Tigers’ Eyes and Ears: The LTTE Intelligence Wing (Part I)

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) Intelligence Wing, Tiger Organization Security Intelligence Service (TOSIS)

The author would like to dedicate this article to Colonel Tuan Nizam Muthaliff RWP, MI (July 12, 1966 – May 31, 2005) was the former Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion Military Intelligence Corps, Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) of Sri Lanka, whose perseverance and courage in the face of adversity has served as an inspiration – Kagusthan Ariaratnam.

எப்பொருள் யார்வாய்க் கேட்பினும் அப்பொருள் மெய்ப்பொருள் காண்பது அறிவு.

திருக்குறள், அதிகாரம் 43, குறள் 423

Whatever the Matter is being Told, Whoever the Person is Telling, Discern the Truth is Wisdom.

Tirukkuṟaḷ, Chapter 43, Kural 423

Fall 2015



Secret operations are essential in war, upon them the army relies to make its every move. … An army without secret agents is exactly like a man without eyes or ears.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

It has been said by many that in order to fight a war the most basic and important asset is that of a secret service or organization especially dedicated to intelligence-gathering operations. It may be a government agency, the military or the police. This is also relevant to a non-state actor or a terrorist group.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), as a guerrilla-cum-terrorist organization fighting to establish a separate homeland for the minority Tamil population in Sri Lanka, staged about 250 suicide operations since July 1987 until the present day. All these have been within Sri Lanka, with the exception of the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, alias Dhanu, on the 21st of May 1991. With a few exceptions, the LTTE claimed responsibility only for the suicide attack operations it conducted against military targets in Sri Lanka’s north-eastern region. The organization refrained from claiming responsibility for operations against VIP and non-military infrastructure targets since all such missions and/or operations were carried out by its Intelligence Wing. Attributable to this Intelligence Wing’s operations is the LTTE’s labeling as a “terrorist outfit” rather than a “liberation movement” by the USA, Canada, the EU, and India.

The LTTE was one of the most innovative rebels, who ran a de facto state with an army, rudimentary navy and air force, intelligence wing, suicide bombers, police, courts, tariffs systems, gold coin currency system and banks. Many other terrorist organizations including al Qaeda, Taliban, and Daesh have used LTTE’s modus operandi and its tactics as a “template” for terrorism. In May 2009, the Sri Lankan security forces militarily obliterated the LTTE; nonetheless, an unknown number of LTTE remnants have dispersed into countries as far as Australia to Canada. Thus, the LTTE is a defunct fighting organization within Sri Lanka; however, they are very much alive globally as a quasi-socio-political organization, led by its intelligence wing, Tiger Organization Security Intelligence Service (TOSIS). Therefore, the LTTE threatens not only the domestic stability of Sri Lanka but also, by its example, the security of the regional and global systems as it has been waging a “hybrid warfare” in the international arena.

Even though the Terms of Engagements and/or the Rules of Engagements differ from a conventional force, a terrorist network’s secret missions and/or operations are still conducted in a well organized and professional manner nowadays. As this author had no choice but to work for the Intelligence Wing of the LTTE, he experienced how a terrorist “cell” is structured and operates. This author’s understanding is that they were not well structured to begin with but after incurring heavy losses of their sources such as agents and informants who were identified and arrested by the Sri Lankan security forces, the LTTE organization realized that it should establish a professional intelligence unit.

Since they didn’t have the resources that a government intelligence agency would have, they mostly tended to rely on Human Intelligence only, rather than more sophisticated Signal Intelligence, Electronic Intelligence, Imagery Intelligence, Technical Intelligence, etc. In order to train their cadres, the organization acquired books, magazines, films/movies and training manuals from foreign countries to learn about the world’s famous intelligence agencies such as the Gestapo of Germany, the KGB of Soviet Union, the CIA of America, MI5 and MI6 of Britain, the SDECE/DGSE of France, Savak and Vevak of Iran, Mossad and Shin Bet of Israel, RAW of India and ISI of Pakistan. For instance, LTTE’s Intelligence Wing somehow managed to acquire an original copy of the training manuals belonging to Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani internal and external intelligence agency.

They also brought in mercenaries to train their most senior cadres who had the necessary linguistic skills; later those senior cadres trained the rest of the Intelligence Wing cadres in the organization.

The LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran inspecting the LTTE RPG Force in summer 2005 (@Eelam Archives)

The LTTE’s Intelligence Dominance

In the region of the Indian subcontinent, LTTE had the dubious distinction of having been a sort of pioneer in terrorism. Some of its ground-breaking achievements were the suicide vest/belt, suicide vehicle bombing and the elimination of leaders using suicide commando raids, all of which the Taliban and al-Qaeda have imitated. The think-tank behind all these terrorist groups’ operations, including the LTTE’s, was the Pakistan military-backed Inter Service Intelligence (ISI). As an insider of the LTTE’s Intelligence Wing, this author is well aware that after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE, the ISI cunningly exploited the opportunity to use LTTE to systematically destabilize India from the South where its strategic hard targets are located. Since then, the ISI began covertly aiding the LTTE with intelligence training and tactics. For instance, most of the intelligence tradecraft training this author underwent in 1993, including intelligence gathering, intelligence analysis and agent recruitment, handling, and exploitation with Mathavan Master of the LTTE Intelligence Wing, was based on the original ISI agent handling and exploitation model.

In May 1993, following the assassination of Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa that was led and handled by Janan Master of the LTTE Intelligence Wing, the leader of the movement, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and Pottu Amman, the head of TOSIS, decided to send Janan Master to Tamil Nadu to act as liaison between the LTTE Intelligence Wing’s “political activities and liaison division” and the pro-LTTE political party leaders in Tamil Nadu, such as V.Gopalaswamy, President of the Marumalardchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (MDMK), Dr. S. Ramadoss, the founder-leader of Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Pazha Nedumaaran, President of the Tamil Nationalist Movement (TMM), K. Veeramani, President of Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), and Thol. Thirumavalavan, President of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Kadchchi (VCK). Prabhakaran wanted to understand the mindset of the Tamil Nadu politicians towards his organization and had hoped to ignite the Tamil nationalism induced by the politicians by placing a high-level LTTE liaison in their midst.

There was also another reason behind sending Janan Master to Tamil Nadu. In the aftermath of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), waged a massive covert operation against LTTE. However, due to LTTE’s excellent counter-intelligence unit led by Kapil Amman and including Janan Master, this mission was a huge disaster and embarrassment for India. The LTTE mounted surveillance on all of RAW’s rings inside their controlled area, arrested all the agents, spies and the cadres who were involved and eventually dismantled the entire operation.

The LTTE as a template for terrorism

In 1995, when this author was an LTTE Intelligence Wing cadre, he was provided with a videotape by Prabhakaran’s military adviser, Thinesh Master, and was asked to identify what type of an aircraft had been shot down by an LTTE missile so that they could provide the technical details of the particular aircraft to the LTTE-controlled newspapers. On the tape, this author saw a few men with long beards and wearing turbans, giving demonstrations to LTTE cadres in the Jaffna peninsula on how to shoot down the Avro HS-748 transport aircraft with shoulder-fired surface-to-air Stinger missiles. This author was curious and questioned Thinesh Master who the men were. The latter replied that they were Afghan Mujahedeen.

According to Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence (2008), intelligence experts have long suspected the existence of connections between the LTTE and other internationally designated terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda and the Taliban. These connections came under more detailed scrutiny as a result of the 9/11 attacks.

Some of the incidents cited to prove these suspicions include:

The similarities between previous LTTE attacks against Sri Lanka Navy ships and the al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole which killed 17 US Navy sailors.

Evidence that the LTTE provided forged passports to Ramzi Yousef, the man who carried out the first attack against the World Trade Center in New York in 1993.

The smuggling of weapons by the LTTE from Islamics in Pakistan to their counterparts in the Philippines.

Allegations that the LTTE stole Norwegian passports and sold them to the al-Qaeda organization to earn money to fund their arms purchases.

Increasing intelligence reports that the LTTE was smuggling arms to various terrorist organizations using their covert smuggling networks, and findings by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies that they were building commercial links with al-Qaeda and other militants in Afghanistan.

(Ministry of Defence, Sri Lanka, 2008)

Other security experts, including Glen Jenvey, have also claimed that al-Qaeda has copied most of its terror tactics from the LTTE. He highlighted the LTTE as the mastermind that sets the pattern for organizations like al-Qaeda to pursue. Some of the comparisons he used to draw his conclusions are:

The LTTE invented the modern suicide bomber and deployed it against political, military, and civilian targets. Islamic groups copied the LTTE by carrying out similar suicide attacks.

The LTTE attack on the World Trade Centre in Sri Lanka was followed by attacks by al-Qaeda on the World Trade Center in New York.

The LTTE’s use of a women’s section has been copied by al-Qaeda and Chechen terrorists, for example, the “Black Widows” who played a role in the Moscow theater hostage crisis and have carried out suicide bombings.

Attacks on civilians in buses and trains in Sri Lanka are similar to the al-Qaeda attacks on public civilian transport during the July 2005 bombings in London.

(Ministry of Defence, Sri Lanka, 2008)

In this context, it is vital to analyze the LTTE’s Intelligence Wing, also known as “Tiger Organization Security Intelligence Service” (TOSIS) in detail. The TOSIS was reportedly founded at the end of the 1980s when the LTTE was fighting with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). It functioned as the primary intelligence service of the LTTE until 1993, when it was divided into two sub-units, the “National Intelligence Service”, and the “Military Intelligence Service”. The latter did not have cadres on the ground in hostile areas but it had agents in the Sri Lankan security forces. The presence of a second intelligence service gave the LTTE the advantage of cross-checking and verifying both raw data and assessments.

The LTTE Black Tiger suicide commandos that carried out the raid on Anuradhapura Air Force Base, code-named Operation Ellaalan on 22 October 2007 (@Eelam Archives)

National Intelligence Service ( Thesiya Pulanaivu Pirivu) Headed by Pottu Amman

Although the LTTE was trained by India’s RAW in the early 1980s, the LTTE’s National Intelligence Service’s strategic operating structure and tactics were more similar to the Mossad of the 1980s, except for its agent handling model. From the outset, the LTTE’s intelligence wings imitated the Israeli Mossad’s own Sayanim system, the use of non-stipend but activatable sympathizers to provide one-off assistance when needed, which were designated Kalam and Pulam in the case of Tamils residing in Sri Lanka or the diaspora, respectively. All in all, the National Intelligence Service had up to 1,500 Kalam and Pulam personnel altogether. Furthermore, Mossad’s operating language is Hebrew and one of the reasons LTTE’s Intelligence Wing is successful is that they function entirely in Tamil. The LTTE-Mossad nexus was further corroborated when ex-Mossad officer Victor Ostrovsky’s book “By Way of Deception” was published in September 1990.

There are 5 known departments to the National Intelligence Service:

(i) Collections Department: (Thakaval Sekatippu Pirivu) headed by the deputy Kapil Amman. This was the largest department, with the responsibilities of agent handling and espionage operations and with sub-divisions in the northern, eastern and southern parts of Sri Lanka. This body also coordinated with the LTTE’s police force in the areas they controlled. The department consisted of a number of desks which were responsible for specific areas such as,

  • Agent Handling
  • Counter-Espionage Operations
  • Internal Security
  • Political Activities and Liaison Division
  • Interrogation and Detention Center

(ii) Research and Publications Department: (Aaivu Mattrum Veliyeeddu Pirivu) headed by Mathavan Master and responsible for intelligence production, including daily situation reports, weekly summaries, and detailed monthly reports. This Department was organized into a number of categorically specialized sections such as,

  • Planning and Operations
  • Data-Bank
  • Computers
  • Press and Library
  • Communications
  • Dubbing Movies

(iii) Special Operations Division: (Ellalan Padai) headed by Janan Master, also the Principal Agent Handler of the LTTE Intelligence Wing. The “Black Tigers” – a highly secretive suicide squadron – were also attached to this division under the direct command of the LTTE leader. This secretive squadron conducted highly sensitive operations such as

  • Assassinations
  • Sabotage and Raids
  • Paramilitary Operations
  • Psychological Warfare Projects
  • Propaganda and Deception Operations

(iv) Training and Technology Department: (Payitchi Mattrum Tholilnudpa Pirivu), also headed by Mathavan Master, responsible for the training and development of advanced technologies for support of both National and Military intelligence, including the suicide vest/belt, modifying weapons and explosive-filled vehicles, spy tools, etc.

(v) Administration and Records: (Nirvaakam Mattrum Arikkai Pirivu) headed by Sankar. This body particularly focused on administration, personnel, finance, logistics, and welfare.

The LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran (left) offering a token of appreciation to his intelligence chief Pottu Amman (right) during Black Tigers Remembrance Day on July 5th 2008 (@Eelam Archives)

Military Intelligence Service, (Iranuva Pulanaivu Pirivu) Headed by Thinesh Master

The Military Intelligence Service of LTTE was formed in 1993, almost 10 years after the LTTE had established their primary National Intelligence Service, in order to keep the military-related operations compartmentalized. There was a “Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol” (LRRP) team operating under the LTTE’s military wing, known as Viseda Vevu Pitivu, that played a key role in assassinating Sri Lankan Army General Denzil Kobbekaduwa and ten other high-rank army officers with him. LRRP cadres infiltrated and laid an anti-tank mine in a military complex in the northern part of the Island. The Viseda Vevu Pitivu (LRRP) was the brainchild of Thinesh Master and he was thus praised for the victory and then appointed as the head of the newly-formed Military Intelligence Service.

The Military Intelligence Service was relatively small and operated on a lower scale compared to the National Intelligence Service. It only focused on gathering intelligence on Sri Lankan security forces. Even though the operations were highly compartmentalized, the Military Intelligence Service nonetheless relied on the National Intelligence Service for their training and advanced technologies.

There were 4 known departments to the Military Intelligence Service:

(i) Collections Department on Sri Lanka Army: (Iranuva Thakaval Sekarippu Pirivu) Headed by Kowthaman.

This body exclusively gathered intelligence on Sri Lankan Army bases, artillery units, armored core, heavy weapons, infantry vehicles, and high ranking officers and their families. They studied in detail the entire Army’s Order of Battle (ORBAT) structure, knowing each division and divisional commanders, each brigade and brigade commanders and each regiment and regimental commanders up to the company, platoon and section level officers and then locating where they had been deployed in real-time.

This detailed intelligence gathering helped them to know the exact strength of each army base located anywhere in the country. For instance, LTTE had been gathering intelligence on a northern army complex called “Pooneryn Military Complex” for almost two years before they successfully raided the complex in November 1993. They monitored army communication transmissions and sent their LRRP team to infiltrate and gather real-time intelligence. Then they made an exact model of the complex and knew the exact strength of the army, each officer’s name and the location of the artilleries and the armored vehicles. A model was even made of the driving compartment of the Czech-made T55 main battle tank that the Sri Lankan Army had in that base; two of them were eventually seized.

(ii) Collections Department on Sri Lanka Navy: (Kadatpadai Thakaval Sekarippu Pirivu)

Responsible for gathering intelligence on Sri Lankan naval bases, harbors, naval vessels and personnel. Since LTTE operated from an island, it depended largely on the sophisticated amphibious group known as the “Sea Tigers” for logistic support. Their duty was to sea control and/or sea denial of the north and east territorial waters of Sri Lanka and to support the special “Exclusive Economic Zone Marine Logistics Support Team” (EEZ-MLST) of the Sea Tigers.

It was, therefore, this body that coordinated with the Sea Tigers in order to gather intelligence on the SL Naval bases and vessels. It also collaborated with the special “Underwater Demolition Teams” (UDT) of the Sea Tigers who infiltrated the harbors and gathered maritime intelligence. On the other hand, acquiring the “Jane’s Naval Fighting Ships” catalog made it easy to build models of each and every class of the Sri Lanka Navy fighting ships/gunboats. The EEZ-MLST’s sophisticated maritime surveillance radar systems, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and the dual-purpose special binoculars known as the “Steiner” helped to keep surveillance on daily naval patrolling.

(iii) Collections Department on Sri Lanka Air Force: (Vaanpadai Thakaval Sekarippu Pirivu)

Responsible for gathering intelligence on Sri Lankan Air Force bases, aircraft, helicopters, and personnel. To make the task easy, this body coordinated with the LRRP team and the special “Air Tigers” of the LTTE. The LRRP team infiltrated and gathered intelligence on the Air Force bases, runways, signal stations, hangers, oil storages, and personnel. Afterward, the contemporary intelligence was used to make models of the Air Force bases. Meanwhile, by gathering data from “Jane’s Fighter Planes” this body worked with the “Air Tigers” unit to make models of Air Force fighter planes and helicopters.

The final intelligence products were given to the decision-makers who planned, prepared and executed special raids, using highly-trained suicide commando units.

(iv) Administration and Records: (Nirvaakam Mattrum Arikkai Pirivu)

As in the National Intelligence Service, this sub-division particularly focused on the administration, personnel, finance, logistics, and welfare of the Military Intelligence Service.

The LTTE Intelligence Training Centre (Pulanaivu Payitchi Maiyam)

Headed by Mathavan Master.

I have a high regard for the LTTE for its discipline, dedication, determination, motivation and technical expertise… I was left with the impression that the LTTE was the expression of popular Tamil sentiment and could not be destroyed, so long as that sentiment remained.

– Lieutenant General S.C. Sardesh Pande, IPKF Divisional Commander, Jaffna in his book “Assignment Jaffna”.

The LTTE Black Tiger suicide commandos that carried out the raid on Anuradhapura Air Force Base, code-named Operation Ellaalan, with the the movement’s leader Velupillai Prabhakaran (@Eelam Archives)
  1. Recruiting Informants and Public Relations
  2. Tradecraft and Skills
  3. Intelligence Gathering
  4. Intelligence Analysis, Assessment, and Exploitation
  5. Agent Handling
  6. Target Selection

(1) Recruiting Informants & Public Relations

As intelligence gathering is by its very nature a difficult task of utmost importance, the organization was extremely cautious when recruiting its agents and informants. Most of the time they tended to cultivate personnel from the same ethnic nationalist group as themselves who also had the potential to access enemy targets. Great emphasis was therefore placed on public relations among their own people. They necessarily went through an extensive background check of all the individuals they hired, in the process focusing on the individual’s profile, character, vulnerabilities, and motivation to assess if he/she was the right person for the job as well as on the factors that made that particular person want to work for them.

An inadequate administration, poor management, discrimination, ignorance, and oppression by a government sometimes can drive its own people to support a terrorist organization. This makes the organization’s job easier as they can take advantage of this opportunity to hire more informants and agents from within the target group. For instance, a few political parties that represent minority groups in southern Sri Lanka were continuously discriminated against and ignored by successive ruling parties. This neglect ensured the LTTE success when it invited the leaders of these political parties (Vaasudeva Nanayakkara and Aarumugam Thondaman) who were then Members of the Sri Lankan Parliament and indoctrinated them to work for LTTE’s Intelligence Service as long-term resident agents.

(2) Tradecraft and Skills

Recruits had to go through a special training period to acquire the skills to perform their tasks and to learn specific techniques in the trade of espionage. This is called Tradecraft and could include such specialties as Agent Handling, Covert Communication, Counter-Interrogation, Reconnaissance, Coding and Decoding, Drawing Maps, Photography, Martial Arts, Linguistic Skills, Driving Skills, Swimming Skills and so on, depending on the task the agents/informants were assigned to.

Once a recruit went through the tradecraft and skill training period, the handlers made an assessment of each recruit, keeping the individual’s potential and background in mind, to confirm whether he/she was fit to be an agent.

(3) Intelligence Gathering

Before spies and informants were assigned to a mission they were instructed in every single detail of the target. The target could be a harbor, airport, refinery, warship, aircraft or even a VIP – whatever it might be, the handlers would brief every single thing that they already knew about it in detail and then debrief for the information they need. Informants had to learn about the specific physical environment in detail beforehand so that they could easily provide updates on selected targets. In order to make this task easier, the organization preferred to hire government employees working in the area, selecting them carefully after identifying and confirming their potential usefulness.

For instance, LTTE Intelligence Wing hired a retired government employee who worked as a panelboard controller in Sri Lanka’s largest refinery. They first assigned him to teach a group of Intelligence Wing cadres everything about a refinery from crude oil tanks to petrol tanks – the whole process of refining, storing, distributing petrol and then the structure of a refinery as well. Later, they asked him to pay a visit to Colombo where he had colleagues and friends who were still working in the same refinery. While visiting his friends at the refinery he was able to collect the plans of the buildings, maps, the latest technological developments, security measures, storage tanks, and its locations. He was just asked to mail in the information.

Similarly, LTTE Intelligence hired an informant who was working in China Bay Air Force Base in Trincomalee as a leading aircraftman. He had been visiting his family, living in LTTE’s controlled area, and was forced to work for its Intelligence Wing. Since then, whenever he was visiting he was asked to provide the latest developments, security measures, and maps for the Air Force Base.

While the LTTE was gathering intelligence on Colombo Harbour, they hired an engineering student who was studying Marine Engineering on a scholarship at Mahapola Institute, part of the Colombo Port Authority. A student from a poor family, it was very easy to motivate him by monetary means. As he had access to the entire container terminal and mechanisms, he was able to provide the latest developments, maps, locations, and security measures.

(4) Intelligence Analysis, Assessment, and Exploitation

Once all the intelligence was gathered it had to be centralized in the Data Bank. The Principal-Agent Handler (PAH) was in charge of the Data Bank. He was provided with thousands of situational briefing reports every day from various sources: Intelligence Wing cadres (spies) who operated from all parts of the country, the government employees (informants) across the country, military communication and transmission monitoring teams, special reconnaissance teams (LRRP), FDL (border) patrolling and open-source intelligence (OSINT) all reported back to the PAH.

The PAH and his team consisted of an Agent Handler, a Deputy Agent Handler and more than a dozen Principal Agents. All these agents worked together on analyzing, assessing and exploiting the intelligence they gathered and submitted the final intelligence product to the decision-makers in order to take full advantage of any information that had come to hand for tactical, operational, or strategic purposes. Whether the decision makers took any action or not, the Principal Agent Handler and his staff always did an assessment on a weekly basis to facilitate the Data Bank.

(5) Agent Handling

The most successful part of intelligence gathering depends on the security and covert communication that an organization provides to its sources. As without security, there’s no intelligence, it is of utmost importance that an organization protect its human assets. This can only be done if there is a systematic way for intelligence to flow from hostile areas to the organization’s data bank. It was also the Principal Agent Handler’s responsibility to make sure that his sources were safe and secure. See the following diagram for a visual representation of the structure of terrorists` agent handling model. 

The Hierarchical Order of Terrorist Agent Handling Model

The PAH directed Agent Handler, Deputy Agent Handler, and Principal Agents within the organization’s controlled areas, who worked from inside offices and therefore were known as “Desk Agents”. There was another set of agents also directed by PAH who worked in the field (hostile area) controlled by the enemy and therefore were known as “Field Agents”. There was always a middle man who worked as a “contact” or go-between Desk Agents and Field Agents, known as the Intermediary or Cut-Out.

In the hostile area, there were well-established agents working for the PAH known as Resident Agents (RA), who organized and directed compartmentalized “cells” operating there. Each Resident Agent dealt with a maximum of 4-5 Agents (A, B, C, D, and E) who were cultivated or hired and trained by those Desk Agents. As they worked under a considerable amount of risk, they were proactively given a cover story and a backstop to ensure their security. For instance, a well-known journalist living in a hostile area, sending and receiving information from all parts of the country, would have the perfect cover story to be a Resident Agent. A marine engineer working in a harbor would have a perfect cover story to be a source of information. See the diagram below for a visual representation of terrorist cells. 

The Networked Order of Compartmentalized Terrorist Cells

When a Resident Agent (RA) contacted one of his agents and/or informants in order to exchange information he had to be extremely careful not to expose or compromise them to anyone, even to each other. He would meet with them in different Safe Houses and afterward the Intermediary would meet the Resident Agent in a separate Safe House and pass the information on further to the Desk Agents.

In special cases, an Agent might contact the PAH directly without going through the Resident Agent and/or the Intermediary. In such instances, the Agent would use covert communications and code sheets to pass the information. These kinds of cells were not only used in order to pass information but also to transfer other resources such as weapons and personnel.

For example, when LTTE’s Intelligence Wing planned an attack on Colombo Harbour, they began by acquiring a blueprint of the area. In order to achieve this, they identified a harbor employee by confirming his potential, mindset, motivation and risk assessment, then hired him for the job of Agent/Informant. This Agent/Informant was instructed to contact the Resident Agent (RA) on a regular basis and provide contemporary intelligence. An Intermediary would contact the Resident Agent to obtain the information to pass on to the Principal Agent, or mailed the information in segments directly to him.

They also hired another agent, working, for example, as an engineer at the harbor, to provide technical information such as storage, oil tanks, container terminals, warehouses, ammunition depots and so on. He provided the information to the Resident Agent or when he was traveling between government-controlled area and LTTE’s controlled area, he gave the information directly to the Principal Agent or even Principal Agent Handler, acting as an Intermediary himself.

In the meanwhile, the Data Bank provided information to the Intelligence Wing for building a model of the harbor and another cell was engaged to transfer weapons and personnel to the government-controlled area, using the same process of agent handling.

Finally, the attack squad was trained and briefed about the plan and sent to the location using another route. Since this was an attack on a harbor, the assault team and weapons were moved to the location by a sea route.

For this mission, if a Black Tiger suicide bomber was required who had been cultivated as “sleeper” to use long-term, he or she was also contacted by the Principal Agent Handler to brief the plan and were provided weapons and resources through yet another cell. The Principal-Agent Handler did not, under any circumstance, expose or compromise the sleeper to the rest of the cells or vice versa, in order to ensure everyone’s security.

Unlike “lone-wolf” terrorist attacks, the operations as mentioned above would be coordinated terrorist attacks. That is to say, the coordinated terrorist attacks are meticulously planned, painstakingly prepared, and professionally executed. It takes such clandestine components and social actors as sympathizers, logistic teams, intelligence teams, and bomb-making factories to facilitate coordinated terrorist attacks. See the diagram below for a visual representation of how compartmentalized terrorist cells and their members have become fragmented on the day of the actual terrorist attacks.

Strategic Deception of Terrorists on the “Day of the Jackal”

It is worth noting that since terrorist organizations learned their tactics from various nations’ state intelligence agencies once upon a time, the former also replicate the “Strategic Denial and Deception” military doctrine and various other intelligence tradecraft. To illustrate, when terrorist organizations choose a primary target ​on​ ​the “Day of the Jackal”, they always attempt to deceive the law enforcement agencies or the military by conducting a lower-scale attack elsewhere ​far enough and ​isolated from the actual target.

(6) Target Selection

When terrorists plan, prepare, and execute a target, they intentionally choose it soft or hard. A “soft target” is a person, thing, or location easily accessible to the public and relatively unprotected, making it vulnerable to terrorist attacks. By contrast, a “hard target” is heavily defended or not accessible to the public. Examples of soft targets are shopping centers, sports arenas, and public transport, while hard targets can be embassies, military bases, navy destroyer ships, government buildings, etc. See the following diagram for a visual representation of the target selection of terrorists.

If terrorists select a hard target to attack, they provide exclusive training to the attack squad, sufficiently in advance, based on the specific security surroundings of the target in question. For instance, when the LTTE Black Tiger suicide commandos carried out the raid on Anuradhapura Air Force Base, code-named Operation Ellaalan, on October 22, 2007, the attack squad was meticulously trained by various Tiger specialists. These military intelligence specialists are experts in such skills as reconnaissance, surveillance, explosives, landmines, heavy weapons, camouflage, etc. Hence, they train the attack squad according to the security settings of the target they have selected to attack based on the tactical and actionable intelligence in their possession. These trainers or specialists are called “Masters” in the LTTE, such as Thinesh Master, Sasikumar Master, Janan Master, Mathavan Master, Pradeep Master, etc. These masters are experts in specific skillsets listed below. See the following diagram to visualize the particular training terrorists provide for the suicide commandos (Black Tigers in the LTTE) while selecting hard targets.

Terrorist Training for Hard Targets

Alternatively, when terrorists select a soft target to attack, they train the attack squad differently, depending on the target environment. Before the attack squad is assigned to a mission, they are instructed on every single detail of the target. The target could be a football stadium or a world trade center – whatever it may be, the trainers brief every detail of the target as per the real time intelligence. The attack squad must learn about the specific physical environment beforehand to quickly identify selected targets. Keeping this in mind, many terrorist organizations sent their cadres to infiltrate the hostile areas as disguised refugees, students, and government employees. Terrorists then choose them carefully after identifying and confirming their potential usefulness because they have already spent years within the target environment and have become a part of that environment. Their social and human capital is recognized as a valuable human resource. See the following diagram to visualize the particular training terrorists provide for the suicide commandos (Black Tigers in the LTTE) while selecting soft targets.

Terrorist Training for Soft Targets

A good case in point is when the LTTE chalked out the strategy for conducting the raid on the World Trade Center in Colombo on October 15, 1997. First, they had sent a seven-member Black Tiger attack squad to infiltrate southern and western provinces of Sri Lanka as sleeper agents. They were then proactively given a cover that they were students at the University of Peradeniya. These students also needed backstops: the names and addresses of safe houses that supported their legend. A legend is a sophisticated cover that amounts to entire false life history and supporting documents to deceive law enforcement agencies or even established counterintelligence professionals. Before the LTTE had sent them to infiltrate and develop their cover stories, various Tiger specialists trained the attack squad according to the security settings of the target they had selected to attack. These trainers were specialized in politics, economics, suicide vest and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED), heavy weapons, anti-interrogation technics, etc. Before the actual attack took place, these students traveled between government-controlled areas and the LTTE-controlled areas to dry run the chosen modus operandi and to rehearse the raid with their trainers many times.


According to Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessments, “…the LTTE was a highly innovative force capable of retaliation against aggression, reprisals, and pre-emptive strikes. Regular features of the LTTE doctrine included the unleashing of widespread terror on soft targets. Concentrating on lightly or unprotected targets is a classic diversionary tactic in warfare, pinning down troops to static sentry or bunker duties and restraining search and destruction operations. The LTTE had specialized in surprise raids – many of them suicide bombings. Prime ministers and presidents were killed, high-security army, navy and air force headquarters infiltrated, passenger planes at the international airport destroyed and the country’s many economic infrastructures, including the Central Bank, blown up. The LTTE bombed Sri Lankan passenger ships, commercial aircrafts, trains, and buses; gunned down priests, nuns, pilgrims and bystanders in a sacred royal city and shot Muslims while worshipping in mosques; frequently raided non-Tamil border villages and towns, massacring men, women and children; and land mined, ambushed and assaulted military and police patrols and posts in Sri Lanka….”

Mao Zedong said that guerrillas are like fish in an ocean of people. The LTTE “fish” brilliantly exploited how to make use of the “ocean” of the general populace. Since every LTTE Intelligence Wing cadre was Sri Lankan of Tamil origin, unfortunately, the whole Tamil society in Sri Lanka came under suspicion. In an effort to detect and disrupt potential attacks, the Sri Lankan security forces established extreme security measures, including checkpoints, cordon and search operations, abductions, detention camps, aggressive interrogation, disappearances, harassment, and humiliation.

Tamil men and women are still being treated in this way on a daily basis because they could possibly be former LTTE Intelligence Wing cadres. These countermeasures of the Sri Lankan Security Forces, in turn, justify criticism that Tamils are not granted basic human rights within their own homeland.


Note: This is a living document. I am still conducting research, hence I will keep updating this document as I find more information on the subject. – Kagusthan Ariaratnam. 

Featured images: TamilNet

Intelligence Terminology

Agent: a person who is hired by an intelligence agency or security service, to act in their interest.

Backstop: a support or backing information of an undercover operative, for the purpose of substantiating his/her cover story. It’s also known as Back up.

Compartmentalization: management of an intelligence service so that information about the personnel, organization or activities of one component is made available to any other component, only to the extent required for the performance of assigned duties.

Cover Story: a persona, profession, purpose, activity, fictitious image maintained by an agent or undercover operative.

Dead-Letter Box (DLB): a physical location where communications, documents, and/or equipment are covertly placed for another person to collect, without direct contact between the parties. It’s also known as a Dead-Drop.

Electronic Intelligence (ELINT): information derived by intercepting and studying electromagnetic radiation from non-communication sources, such as radar

Human Intelligence (HUMINT): intelligence collected by humans.

Imagery Intelligence (IMINT): an intelligence gathering discipline which collects information via satellite and aerial photography.

Informant: a member of a target group, who provides intelligence to the surveillance team or organization

– Intermediary: a contact or go-between used to preserve the safety or anonymity of the Principal and Resident Agents, also known as Cut-Out.

– Legend: a legend is a sophisticated cover that amounts to entire false life history and supporting documents to deceive law enforcement agencies or even established counterintelligence professionals.

Live-Letter Box (LLB): an address used to receive communication to be forwarded to an Agent and/or Intelligence Agency. It’s also known as a Mail-Drop.

Mole: a spy who works for an enemy nation, but whose loyalty truly lies within his nation’s government.

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT): an information processing discipline that involves finding, selecting, and acquiring information from publicly available sources and analyzing it to produce actionable intelligence.

Principal Agent: an agent who, under the direction of the principal agent handler, is responsible for the operational activities of other agents.

Resident Agent: the head of a legal or illegal residency in the hostile nation who supervises subordinate intelligence personnel.

Safe House: a dwelling place or hideout unknown to the adversary.

Signal Intelligence (SIGINT): intelligence-gathering by interception of signals, whether between people (i.e., COMINT or communications intelligence) or between machines (i.e., ELINT or electronic intelligence), or mixtures of the two.

Sleeper: an inactive undercover agent, who is cultivated for long term use.

Technical Intelligence (TECHINT): intelligence about weapons and equipment used by the armed forces of enemy nations, often referred to as foreign material.

Tradecraft: specialized techniques used in intelligence operations.


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