( An article written for “Mail Today”, a daily published from New Delhi, by the “India Today” group)
1991: Seven terrorists of the LTTE landed by boat clandestinely on the southern coast and proceeded to Chennai. They studied the gaps in the security arrangements made by the Tamil Nadu police at a public meeting addressed by the late V.P.Singh, former Prime Minister. They used their knowledge to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi. The Navy had no inkling of the clandestine landing. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) failed to detect their presence. The Tamil Nadu Police failed to provide even the basic security to Rajiv Gandhi. The Jain Commission, which enquired into the conspiracy, found that the IB had intercepted a coded message of the LTTE, which gave some inkling of the conspiracy, but was able to break the code only after the assassination. The R&AW, which had the code-breaking capability, had not intercepted the message. Lack of integration of available intelligence and capabilities by the two agencies made the assassination possible.
1993: Dawood Ibrahim, the mafia leader, recruited some Muslims of Mumbai, had them trained by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and sent them back by air. He sent the arms and ammunition and explosives given by the ISI by boat. They were clandestinely landed on the Maharashtra coast and used in the March,1993, explosions, which killed 257 civilians. The IB and the R&AW were caught napping. The Narasimha Rao Government wanted to order an enquiry into their failure. The IB argued that it was a case of failure of integrity and not intelligence since some Customs officers, who were aware of the landing, failed to alert the IB and the Police after allegedly accepting a bribe. The proposal was dropped.
1995: An unidentified organization tried to recruit an ex-pilot of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) for a clandestine air drop of arms and ammunition in Purulia. He immediately alerted the British intelligence, which advised him to accept the assignment and keep it informed. He gave them the route of the flight and the co-ordinates of the place where the consignment was to be air-dropped and the date of the air-dropping. These details were passed on by the British Intelligence to the R&AW, which in turn passed them on to the IB, which alerted the West Bengal Police. Neither the IB nor the Police could trap the persons for whom the airdrop was made. They bungled the follow-up action. After air-dropping, the pilot took the plane to Pattaya in Thailand. The plane then flew to Chennai for refueling. Neither the airport security nor the IB could detect that this was the same plane, which had done the air-drop. They realised it only after the plane had taken off. The Indian Air Force (IAF) was alerted. It forced the plane to land in Mumbai. The crew was arrested. The man, who had hired the plane for the airdrop, was also on board. He gave a slip to the airport security and managed to flee the country.
2008: In February, the Madhya Pradesh Police arrested some leaders of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) in Indore. Their interrogation revealed that the SIMI had been holding secret camps for training selected cadres in the use of weapons and explosives. Some of those, who had attended these camps, were found to have been involved in the Ahmedabad explosions of July 26. The Ahmedabad Police was not aware of what they had stated during the interrogation. Their interrogation reports had not been widely shared by the security agencies.
Again in February, the UP Police arrested some Muslims during an investigation. Their interrogation revealed that one of them, with links to the Lashkar-e-Toiba, had visited Mumbai to collect topographical information for a possible terrorist strike. He was not thoroughly interrogated by the Mumbai Police.
In September, the US intelligence alerted the R&AW twice that the LET was planning a sea-borne terrorist attack on some sea-front hotels in Mumbai, including the Taj Mahal hotel. The R&AW disseminated the alerts. Security was tightened. The LET, which was planning to strike on September 26, postponed its operation. There was no fresh information in October. The high alert was reduced. On November 19, the Indian intelligence intercepted a message that an LET vessel had left Karachi. They alerted the Navy and the Coast Guard. They did not act on it on the ground that the co-ordinates of the ship’s position placed it in Pakistani territorial waters. The coastal security in the Indian territorial waters adjoining the Mumbai sea-front was not put back to the high alert mode. Twenty terrorists of the LET clandestinely landed and struck Mumbai on the night of November 26.
Seven acts of mass casualty terrorism since November,2007. One every month since July except in August.
What do they indicate? A shocking state of affairs in our counter-terrorism community.
What we need:
An integrated counter-terrorism staff similar to the Integrated Defence Staff to integrate available intelligence and technical capabilities and follow up.
A culture of joint action to ensure that everybody in the community will be individually and jointly responsible for prevention.
Upgrade the priority for terrorism-related intelligence in the charters of the agencies.
An acknowledged expert in counter-terrorism should either head the IB & the R&AW or at least be the No.2.
Induct acknowledged counter-terrorism experts into the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi. He headed the Counter-Terrorism Division of the R&AW for six years )