Military Intelligence

Military Intelligence
   The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has operated an extensive military intelligence apparatus that not only provided the Tatmadaw (armed forces) with reliable information on conventional national security matters-the task of military intelligence agencies in most countries-but also monitored the civilian population closely for signs of dissent, kept an eye on the Tatmadaw's own rank and file to detect disloyal elements, and carried out public relations activities in foreign countries to make the SPDC regime more acceptable in the eyes of the international community. Since 1989, it has also played a central role in negotiating cease-fires between the central government and ethnic minority armed groups. Burma's most powerful intelligence agency was the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI), also known as the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), which was formally under the authority of the National Intelligence Bureau and the Ministry of Defence. Most ordinary Burmese know Military Intelligence as "MI." Its network of informers in tea shops, on college campuses, and in local neighborhoods has been a part of daily life for many years. Foreign visitors have sometimes been shadowed by MI agents. Burmese living abroad have also been aware that MI agents provocateurs may be operating in their midst. MI has been widely criticized by international human rights organizations for some of the SPDC's worst abuses, including the torture and killing of detainees at interrogation centers, such as the DDSI's Ye Kyi Aing facility north of Rangoon (Yangon).
   When Burma became independent in 1948, Military Intelligence units were established to gather information on communist and ethnic minority insurgents. However, they were poorly organized and coordinated. During the Caretaker Government and Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) periods (1958-1960, 1962-1988), MI was extensively reorganized, rationalized, and expanded, and became deeply involved in surveillance of the general population. Informers were recruited, especially among university students, using threats or bribes, a practice that continues today. In the aftermath of the U Thant Incident in 1974 and the massive popular demonstrations of 1988, MI informers helped put thousands of dissidents in jail. Because MI officers were generally better educated than their counterparts in the regular army and operated with considerable autonomy, Ne Win perceived them as a threat to his own power base and ordered the purge of the powerful "MI" Tin Oo in mid-1983. That same year, Military Intelligence was reorganized to ensure tighter State Council and regular army control. This left the intelligence apparatus in some disarray, apparently making it possible for agents from North Korea to carry out a terrorist bombing of the Martyrs' Monument during a state visit of the South Korean cabinet on October 9, 1983, the Rangoon Incident. Ne Win charged Colonel Khin Nyunt with the task of rebuilding the MI apparatus, and he became its head in 1984.
   During 1988, Khin Nyunt and his fellow intelligence officers seriously misread the depth of popular dissatisfaction, as demonstrated by the BSPP regime's inept and heavy-handed response to the demonstrations of Democracy Summer. A second intelligence failure was the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy in the General Election of May 27, 1990. However, after the State Law and Order Restoration Council was established in September 1988, MI underwent a major expansion in terms of manpower, equipment, and new technology (much of which was obtained from China, Singapore, and other countries). After 1992, its command structure operated independently of the regular Tatmadaw. At the beginning of the 21st century, it had the capability to carry out sophisticated HUMINT (Human Intelligence, e.g., agents, informers), SIGINT (Signals Intelligence, monitoring communications), and even IMINT ([overhead] Imagery Intelligence, using aircraft) operations against domestic and foreign targets.
   Because the SLORC/SPDC enjoys little or no popular support, Military Intelligence became indispensable for keeping it in power. Not only the regime's "eyes and ears" but also its "brains," it informed the top junta leadership, who are largely uneducated and ignorant of the outside world, about the latest domestic and international developments, carrying out a function that in other political systems would be done by not only intelligence agencies but also political analysts, agencies of the executive and legislative branches of government, and independent mass media. However, the efficiency of its operations was hampered by the wide range of its responsibilities and the limited resources available to it.
   On October 18, 2004, MI commander Khin Nyunt was arrested on charges of corruption and attempting to split the Tatmadaw. His sudden, though not entirely unexpected, fall from power left the intelligence apparatus in disarray because as many as 2,000 of his subordinates were also arrested or forced into retirement. The purge was motivated by intra-junta factional rivalries, and Khin Nyunt's rivals, including Generals Maung Aye and Soe Win, with the backing of Senior General Than Shwe, apparently believed Khin Nyunt was building a "junta within the junta," which endangered their own power base. One result of the dismantling of the MI apparatus was an amnesty extended to thousands of prisoners, but only a handful of these were political prisoners, and there was no evidence that the SPDC was softening its attitude toward Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters.
   On May 7, 2005, three bomb blasts at crowded shopping centers in Rangoon killed, according to official reports, 11 people, although the actual figure may have been much higher. In a sense, this was history repeating itself, for, like the October 1983 Rangoon Incident, it occurred at a time when the Military Intelligence apparatus was in disarray following its leader's arrest. However, unlike the 1983 bombings, it was unclear who the perpetrators were. The regime blamed foreign-based opposition groups, but some observers speculated that elements within the military, perhaps reacting to the purge of Khin Nyunt and his subordinates, may have been responsible.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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