Myanmar Junta Expands its Intelligence Operation

By The Irrawaddy 13 January 2022

Myanmar’s military has expanded its spying department, dividing it into two units separately overseeing northern and southern Myanmar, according to sources from the Myanmar military’s Naypyitaw headquarters.

Officially known as the Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs (OCMSA), the junta’s intelligence operation is a military apparatus mainly responsible for suppressing political dissidents. Since it was first founded as the Directorate of Military Intelligence in the 1960s, the office has always functioned as a single unit.

Now the office has been expanded into an Upper Myanmar Office and a Lower Myanmar Office. The Lower Myanmar unit will be headed by Major General Aung Kyaw Kyaw, who was promoted from the rank of Brigadier General and was formerly an assistant adjutant general at Naypyitaw military headquarters. The Upper Myanmar unit will be headed by Major General Kyaw Kyaw Lwin, who was also promoted from the rank of Brig-Gen and was previously serving in the OCMSA.

The intelligence office, which was commonly known as MI, or military intelligence, became powerful under General Khin Nyunt following the military takeover in 1988. Dubbed “the Prince of Evil,” Khin Nyunt, who is now suffering Alzheimer’s disease, became notorious for masterminding deadly interrogations and the persecution of hundreds, if not thousands, of Myanmar’s pro-democracy activists. He locked up many dissidents in the country’s most remote prisons. Many of them died in detention due to the lack of proper medical treatment, among other reasons.

As well as performing all the usual intelligence functions, the office also played a key role in Myanmar’s political, economic and social life, as well as its international relations. Even high-ranking military officers had reason to fear the sergeants from MI, as they were authorized to spy on the military itself.

The growing influence of MI exacerbated tensions between Khin Nyunt and other members of Myanmar’s then junta, which led to his downfall in 2004. MI was purged and replaced by the OCMSA. Primary responsibility for internal security was shifted to the Myanmar Police Special Branch. The authority of the military intelligence unit became more limited and, as a result, its intelligence capabilities were severely weakened.

A former military intelligence officer said coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has expanded the office solely to create positions for his protégés.

“The military is barely attracting new recruits at the moment, and [the expansion of the intelligence office] will not help to improve its capabilities,” he said.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing has recalled former military intelligence officers to give him advice as his regime desperately needs intelligence to suppress the nationwide resistance movement.

Former intelligence officers have revealed that, following the coup, the regime approached Khin Nyunt’s former subordinates, who are now in their late sixties and seventies, for assistance in various areas. That included liaising with international contacts such as former United States (US) Congressman Bill Richardson, who flew to Myanmar in November last year to secure the release of detained American journalist Danny Fenster. Richardson, a former US diplomat, has remained in touch with both the current regime’s advisers and Khin Nyunt’s former fellow intelligence officers.

Former high-ranking intelligence officers Khin Maung Thein, Ngwe Tun and Thein Swe have traveled to Naypyitaw to assist the regime.

Khin Maung Thein, a former ambassador to Japan, is known to be close to Richardson.

Ngwe Tun, a former lieutenant colonel, attended the Defense Services Academy with the coup leader, served in the Navy and subsequently joined the intelligence unit after receiving training in the US in 1987. He is now reportedly a full-time consultant for the military regime.

Brigadier General Thein Swe attended the Defense Services Academy with former President U Thein Sein and served in the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence. Later, he served as military attaché in Bangkok and was a close aide to Khin Nyunt. In his heyday, the former brigadier general ran the Myanmar Times newspaper with his son Sonny Swe, who went on to launch the Frontier Myanmar magazine, of which he is the CEO.

Last December, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing visited Khin Nyunt at his Yangon home.

Currently, Lieutenant General Ye Win Oo serves as the Chief of Military Security Affairs, with Major General Toe Yi serving as his deputy.

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