The US Embassy in Colombo: Its Internal Structures and Lines of Responsibility

An article entitled “Ambassadors don’t make policy. They just carry out orders from their administrations” has drawn useful clarifications from two Sri Lankan ‘Insiders’ who worked within the US Embassy in Colombo in the late 20th century and more recently during Eelam War IV, namely, Daya Gamage and Brig. Sri Mudannayake.


DAYA GAMAGE: In reply to “Ambassadors don’t make policy. They just carry out orders from their administrations” [item needs cross-referencing] American ambassadors, to my knowledge, greatly contribute toward formulating policies related to host countries. US Ambassadors, with their staff in sections within the embassies such as Political, Economic/Commercial, Defense, USAID, do in-country research/surveys/investigative work, meet and discuss or maintain continuous rapport with policymakers and those who contribute to policies in the host countries, civil society groups, grass-root organizations and their leaders, semi-government leaders to feed their administration in Washington to facilitate them to formulate policies. Diplomatic cables constantly go up and down. So, an American embassy in a host country has a tremendous say in influencing policy planks in Washington, White House, State Department and other departments. If fact, when directives come from Washington, US Embassy and its Ambassador and the staff of Political/Military/Economic-Commerce etc cogently convince toward the revision of policies in necessary.

How do I know the working of an American embassy, its Ambassador and the senior staff work in what I have mentioned above? For more than two and a half decades I was in Colombo US Embassy as a Foreign Service Political Specialist.

BRIG. SRI MUDANNAYAKE: Daya Gamage had been a Foreign Service National (FSN) or Locally Employed Staff (LES) before I joined the US Embassy. FSNs get the opportunity to apply for the Green Card to migrate to USA after 20 year of unblemished service to the US Govt. During Daya Gamage’s time one could apply after 10 years. Then they made it 20-years-service.

Gamage is correct in what he says. There is another agency that operate between Colombo and State Dept. That is the Office of Asst Secretary of State for Central and South Asia. You might recall Ambassador Robert O’ Blake took up that post after serving in Colombo.

I would like to mention two more agencies that operate in the US Embassy Colombo. These are the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and CIA. The US Defense Attache’ (DATT) Corps worldwide is an organ of the DIA. DATTs report go to the DIA.

DATT is also the Def & Sec consultant for the Ambassador. They analyse/report on defence & security matters pertaining to the host nation.The recent hullabaloo regarding the appointment of Gen Shavendra as Army Commander,  could have been based on the analysis provided by the DATT.

The CIA man in town is known as the Regional Area Officer ( RAO). He and his team provides country analyses and report to the Ambassador. The Political Section, Econ Section, USAID, Public Affairs Section are other agencies that provide inputs to the Ambassador

The country analyses of DATT & RAO along with Ambassador’s assessment goes to Wash DC for further analyses by respective Desk Officers at State Dept that makes the final American policy on host country.

It is a very good system that helps Law Makers in DC to formulate the country policy viz; Sri Lanka.

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“We only articulate our position on the appointment of Army Commander -U.S. Ambassador-Otherwise we will not tell Sri Lanka what to do” …. says Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz, 22 August 2019,



Blake, Robert 2008 “U.S. Perspectives on Sri Lanka,” Remarks at an University of Madras event, 24(?) October 2008, as reported in The Hindu and the US embassy web site, now available at

Boucher, Richard A. 2008 “U.S.-Sri Lanka Relations,” 3 August 2008,

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 2009 “Rudrakumaran’s Role to promote LTTE contravenes US material support Laws,” 22 September 2009,

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

Gamage, Daya 2011b “International Humanitarian Law – at all times – applicable to LTTE atrocities: Why was the West silent?” 6 July 2011,

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

Lunstead Jeffrey 2007 The United States’ Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process,

Mann, Steven 2015a “USA-Lanka, 2007, ONE: Steven Mann’s Press Engagement in Colombo, March 2007,” 8 September 2008, usa-lanka-2007-one-steven-manns-press-engagement-in-colombo-march-2007/

Mann Steven 2015b “USA-Lanka, 2007, TWO: Steven Mann’s Review of the Sri Lankan Political Situation in August 2007,” 8 September 2015,

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,

Wikileaks 2014 “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: US Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE,” 27 August 2014,

The questions unanswered by Ass. Sec. Robert Blake: Mapping US engagement in and concerns over Sri Lanka (UPDATED)

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