Foreseeing modern threats | Daily News

Foreseeing modern threats

Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka in an exclusive interview with the Daily News

The recent Easter Sunday terror attacks have focused attention on the loopholes in Sri Lanka’s security system and exposed Sri Lanka’s vulnerability to today’s threats. Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka in an exclusive interview with the Daily News explains Sri Lanka’s security vulnerabilities and the threats we face in the present era.

He said anyone could understand who carried out the attacks, but when a situation is politically diluted, various factors come in and try to cover it up.

“When the LTTE attacked the Dalada Maligawa, there were calls for Anuruddha Ratwatte to resign. But at that time, everyone was afraid to say that it was the LTTE. But, the hallmarks were very clear,” the Minister said.

He noted that in the recent attacks, some tried to imply that it was carried out with Indian influence. He said had the ISIS not taken responsibility for the attacks, these types of speculations would have wreaked havoc.

Minister Ranawaka is of the view that radicalisation takes place today in a very individualised manner and through social media and electronic means. Unlike during the war with the LTTE, the threat today cannot be identified directly. Hence, he said, Sri Lanka must be prepared to face these modern threats before they take place.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q. The threat we face now is different to the confrontational warfare of the past. Hence, how do you perceive our future challenges and how should we prepare for them?

A. We are in the era of the fourth industrial revolution. The Fourth Industrial Revolution represents a fundamental change in the way we live, work and relate to one another. It is a new chapter in human development, enabled by extraordinary technological advances commensurate with those of the first, second and third industrialrevolutions.

Nanotechnology, biotechnology, gene technology, information, internet of things (IOT), virtual reality, artificial intelligence, robotics and quantum synergies run parallel forming a hyper-reality. Hyper-reality means Facebook, WhatsApp and the like and this hyper-reality is now encroaching and affecting our reality. Teachers use WhatsApp to teach children and sometimes we use online taxi services to travel and through these applications, hyper-reality synthesises with reality. This is referred to as the smart world.

In such a scenario, when a problem arises, solving the problem, in reality, is not enough. The issue has to be resolved in the hyper-reality domain as well.

For example, in Venezuela, there was no direct warfare but, by hacking into the electricity system controls, the US neutralised all the power plants and they were unable to restart them. This affected not only the electricity, but the water supply as well. This affects the entire country. Unlike in the past, power plants are not operated by pressing a switch. Now, the hyper-reality and reality have combined to such an extent that as much as they have their benefits there are also major drawbacks. In the future, there would not be physical bombs in the world.

Recently, Russia experimented with a bomb over the North Sea which sends out an electromagnetic wave. This does not harm any human or any other living thing. Instead, it simply outs all electronic systems. By this, communication, electricity and water supply would all be affected and the country would go into chaos. This is called electronic warfare.

Q. Are cyber-attacks also the same as electronic warfare?

A. Cyber-attacks are only just one part of electronic warfare. Today, apart from being a large country, the US basically controls the world mainly because they control the internet and space. There are satellites of other countries, but the US has dominance. There is a notion that those who control the spectrum will control the world.

Similarly, Russia affected the US elections. This was not done directly, but through the internet and by way of fake news.

When the dispute between the US and China is considered, the US reserved 5G exclusively for their defence communications. But, China introduced 5G into their Huawei phones. This made the US 5G useless as it is now accessible. Now, there is a trade war against Huawei based on who owns the hyper-reality. If China advances to 6G, the US would be badly hit and that is why they are all out to prevent that from happening and bring Huawei down. China had invested US$ 150 million to develop 5G. The US is trying to break the market to prevent China from advancing to 6G.

Q. What does 3G, 4G, 5G mean?

A. This means that the spectrum is being widened and spread out. Newer applications are being developed. In 2009, the world’s biggest technology firms were owned by the US. But, today China is also competing with the US and they too are on par. This is a threat to the US and that is the issue. China is posing a threat to the US and breaking their dominance.

Q. In this context, where does Sri Lanka stand and taking into consideration the recent terror attacks, how vulnerable are we?

A. Definitely, Sri Lanka is nowhere in terms of technological advancement in comparison to these powerful countries. For instance, suicide bomber Zaharan and his group had communicated through a Samsung app which was mainly developed for secret conversations between young lovers. The main feature is that the content of conversations is not stored anywhere. This was done through ISIS. Zaharan had been communicating, but his network could not be detected.

Q. What should Sri Lanka do to be better prepared?

A. When an issue arises, the only solution is not just to block social media, but a big data platform is needed to detect such threats. The big data platform is a type of IT solution that combines the features and capabilities of several big data application and utilities within a single solution.

In the US, they use a big data platform known as Prism. All communication worldwide goes through this platform, where every user is categorised. It then identifies the likes and interests of each user and sends cookies to that user based on their various attributes. What we are doing is a primitive move in blocking social media the moment an issue arises.

However, what we ideally should be doing is to have a big data platform to monitor such social media sites. If that is done, the moment some offensive message is communicated through social media, the authorities could be alerted and measures could be taken to prevent any incident. This way the government would invariably be ahead. However, blocking social media brings no benefit because people immediately access these sites through VPN.

The current terror threat cannot be suppressed in the same manner that the government dealt with the LTTE. The LTTE was a real-time physical presence and the security forces were aware of where they were and could engage them face to face. However, in today’s situation, there is no grouping as these terrorists are part of an individual jihadist grouping and come together only to carry out a chosen task.

In the future, individual jihadists could launch any individual attack without any warning. Therefore, the government needs to understand the modern trends and dangers and be prepared for such threats in today’s context. Technology has developed and modern terrorists are making use of this technology in their operations. Hence, if Sri Lanka is to be one step ahead and be prepared for such threats, the government needs to be up to date with such modern technologies.

We need to install surveillance systems which will trigger warnings - the moment it detects certain words which are identified as threatening. This way the government would know if, when and where an attack is being planned and could take steps to prevent or be prepared to face it prior to it happening rather than wait until everything has happened.

In the case of Zaharan and the group, this is not a big movement, but a group of individuals had come together for a jihadist attack. Similarly, individual jihadists could launch lone wolf attacks at any given time.

Q. Some claim that these attacks are retaliation for being oppressed as a minority. How do you see it?

A. In the case of Syria and Iraq, this may be true and there is a natural reaction for it. However, these jihadists have a different motive which goes beyond their Thawhid ideology which is the oneness of ‘God’ and that is only Allah. Everyone else who believes otherwise is deemed non-believers. Secondly, they are of the firm belief that all non-believers should be destroyed. This is definitely not a result of oppression.

The book, ‘The management of savagery’ clearly indicates that when pursuing the jihadist caliphate, the loss of life and destruction is inevitable and irrelevant. If you read this book, it will give you an insight into the minds of these jihadists.

Q. There are moves to ban madrasas in the country. Do you see these institutions as breeding grounds for extremists?

A. Muslim children at the age of six or seven are enrolled at these schools. They are made to read and study the Quran from 4.00 am to 4.00 pm. This is all they are made to study and this is all that is in their heads. Then, they are introduced to Islamic sciences. The Quran says that men are superior to women and Islamic sciences try to prove this theory.

For example, Muzammil’s wife contested for the election and immediately a circular was issued not to vote for this woman as women are considered inferior beings. Sadly not a single woman’s activist group protested against it.

It is okay that she lost, but not because she was a woman. At that time, Jihadist sentiments were rife in Colombo. She lost because these extremists circulated a notion that it was a sin to vote for a woman. These people have self-imposed apartheid. When others question as to why they segregate themselves, they call it Islamophobia.

There is a clear difference between Muslim identity and Arabisation. Every person has their own identity, but we cannot allow Arabic conclaves to be established here. This is Sri Lanka. We have no issue with any religious group worshipping any religion, but they cannot be allowed to kill others on the basis of their beliefs. 



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