By Lasanda Kurukulasuriya
Responding to my column of January 07, 2017 titled ‘US role in Sri Lanka’s institutional reform process – Assistance or Espionage?’ the Secretary General of Parliament wrote a Letter to the Editor regarding the agreement signed by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya in Washington DC in September. It said “The said agreement does not relate to the SDGAP launched by USAID with DAI as its implementing partner.” (Daily Mirror January 11, 2017, A12).
While the Parliament Secretary General’s letter clarifies that the House Democracy Partnership Agreement signed by Speaker Jayasuriya in Washington, and USAID’s SDGAP (‘Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project’) are not one and the same, it also acknowledges that the SDGAP is in fact implemented by DAI. The Parliament Secretary General does not address the bone of contention here, which is that USAID’s contractor DAI (Development Alternatives Inc.) is a private US company alleged to be a CIA front. It is on record that Speaker Jayasuriya chaired the launch of the SDGAP in November.
The governmental response would seem like that of someone who, seeing the ‘writing on the wall,’ proceeds to criticize the handwriting. It corrects a point of minor importance while disregarding the more important concern that’s been raised.
Further investigation reveals that this is not the first time DAI and other private US companies have been contracted to carry out USAID ‘projects’ in Sri Lanka:
– In 2008 a contract to implement the USAID-funded ‘Supporting Regional Governance Programme (SuRG)’ was awarded to a company called ARD Inc. The 3 -5 year program’s main focus was Local Government institutions in the Eastern Province.
– A contract to implement a USAID-funded project called ‘Reintegration and Stabilisation in the East and North (RISEN) from 2009 to 2013 was awarded to DAI Inc.
– A contract to implement a USAID-funded project called ‘Increased Responsiveness in the Legal System Project (IRLSP)’ was awarded to a company called Development Professionals Inc. (DPI). Running from 2012 to 2015 it claimed to assist the Government, the Judicial Services Commission and the Judiciary to improve the management and the efficacy of the legal system.
– A contract to implement a USAID-funded programme called ‘Civil Society Initiatives to promote the Rule of Law (CIS.ROL) targeting the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and the Legal Aid Commission, was awarded to a US company called Millennium DPI Partners. Running from 2013 to 2016 its objectives included legal and policy reforms and a ‘strategic plan’ for the BASL.
– USAID’s ‘assistance’ to Parliament began in 2015 with a series of workshops with parliament staff, with parliament’s financial committees (COPE and COPA), and on the Constitution. The three-year US$ 13.7 million SDGAP, contracted to DAI Inc. – the company alleged to be a CIA front – was a follow-up to the previous shorter programme.
It may be seen that US government-funded ‘projects’ over the past several years run the whole gamut of Sri Lanka’s institutions, including Local Government, the Bar Association, the Judiciary, Parliament and the Constitution. While many would agree that there is need for improvement in the country’s democratic institutions, shouldn’t the political leadership be concerned that this task is being ‘outsourced,’ outright, to foreign agencies – and that programmes are being contracted to private US companies, selected by the US government and not accountable to the people of Sri Lanka? It’s noteworthy that Sri Lanka is simultaneously under pressure from the US to implement an unpopular UN resolution (of which the US was the main architect) calling for internal changes widely seen as interference in the affairs of a sovereign state.
The octopus-like manner in which the tentacles of US ‘assistance’ have reached every department of government was signaled by US Assistant Secretary Nisha Biswal in her address to a US Congress subcommittee in May, seeking 2017 budgetary allocations for Sri Lanka. “…Our approach to make Sri Lanka’s economy stronger is truly whole-of- government. …. And the Treasury Department will soon embed an advisor in Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Finance, who will assist the ministry with public financial management reforms for the next two years” she said.
There are other reasons too, for concern that the CIA currently has a heightened interest, if not presence, in Sri Lanka. Some US institutes that hosted government representatives for discussions in the recent past, and others which have disbursed funds, are reported to have links to the spy agency.
– In February 2016 Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera spoke on ‘Advancing Reconciliation and Democracy’ at the US Institute of Peace in Washington DC. USIP is funded by the US Congress, its board members include the US Secretary of State and Secretary of Defence and the director of the CIA may legally assign officers and employees to the Institute.
– The above event was co-hosted by the right-wing think-tank ‘Heritage Foundation’ and moderated by Lisa Curtis, a former CIA analyst, according to her bio.
– It is alleged that the US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its grantees like the National Democratic Institute (NDI) which disburse funds to a number of NGOs in Sri Lanka, are ‘pass-through’ foundations for CIA funds. William Blum quotes Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the legislation establishing NED, saying that “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”
The controversy regarding USAID contractor DAI’s alleged links to the CIA should draw the attention of Sri Lanka’s political leadership to the new reality in espionage: that what used to be done covertly, is now done openly. At a time when a country is desperately trying to attract foreign investment, how ingenious it would seem to embed spies in private ‘companies,’ whose employees would probably travel on business visas, avoiding scrutiny by immigration authorities!
Since the 1980’s when organizations like NED were set up to filter CIA funds to a myriad foundations, think-tanks, institutes and NGOs both in the US and abroad, the style of US intelligence operations has undergone transformation, analysts say. It’s no longer a cloak-and-dagger affair. As Blum, author of ‘Rogue State – A guide to the world’s only superpower’ says, “The NED, like the CIA before it, calls what it does supporting democracy. The governments and movements whom the NED targets call it destabilization.” That statement would be true of the operations of CIA’s other avatars as well.