As events unfolded and Karuna chartered his own course by collaborating with the Sri Lankan state, Pottu’s stance was vindicated in the eyes of Prabhakaran. Regretting his earlier refusal to act against Karuna as urged by Pottu the LTTE leader began relying excessively on Pottu Ammaan thereafter.

Prabhakaran and Pottu Ammaan 

This close affinity and mutual reliance between Prabhakaran and Pottu Ammaan continued to prevail with Pottu Ammaan remaining faithful to Prabhakaran till the very end. The details of Pottu Ammaan’s demise along with other matters would be related in the third and final part of this article.

Sri Lanka: Revisiting the Tamil Tigers Spy Chief


Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) supremo Veluppillai Prabhakaran along with many senior LTTE leaders was killed in the military confrontation with Sri Lanka’s armed forces in May 2009. With that military debacle in the Mullivaaikkaal area of Mullaitheevu district, the LTTE – known as the tigers – ceased to be a functional entity in the island.

Among those reported dead in May 2009 was the LTTE’s much-dreaded intelligence chief Shanmuganathan Sivashankar alias ‘Pottu Ammaan’. Though Ammaan is spelled by many as Amman with a single ‘A’, this writer uses a double A because it is phonetically more accurate in terms of pronunciation. Incidentally ‘Ammaan’ in Jaffna Tamil usage denotes maternal uncle. Many senior LTTE leaders were addressed respectfully as Ammaan by members of the movement in those days.

LTTE Intelligence chief Pottu Ammaan was at the time of the LTTE’s military defeat, the de-facto No. 2 of the tigers. The de-jure No. 2 was Baby Subramaniam who was second only to Prabhakaran in terms of seniority within LTTE ranks. However it was Pottu Ammaan who functioned operationally as the No. 2. Though reported dead and subsequently pronounced legally dead, the fact remains that Pottu Ammaan’s body or remains were never found. This has led to much speculation about the LTTE intelligence chief not being dead.

This writer has over the years received many queries from readers about Pottu Amman. Many of them ask me whether Pottu Ammaan is yet alive. The fires of doubt in their minds is fuelled by persistent rumours and occasional media reports of a sensational nature. Several readers have also been wanting to know more details about the LTTE intelligence chief. It is against this backdrop therefore that this two-part article focuses on Pottu Ammaan with the aid of some of my earlier writings.

Sivashankar Alias ‘Pottu’

Shanmuganathan Sivashankar alias Pottu Ammaan a.k.a. Pottu functioned for more than two decades as the pivotal head of the LTTE’s powerful intelligence division. Pottu served the LTTE for nearly 30 years having joined the movement in the early 80s of the previous century. When the LTTE launched its attack on soldiers in Thinnevely on 23 July 1983 it had only 23 full-time members and seven part-time helpers. Pottu was one of the original 30. Though his family resided in Naayanmarkattu, they were from neighbouring Ariyalai.

There was a time when Ariyalai in Jaffna was second only to Valvettithurai (VVT) in providing recruits to the LTTE. Senior leaders like Santhosham master, Kannaadi Prem and Bhanu were residents of Ariyalai. Veteran LTTE leader Basheer Kaakaa and Pottu were also from Ariyalai but were residents of Nayanmaarkattu adjacent to Ariyalai. However from childhood, Sivashankar had moved with Ariyalai kids of his age and used to hang out more in Ariyalai than Naayanmaarkattu.

Sivashankar’s father Shanmuganathan was also known as Shanmugalingam. He had been working as a clerk in Nuwara-Eliya district for many years. The family lived in Jaffna because of schooling for the children. At one point of time, several LTTE members including Charles Anthony alias Seelan had rented out the front room adjoining the Verandah as a “safe house” and stayed there for a while. It is said that Pottu’s father continued to reside in the hill country till the late 90s. Since very little was known to the Sri Lankan authorities about Pottu the son was supremely confident that his father was in no danger.

Pottu studied at Maheswari Vidyalayam, Canageratnam MMV (Stanley College) and Jaffna Hindu College. Tall, handsome and smart, he was very popular with his friends. Apparently he did not excel in studies or sports but won a lot of essay competitions. Sivashankar was recruited to the LTTE by former tiger Batticaloa district commander Basheer Kaakkaa and ex-LTTE Trincomalee district commander Santhosham. This was in late 1981. Earlier he had worked as part-time helper. Upon joining the LTTE as a full-timer, Sivashankar was assigned the nom de guerre Kumanan. But as the days went by he became known as ‘Pottu’ which interestingly enough was a nickname used by friends from school days.

Origin of the nickname Pottu

The origin of that nickname Pottu is rather amusing. Pottu is the mark or thilak placed on one’s forehead. Usually Santhanam (sandal) or Vermillion (Kunkumam) is used for daubing a pottu in temples or on auspicious occasions.

The rise of the Tamil nationalist , Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) also known as the Federal Party and in later times the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in Tamil politics led to the dominance of concepts like struggle and sacrifice in Tamil political discourse. A militant manifestation of this tendency was the custom of placing ‘Irathappottu’ or bloody thilaks.

Aroused by the hawkish sentiments of Tamil political leaders, highly emotional youths would mount platforms, prick or cut their thumbs and place the oozing blood as ‘pottu’ on the foreheads of the leaders pledging their blood and life for the Tamil cause.

Apparently young Sivashankar too had on one occasion climbed on to the stage in a frenzy, ripped his hand with a razor blade and placed bloody pottus on the foreheads of Tamil leaders Appapillai Amirthalingam and Vetrivelu Yogeswaran. This was during the highly emotive 1977 election campaign where the TULF espoused a separate state called Tamil Eelam. Yogeswaran was the TULF candidate for Jaffna electorate then.

Sivashankar’s emotional gesture was perceived hilariously by his friends. He was teased and called Pottu after that. The name struck and later when he joined the LTTE the Pottu name lingered on and his new comrades too began addressing him as such.

As Pottu’s seniority increased the suffix ‘Ammaan’ was added. As stated earlier Ammaan means maternal uncle in Jaffna Tamil usage. Seniors in the militant movement are addressed as ‘Annan’ (elder brother) ‘Master’ or ‘Ammaan’. Apart from the official nom de guerre Kumanan, other names used by Shivashankar occasionally were Moorthy, Kuyilan and Kuruvi. But it was as Pottu that he was known best. His international radio sign was ‘Papa Oscar’.

‘Vediyarasanân’ (explosion king)

In later years when the LTTE began triggering off explosion after explosion in Colombo and other areas, some tiger leaders like the LTTE’s former political adviser Anton Balasingam referred to Pottu facetiously as ‘Vediyarasanân’ (explosion king). Interestingly Vediyarasan is also the name of the legendary warrior-king who ruled Neduntheevu or the Island of Delft. Tamil folk dramas are staged about Vediyarasan in the ‘Naattukkoothu’ tradition still.

First LTTE batch

The July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom with its consequences was a watershed in Tamil politics. India played an active role by providing arms training for Tamil militants known as ‘boys’ then. Sivashankar alias Pottu went to Uttar Pradesh in North India for arms training as part of the first LTTE batch. The 1st batch comprised trainees who were a blend of ‘old’ members and new recruits. Among Pottu’s comrades in the first batch were Kittu, Ponnammaan, Soosai, Aruna, Victor, Curdles, Pulendrhian, Rajesh, Gnanam, Imran, Pandian, Ganesh, Paduman and Kanthan.

After getting Indian training Pottu functioned briefly as Prabhakaran’s bodyguard. It was during this period that Pottu became a fanatical follower of his leader. He served his leader with slavish devotion. Pottu’s personal loyalty to Prabhakaran was unswerving and unquestionable.

Pottu was entrusted in mid-988 with the responsibility of administering the LTTE’s intelligence wing. He remained in charge for 21 years until May 2009.

The evolution and growth of the LTTE intelligence division has been quite remarkable. Being a guerrilla organisation the LTTE lacked resources in signals, electronic, imagery or technical intelligence. But these were compensated for greatly by excessive reliance on HUMINT or Human Intelligence.


The LTTE Intelligence wing was initially formed in December 1983. It was called the Tiger Organization Security Intelligence Service or TOSIS. Its first head was a family member of a well- known smuggler in Valvettithurai. This person now living in a Western country bore the nom de guerre Vasanthan. The first head of TOSIS also had a pilot’s license. Vasanthan left the LTTE after the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord.

The TOSIS mainly functioned from Chennai during those days. Its role was minimal and somewhat nominal. The Indian intelligence agency RAW (Research and analysis wing) held some elementary training sessions for TOSIS. One of the early ‘intelligence’ tasks was the monitoring of maritime movement in Trincomalee harbour. The LTTE also ran a military office (MO) in Chennai headed by Thalayasingham Sivakumar alias Anton Master. The MO was more or less a prototype of a military intelligence unit.

Meanwhile the former LTTE Jaffna commander ‘Col’ Kittu set up his own local intelligence outfit. It was headed by ‘Ideas’ Vasu who also was from VVT. Vasu along with Ponnammaan and Curdles was killed in the Kaithady bowser explosion of 14 February, 1987. After Prabhakaran returned to Jaffna from Tamil Nadu in January 1987, he formed another intelligence unit called BETA-2. This was supervised by the former LTTE deputy-leader Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahathaya.

Took over in 1988

The TOSIS was re-located to the northern mainland known as Wanni in 1987. The BETA-2 and all other regional intelligence outfits were merged with it. The TOSIS underwent a renaissance after Pottu took over in 1988. He was ably assisted by Bosco alias Potko who at one time was studying to be a Catholic priest.

The LTTE gained much territorial control after the Indian army departed in March 1990. Using Jaffna as the base, Pottu began expanding, streamlining and developing the intelligence division. While Potko attended to administrative functions Shanmuganathan Ravichandran alias Charles was in charge of external operations. Charles who adopted the name Arulventhan later was a direct recruit of Pottu Ammaan. Charles was introduced to Pottu by the latter’s bodyguard Kili during the Indian army period. External operations was a euphemism for attacks outside the North-East particularly Colombo.

Charles was sent to Colombo during the ‘peace talks’ period with President Ranasinghe Premadasa. It was during this phase that the LTTE infiltrated Colombo easily. Charles diligently set up a clandestine tiger network. After war resumed in June 1990, this outfit got into action. Among the early operations was the car bomb assassination of deputy defence minister Ranjan Wijeratne and vehicle bombing of JOC headquarters in Colombo.

The intelligence division was in the meantime being revamped. The LTTE made a systematic study of the chief intelligence agencies of the world. According to ex-LTTE members who had been intelligence operatives, the training manuals of Pakistan’s intelligence agency the Inter State Services (ISI) were obtained and utilised for training intelligence wing cadres. The LTTE also copied many methods and stratagems of Israel’s Shin Bet and Mossad, say former LTTE members.

One attribute gleaned from the Israelis was to utilise Thamizh as the language of operation for intelligence purposes just as Israel used Hebrew. Though known as TOSIS once the LTTE’ intelligence division became totally Tamilised as it progressed. Special branches were begun within the intelligence division.

One such unit was called the ‘Viseda Vevu Pirivu’ or special reconnaissance unit. This was headed by Sashikumar or Sashi master who was decorated by Prabhakaran personally for the successful operation of 8 August 1992. This was the explosion at Aralithurai where a vehicle was blown up killing several top security officials including Denzil Kobbekaduwe and Vijaya Wimalaratne.

Demarcated intelligence division

In 1993, the intelligence division was demarcated into the ‘Thesiya Pulanaaivu pirivu’ (National intelligence division) and ‘Iraanuva pulanaaivu sevai’ (Military intelligence service). Pottu was in overall charge of the entire intelligence division in general and national intelligence service in particular.

Sashi master was placed in charge of military intelligence. He held this post till 2004 when Prabhakaran appointed Charles in his place. Sashi was placed in charge of special operations and training.

After Charles was killed by the Army in January 2008 in Mannar, Sashi master was re-appointed in charge of military intelligence. Sashikumar and ‘Col’ Sornam fought to the end in Mullivaaikkaal and died on 15 May.

National Intelligence Division

The LTTE National Intelligence Division had five known departments. The intelligence gathering section known as ‘Thagaval segarikkum pirivu’ was headed by Kapil Amman who was also the deputy chief of intelligence. The research and publications department known as ‘Aaivu matrum veliyeetu pirivu’ was headed by Maathavan master.

The special operations department known as ‘Viseda seyatpaadu pirivu’ was under Janan master. The infamous ‘Karumpuligal’ (Black tigers) suicide unit was also under this section. The ‘Payitchi matrum Tholil nutpa [pirivu]’ (Training and technology dept.) was under Aathavan master. The administrative department known as ‘Nirvaakappirivu’ was under Shankar. After he was killed by the Army’s LRRP in 2001, Gaddafi took charge.

Military intelligence service

The military intelligence service headed by Sashikumar alias Sashi master had five known departments. The ‘Viseda Vevu’ or special reconnaissance department was headed by Charles aka Arulventhan and later Irathinam Amman. The administrative department known as ‘Nirvaagapirivu’ was also supervised by Sashi master.

There were also three ‘Iraanuva thagaval segarippu pirivugal’ (military intelligence gathering units) for the Army, Navy and Air Force. These units had to gather information about all army, navy and airforce installations, movement of personnel, etc. These were headed by Gauthaman.

Intelligence division cadres were carefully screened with background checks before recruitment. New recruits underwent intensive training that lasted at times for nearly a year. Trainees were kept in isolation and had to wear masks for group sessions so that their faces were not seen by each other.

Training was varied. The black tiger suicide squad members were given specialised training that included how to walk in crowded streets without knocking on people while wearing an explosive laden suicide jacket or belt. Sinhala language lessons with proper emphasis on the ‘accent’ was also imparted to those carrying Identity cards with Sinhala names.

Field agents

A typical LTTE cell located outside the North-East had four to six members. They were called ‘Velikkala muhavarhal’ or field agents. One did not know the other and each was assigned separate duties. Each cell was handled or coordinated by a ‘pirathhana muhavar’ or principal agent. At times the principal agent interacted directly with the field agents. At times an intermediary called ‘Idainilaiyaalar’ was used. 

An elaborate network of safe houses, storage facilities, dead letter boxes, etc. was set up by the LTTE intelligence. Earlier the tigers utilised Tamils of North-Eastern origin for setting up the supportive network. Later they focused on Indian Tamils. Gradually the tigers began enlisting Muslims and Sinhalese using enhanced financial remuneration as an incentive. The ceasefire period from 2002 February was a windfall. An intricate network was established.

A noteworthy feature of this phenomenon was the infiltration of Police and Armed Forces. Initially a media personality was used to cultivate potential double agent recruits in the Police and Armed Forces. Huge sums of money and in some instances expensive property were given as incentives. Most of these officers were Sinhala or Muslim. Some of these personnel were later identified and apprehended. Sri Lankan officials were immensely impressed by the extent to which Pottu Ammaan had elevated the LTTE intelligence division.

Bosco alias Potko

The LTTE’s intelligence wing was a mere fledgling when Pottu took over. It was Pottu Amman who developed it to unbelievable levels. As mentioned earlier, he was aided greatly by Bosco alias Potko who at one time was a student in a Catholic seminary.

Some of Pottu’s old acquaintances were initially flabbergasted at Pottu’s metamorphosis as Beria to Prabhakaran’s Stalin. Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria was the dreaded Chief of Secret Police in the Old Soviet Union during the dictatorial rule of Josef Stalin.

One of his classmates now in Canada told me once that Sivashankar was a ‘mokkan’ (idiot) in studies. He was amazed at Pottu’s growth in later life and observed, “I just don’t know how he is running the intelligence division so well nowadays.” But then academic brilliance is not a pre-requisite to run an intelligence outfit. What is required is lateral thinking, practical approaches, devious, cunning, organisational skills, shrewd judgement of men and matters, and above all perpetual paranoia about everything.

Expertise in playing cards

An indicator of Pottu’s ability and talent was his acknowledged expertise in playing cards. He was very fond of playing cards. A former LTTE colleague of Pottu told me that he (Pottu) could be woken up from sleep at night for a game of cards. He was always ready for cards. On one occasion, the tigers had to flee from a safe house because an army patrol was approaching. Pottu had apparently forgotten to take away a bag of home made grenades with him but had not forgotten to take away his pack of cards. Pottu was not the intelligence chief at that time.

Pottu was apparently a marvel at ‘Three Naught Four’ and was able – within a short time – to gauge which cards were being held by his adversaries. He would play his cards accordingly. Pottu had the uncanny ability to both bluff as well as call the bluff of his opponents. This was a trait which stood him in good stead as intelligence chief.


Pottu Ammaan however was autocratic in running the intelligence wing. He also had a cruel streak which made him a much dreaded man within and outside the LTTE. Once in 2002, Pottu Ammaan was a ‘surprise’ participant at a political discussion between the LTTE and MPs from the newly formed Tamil National Alliance (TNA). I asked LTTE political strategist Anton Balasingham then in London about Pottu’s inclusion in a political discussion. Balasingham chuckled and replied that Pottu was included to intimidate (verutta) the MPs.

The much-dreaded Pottu Ammaan’s reign of terror came to an end in May 2009. How and why that happened would be delved into in grater detail in the second part of this article