ISD celebrates its 75th anniversary by honouring officers who risked life and limb for Singapore, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

ISD celebrates its 75th anniversary by honouring officers who risked life and limb for Singapore

To map out the true extent of the threat that the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist group posed to Singapore, Internal Security Department (ISD) officers spent more than 600 hours working round the clock in the early 2000s.

Investigators, analysts and field officers generated some 65,000 operational leads first through months of discreet surveillance, and later in near-daily interviews with detained JI members.

Besides having to sift through immense amounts of data – some of them red herrings planted by JI members to throw off the authorities – officers faced the danger of actual bodily harm.

One JI detainee revealed under questioning that he had thought to kidnap an ISD officer for leverage to negotiate the release of JI members the department had earlier detained, said “IAR”, an ISD operations officer.

While little is known about ISD’s officers and their secretive work to keep Singapore safe, their efforts were recognised on Tuesday night when the department celebrated its 75th anniversary at a closed-door event at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia.

At the dinner, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong lauded the department’s officers as Singapore’s “silent heroes” who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to fulfill their mission, which will never be known outside of a tiny circle.

“But once in a while, at occasions like this, I think we can pull the curtains aside just a little, to recognise your good work,” he said.

Also at the dinner were Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean and Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.

PM Lee cited Mr Saraj Din, a pioneer ISD officer who was intimately involved in defusing two high-profile terrorist incidents in the Republic’s early days.

The operations officer was among those who volunteered to trade themselves for hostages during the Laju hijacking incident in 1974, when four men armed with submachine guns had tried to blow up oil tanks on Pulau Bukom.

After the bombing failed, they seized the ferry that was operating between Pulau Bukom and mainland Singapore and held its crew hostage.

Following intense negotiations, Mr Saraj was part of a team of government officials and commandos led by then-director of security and intelligence S. R. Nathan who, acting as security guarantors, accompanied the hijackers on a flight to Kuwait.

In 1991, Mr Saraj was part of the police team that negotiated with the terrorists who hijacked SQ117.

PM Lee said in his speech that Mr Saraj’s knowledge of Urdu proved crucial in ending the hostage situation.

“When he spoke in Urdu, all four Pakistani hijackers ran to the cockpit, thinking that their demands were being met,” he said. “This gave the SAF commandos the opportunity to storm the plane and neutralise the threat.”

Another officer whom PM Lee cited was “Tiger Lily” one of ISD’s few female operations officers in the 1980s.

By developing relationships with the JI Muslimah – wives of JI members – she was instrumental in uncovering the terror group’s Singapore network.

“Tiger Lily” also managed to get the wives to convince their husbands to come clean on the JI involvement, and to cooperate with ISD’s investigations, added PM Lee.

“This was risky business, sometimes dangerous, but driven by courage and a strong sense of purpose, she persevered and succeeded,” he said.


The Internal Security Department (ISD)'s mission is to keep Singapore safe and sovereign for all Singaporeans. ISD...

Posted by Internal Security Department on Sunday, July 23, 2023

As the threat of terrorism has evolved, so has the ISD in order to keep the Republic safe.

The department has adapted its strategies to tackle the issue of self-radicalised individuals by stepping up public engagement. This includes civil servants, national servicemen and students by having them tour the ISD Heritage Centre.

It has also begun stepping out of the shadows by issuing press releases as of 2020, hosting media interviews and, in July 2023, setting up a public presence on Facebook and LinkedIn.

In a message to ISD officers on Tuesday, Mr Shanmugam said the internal stability and sovereignty enjoyed by Singapore today did not come about by chance, and the ISD has played a key role in ensuring the Republic’s security.

“Its work helped provide the foundations of peace and stability, which enabled Singapore to focus on nation-building,” said Mr Shanmugam.

He noted that traditional threats of terrorism, subversion, extremism and espionage persist, while new threats will rise with the changing external environment and Singapore’s domestic vulnerabilities. 

“Generations of ISD officers have worked tirelessly, behind the scenes, out of the public eye, in service of this mission. Thank you to all officers, past and present, for a job well done, and for your unwavering dedication to Singapore,” he said.