"Don't believe in rumours."
- Inspector-general of police Ismail Omar, during the Lahad Datu crisis.
In a blog post two days ago, the prime minister made an extraordinary claim. I am not talking about his claims about Malaysia's ranking in the corruption perception index or his claims that there were individuals spreading lies about the country in the hopes of destabilising this land of ours.
What I am referring to is the prime minister’s claims that there were convert operatives who relayed information to the nation’s enemies which resulted in the deaths of security personnel. I am talking about this passage specifically:
"We can still remember the incident in Lahad Datu where security forces personnel were sacrificed because there were covert enemies. At that time, the intruders had obtained prior information on the movements of our security forces and ambushed our soldiers in a house."
What some people remember is when the Lahad Datu incident first started, the state attempted to downplay the incident. Indeed, the prime minster at first attempted to negotiate with the rebel army in the hope of a peaceful settlement. Then-home minister Hishammuddin Hussein even claimed they were “malnourished and elderly men in sarongs and slippers, and mostly unarmed”, as a means, I suppose, of reassuring the public.
Remember that geopolitics makes strange reading, and as correctly reported - “The Malaysian Embassy in the Philippines was issuing cheques for RM5,300 to the legal counsel of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu in keeping with the terms of an 1887 agreement. While Malaysia considered it as annual cession payment for the disputed state, the sultan’s descendants considered it as ‘rent’. Many then urged the Malaysian government to reduce or stop the cession payment altogether, including former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad and opposition lawyer Karpal Singh.”
When the situation escalated, there were the usual reports of atrocities such as beheadings and mutilations, which prompted the state security apparatus to dismiss them and the usual rejoinders not to believe anything on social media.
While I was inundated with phone calls from current and retired serving security personnel during the time of the incursion, I remained sceptical of the information I received but monitored what was reported in the media and the information passed between serving and retired officers on the response by the state. At no time was there any information of leaked intelligence that led to the deaths of our boys.
While I do not claim special knowledge of the events, it does strike me as unusual this claim of leaked intelligence, which seems like a throwaway comment added for effect with the usual diatribes against the opposition, which in this country have been demonised as enemies of the state.
I did eventually write about the incident but only because I argued that the security apparatus of the state has always been propagandised. In ‘Flag rank officers - cat's-paw for whom?’, I took umbrage of the meeting between the prime minister and flag ranks and the total absence of opposition representatives because “the best way to show national unity to those so-called Sulu terrorists is for both the establishment and the opposition to make as many showings of public unity as possible.”
I was extremely agitated by the anti-opposition theme of the event because our security forces should not be propagandised and mocked those who would use the security apparatus as just another election tool -
“Apparently it got quite comical when one retired air force general was frothing at the mouth that stern disciplinary action should be taken against generals who showed support for the opposition, the PM was chuffed up of and reminded those who attended that the ‘spirit of this general’ was what was needed. Many of the officers were later surprised to learn that Jabatan Hal Ehwal Khas (Jasa), the propaganda arm of the Communication and Culture Ministry, organised this meeting.”
Again, at this particular meeting, there was no mention of leaked information which resulted in the deaths of our soldiers.
The prime minister is making two extremely serious allegations.
1. That soldiers were killed because intelligence was leaked on troop movements.
2. That said intelligence came from covert enemies.
The allegations are vague. Which house is the prime minister referring to? Was it the house in Kampung Simunul, Semporna? How many soldiers were killed? The official death statistics so far as reported in the press - “The Lahad Datu standoff reportedly saw a total of 68 deaths – 56 from the Sulu sultanate, nine from the Malaysian authorities and six civilians” - which according to the prime minister, some of those killed happened because of leaked intelligence by agents who were acting mala fide against Malaysia.
This, of course, brings us to the next set of questions. Who were those covert agents? What sort of investigations and which agencies were involved in routing out these “covert enemies”? Why weren't the press and the people of Malaysia notified that our soldiers were killed because of leaked information? Were the families of the soldiers who were “sacrificed” notified that their deaths were the result of an ambush because of leaked intelligence?
Ironically, the only type of “information” at play during the events was the kind that was not conveyed. After the event, the High Court “sentenced Detective Corporal Hassan Ali Basari, 61, to seven years’ imprisonment, the maximum jail sentence under Section 130M of the Penal Code, for withholding information on terrorism activities in Sabah.” Basari has maintained that he is a scapegoat and that he did nothing wrong. Furthermore, he claimed that certain evidence against him was doctored.
Keep in mind that he was not charged with relaying information to the terrorists and no charges have been made against anyone, yet. Which is strange. If information was leaked that resulted in the deaths of our security personnel by covert enemies, this should have been a major issue for the government.
It implies that:
1. Our security apparatus has been compromised to the point that our soldiers are not safe.
2. These so-called “covert enemies” have caused the deaths of our soldiers, using information they obtained from the security apparatus of the state.
3. That since they have been no arrests, these covert enemies are still plotting against the nation using instruments of the state to destabilise the country.
So, what I really want to know is, who are these covert enemies who leaked information to terrorists - which if I remember correctly is treason - and why have they not been apprehended?
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.- Mkini