INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR: PAPER NO.582
Our capabilities for prevention of an act of terrorism as well as for its effective termination if prevention fails were found wanting in Mumbai on 26/11 last year.
Some prior intelligence was available, but it was found inadequate by the navy and the police which were responsible for follow-up action. Co-ordination between the intelligence agencies and those responsible for physical security was weak. There was inadequate interaction between governmental agencies and the management of the hotels. P.Chidambaram himself admitted in the Lok Sabha after assuming charge as the Home Minister that responsibility for follow-up action was diffused. The agencies responsible for termination after the terrorists had struck took time to mobilize themselves and act against the terrorists.
One could see from the various steps initiated by Chidambaram such as the decentralization of the deployment of the National Security Guards (NSGs), creating regional hubs of the NSG, strengthening its capacity for rapid mobilization and movement etc that we should be in a better position to confront the terrorists today if we are taken by surprise than we were on 26/11 of last year.
Certain steps have also been initiated for strengthening our prevention capability. The Multi-Agency Centre in the Intelligence Bureau,which is responsible for intelligence collection, sharing and co-ordinated action, has been revamped.There has been a regular monitoring of the intelligence process by the Minister himself. Action has been taken for creating a constantly updated database of information which could help in prevention and making it accessible to senior officers responsible for prevention.
Co-operation with foreign intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies has been strengthened and we have not hesitated to borrow good practices from foreign agencies and adapt them to our needs. After a visit by Chidambaram to the US, there has been a talk of our setting up a national counter-terrorism centre patterned after the centre set up in the US after 9/11. Joint command and joint action are among the operating principles of the US centre. These concepts are meant to ensure that there will be no buck-passing in counter-terrorism.
The National Investigation Agency set up post-26/11 to strengthen our capability for co-ordinated investigation of terrorist activities of a pan-Indian nature has had a slow start. The reasons for this are not clear.
The public has a right to ask whether as a result of these measures we are in a position to prevent another 26/11 just as the US has been able to prevent another 9/11. If, despite our best efforts, prevention again fails, are we in a better position to confront the terrorists more effectively than we did last year?
Till the Federal Bureau of Investigation detected the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s Chicago cell consisting of David Coleman Headley and Tahawuur Hussain Rana and discovered the LET’s plans to mount another terrorist attack in India using its US-based assets, we had a certain satisfaction about the perceived improvement in our capability and alertness.
After the FBI detected the cell and we found on the basis of the FBI tip-off that the US-based assets of the LET had been operating in India for nearly two years before 26/11 and even after 26/11 when we were supposed to be in a state of heightened alert, we ought to be bothered by the thought that the proclaimed improvement has been not up to the mark. The undetected activities of Headley and Rana clearly show the shocking state of our immigration controls and our failure to investigate thoroughly the 26/11 strikes.
Casualness in action and leadership has always been the bane of our counter-terrorism machinery. We wake up and act energetically for a few weeks after a terrorist attack and then go back into our casual mode. That is what has happened even after the traumatic strike of 26/11.
What we needed after 26/11 was a dramatic shake-up of our counter-terrorism machinery in order to improve leadership, enforce accountability, strengthen capacities and weed out casualness and incompetence. The fact that the machinery continues to function in the same haphazard manner as it was functioning before 26/11 should be all too evident to any objective analyst.
The fact that there has been no major act of jihadi terrorism outside J&K since September last year is no guarantee that surprises of the kind we faced on 26/11 are a thing of the past. They are not. The way Headley and Rana noticed and exploited gaps in our security architecture is another nasty surprise. Thanks to the FBI they were thwarted before they could execute their plans for another 26/11.
How many more Headleys, Ranas and the like are living in our midst and conspiring against us? Unless they are neutralized, another surprise is waiting to happen.
Most of the jihadi terrorism continues to originate from Pakistan and Bangladesh. In the past, the terrorists used to come across the border or through the seas. Now, they are trying to come from third countries in the West by assuming non-Muslim and non-Pakistani and non-Bangladeshi identities. They are faster in thinking new ways of surprising us than we are in refusing to be surprised.
There has hardly been any thinking in policy-making circles as to how to deal with the source of this evil. Their command and control, which is exercised from Pakistan, is still intact because of our inability to disrupt it.
If any more surprises are to be averted, we have to act at home as well as in Pakistan and Bangladesh. (25-11-09)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director,Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )