Keenie Meenie Mercenary Operations in Lanka in UK Gunsights

Phil Miller, in Declassified UK, March 14, 2023

A former SAS commander whose mercenary business in Sri Lanka is under investigation for war crimes has left millions of pounds in his will.

     Attached photo of Colonel Johnson leading an SAS parade in 1960. (Image: Imperial War Museum)

One of Britain’s most rapacious mercenaries amassed a fortune worth £4m before his death in 2008, an investigation by Declassified UK has found. The soldier of fortune, Colonel Henry ‘Jim’ Johnson, was once described by a senior British diplomat as having “political ideas [that] are probably to the right of Genghis Khan” – a reference to the infamously brutal Mongol emperor.

Johnson commanded an SAS regiment in the 1960s before running a mercenary operation in the North Yemen civil war with the blessing of MI6. He then served as aide-de-camp to Queen Elizabeth until the 1970s when he formed two private military companies, Keenie Meenie Services (KMS) and Saladin Security.

Keenie Meenie is thought to be Arabic or Swahili slang for covert operations. The firm propped up repressive Gulf monarchies, commanding the Sultan of Oman’s special forces and supplying bodyguards to Saudi Arabia’s oil minister Sheikh Yamani.

Throughout the 1980s, KMS set up and trained a paramilitary police unit in Sri Lanka, that was accused of torturing hundreds of Tamils in the island’s civil war. The company also provided helicopter gunship pilots who flew on missions in which Tamil civilians were killed, sparking criticism from a United Nations watchdog.

The Metropolitan Police is currently investigating whether the firm committed war crimes in Sri Lanka, where authorities have never said how much they paid KMS for its services. Sri Lanka’s economy is bankrupt after decades of conflict and corruption.

Britain’s high commissioner to Sri Lanka in 1986 estimated KMS was receiving two or three million pounds a year from the island’s government. The envoy described Johnson as a “glib, plausible and dishonest salesman”. KMS used bank accounts in Jersey and the Cayman Islands, putting its financial records beyond the reach of investigators.

Exclusive: Met Police open war crimes investigation into British mercenaries



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Nov 30, 2020 — This will be the first time British mercenaries will be investigated by the Metropolitan Police for allegations of war crimes.


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7 responses to “Keenie Meenie Mercenary Operations in Lanka in UK Gunsights

  1. Rex Olegasegarem

    The atrocities against Tamil civilians committed by the KMS requires full investigations ,including the alleged payment of two to three million pounds to them by the then Sri :Lankan Government . No wonder the SL Government is now facing an economic crisis and forced into a “begging bowl” situation which is a very sad situation. a lovely country is being torn apart by corrupt politicians and their cronies.

  2. Phil Miller had not identified the then British High Commissioner, by name! He was John Stewart (1927-1995). Did Stewart play a dubious role as a conduit between the Sri Lankan government and the Keenie Meenie services? This need to be verified beyond doubt. Who were the guys involved from the Sri Lanka side? I guess, they were Lalith Athulathmudali and Ravi Jayawardene (the son of the then President J.R. Jayewardene).

  3. The time period during which KMS operated in SL, corresponds more with the Second JVP uprising, during JRs reign, rather than the LTTE war.

  4. I’m sure Edward Upali’s assertion is incorrect. Keenie Meenie services were originally contracted to decimate LTTE in 1985. I provide following citations from my files, as proof.

    (1) Sri Lanka learns to ride the Tigers. Economist, Apr 13 1985, pp. 37-38.
    (2) A small and solvable war. Economist, Aug 3, 1985, pp. 35-36.
    (3) Marguerite Johnson’s cover story. Sri Lanka: Island at War. Time (Asian edition), Jun 9, 1986, pp. 11-16.
    (4) Richard Greenberg. Sri Lanka lurches toward civil war. The Nation (New York), Nov. 30, 1985, pp. 582-585.
    (5) please check the photo by Aruna Kulatunga, that appeared in the Asiaweek (Hongkong), Feb 8, 1987, p. 26. It’s caption notes, Lalith Athulathmudali and a ‘British mercenary in Jaffna’

    The second JVP uprising began earnestly only after the Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord of July 1987. Check the details on the bomb thrown in the parliamentary building on Aug 18, 1987 to assassinate Jayewardene. But the badly hurt Cabinet ministers were, Lalith Athulathmudali, Montague Jayawickrema, Edwin Hurulle and Vincent Perera. Athlathmudali was the worst affected. His ruptured spleen was removed after operation and his spine was also damaged. One casualty was Keerthisiri Abeywickrama, a junior minister who died from severe head injuries.
    I know at that time, some pious Hindus inferred that it was Athulathmudali’s bad karma which boomeranged on him, for his hiring of Keenie Meenie mercenaries to kill so many innocent Tamils.

  5. Fair Dinkum

    There are about 50 war crimes supposedly being investigated by British authorities concerning British SAS forces in Afghanistan, and another 50 supposed SAS war crimes being investigated in Australia, all of which go back 15 years and only came to light because of a whistle-blower. The whistle-blowers go on trial and are more likely to be convicted for revealing these crimes than the perpetrators, which confirms that the British and Australian authorities are profoundly irritated that these SAS crimes came to public attention. They would have preferred the crimes to remain in secret files, never to see the light of day. So the Keenie Meenie/SAS story, which I have known about for many years, comes as no surprise. There is sufficent information about Keenie Meenie’s actvities in Sri Lanka to warrant a proper investigation.

    Knowing how secret organizations work, including the SAS, we have good reason to take seriously the claims made by Paul Miller over this former British SAS commander and KMS being involved in war crimes in Sri Lanka. Both the Sri Lankan and British governments have remained silent on these allegations for decades, but these allegations should be investigated further, even though the former SAS commander passed away many years ago.

    I agree with the comments by Rex Olegasegarem. Keenie Meenie were brought into Sri Lanka to fight Tamils, not the JVP. The claim that the period KMS operated in Sri Lanka corresponds with JVP, implying that KMS were brought to Sri Lanka because of the JVP, is flawed reasoning because it is also true that the period when the KMS operated in Sri Lanka corresponds with the LTTE war.

    • I do agree with Fair Dinkum’s comment that ‘There is sufficient information about Keenie Meenie’s actvities in Sri Lanka to warrant a proper investigation.’ But, in fairness, such an investigation will not bring any compensation to the survivors of Keenie Meenie activities during 1985-1988.

      The reason is, now in 2023, the spirits of involved principals (at that time, the top bunch of bananas of UK and Britain were J.R. Jayewardene and Margaret Thatcher; then Lalith Athulathmudali, JRJ’s son Ravi and John Stewart – as I had mentioned earlier the British high commissioner to Sri Lanka) had passed into their designated locations after death. If such an investigation is to be held, certainly it will not be by the Sri Lankan authorities. This is because the current President Ranil Wickremesinghe was also a Cabinet member then. He won’t wish to expose the buried skeletons.

  6. Fair Dinkum

    Governments often claim the reason secrets are kept is to protect sources and methods. But some secrets are kept because if brought to light and made public would seriously damage a country’s international standing and/or relationships with other countries, which reveals governments are involved in some very dirty immoral activities against the interests of so-called friendly countries and their peoples. So, we may not know exactly what governments are doing, but we can be sure they are often engaged it immoral and harmful actvities.

    The one thing intelligence agency hate most of all is transparency because it kills secrecy. This is why governments and intelligence agencies hate whistle blowers and investigations into things like war crimes or bugging offices of a foreign leader, stealing their secrets to gain an economic advantage in a trade deal, and so forth.

    Think about Julian Assange. What he exposed were truths about war crimes committed by the US military – a truth Americans and the World have a right to know. But the US Government did nothing about the perpetrators of these crimes. Instead, they went after the truthteller. So one can never trust governments.

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