Is That All You Got, Karuna?
12 October 2007
Special Forces -The Changing Face of Warfare
- Mark Lloyd,"..First rate HUMINT
(Human Intelligence) can often only be obtained from
within an organisation either by infiltrating an agent into one of its
cells or by turning an existing member. Turning is best achieved by
targeting a participant whose heart is not in it or who is suffering
from obvious family pressures..."
Tamil Eelam: The Intelligence War ]
The recent newsreports that the erstwhile LTTE Colonel named Karuna had fled to
a faraway land prompted me with the title, ‘Is That All You Got, Karuna?’. It is
a borrowing from boxing champ Muhammad Ali’s 1974 quip [‘Is That All You Got,
George’?] to his rival George Foreman in the ring, when they squared in the
then Zaire for the boxing heavyweight title.
It is opportune to read again Foreman’s specific recollection of that moment in
October 30, 1974, which prompted Ali’s quip. To quote him,
“I was fighting Muhammad Ali in Zaire in 1974. I was thinking that the $5
million I was making was the easiest money in the world. I was going to whip
the guy; he was old and over the hill. And after three or four rounds I was
beating him. But by the seventh round, I was tired. I hit him in the stomach
and he said, ‘Is that all you got, George?’ And I’m thinking ‘Yup’. Then I
got knocked down and heard the referee count…” George
Foreman on Knockouts
– accessed Oct 12, 2007
In 2004 and 2005, Karuna produced an avalanche of news on this side of Atlantic
(especially, in the Indian and Sri Lankan media and the Asian Tribune
web-zine then presented from Bankgok), simulating Ali’s celebrated “I’m the
Greatest” boast of 1960s.
Many journalist scribes in Colombo, Chennai, New Delhi
and Toronto even swallowed Karuna’s bombast. But, make no mistake, Karuna was no
Ali. Ali was the real thing, but Karuna was a fake. Whereas inside and beyond
the boxing ring, Ali lived up to his boast, Karuna’s act bombed, bombed, bombed
– despite the voluble cheerleading from a number of anti-Tamil, anti-LTTE
Literally and figuratively, Karuna couldn’t stand on his feet, neither
in his home ground of East Eelam nor anywhere in the blessed Lanka. That’s why
he had to flee.
A Hindustan Times report on Karuna’s Fate
P.K.Balachandran, reporting for Hindustan Times (Oct. 8, 2007) had filed
this report, under the caption ‘Split in LTTE dissident camp: Karuna sacked by
second in command’:
‘Karuna, who broke away from the LTTE and formed the pro-government
Tamileela Makkal Viduthlai Puligal (TMVP) in 2004, has now been sacked from
the TMVP's Working Committee by a rival faction led by Chandrakanthan alias
statement issued by the Pillaiyaan group said on Monday, that Karuna had
been sacked for financial irregularities. However, efforts were still on to
effect a patch up between Pillaiyaan and Karuna. "Some members of the
Working Committee support Karuna, while some others support Pillaiyaan.
Discussions on a compromise are going on," TMVP spokesman Asad Mowlana told
Reports said that Pillaiyaan's group had been complaining that Karuna was
keeping 70% of the money collected from the people for his private use, and
giving only 30% to the TMVP.
Karuna is currently abroad, presumably in the UK, at the request of the Sri
Lankan government. His presence in Sri Lanka had become an embarrassment for
the government which was accused by the international community of being
"complicit" in the crimes committed by him, crimes like abduction of
children and extortion of money from civilians.
Utilising Karuna's absence from the East and now from the country itself,
Pillaiyaan became the de facto head of the TMVP. By an earlier arrangement,
he was to keep his activities confined to Trincomalee district, but
recently, he had broken out of the confines of Trincomalee and started
setting up offices in Batticaloa district, the TMVP's heartland. Journalists
who had visited Batticaloa recently, said that Karuna's lieutenants had
disappeared and only Pillayaan's men were around.”
Is that all you got, Karuna?
In 2004, P.K. Balachandran was one of the dozen or
so Indian scribes who initially contributed a couple of reports with a ‘Hail
Karuna’ slant. Balachandran’s latest write-up on Karuna’s fate neatly sums up
the tragedy of a hero turned snitch. But still, Balachandran hasn’t told the
For pragmatic reasons, Balachandran had evaded an answer for the the vital
question ‘Why Karuna’s fate turned to worse?’ since he chose to cross the line
of decency in March 2004.
A simple answer can be gleaned from George Foreman’s
1974 quip, “I was thinking that the $5 million I was making was the easiest
money in the world.” Balachandran’s report mentions about “Pillaiyaan's
group had been complaining that Karuna was keeping 70% of the money collected
from the people for his private use, and giving only 30% to the TMVP.”
nothing is stated about how much money passed into Karuna’s pockets from the
“executive HUMINT agents of underground diplomacy” representing nations that
have a continuing interest in LTTE’s infrastructure.
Karuna may not have been
promised the $5 million which George Foreman was dreaming about in 1974. But
certainly, Karuna betrayed the trust Eelam Tamils had on him for shekels of hard
cash and turned into a snitch. It was Karuna’s personal choice to become rich
moneywise. And Tamils, who are richer than Karuna (not in money, but in sense)
would hardly waste few tear drops on the current plight of this snitch.
poetic it is to note now that the current plight and fate of snitches like
Karuna, had been anticipated by King poet Kannadasan (1927-1981) 45 years ago,
in one of his satirical songs. As a tribute to Kannadasan, whose 26th
death anniversary falls on Oct.17th, here are his thoughts in my
crude English translation:
O’ Ho! Ho! Ho! human folks – Where have you been fleeing?
Care to buy truth – sell your lies – and care to turn clean?
Would vegetables rotten – be of any use for cooking?
Would a fool’s life and mind – worth to the commune?
Onion peeled and peeled turns to be – empty nothing.
Words of a gossip equally – ain’t worth a thing.
Neither Time returns for mercy – Nor this life - saved by money
Less a foundation, a palace won’t withstand the wind
Beautiful kaanjiram fruits can’t sell in a market ding
A slick life from propaganda ain’t be permanent
Less the oil, a lamp fail to be a shining beacon
Blinded by empty prestige – and forgettingly posing as heroes …’
one of would easily note, the cadence of these lines in Tamil is far superior
than the above English translation. The original lyrics in Tamil, written by
Kannadasan for the 78th movie of
Sivaji Ganesan, Padiththaal
Maddum Poothuma? [‘Is Learning Itself Enough?’, 1962], read as follows:
O’ Ho! Ho! Ho! ManitharkaLe – Ooduvathenge SollungaL
Unmaiyai vaanki – PoikaLai vittru Uruppada VaarunkaL
Azhuhi ppona kaai kaRi kooda samaiyalukku aahaathu
Arivillaathavan uyirum manamum Oorukku uthavaathu
Uriththu paarthaal venkaayaththil onrum irukkaathu
ULari thiripavan vaarthaiyile oru uruppadi theraathu
Kaalam pponaal thirumbuvathillai – KaasukaL uyirai kaappathum illai
Adippadai inri kaddiya maaLikai kaathukku nikkaathu
ALagaai irukkum kaanjiram pazhankal santhaiyil vikkaathu
ViLLambaraththaale uyarnthavan vaazhkai nirantharam aahaathu
ViLLakkirunthaalum eNNai illaamal veLLichcham kidaikaathu
Kannai moodum perumaikaLLale – thammai maranthu veerarkal ppole -
Almost every line of this Kannadasan pearl, with its homely metaphors (such as
onion for dolt, and kaanjiram fruit for a poison), fits perfectly to
dolts like Karuna and his ilk.
Old Commentary in the Time Magazine on Informers
have in my files, an anonymous 35 year-old commentary on informers, that
appeared under the Law column, in the Time magazine. Though the specific
details of cases mentioned in it may not be of vital interest now, this
commentary provides a historical context on how responsible agencies like FBI in
America use snitches like Karuna for information gathering. It is also a primer
on the types and motives of informers.
FBI arrested eight Tamils in Aug. 2006 [on the charge of ‘conspiring to
provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization and
related offenses’] via an undercover sting operation based on the
information obtained from informers (purportedly Tamils), the pros and cons of
the role of informers to FBI may deserve some notice.
such, the complete text of this Time commentary is presented below. For a
proper perspective, just keep in mind that when this commentary appeared,
Richard Nixon was the American President and Vietnam War was the prime focus of
American politicians, law enforcement agents and public citizens. As far as
Eelam Tamils are concerned, I consider that the warning in the last sentence of
the commentary (“Informers are not going to disappear”) is a neat capsulation on
the rise and demise of careers showcased by Mahattayas, Perumals,
and Karunas, among Eelam Tamils during the past two decades.
Informers Under Fire [courtesy: Time,
April 17, 1972, pp. 51-52]
Even law-and-order advocates sometimes find their sensibilities offended by
that most unstable adjunct of police work, the informer. Trained from
childhood to disparage tattletales, Americans have hardly a decent word for
those who give information to authorities. The glossary runs to such
pejorative nouns as fink, stoolie, rat, canary, squealer. In some police
argot they are snitches. Yet no major police force can operate without some
of the shady types who will go where cops seldom can, perhaps to a meeting
of conspirators, or do what cops won’t, for example shoot heroin before a
cautious pusher will make a sale. Informers have long been found in every
area of life, but since the McCarthy era there has not been so much public
concern about them in the US as there is now.
The chief cause has been the recent spate of celebrated cases in which
police agents played a role – from the trials of Chicago Seven and the
Seattle Eight to virtually all of those involving Black Panthers. Currently,
civil libertarians are questioning the propriety of the prosecution’s use of
Boyd Douglas, the FBI informant central to the just-concluded Harrisburg
Seven trial. Still more questions have been raised by the ongoing trial of
28 people accused of destroying draft files in Camden, NJ. Four weeks ago,
Robert Hardy, a paid FBI informer, suddenly announced that Government money
had been supplied for gas, trucks, tools and other items necessary to the
raid. He contends that he acted in effect as an agent provocateur,
rekindling interest in the project when the others seemed to have dropped
The word informer actually covers a variety of types. They range from the
fellow who turns in a friend for tax fraud (and collects up to 10% of
whatever the Federal Government recovers) to a full-fledged undercover
Government agent like Herbert Philbrick (I Led Three Lives). As
Philbrick’s case suggests, the usually unsavory reputation of informers
often vanishes if the cause seems especially just – or at least popular. The
FBI’s hired hand who fingered the Ku Klux Klan killers of Viola Liuzzo
generated considerably less controversy than Boyd Douglas.
For many, informing is a onetime thing. On the other hand, the champion
informant in the San Francisco area is responsible for an estimated 2,000
arrests a year, mostly in narcotic cases; a retired burglar, he now earns
$700 a month from the police. Not surprisingly, money is a common motive for
In 1775, somewhat the worse for his fabled years of womanizing,
Casanova replenished his purse by hiring out to the Venetian Inquisitors; he
provided them with political tidbits as well as a list of the major works of
pornography and blasphemy to be found in the city’s private libraries.
fictional Irish betrayer Gypo Nolan, in the movie The Informer,
turned in his best friend to the British for 20 pounds. A whore-house madam
collected $5,000 for leading the FBI to John Dillinger.
But by far the most frequent impetus is the save-your-own-skin syndrome. In
return for having the charge against him dropped or reduced, a suspect can
often be induced to testify against his confederates. An already convicted
man like Joe Valachi may get special privileges and protection.
an informer is a well-intentioned citizen driven by personal zeal, as was
former Communist Whittaker Chambers in his accusations against Alger Hiss
and others. Now, sociologist David Bordua points out, ‘there is a whole new
type developing in the area of anti-pollution law. If you like it, it’s
civic participation. If not, it’s police informants.’
Like it or not, most experts regard the typical informer as an indispensable
evil in much police work. ‘A very scurvy bunch’, observes Stanford Law
Professor John Kaplan, a former prosecutor, but ‘there are certain kinds of
crimes in which you have to have them – consensual crimes like narcotics.’
The reason: in such cases there are rarely complaints from the victims.
year informants on the FBI payroll accounted for 14,233 arrests and the
recovery of $51,646,289 in money and merchandise. For all their importance
in gathering information, though, they present considerable technical and
tactical problems in the courtroom.
Their anonymity is frequently vital. Thus courts allow a tip from a reliable
informant to be used to obtain a search warrant – without revealing the
informant’s identity. But if failure to disclose his name would unfairly
hamper the defendant on trial, then the informer may no longer remain
Two years ago, Denver Police Lieut. Duane Bordon found that the
danger to informers is no Hollywood myth. He was forced to give an
informer’s name at a trial, and a few months later the man was found beaten
and shot to death.
The use of informers raises a variety of constitutional problems. Under the
Miranda decision, police cannot question an arrested suspect without
warning him of his right to silence and counsel, but an informer is free to
pump an unwary suspect for all he is worth. That was how Jimmy Hoffa was
convicted of jury tampering and the Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
Moreover, the informer can legally be fitted out with a tape recorder or
transmitter: ‘The theory is that you’ve trusted the wrong person.’ explains
The informant planted in a suspect’s cell after his arrest does suggest
Miranda problems still unresolved by the Supreme Court. On the other
hand, a regular cellmate, not working for the police, may testify about
anything he is told. This is because the private citizen is generally
permitted a range of freedom denied to an agent of the Government, whose
investigative power the Bill of Rights sought to limit.
But when does a citizen informer become a Government agent? The question was
sharply if unusually presented in Sacramento, Calif., recently when a twelve
year-old boy discovered that his father had some pot and turned him into the
police. The resulting conviction might have been upheld if the youth had
simply grabbed Dad’s stash on his own; instead, he returned to his house on
police instructions to get the evidence. Thus he became a police agent, and
as such, he conducted a warrantless search in violation of the Fourth
The issue is particularly critical to a special rule of the game. A
policeman or police agent is forbidden to entrap – that is, he may not put
the idea of the crime into a person’s head and induce him to act on it. A
mere citizen, however, can suggest a criminal idea and later, if he decides
to become an informer, give evidence against his co-conspirators. Clearly,
the moment when he came under police control is crucial.
All of these difficulties make prosecutors loath to use informants as
witnesses. Moreover, they are a generally unpredictable lot, and juries
frequently discount their evidence on the theory that they may have
embroidered their testimony to gain police favor. But the result – the fact
that only a minority of informers ever appear in court – helps to reduce the
amount of control that judges have over their use.
Many who worry about informers and police power would like to see more, not
less, of such judicial control. Aryeh Neier, executive director of the
American Civil Liberties Union, thinks that the use of police informants
should be permitted only after a judge issues a warrant. Others, like
Illinois attorney Joseph R. Lundy writing in The Nation, focus their
objection narrowly on political investigations. They would require a warrant
authorizing the use of informers when First Amendment free speech rights are
Basically, the issue is so emotion laden and complex because it leads to a
direct conflict between a citizen’s right to privacy and society’s right to
protect itself against crime. That tension has existed since the framing of
the Constitution, and resolving it is one of the burdens of a free society.
Meanwhile, informers are not going to disappear and neither can the search
for safeguards against their improper use.