| by Nimal Lewke
(November 23, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) With the escalation of insurrection and terrorism, VIP security in the country underwent a drastic change to meet the demand especially in the 1980s. Targeting by the northern terrorists of the VIP completely changed the outlook of the personal security units in the country.
Top priority was given to VIP protection to enhance the standards and the capabilities of security units. Foreign assistance was called in from Israel, Malaysia, United Kingdom and the US expertise was obtained to train the VIP Protection Unit Personnel.
VIP Protection is a highly professional field where the Protector should be aware of all basic methods, skills, unarmed combat, handling of firearms and intelligence. Above all, highly disciplined personnel with proven track record in the Police Department were selected to VIP Security Units. Handpicked by the authorities some of them were brilliant sportsmen of the calibre of C. P. Jayasuriya, H. P. Jayasuriya, and Sumith Liyanage. They were all Olympic boxers. Muni Gomes, the late Upali Silva can be rated as some of the finest marksmen we had in the Police Department. Officers from the elite Special Task Force with battle experience, excellent marksmanship skills were absorbed into those units.
To make these units a professional and committed force, Ravi Jayawardena, Security Advisor to the then President introduced a practical pistol shooting competition among the tri forces and the police. A Presidential Fund was formed and they evinced an interest in the programme. In the police, NIB, PSD, PMSD, MSD, CID, FFHQ and the STF produced some of the finest marksmen during that time. All the armed forces took so much of interest that the programme became very highly competitive with excellent marksmanship skills displayed.
With ability to handle side arms efficiently, discipline, dedication, will to attain high standards and integrity these officers became very committed and goal-oriented personnel.
Majority of the outstanding marksmen in the police were from the VIP Protection Units. There were officers and other rankers who could draw the weapon and fire within a second and hit the target at least nine times out of ten. That shows the commitment, discipline and most of all the will to be the best at what they do.
Thereafter gangsters like Beddegana Sanjeewa got into security units. The rote set in and today it has reached stage where some of the VIP Protectors do not understand the basics of VIP Security. When officers are selected background inquiries have to be carried out and it is mandatory that they undergo six weeks of VIP security training before they are deployed for any personal security duty.
VIP Security is a highly professional responsibility entrusted to a capable, disciplined and committed officer. He has to protect the life of a VIP. It is important that, he is fully aware of the law of the land and whatever he does it should be within the frame of the basics of VIP protection, which clearly indicate that, a VIP should not be exposed to danger or to a hostile area. It is the Protector and his Agent who have to come in between and take away the VIP immediately from the danger zone. They are not there to engage in battle. The prime concern is the safety of the VIP and nothing else. If you run into a hostile terrain it is the duty of the Protector to move the Protectee to a safe location and look for support, if necessary and they must make a quick getaway to a safety zone. All these basics have to be inculcated into the VIP Protection personnel. They should be fully aware of the Habits and Behaviour of the VIP and should make sure that they do not encounter unnecessary situations which will be detrimental to the security of the VIP.
Today, it is sad to note that VIP Protectors are carrying assault rifles. These weapons should not be part of the VIP Protection detail. Such weapons should be with Support Groups who come for support and protection. All personal security officers should wield only side arms. The biggest drawback in the VIP Security system today is the type of officers being enlisted, especially with favourites of the Protectee without any knowledge of VIP Security. They move about with the VIPs carrying T-56 weapons, grenades etc—something that VIP security personnel are not supposed to do.
VIP protection personnel should attend periodical review training programmes where their fitness, health condition, unarmed combat ability, firing standards etc are checked. Refresher training in basics and advanced training at given periods have to be in place for VIP Protectors to enable them to perform their duties as professionals. Even though they attend training programme, they should be subjected to tests to see whether they are mentally and physically fit to serve in a VIP Protection Unit.
What has happened during the last two decades is that unqualified personnel are detailed to perform highly professional tasks. Because of their inability to deliver, they have become a disgrace to the profession, the department and the country at large.
It is time the VIP Protection Units were streamlined and every effort made select the best available personnel after to they are interviewed by an independent board and thereafter given specialized training at the VIP training. Background inquiries are a must. The Practice of Protectee nominating Police Officers from the local Police Stations has to be viewed closely and appropriate action should be taken accordingly. The use of firearms other than hand guns should be prohibited except for specialized units that are deployed to protect high risk VVIP depending on intelligence reports; the security quantum should be determined by a responsible senior officer.
Authorities should take a closer look at the VIP security detail and to decide on its proportion according to the threat assessment, update themselves with intelligence review reports and allocate the detail to respective VIPs accordingly.
Deployment of professionals will definitely help overcome situations like what happened at Kolonnawa and a few years ago in Ratnapura.
After 30 years of war, there has to be change in VIP security so as to promote Sri Lanka as a safe country.
All the backups and heavy security details have to be reviewed professionally taking into account their impact on society and the outside world.
Our message to the outside world should be that Sri Lanka has been liberated from terrorism and her people are free.
( The writer, Former Commandant – Special Task Force, Senior Deputy Inspector Generalof Police )