How Washington nurtured Maithripala Sirisena in 2013-15 to serve Its Ends

Daya Gamage of USA [i]with highlighting emphasis being the work of The  Editor, Thuppahi

As you have noted in your email[ii] that Chandrika and Ven. Sobhitha[iii] were instrumental in identifying and cultivating Maithripala Sirisena to take the field against Rajapaksa at the 2015 Presidential Election, let me emphasize that Washington also had a firm covert hand in the selection.

Way back in 2013 Washington identified Sirisena as a possible candidate against Mahinda Rajapaksa. The first step was when, as Rajapaksa’s Health Minister, Sirisena received the Harvard Health Leadership Award 2013 from Harvard University Dean Dr. Julio Frenk and Harvard Professor (International Affairs) William Clark for minimizing the consumption of alcohol and smoking and adopting a National Drug Policy in Sri Lanka.

Health Minister Maitripala Sirisena receiving Harvard Leadership Award 2013 From Harvard University Dean Dr. Julio Frenk and Harvard Professor International Affairs William Clark

This passed as a normal and routine occurrence to anyone on Sri Lankan soil or to any Sri Lankan expatriate who closely followed Sri Lankan political development. But to those – including me – who knew the internal operation and working of Washington federal establishments because of their professional engagements for very long years, it was Washington’s covert manipulation that was working to change the whole trajectory of Sri Lanka to suit its geo-political strategies in the Asia-Pacific region.

The pieces behind the nomination of Maithripala Sirisena as the Joint Opposition presidential candidate were slowly moving to form a larger scenario pointing in the direction of an invisible hand of external manoeuvring, with the covert involvement of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and US Diplomatic offices in Colombo in the background.

Here’s how things work for the better comprehension for those who are not very familiar with how Washington executes its overseas operation, leaving aside classified data.

At all times the Colombo office of USAID, which functions under the US Department of State, executes its Sri Lanka operation with the connivance and coordination with the US diplomatic mission in Colombo, which too is responsible to the same department.

Both the USAID office and US Diplomatic Mission in Sri Lanka work very closely together not only to execute the US socio-economic assistance program, but also to coordinate with Sri Lanka’s development agencies, political establishments, US-funded NGOs and personalities at all levels to promote American interests and further its foreign policy goals.

Both these offices coordinate and work together to identify ‘potential leaders’ in all fields in Sri Lanka — which of course include the political arena – while the Colombo USAID office goes about with its development agenda in collaboration with the diplomatic program of the US Mission.

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When former American ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead endeavoured to influence the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in 2005, convening sessions in many districts to get them to raise a joint voice for the implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Sri Lanka Constitution to bring pressure on the Government to effectively devolve political, economic and administrative power to the provinces, the USAID totally funded the project.

The USAID-funded project in 2005 with indigenous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) promoted a federal structure as a panacea for Sri Lanka’s all ills. The program clearly showed the close coordination between the USAID and the US diplomatic mission.

The nomination of Heath Minister Maitripala Sirisena as a recipient of the Harvard Health Leadership Award for 2013 could pass as an unilateral recognition by Harvard to those who are not very knowledgeable about the working of Washington. It was not so. It was a joint effort by the Colombo offices of the USAID and US diplomatic mission, with the concurrence of Washington, an indication that they had identified Mr. Sirisena as a ‘potential leader’.

Those who have closely associated with American diplomatic operation are well aware that identifying a potential leader was/is done after an exhaustive investigation and assessment of the individual’s developed mind-set in a given political environment, that person’s attitude and perspective toward the organization he serves, and his rapport, connections to and perspective of individual/s he is associated with. Washington further assesses how useful this person is to further American interests in the host country and/or the region.

Washington State Department, throughout, is very knowledgeable of this process and is well briefed about those who get into this ‘List’: viz, the (most classified) Potential Leaders’ List.

The Colombo diplomats and USAID officials use several different manoeuvres and techniques to obtain this vast knowledge of individuals who are in political, socio-economic establishments. There can be little doubt that the nomination of Health Minister Maitripala Sirisena as a recipient of the prestigious Harvard Health Leadership Award for 2013 was done after going through this extensive process.

The Harvard Health Leadership Award –2013 was presented to Minister Maithripala Sirisena at the annual leadership conference of the Public Health Research Institute of Harvard University in June 2013. Fifteen Latin American, Asian and African countries were represented by Ministers and other representatives at this event. This was the first occasion a Sri Lankan had won this award. The award has been handed over, it was stated, for the contributions made by Minister Sirisena for minimizing the consumption of alcohol and smoking and adopting a National Drug Policy.

It is interesting to note here that the USAID Washington corporate office is one of the major fund providers to the Harvard Public Health Education Institute of the Harvard University. The Bureau for Global Health of the USAID (Washington) works very closely with the Harvard Institute under which Center for Global Tobacco Control functions.

The Office of Country Support (OCS) is the Bureau for Global Health’s hub to provide broad, strategic assistance and support to countries and diplomatic missions. With changing initiatives and priorities, this support assists both country programs and HQ country teams in understanding and managing challenges involving business practices as they relate to field programs.

The Country Team (of USAID) in Colombo works and coordinates well with the Foreign Service officers (FSOs) in the United States Embassy, Sri Lanka not only executing projects/programs but also maintaining close contacts with individuals who are in responsible and coveted positions who can be influenced. Both these offices jointly develop ‘Potential Leaders List’ to promote US interests in the host country.

For the two offices — USAID and US Embassy — to jointly nominate Maithripala Sirisena, in extensive consultations with Washington, as a recipient of the prestigious Harvard Award, and for  Washington to give its approval, despite the fact that the National Drug Policy was not fully successful, speaks volumes about American manoeuvring in a host country to go well beyond the ‘tobacco and drug policy’ and to shape the internal political environment to further US foreign policy objectives.

At the January 2015 presidential election in Sri Lanka the Washington ‘gamble’ worked, with Maithripala Sirisena defeating the Washington nemesis Mahinda Rajapaksa.


Gamage, Daya 2008 “Barack Obama & Civil War in Sri Lanka; Robert Blake’s Mind-Set; Negating R2P Psychology Build-Up,” 2 November 2008,

Gamage, Daya 2011 “Tamil Issue in Sri Lanka: US Policy Development 1981-1995,” 5 June 2011,

Gamage, Daya 2014 “The American Agenda for Sri Lanka’s National  Issues, 1970s-2014,” 5 July 2014,

Gamage, Daya 2016 Tamil Tigers’ Debt to America, Pannipitiya, Printel Pvt Ltd, … ISBN 978-956 665-324-3

Gamage, Daya 2018 “Gamage on US Mind-Set on LTTE,” ADA DERANA, 15 June 2018

** Daya Gamage = Retired Foreign Service Political Specialist/US Department of State

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014,

Roberts, Michael 2015a “Targeting Sri Lanka by playing ball with Tamil Extremism,” 24 July 2015,

Roberts, Michael 2015b “Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009,” 26 August 2015,

Roberts, Michael 2015c “American Action and Inaction on Sri Lanka, 2008/09: A Critical Evaluation,” 5 September 2015,

Roberts, Michael 2015d Robert Blake on ‘U.S. Perspectives on Sri Lanka,’ 24 October 2008,” 8 September 2015,


[i] Gamage was one of my students at Peradeniya University in the 1960s/70s. He secured a job in the US Embassy in Colombo in the Political Affairs Department(?) and eventually migrated to America. He visits Sri Lankan periodically. He has written articles in the Asian Tribune; and it was via one of these public interventions that we renewed contact with each other. Gamage’s revelation of the political agenda signaled by US Under Secy of State Mike Owens on 6th May 2009 is a particularly vital document in compehednign USA’s policy at that critical point in the Sri Lankan situation. .

[ii] An email dated 17 January (?) which I sent to a few friends seeking data on Sirisena’s early visits to USA as one step in an article that I have been working up (still in progress) on the political implications and commentary on Sirisena’s scathing sermon to the new UNP Cabinet in mid-December (as translated by Darshanie Ratnawalli).

[iii] This is part of grapevine information circulating within Sri Lanka as conveyed to me by a senior journalist and my friend Mohamed Mowzil.


Filed under accountability, american imperialism, authoritarian regimes, centre-periphery relations, citizen journalism, communal relations, constitutional amendments, democratic measures, doctoring evidence, economic processes, foreign policy, governance, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, island economy, landscape wondrous, legal issues, life stories, LTTE, nationalism, parliamentary elections, performance, politIcal discourse, power politics, Rajapaksa regime, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil migration, the imaginary and the real, truth as casualty of war, unusual people, world events & processes

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