Monday, May 26, 2008




(Extracted from my book "Terrorism: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow" being published on June 8,2008, by the Lancer Publishers of New Delhi. )

Counter-terrorism intelligence is of three categories:

* Strategic: This is about the organisational set-up of the terrorists, their office-bearers, aims, modus operandi, source of funds, weapons and explosives at their disposal, contacts with external elements, including foreign intelligence agencies etc.

* Tactical: This relates to their specific plans of action. This is also called preventive intelligence, which would enable the State to frustrate their plans.

* Psychological: This covers details of the psychological warfare (psywar) propaganda of the terrorists against the State, which need to be countered, and data relating to the terrorists, which would enable the State to mount its own psywar against them. As examples of such data, one could cite indicators of discontent against the leadership in terrorist organisations, the use of coercive methods by them for the recruitment of volunteers, misuse of children for terrorist operations etc.

It has generally been seen that while the coverage of strategic and psychological intelligence by the intelligence agencies has been satisfactory, their collection of tactical or preventive intelligence has left much to be desired. This has been due to difficulties in penetrating the terrorist organisations for the collection of human intelligence (HUMINT) and their communications set-up for the collection of technical intelligence (TECHINT).

While strategic and psychological intelligence can be collected from open sources, peripheral secret sources, interrogation of captured or surrendered terrorists and scrutiny of captured documents, precise preventive intelligence can generally be obtained only from moles in key positions in the terrorist organisations and through the interception of their communications. Occasionally, such intelligence may also be forthcoming from captured or surrendered terrorists, their couriers etc, but such instances are rare.

Penetration of terrorist organisations is an extremely difficult task . It is easier to penetrate the sensitive establishments of an adversary State than a terrorist organisation. It poses ethical problems, which are not appreciated by public opinion. If an agency plants a mole in a terrorist organisation, its leadership would first ask him to carry out a killing or some other similar act to test the genuineness of his adherence to its cause and his motivation. If the source comes back and asks his handling intelligence officer whether he should kill in order to establish his credibility in the eyes of the organisation's leaders, the handling officer would be faced with a dilemma. He can't tell his source: "Go and kill so that we can prevent other killings in future." Setting a thief to catch a thief may be permissible for security agencies under certain circumstances, but committing a murder to catch a murderer is definitely not.

There is another way of penetration--by winning over and recruiting terrorists, who are already accepted members of the terrorist organisations. To be able to successfully do this, the recruiting officer should preferably be from the same ethnic or religious group to which the targeted terrorist and his organisation belong. Intelligence agencies often tend to avoid the recruitment of operational officers from the ethnic or religious group, which has given rise to terrorism, and this comes in the way of penetration by winning over a terrorist already in the organisation.

There cannot be a regular flow of preventive human intelligence without the co-operation of the community to which the terrorists belong. Such co-operation is often not forthcoming, particularly in respect of jihadi terrorist organisations. Feelings of religious solidarity and fears of being perceived as betraying the cause of Islam by co-operating with the intelligence agencies come in the way of help from law-abiding members of the community.

Penetration of their communication set-up is the other way of collecting precise preventive intelligence. In the past, terrorist groups relied mainly on couriers for communications. This made the penetration difficult unless the courier was caught and interrogated. However, with the expansion in the area of operations of terrorists and their external networking, they have increasingly been resorting to modern means of communications such as telephones, fax, the E-mail, the use of the World-Wide Web etc. This makes them vulnerable to detection by the intelligence agencies, provided the latter could break their codes and get some details of their communications drill.

Many successful post-1990 counter-terrorism operations all over the world could be attributed to successful communications interceptions. But, even this is now becoming difficult due to the availability in the market for anyone with money of sophisticated concealment, deception and evasion technologies and the reluctance of the political leadership, the judiciary and human rights organisations to admit the need for the updating of our laws and procedures relating to communications interceptions in order to empower the intelligence and security agencies to deal with the new situation and to deny to the terrorists and other law-breakers the benefits of these technologies.

Terrorists too continuously learn from their failures and keep changing their modus operandi in order to frustrate the efforts of the intelligence agencies to collect intelligence about them. The successful use of TECHINT by the US for the arrest of some senior operatives of Al Qaeda in Pakistan after 9/11 has made the jihadi terrorists more cautious in the use of modern communication gadgets such as the satellite and mobile phones and adopt better communication security procedures.

Intelligence agencies themselves are conscious of their inadequacies and of the gaps in their knowledge. They are making unpublicised efforts to improve their capability and performance. Better human material with language skills and knowledge of the cultures of their non-State adversaries are being recruited. Better training methods are being used, with the agencies of different countries helping each other in producing better trained operators and analysts.

There is an awareness that training methods and tradecraft evolved over the years for collecting intelligence about other States with rational, predictable behaviour would not do for the collection of intelligence about non-State actors, with irrational, unpredictable behaviour. The need to build a core of analysts who could think unconventionally like the terrorists often do and visualise various scenarios is now understood.

A determined effort is being made to associate more scientists and technologists with counter-terrorism. An Indo-US Workshop on the use of S&T in counter-terrorism held in Goa in India in January, 2004, was but one example of such determination. More resources are being allocated for strengthening the counter-terrorism capability of the intelligence agencies.

The results are already evident in the capture of many terrorist operatives since 2002 and the unearthing of the clandestine cells of jihadi organisations allied to Al Qaeda in India, the US (the detection of a cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba) and other countries. Clandestine remittance of funds for terrorists has been made more difficult.

Despite this, failures there have been and failures there will be. No intelligence agency in the world, whatever be its human and material resources and its technical and technological capability, can claim or hope to be all-knowing. Intelligence agencies were never all-knowing even in respect of conventional State adversaries. They cannot be expected to be all-knowing in respect of their unconventional non-State adversaries.

The resulting gap has to be made good by better analysis and utilisation of the available intelligence, however sparse it may be, better co-ordination amongst different agencies of the intelligence community, better physical security and better international co-operation. Many breaches of national security occurred in the past and continue to occur today, not for want of intelligence, but due to poor analysis of the available intelligence and inadequate follow-up action on it and co-ordination.

The enquiries in the US into the performance of the intelligence agencies in the months preceding 9/11 highlighted the weak analytical capability of the US intelligence and law-enforcement agencies in the field of counter-terrorism, their lethargic follow-up action and their persisting habit of keeping each other in the dark about what they knew and their anxieties. Questions which should have been posed, for example, as to why so many Arabs, with no commercial flying background or aspirations, were undergoing training in commercial flying, were not posed strongly enough by the analysts and an answer sought. Immigration alerts were treated casually. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) did not share with each other all that they knew or talk to each other about all that was preoccupying them.
Such deficiencies are not something unique to the US. They are there in all countries of the world, including India, and the terrorists notice and take advantage of them.

The post-mortem in the US on the suicide attack on the US Marines in Beirut in the early 1980s brought into practice new principles of counter-terrorism management and co-ordination. Those were based on a recognition of the fact that there has been a globalisation of terrorism, that this menace can no longer be dealt with effectively if each agency of the intelligence apparatus operates independently from inside its own cocoon and that, therefore, there is a need for a multi-agency set-up under a common leadership.

Amongst the various models of multi-agency set-ups under a common leadership, which started functioning in the world, one could cite the Counter-Terrorism Centre (CTC) of the US, which consisted of experts from different agencies working under a common roof, with a common data-base and under the common leadership of the Director, CIA, in his then capacity as Director, Central Intelligence, and national intelligence adviser to the President.
The CTC had experts from the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency (NSA),the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Security Council Secretariat, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Police, the Immigration and the Attorney-General's office. They were supposed to jointly evaluate all terrorism-related intelligence, identify the gaps and advise the Director,Central Intelligence, on the action to be taken on the available intelligence and to fill up the gaps. Counter-terrorism experts in the US used to say that this did improve co-ordination and results.

If, despite this, 9/11 occurred, it was partly because the CTC, like the agencies constituting it, had its attention focussed on likely threats to US nationals and interests abroad and paid inadequate attention to likely threats inside US territory. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security in the US and the implementation of various new co-ordination and physical security measures are meant to remove this deficiency.

In August 2004, President George Bush established the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC) to serve as the primary organization in the United States Government (USG) for integrating and analyzing all intelligence pertaining to terrorism and counterterrorism (CT) and to conduct strategic operational planning by integrating all instruments of national power. In December 2004, Congress codified the NCTC in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) and placed the NCTC as part of the newly-created Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), who was made responsible for supervising it. The DNI now performs the co-ordination tasks of the intelligence community as a whole, which were previously being performed by the Director of the CIA in his additional charge as the Director, Central Intelligence. The NCTC under him performs the tasks previouasly performed by the CTC of the CIA. Thus, the responsibility for co-ordination in CT matters has been entrusted to a separate body supervised by the Director, National Intelligence.

The Task Force for the revamping of the intelligence apparatus set up by the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government in 2000 had recommended a co-ordination office for CT inside the Intelligence Bureau on the model of the CTC of the CIA. It was set up under the name of a Multi-Disciplinary Centre, but it is reportedly not functioning satisfactorily due to inter-departmental friction and egos. Officers from other agencies apparently are not enthusiastic about working under the leadership of the IB. Similar frictions and ego clashes were there in the CTC of the CIA too. That was why the co-ordination role was given to the NCTC, which does not come under the jurisdiction of any agency of the intelligence community. The time has come to examine whether a similar model needs to be created in India by placing the body responsible for co-ordination in CT matters directly under the National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister.

Preventive Intelligence , preventive physical security and consequence management are the three important components of comprehensive counter-terrorism management. If the intelligence machinery fails to provide early warning about an apprehended act of terrorism, the physical security apparatus should be effective enough to thwart the terrorists in their attempts to indulge in terrorism even without advance warning. In the event of both the intelligence and the physical security mechanisms failing, the consequence management infrastructure should be able to cope with the sequel. On 9/11, while the intelligence and physical security apparatus failed in the US, the consequence management machinery performed commendably, without letting itself be paralysed into inaction by the trauma of the terrorist strikes.

Preventive intelligence is improving , but not as rapidly as the ability of the terrorists to take us by surprise. The knowledge and tradecraft used by the intelligence agencies were evolved in the days when the main threats to security largely emanated from State adversaries. The agencies are yet to evolve appropriate tradecraft tailor-made for use against non-State adversaries. Our intelligence officers largely come from the urban milieu. They have very little exposure to and understanding of the rural milieu, from which the ideological terrorism of today is coming.

Our preventive security has improved, but still there are serious gaps as one saw during the terrorist raid into the CRPF camp at Rampur in UP on January 1,2008. The importance of a well-structured consequence management infrastructure has dawned upon our policy-makers as seen from the establishment of the National Disaster Management Agency by the Government of India. But its thinking seems to be oriented more towards the management of natural disasters than man-made disasters.

After the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, Rajiv Gandhi had constituted a special cell in the Ministry of Home Affairs headed by R.T.Nagrani, an IPS officer from Andhra Pradesh, who had distinguished himself in the R&AW and the Directorate-General of Security, to undertake capacity building in consequence management. After the exit of Rajiv Gandhi and Nagrani, this cell was consigned into the abyss of the Government of India. For 15 years, we paid no attention to it. Only after the Tsunami disaster of 2004 has the mechanism started by Rajiv Gandhi been resuscitated and given a shape and a structure. There is a need for similar structures at the state levels and for close networking between those at the Centre and the States.

The developing international co-operation post-9/11 has been at the political as well as the professional levels, at the multilateral as well as the bilateral levels. Regional organisations such as the Europrean Union (EU), the SAARC and the ASEAN have made counter-terrorism a principal point of their preoccupation. New organisations such as the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation have given the required political guidance to the nuts and bolts of professional co-operation.

At the multilateral level, the UN and other international organisations have been more active than in the past in giving shape to the developing international counter-terrorism co-operation. On September 12, 2001, the UN General Assembly , by consensus of the 189 member-states, had called for international cooperation to prevent and eradicate acts of terrorism and to hold accountable the perpetrators of terrorism and those who harbor or support them. The same day, the Security Council unanimously determined, for the first time ever, any act of international terrorism to be a threat to international peace and security. This determination laid the foundation for Security Council action to bring together the international community under a common set of obligations in the fight to end international terrorism.

On September 28, 2001, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1373 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. This established a body of legally binding obligations on all member-states. Its provisions require, among other things, that all member-states prevent the financing of terrorism and deny safehaven to terrorists. States were asked to review and strengthen their border security operations, banking practices, customs and immigration procedures, law enforcement and intelligence cooperation, and arms transfer controls. All states are required to increase cooperation and share information with respect to these efforts. The Resolution also called upon each state to report on the steps it had taken, and established a committee of the Security Council to monitor implementation.

The networking at the professional level is even more important than that at the political level. Such professional networking has to be at the multilateral as well as bilateral levels. The multilateral networking would take care of the development of appropriate concepts, technologies and data bases, mutual legal assistance in dealing with terrorism, exchange of training facilities etc. For this purpose, the creation of a separate International Counter-Terrorism Organisation (ICTO) is necessary, jointly funded, staffed and led by the members of the international coalition against terrorism.

Sensitive operational co-operation has to be at the bilateral levels and cannot be the subject of multilateral discussions since leakages could come in the way of the effectiveness of such co-operation, which may involve ideas such as the mounting of joint operations to penetrate terrorist organisations to improve the quality of available HUMINT.

Trans-national intelligence co-operation has three aspects: Making available training facilities to each other; sharing of intelligence collected independently; and joint operations for the collection of intelligence through penetration and for neutralising terrorist organisations identified as common enemies.
The sharing of training facilities has made satisfactory progress. Intelligence-sharing has also improved though not to the desired extent. However, there is still considerable mental resistance to the idea of joint intelligence operations. Political and subjective factors such as one nation's terrorist being another's freedom-fighter and one nation's state-sponsor of terrorism being another's strategic ally against terrorism continue to come in the way of joint operations. So long as such mental resistance continues, trans-national intelligence co-operation would remain half-hearted and only partially effective. The terrorists and their State-sponsors would be the beneficiaries. To be continued.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )