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Sri Lanka’s Intelligence Agencies: Debunking the Pseudo-Nationalist Narrative

5 mins read

by a Special Defence Correspondent

“Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.” ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

Nationalism and patriotism have the potential to unite a nation and instil a sense of shared identity, but their abuse by those who do not understand the importance of national interests can jeopardize a country’s long-term well-being. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, these concepts have been widely misused for political purposes, making it rare to find genuine nationalists and patriots. Instead, the country is plagued by pseudo-nationalists and fake patriots who exploit public sentiment and national interests for their own personal gain, posing a threat to the country’s future prosperity.

Pseudo-nationalists and fake patriots are individuals who use nationalist rhetoric for their own political gain, without any real understanding of what it means to act in the best interests of the nation. These individuals are often more interested in promoting their own personal agendas than in advancing the greater good of their country.

One of the key dangers posed by these individuals is that they are often willing to play politics with everything, including national security and foreign policy. They may take positions that are popular with their base or that score political points, but that ultimately weaken the country’s position on the world stage. For example, they may oppose important trade agreements or alliances that are critical to the country’s economic or military strength, simply because they do not want to be seen as “weak” or as ceding control to other nations.

Irony is pseudo-nationalists and fake patriots often lack a nuanced understanding of the complexities of international relations. They may take simplistic, black-and-white views of issues, failing to appreciate the subtleties of diplomatic negotiations and compromise. This can lead them to take hardline positions that are ultimately harmful to the country’s long-term interests.

MP Wimal Weerawansa’s recent statement in Parliament claiming that Sri Lanka is at risk of becoming an American colony is a prime example of how pseudo-nationalists can harm a nation’s long-term interests. By making baseless accusations that US officials disarmed Sri Lanka’s intelligence agency, including its Director General, Weerawansa is playing on people’s fears and prejudices instead of offering constructive ideas for the country’s future. Weerawansa’s political opportunism resembles the behaviour described by Samuel Johnson’s famous saying, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Unfortunately, Weerawansa is not the only one to play this game. Unfortunately, Weerawansa is not the only one to play this game. Many politicians, NGO activists, and religious leaders have criticised intelligence agencies and security apparatus without any real understanding of their structures and vital roles in keeping the country safe. In Sri Lanka, people often blame intelligence agencies without recognizing their hard work and limited resources to protect the country from potential dangers.

Moreover, Weerawansa’s claims are not only baseless, but they also show a lack of understanding about how intelligence agencies operate. It is highly unlikely that any foreign country, let alone the US, would demand that another country disarm its intelligence agency. Such a demand would be seen as a violation of national sovereignty and would likely trigger a diplomatic crisis. Instead, visits between intelligence agencies are often conducted in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, with both sides learning from each other and sharing best practices.

Furthermore, by making such claims without any evidence to back them up, Weerawansa is potentially damaging Sri Lanka’s relationships with other countries. Such unfounded accusations can be seen as inflammatory and can lead to a breakdown in trust between nations. This can have serious consequences for Sri Lanka’s foreign policy and its ability to engage in diplomatic negotiations. By playing politics with everything and making baseless claims, such individuals can undermine a country’s relationships with other nations and damage its reputation on the world stage. It is important for citizens to be vigilant against such individuals and to support leaders who are committed to acting in the best interests of the country, rather than advancing their own personal agendas.

Sri Lankan intelligence agencies have demonstrated the importance of cooperation in achieving strategic objectives and fighting common enemies.

Needless to say, cooperation between intelligence agencies is critical for the safety and security of nations around the world. Sharing intelligence and working together to achieve strategic objectives on national interests is a well-known fact. Intelligence cooperation enables nations to fight common enemies such as terrorists and drug traffickers, and it is essential in the fight against transnational organized crime and other threats to national security. Leading intelligence officials from not only the United States but also countries such as India, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Russia, among others, often visit Sri Lanka due to our country’s commitment to maintaining neutral foreign policies and strategic defence partnerships. We believe that politicians and others who do not fully understand the depth of these partnerships should refrain from making political statements that could potentially cross these boundaries.

As Chen Wen, Director-General of the Department of International Cooperation at the Ministry of State Security in China, says “intelligence cooperation is a vital tool for enhancing international security and countering transnational threats. China is committed to working with other countries to promote intelligence sharing and cooperation.” Similarly, General David Petraeus, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the United States, says “the ability to gather, analyze, and share intelligence is the key to national security. Intelligence cooperation among nations is, therefore, a vital component in maintaining global security and stability.

Concurrently, Sri Lanka is one of the countries that recognize the importance of intelligence cooperation, and its intelligence agencies have been working closely with their counterparts in other countries to achieve strategic objectives. In the past few months, Sri Lankan intelligence agencies, with the support of their counterparts, have successfully accomplished many operations. These operations have contributed to the protection of national security and the safety of Sri Lankan citizens.

Data gathering and analysis are critical components of the intelligence process. Intelligence agencies collect and analyze data to transform them into actionable intelligence. This process is complex and time-consuming, requiring adequate resources and skilled personnel. Intelligence cooperation allows countries to share resources, skills, and knowledge, making the intelligence process more efficient and effective as it is critical for the safety and security of nations.

Sri Lankan intelligence agencies have demonstrated the importance of cooperation in achieving strategic objectives and fighting common enemies. Data gathering and analysis are critical components of the intelligence process, and intelligence cooperation allows countries to share resources, skills, and knowledge, making the intelligence process more efficient and effective. It is essential for nations to strike a balance between cooperation and protecting national interests. Intelligence cooperation is not only critical in fighting common enemies but also in advancing economic, political, and social interests.

Our intelligence agencies work tirelessly to protect our nation with limited resources, and without strong partnerships with each country, our security is at risk. Therefore, it is crucial that politicians and other members of society approach these issues constructively and prioritize national interests. Unfairly targeting and using them as scapegoats by pseudo-nationalists for political gain will have only unwanted tussles between our strategic partners. It is the responsibility of politicians and society as a whole to understand the complexity of intelligence work and the challenges they face, rather than using them as a convenient target for blame. A constructive approach to intelligence cooperation and strengthening national security is crucial for ensuring a safe and prosperous future for any nation.

The views expressed are the author’s own

Russia urges U.S. to prove innocence over Nord Stream incident

1 min read

 The United States should try to prove its innocence of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines, the Russian Embassy in the United States said on Thursday.

The Russian side will not allow to simply turn the page on destroying critical energy infrastructure, especially given the fact that nothing is known about the remaining explosives on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, the embassy’s press secretary Igor Girenko said in a statement.

“We qualify the incident as an act of international terrorism that requires a comprehensive and independent investigation. The United States, claiming to be the source of the ‘ultimate truth,’ should drop the baseless accusations against us and get down to business,” Girenko said.

In an article published last week, Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh revealed that the United States partnered with Norway in a top-secret operation in June 2022 to plant remotely triggered explosives that took out three of the four Nord Stream pipes three months later. 

Biden bullies China. But it won’t work

6 mins read

There is no question that the circumstances surrounding the “balloon affair” between the United States and China are dodgy. Burlesque does not belong to China’s diplomatic toolbox. China never used balloons to browbeat adversaries. 

Unsurprisingly, expert opinion largely tends to go along with the Chinese contention, which implies that Beijing had no need to resort to such outmoded and difficult-to-control means such as a gas-filled balloon hoisted at 60000 feet above ground propelled by the winds to conduct surveillance over America’s super secret nuclear weapon sites when it has as sophisticated means as Americans would have to spy other countries through satellites. That seems a credible rationale, isn’t it? 

The big question is, can the balloon affair be the work of Vayu, the Hindu god of the winds, who in Indian mythology also is believed to act at times as the divine messenger of the gods? 

Seriously, Beijing insists that a Chinese company’s weather test balloon “with limited self-steering capability” deviated far from its planned course and was blown by winds across North America sometime early last week. 

From available details, Pentagon was all along tracking that wayward balloon and, in fact, President Biden was kept informed, who had promptly ordered it to be shot down, but inexplicably, nothing was done for days until on Saturday, as it drifted off the US’ east coast heading toward the vast Atlantic Ocean, it was brought down in a blaze of media publicity. 

However, a day earlier, on Friday, the White House abruptly announced the postponement of a major two-day visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken (during which he was expected to meet President Xi Jinping.) 

Biden took these extreme steps despite China’s plea that this was “entirely an unexpected situation caused by force majeure and the facts are very clear” and Beijing, in fact, even expressed “regret” (which is tantamount to an amende honorable, as the French would say.) 

Furthermore, there was even a conversation on Friday between Blinken and Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Central Committee. Beijing’s readout noted that the two top officials “communicated with each other on how to deal with a chance occurrence in a calm and professional manner.” 

The initial Chinese Foreign Ministry press releases (here and here) were in a manifestly  conciliatory spirit. But Blinken chose to do some grandstanding and took a tough posturing calling it “an irresponsible act and a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law that undermined the purpose” of his forthcoming trip to Beijing. 

According to a Xinhua news agency report, the Chinese Foreign Ministry since expressed “strong dissatisfaction and opposition towards the US use of force to attack China’s civilian unmanned airship” and flagged that the “Chinese side had clearly asked the US side to properly handle the matter in a calm, professional and restrained manner.” 

The Chinese Foreign Ministry added, “Under such circumstances, the US use of force is a clear overreaction and a serious violation of international practice. China will resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the company concerned, and reserve the right to make further responses if necessary.”  

All in all, to borrow the Biblical metaphor, “the cloud as small as a man’s hand rising out of the sea” turned out to be a torrent on the way. That’s where the real danger lies. The Biden Administration is already “over-militarising” the US-China relationship, as pointed out thoughtfully by Harlan Ullman, a noted author and senior advisor at the Atlantic Council, recently. (Is the US over-militarising its China strategy?)  

The Biden Administration estimates that it has garnered a valuable chip by putting China on the wrong foot and ratcheting up tensions. In the language of gambling, Biden considered himself an “advantage player” who can choose to do nothing, or play the chip and run. 

The balloon affair is not without potential to be inflated to trigger a confrontation with China, but Biden might prefer to use it to intimidate Beijing and to create the backdrop for the impending landing of the NATO in the Asia-Pacific region

In the first ever Asian tour by the alliance’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg sharply criticised China on Tuesday, from Tokyo, for “bullying its neighbours and threatening Taiwan” and forewarning that “transatlantic and Indo-Pacific security is deeply interconnected.”

Equally, it just cannot be a coincidence that out of the blue, the Wall Street Journal in an exclusive report on Sunday, seemingly unrelated to the balloon affair, alleged that China “is providing technology that Moscow’s military needs to prosecute the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine despite an international cordon of sanctions and export controls.” 

The report claims that available “customs data show Chinese state-owned defence companies shipping navigation equipment, jamming technology and fighter-jet parts to sanctioned Russian government-owned defence companies.” 

The Journal based its report entirely on customs data provided by C4ADS, “a Washington-based nonprofit that specializes in identifying national-security threats“, which is of course distinguishable as a proxy of the US intelligence. 

Rivals and partners 

Simply put, Beijing is being threatened from all sides that Biden would now have the nuclear option to rally the entire “collective West” and start piling sanctions against China even if Xi Jinping keeps the strategic restraint not to invade Taiwan.

An editorial today in China Daily, the official newspaper, on Stoltenberg’s Asian trip takes note that his thesis of transatlantic and Indo-Pacific security being Siamese twins and the proposition that Russia and China form an evil axis threatening the rules-based international order “is something strategists in Washington are trying hard to peddle around the world.” 

To cap it all, the Stoltenberg visit, the balloon affair and the ensuing media build-up, and, most important, the Blinken trip to China (where he was reportedly to meet President Xi Jinping in what was touted by the Biden Administration as an effort to build a “floor for the relationship”) — all these also coincide with an important round of consultation in Moscow on Friday by Ma Zhaoxu who was recently promoted to a full ministerial position to oversee the daily affairs of the Chinese foreign ministry.   

The Foreign Ministry readout in Moscow (in Russian) on Ma’s consultations in Moscow stated that the two sides “carefully considered” their bilateral cooperation in the UN area — Ma is a former UN envoy —  and went on to say that he and his Russian counterpart deputy foreign minister Sergey Vershinin “paid special attention to persistent attempts by representatives of some countries to undermine the authority of the UN by using its platform to put pressure on sovereign states, as well as creating alternative and inclusive mechanisms outside the framework of the Organization in line with the concept of a ‘rules-based world order.’ ” 

Another meeting by Ambassador Ma with Russian DFM Andrey Rudenko “highly assessed” the Sino-Russian relations, confirmed “the mutual commitment to their gradual development” and discussed the “prospects for expanding bilateral ties in 2023.” (here)

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also received Ma Zhaoxu. Notably, the Russian Foreign Ministry press release highlighted that “They noted their rejection of confrontational policies, as well as attempts by individual countries to interfere in the internal affairs of other states, or to restrain their development by imposing sanctions and other illegitimate methods. The officials reaffirmed their intention to reliably defend the sovereignty, security, and development interests of the two countries, and to build together a more just and democratic multipolar world order.” 

Evidently, the Biden Administration realised that one main objective of Blinken’s trip to Beijing — ie., to weaken the Sino-Russian axis — was going to be a non-starter. The US’ sustained efforts to turn the Ukraine conflict as a tool to sabotage China-Russia relations have failed spectacularly. The economic and military ties between Beijing and Moscow are only  growing stronger. President Xi Jinping’s expected visit to Russia in spring heralds the steady upward trajectory of in the “no limits” partnership. 

Lavrov captured the verve of the Russian-Chinese partnership when he said in a TV interview on Friday that “although we do not create a military alliance, our relations are of a higher quality than military alliances in their classic sense, and they have no bounds or limits. And there are no taboo topics either. They are indeed the best in the history of both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, and the Russian Federation.” 

In reality, Russia and China are optimally acting out of their national interests. Thus, Russia sees the US as an “enemy” that (foolishly) seeks its destruction and dismemberment, while the US, for China, is but a rival and potential opponent. A Moscow pundit Dmitri Trenin caught the subtle nuances recently when he wrote, 

“This is not enough to form a military alliance between Moscow and Beijing. China naturally values its economic interests in US and European markets, and Beijing may change its mind in favour of a military alliance only if Washington becomes its enemy. For the sake of Russia alone, China is not willing to take this step.” 

The balloon affair can be regarded as a defining moment. It exposes that while China was approaching Blinken’s visit in good faith with the purpose of finding constructive ways forward, Washington didn’t view things the same way. That said, Beijing was under no illusions, either. A CGTN video clipping Friday was titled Blinken’s visit to China: A candid talk or political tactics? 

Playing With Matches is Dangerous

2 mins read

Truth is always the first casualty of war – and no less so than the current conflict in Ukraine. Russia insists it’s a localized police action to uproot a new Nazi uprising. Ukraine, which has become a US protectorate, insists it’s fighting to halt Russian aggression against a freedom-seeking nation. No mention that Ukrainians used to be called Russians.

For interesting contrast, go back to the first Chechen War from 1994 to 1996 and the second one from 1999 to 2009. The 1.4 million Chechen, a fierce Muslim people of the Caucasus Mountains, who had been battling Russian imperial expansion for 300 years, rose up and waged two David v. Goliath wars to regain their freedom from Russia.

In the first war, Chechen fighters routed Russian forces. Moscow agreed to independence for the Chechen Islamic Republic. But then hardliners, led by security chief Vladimir Putin, resumed the war after a staged fake bombing of Moscow apartments by the renamed KGB, the SVR that killed 200-300 people.

At that time, the US was actively supporting the Yeltsin regime in Moscow, particularly so with massive financial aid. Yeltsin had long-established links to CIA and Britain’s intelligence agency, MI6.

The US refused to help the Chechen resistance or recognize its fight for independence. I know this because I was closely following this tragic story and trying to raise some support for free Chechnya.

As fighting raged in Chechnya, the US called on the then Chechen leader, Gen, Dzhokhar Dudayev, to negotiate with Boris Yeltsin. Dudayev was given a special mobile phone supposedly connected to one held by Yeltsin for the ’peace talks.’

As so as Dudayev and Yeltsin were connected, a covert US aircraft launched a missile that homed in on Dudayev’s phone receiver. The Chechen leader was blown to bits. With further help from US intelligence, the Chechen resistance was relentlessly ground down and eliminated. Chechens were arrested and tortured en masse in so-called Russian ‘filtration camps.’ A Chechen warlord, Ramzan Kadyrov, was named ‘gauleiter’ of Chechnya. Chechen leaders were hunted down and assassinated by KGB or Kadyrov’s agents.

Chechnya was literally thrown to the wolves by the US. What a contrast this is to the current situation in Ukraine which has been flooded by $15-20 billion of modern US weapons in recent months and aided by a massive propaganda campaign directed by the US and Britain.

Unlike 1991, the US sees the war in Ukraine as a rare chance to tear a big chunk of Russia away or even go on to crush the Russian Federation into fragments. Many Ukrainians would be happy to see this outcome. The memory of how Stalin’s USSR starved or shot some six million Ukrainians in the 1920’s and 1930’s lingers among the older generation.

But younger Ukrainians must question what will happen if their war with Russia continues. Will Ukraine invade Russia and try to regain Crimea? Will the US or some European powers support an attack on Crimea? Poland and Britain are already deeply involved in the war. Who will be next?

The right wing of the US Democratic Party, now in power, is far more warlike and anti-Russian than most Americans realize. In fact, it’s the real `war party.’

If this half-baked war continues, the risks of a nuclear or chemical confrontation grow daily. So does an accidental clash in the Black Sea between Russia and the US. Off on the sidelines the Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Azeris, Egyptians. Iranians and Israelis may be spoiling for a fight.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2022