Ex-ISD Director: Some detained were “less implicated” and Coldstore did help LKY to consolidate his position

Former Director of ISD Yoong Siew Wah who has stopped blogging since last year decided to write last Friday (4 May) after numerous people had appealed to him to give his view about Operation Coldstore.

Operation Coldstore was a covert security operation carried out in Singapore in 1963 which led to the arrest of over 100 people, who were detained without trial. In official accounts, the operation was a security operation “aimed at crippling the Communist open front organisation,” which threatened Singapore’s internal security.

The operation was authorised by the Internal Security Council (ISC) which at the time, was composed of representatives from the British, Singapore and Malayan Federal governments. The people interned were alleged to have carried out communist activities attempting to overthrow the government.

Swan song by former ISD Director

Mr Yoong wrote, “Actually I have stopped blogging since last year. Lately I have been intrigued by the persistent appeals of interested political observers to give my view on the controversial Operation Coldstore. I will make this my swan song.”

Mr Yoong said he will try to give an objective view on Operation Coldstore “without giving offence to any party be it the powers-that-be or the opposition”.

He noted that Oxford historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin’s submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Falsehoods has created “an unprecedented uproar” to the committee as well as the public.

However, Mr Yoong also said that Dr Thum’s submission “seems to lack objectivity by presenting only one side of the picture” without the opportunity of having the insight of the deliberations and discussions of ISC.

But the former ISD Director also acknowledged that what the ISC discussed prior to Operation Coldstore was top secret and not privy to the public. Till today, the Singapore ISD archives on Coldstore have not been released to the public, unlike those from the British.

It was the ISC “which gave the approval to PM Lee Kuan Yew to proceed with Operation Coldstore”, Mr Yoong wrote. “So it remained a secret how Lee Kuan Yew had been able to convince the ISC with his eloquence to give him the approval.”

But again, Mr Yoong opined that the ISC members at the time “were not gullible people who could be easily persuaded”. Yet, somehow, Lee Kuan Yew managed to pursuade those members.

Operation Coldstore helped LKY consolidate his position

Mr Yoong said that there was never in doubt that Coldstore was mounted against the leaders of the Communist United Front ostensibly to pre-empt them from seizing power.

“But that it had also helped Lee Kuan Yew in consolidating his position against his political opponents cannot be dismissed as a fact,” he added.

“Some of those detained can be described dyed-in-the-wool subversives but it cannot be denied that some may be less implicated.”

In other words, Mr Yoong is saying that it’s harder for the government to justify their actions in the name of internal security to intern those who might be “less implicated” under Coldstore.

Finally, Mr Yoong also defended Dr Thum’s reputation, “The fact that Dr Thum Ping Tjin is an authentic reputed Oxford Historian can never be detracted by any amount of denigration by any party though there was no lack of such attempts as seen in his six-hour questioning in the Select Committee.”

“The Operation Coldstore controversy will go on indefinitely because there can never be a definitive conclusion to it,” he concluded.

To conclude the matter, perhaps it’s time for the present-day government to open up its ISD archives and let everyone conclude for themselves once and for all.

What do you think?

* Mr Yoong Siew Wah was the Director of Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) from 1971 to 1974. He was Director of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) in the 1960s, and had a distinguished career in the Singapore Special Branch in the 1950s.The erudite (i.e. learned and knowledgeable) Mr Yoong, who is in his late eighties, keeps a blog called Singapore Recalcitrant.