Hong Kong (21/11). Although a disaster was averted police and intelligence services should be concerned. A group of Black Bloc radicals set fire to the Christmas tree in the Singapore-listed Festival mall in Kowloon Tong in Hong Kong. And it is not the first time in Asia shopping malls went up in flames if political crisis engulfs society.
The shopping centre, owned by Singapore-listed Mapletree North Asia Commercial Trust, suffered “extensive damage” caused by protesters on Tuesday night (13/11). They smashed the glass panels at entrances to the property and set fire to the Christmas tree.
The practice of arson to set fire to shopping malls is a Black Bloc tactic. For months signs for an extremism are known to Hong Kong Police officials, begging the question why the police did not act on the intelligence? As so often hubris, lack of out of the box thinking are to blame.
Security expert who briefed the shopping mall owners in the past said, “The signals were present for a long time but people in command were not willing to listen. Costly for shopping mall owners. A near fatal miss”, he added pointing out the loss of life was narrowly avoided.
“It becomes painfully obvious intelligence of the Hong Kong police and the SAR missed the signals. It begs the question on who is responsible for this intelligence blunder?”, said an ex-Hong Kong Police officer. Martin Purbrick wrote,
The protesters grew more radical and more willing to engage in violence to achieve their aims, or indeed as a nihilistic expression of discontent. The Police used traditional riot control tactics originating from the 1967 communist-related disturbances, applied colonial era laws, and on several occasions failed to distinguish between the majority of protesters who were peaceful and the minority who turned to violence.
Experts disagree. The issues are complex involves an variety of global and local elite interests. Even if the protests are contained structural changes in the Hong Kong police, command are needed. The crisis is not yet over adn the Hong Kong police has yet to show having learned from the experience of the 2019 riots.
Hong Kong battles on with the Black Bloc radicals, the damage to the economy deepened and the shortcomings of the police are surfacing. So does the failure of the intelligence services which caught the government and its advisors by surprise. Indeed, overconfident, the local government and the Hong Kong police ignored the warning signs that loomed for some time over the horizon.
The Hong Kong Freedom Press wrote, “One of the key functions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Hong Kong is to take the pulse of the city. Headquartered in the Central Liaison Office in Sai Ying Pun”.
With the demonstrations quickened so did the rumor mill. Quickly the CIA inspired plot surfaced in the reports in Hong Kong. The obvious is replaced with the convenient but it is a false conclusion. The we-know-it-all attitude so common within corridors of officials are echoes of a long list of intelligence failures around the globe.
Geo-politics are without doubt in play but the Hong Kong police has to restoration of public order. The public perception is an all time low. Years of brain-drain, the depletion of institutional knowledge of the Hong Kong police and paralysis of decision making is obvious. In the vacuum the radicals are turning police tactics against the police.
Although the prevention of serious loss of life is testimony is kudos to the police the reputation of the police is shattered.
The Hong Kong Police and the large volume of ex-cops in the “security risk business” grossly misread the structures, networks and individuals operating in Hong Kong. “Plenty of opinion going around from the so-called ex-HKP officers now in private business, but all of them got it wrong.”
“None of the so called “expert” understand the radical groups and the civil society movements.”, an academic added. Neither does the police.
The top command operated in its narrow eco-chambers of what is permissible to express and has not taken the initiatives to listen to consistent intelligence warnings. The comprehension of what are the needs of modern intelligence was assessed as poor, said the unnamed expert. “What everyone misses is what the [Hong Kong] police missed and got wrong and what will they miss next?”
“In typical fashion, the top floor was more concerned about public image instead of recognizing the seriousness of the situation and getting the job done,” said one officer. Officials close to Beijing distort the messages and report only what superiors want to hear. The public stopped listening to the Hong Kong police.
Reports of mismanagement, poor intelligence collection, and a lack of comprehension of what is the threat led to the development of local extremist and radical cells. “They operate right under the nose of the Hong Kong police”, said an expert. It will years to repair to damage.
Foreign activists, collecting intelligence is openly visible. Hong Kong police once reputed to be one of the most professional forces in Asia has lost the edge. Troubled by reputational issues many ask who is to blame for the intelligence failure that led to the widespread unrests and destruction in Hong Kong?
The Hong Kong Freedom Press wrote,
There is, thus, a history of the CCP misreading public sentiment in Hong Kong and reporting fake opinion to central authorities. The united front echo chamber in Hong Kong is unreliable. The party research bureaucrats canvassing opinion in Hong Kong simply become part of the united front work apparatus.
So, party central: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” We should expect the central party to hold the party apparatus within the HKMAO and the Liaison Office to account, and heads to roll. But without a fundamental reform of the way intelligence is collected within the party to permit more diversity (“seek truth from facts”), the party will continue to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Learning from the bitter lessons of September 11, intelligence failures are a command responsibility. The failure to accept alternative views, draw from experiences and protect the public is a function of the Hong Kong Police Force, its commanding officers and the intelligence structures. But reform is unlikely as this would mean officials in Beijing and Hong Kong recognize the greatest intelligence failure for Hong Kong since 1997.
It would require a transparency, and accountability. But the consequence of intelligence failures are costs carried by average Hong Kong resident.
One thing is certain, 2019 riots are the 9/11 for Hong Kong.