Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Investigation: Marks On The Water

By M H Ahssan & Deepti Waghmare

The Pak connection is almost confirmed. Is it another LeT-D Company cocktail?

As commandos of the Indian navy flushed the Taj Mahal hotel of terrorists, they came upon a bag containing ammunition, magazines, wallets with photo-IDs, fake credit cards and a huge stock of almonds. Twenty-four hours had passed and the terrorists were still active, so investigators were barely up to sifting through evidence. But pressed for an early assessment, they dismissed the e-mail sent by a certain ‘Deccan Mujahideen’ claiming responsibility as a red herring. The name doing the rounds is the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), purportedly working in close coordination with a section of the Mumbai underworld and rogue elements of Pakistan’s isi. But neither Maharashtra dgp A.N. Roy nor Mumbai police commissioner Hasan Gaffoor would confirm the involvement of this deadly troika.

In fact, early intelligence assessments suggest that some of the terrorists who came in were young British Muslims of Pakistani origin. Sources say they had been in training for well over a year but the final decision to carry out the assault was given at the annual conference of the LeT held in Muridke, PoK, last week. The Mumbai operation, apparently, was funded by Saudi Arabia-based Abdul Bari. He’s part of a larger international terror network and has financed strikes in India earlier too.

In a major breakthrough, investigators had traced the ship in which the terrorists made their way from Pakistan to the Mumbai coast by Thursday evening. The fishing vessel, Kuber, was found off the coast of Mumbai and some satellite phones recovered from it. The boat is owned by a Porbander-based businessman, Vinoo Masani, who has been detained for questioning. Kuber left Gujarat 14 days ago with six crew members who are believed to have been killed by the terrorists who hijacked the boat. Investigators are looking into how this will bring out the Pakistan connection.

If the Kuber was indeed hijacked, then the modus operandi becomes clear. Proceed to Indian waters in a Gujarat-registered vessel (Regn No. 2302) so as not to attract attention and then move into the mainland on dinghies.

Meanwhile, analysis of the accents of the two (purported) terrorists in conversations they had with a private TV channel suggested they are either expat Pakistanis or from Punjab there. The use of "muthbhed" (encounter) instead of the term "muqabla" is a dead giveaway, says analysts. Like Pakistani Punjabis, they also signed off saying "Allah hafiz", instead of "khuda hafiz." Maj Gen R.K. Hooda, goc (Maharashtra and Goa area), says the intercepts during the operations revealed that they spoke to each other in Punjabi. Prior technical intercepts as well as other sources had suggested a major attack was to go down in Mumbai via the sea and that the Taj Mahal Hotel would be targeted. These inputs had been looked at but with few concrete leads, no preventive action was taken.

Intelligence sources told Outlook that Dawood’s men in Mumbai may have provided the logistics support. An official told us, "Dawood has this diesel smuggling network in Mumbai—diesel is downloaded from tankers in the high seas off the coast of Mumbai and then brought in using high-speed boats. Our inputs suggest that these guys provided safe passage to the terrorists. They provided the boats, the cars and reports on the patrolling schedules of the coastguard. The idea was to hit the international community as well as shake up the top businesses in the country."

Maharashtra CM Vilasrao Deshmukh said that 20-25 terrorists were involved in the attack this time but "it was too early to say anything concrete. We have leads, but we won’t talk until there is confirmation". Two of the terrorists, chased after they hijacked a police jeep, were gunned down near Chowpatty.

Reports say five others were gunned down inside the hotels. A lucky break for the cops was the arrest of Abu from Faridkot in Pakistan. He was held after the Skoda shootout incident where one terrorist was killed. Abu’s interrogation had not begun till late Thursday night. As we go to press, agencies reported that another three arrests were made at the Taj hotel. One of the arrested was Ajmal Amir Kamal, also from Faridkot.

Analysts who have gone through the ‘Deccan Mujahideen’ e-mail say many of the issues raised in it were copied from the last missive by the ‘Indian Mujahideen’ after the Gujarat blasts.

The latter had raised issues like Muslims being "targeted and harassed" in Mumbai and had warned that they would hurt the city and the state ats.

The scale of the operation itself points towards organised logistic help. "From the weapons, the fake visa credit cards, the amount of ammunition each terrorist was carrying, it is quite clear they have been trained and equipped by a foreign state. It’s also clear that the training came from naval experts, familiar with special operations," say sources.

Indian intelligence is closely examining the involvement of Tauqeer Subhan, an ex-simi member and suspected component of the Indian Mujahideen. He hails from Mumbai and would have been able to provide key details such as the presence of the Chabad Lubavitch, an ultra-orthodox Israeli Jewish organisation that provides support and services to Israelis visiting India.

Incidentally, Indian intelligence has reports that Subhan was in regular touch with the LeT and information gleaned from various interrogation reports of his colleagues suggest he had also helped route finance from the LeT to the Indian Mujahideen. The IB is also looking at the involvement of Riyaz Bhatkal, suspected to be a key force behind earlier bombing attacks carried out in various states this year.

The marine commandos, who were the first to be inducted into the counter-terror operations, had reported this to their superiors: the terrorists were professional, highly motivated and had come with enough ammunition, explosives and food to last several days. Said Vice-Admiral J.S. Bedi, flag officer commanding-in-chief of the Western Naval Command: "Our commandos recovered plastic explosives, several AK-56 magazines, hand grenades and dry fruits. My men also said the terrorists had done their homework well...knew exactly how to cause maximum damage."

What Are India's Options? "Bomb Islamabad!" That's what a representative of the Samajwadi Party suggested at one of the UPA meetings. But are there serious options that one could look at as a credible response to these terror attacks? Writing in a post for his blog on The New Yorker, Steve Coll, an old and much respected hand on security affairs in South Asia had something interesting to say about the terrorist attack in Mumbai and the likely reaction from Pakistan. His argument is that the options for India are limited. Simply because the Pakistanis know that they are blessed when it comes to its relevance in geo-politics:

"The Pakistan Army understands this international equation thoroughly and exploits the gaps—it is careful not to expose its direct fingerprints, and yet it is brazenly persistent in pursuit of its objective of military pressure against India in Kashmir and political-military pressure on India more broadly."

So what are the options that India can exercise in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attack?

If the politicians are to be believed, there was a lot of sabre rattling at two meetings held by the government on Sunday, November 30 night. While the all-party meet called by the government was a more sedate affair, an earlier meeting organised exclusively for the UPA and its allies, held in Parliament was more telling. A representative of the Samajwadi Party is said to have suggested that this was a good time to "bomb Islamabad!"

Fine. Let's bomb Islamabad, assuming we have the capability to do so and that the frontline aircraft of the Indian Air force are all serviceable, the MiG-21s ready to escort the bombers, and we can launch a full-scale military attack by penetrating the secure skies over Islamabad and then bomb it back to the stone age.

But are we really ready for a war?

Are we ready for the fallout when two nuclear nations go to war? Are we ready for destroying everything that we have built in the last decade and a half? Are we prepared for rolling back our consistent 9 percent growth story and undertake hardships that several generations of Indians have never seen?

All this must be weighed before we take on the job of rattling our sabres. We did that once, post December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament. What did we really achieve from that 11-month old stand off with the Pakistanis? We stood on the border and they stood on the border, eyeball to eyeball, and we finally sent the forces back to the bunkers after that. But not before we had spent something to the tune of Rs 6000 crores (the official figures put it at a much lower figure pegging it a few hundred crores) and lost many precious lives of our soldiers, who stepped on mines not mapped, or tried to clear mines with bare hands while our bureaucrats held back critical mine clearing equipment.

Our air force, sanctioned 39.5 combat squadrons, is down to 30 off squadrons, our armoured corps doesn't have the tanks to roll in, our infantry is horribly tied up in counter-insurgency operations, our soldiers and officers are poorly paid and cheated in pay commission after pay commission, while we talk about "bombing Islamabad."

But there are options that one could look at as a credible response to these terror attacks.

More than us, more than the Americans or the British, it is the average Pakistani who knows that they are living in a failed state. They know that their economy is in shambles, their young men are becoming ready fodder for the terror factory and governance is being remote controlled by a military-industrial complex that is also making billions as we speak.

The international outrage that has emerged after the terrorist attack is an opportunity that rarely presents itself in a nation's history. This is the time to forge partnerships with all those willing to work with us.

Intelligence cooperation has already been ramped up (the first warning for the current attack came from the Americans) and there are other diplomatic measures that are already underway. But, this is also the time to build partnerships with those elements in Pakistan who recognise the fact that the idea of Pakistan is in greater danger than from these terrorists than its declared enemies.

This is the time to look for partnerships in intelligence gathering -- not just the non-functional anti terror mechanism that was set up earlier, but a mechanism that produces hard, actionable intelligence that can be put to good use. This is the time to look at joint covert operations against terrorists and their infrastructure simply because this is a job that the Pakistanis cannot do on their own. The Americans, the British and the NATO forces are already in the region and this is as good a time as any to build partnerships with them.

Perhaps a partnerships sounds too utopian and unrealistic, a diplomatic impossibility in times of rhetoric. But look at the facts. There is no terror attack that can bend a nation as resilient as India. It has an innate strength that will ensure that the good news story, that India was, will continue to hold true.

A lot will have to be done to weed out the systemic failures in our security apparatus. It is not about "intelligence failure" and as this case has shown, our intelligence actually produced good stuff. By calling it "intelligence failure" we are trivialising the discussion to a level that is insulting to our counter-terror mechanism as well as security apparatus. Instead, we have to realise that systemic faults have to be addressed systematically. The overhaul, if the political leadership is willing, will have to happen over months, and perhaps years. But if politics goes back to the usual set of empty promises, the usual rhetoric and the usual coteries, that will be an attack on the very idea of India itself. And the time to act, is now.

An Action Plan: Post the terror attacks in Mumbai, leaving aside what to do vis-à-vis Pakistan, there is a whole lot more that needs to be addressed in the way we approach our security and intelligence set-up.

1: Set up a National Commission of professionals with no political agenda, in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, to enquire into all the major terrorist strikes that have taken place in the Indian territory outside Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) since November,2007, and task it to submit its report within four months, with no extensions given. Its charter will be not the investigation of the criminal cases arising from these terrorist strikes, but the investigation of the deficiencies and sins of commission and omission in our counter-terrorism agencies at the Centre and in the States, which made these strikes possible.

2: Induct proved experts in terrorism and counter-terrorism from the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the State Police and the Army into the R&AW at senior levels. Presently, the R&AW does not have any such expertise at senior levels. Of the four officers at the top of the pyramid, two are generalists, one is an expert in Pakistan (Political) and the other in China (Political).

3: A similar induction from the State Police and the Army would be necessary in the case of the IB too. Since I have no personal knowledge of the officers at the top of its pyramid, I am not in a position to be specific.

4: Make the IB the nodal point for all liaison with foreign intelligence and security agencies in respect of terrorism, instead of the R&AW.Give the IB direct access to all foreign internal intelligence and security agencies, instead of having to go through the R&AW.

5: Have a common data base on terrorism shared by the IB and the R&AW directly accessible by authorized officers of the two organizations through a secure password.

6: Make the Multi-Disciplinary Centre of the IB function as it was meant to function when it was created-- as a centre for the continuous identification of gaps and deficiencies in the available intelligence and for removing them and for effective follow-up action.

7: Revive the covert action capability of the R&AW and strengthen it. Its charter should make it clear that it will operate only in foreign territory and not in Indian territory. Give it specific, time-bound tasks. All covert actions should be cleared and co-ordinated by the R&AW. Other agencies should not be allowed to indulge in covert actions.

8: The National Security Guards (NSG) was created as a special intervention force to deal with terrorist situations such as hijacking and hostage-taking. Stop using it for VIP security purposes. Station one battalion each of the NSG in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore. Ensure that its regional deployment does not affect its in-service training. Review the rapid response capability of the NSG in the light of the Mumbai experience and remove loopholes. In handling the Kandahar hijacking of 1999 and the Mumbai terrorist strikes, the delay in the response of the NSG would appear to have been due to a delay in getting an aircraft for moving the NSG personnel to Mumbai from Delhi.

9: Give the police in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore a special intervention capability to supplement that of the NSG.

10: After the series of hijackings by the Khalistani terrorists in the early 1980s, Indira Gandhi had approved a proposal for the training of Indian experts in dealing with hostage situations and hostage negotiation techniques by foreign intelligence agencies, which have acknowledged expertise in these fields.

The training slots offered by the foreign agencies have been largely monopolized by the IB and the R&AW. The utilization of these training slots and the selection of officers for the training should be decided by the NSA-- with one-third of the slots going to Central agencies, one-third to the NSG and one-third to the State Police. It is important to build up a core of terrorism and counter-terrorism expertise in all metro towns.

11: The IB’s Multi-Disciplinary Centre should have a constantly updated database of all serving and retired officers at the Centre and in the States, who had undergone overseas training, and also of all serving and retired officers and non-governmental figures who have expertise in terrorism and counter-terrorism so that their expertise could be tapped, when needed.

12: Strengthen the role of the police stations in counter-terrorism in all major cities. Make it clear to all Station House Officers that their record in preventing acts of terrorism, in contributing to the investigation and prosecution of terrorism-related cases and in consequence management after a terrorist strike will be an important factor in assessing their suitability for further promotion. Revive and strengthen the beat system, revive and intensify the local enquiries for suspicious activities in all railway stations, bus termini, airports, hotels, inns and other places and improve police-community relations. An important observation of the UK’s Security and Intelligence Committee of the Prime Minister, which enquired into the London blasts of July,2005, was that no counter-terrorism strategy will succeed unless it is based on the co-operation of the community from which the terrorists have arisen. The UK now has what they call a community-based counter-terrorism strategy. The willingness of different communities to co-operate will largely depend on the relations of the police officers at different levels with the leaders and prominent members of the communities.

13: Adopt the British practice of having Counter-terrorism Security Advisers in Police Stations. Post them in all urban police stations. Their job will be to constantly train the PS staff in the performance of their counter-terrorism duties, to improve relations with the communities and to closely interact with owners of public places such as hotels, restaurants, shopping malls etc and voluntarily advise them on the security precautions to be taken to prevent terrorist strikes on soft targets and to mitigate the consequences if strikes do take place despite the best efforts of the police to prevent them.

14: Stop using the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) as a dumping ground for retired officers, who are favoured by the Government. The NSCS cannot be effective in its role of national security management if it is not looked upon with respect by the serving officers. The serving officers look upon the retired officers of the NSCS as living in the past and in a make-believe world of their own totally cut off from the ground realities of today in national security management. The NSCS should be manned only by serving officers of acknowledged capability for thinking and action.

15: Strengthen the role of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) as a Government-sponsored think tank of non-governmental experts in security matters to assist the NSCA and the NSA. Give it specific terms of reference instead of letting it free lance as it often does. It should be discouraged from undertaking esoteric studies.

16: Set up a separate Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) to deal with internal security. Assessment of intelligence having a bearing on internal security requires different expertise and different analytical tools than assessment of intelligence having a bearing on external security.

In 1983, Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister, bifurcated the JIC and created a separate JIC for internal security. Rajiv Gandhi reversed her decision. Her decision was wise and needs to be revived.

17: Set up a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) under the National Security Adviser (NSA) to ensure joint operational action in all terrorism-related matters. It can be patterned after a similar institution set up in the US under Director, National Intelligence after 9/11. The National Commission set up by the US Congress to enquire into the 9/11 terrorist strikes had expressed the view that better co-ordination among the various agencies will not be enough and that what was required was a joint action command similar to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Armed Forces. Its tasks should be to monitor intelligence collection by various agencies, avoid duplication of efforts and resources, integrate the intelligence flowing from different agencies and foreign agencies, analyse and assess the integrated intelligence and monitor follow-up action by the Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other concerned agencies. Every agency is equally and jointly involved and responsible for the entire counter-terrorism process starting from collection to action on the intelligence collected. If such a system had existed, post-Mumbai complaints such as those of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) that the advisories issued by them on the possibility of a sea-borne attack by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) on Mumbai were not acted upon by the Mumbai Police would not have arisen because the IB and the R&AW would have been as responsible for follow-up action as the Mumbai Police.

18: The practice of the privileged direct access to the Prime Minister by the chiefs of the IB and the R&AW, which came into force under Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, should be vigorously enforced. This privileged direct access is utilised by the intelligence chiefs to bring their concerns over national security and over inaction by the agencies responsible for follow-up on their reports to the personal notice of the Prime Minister and seek his intervention. If the intelligence chiefs had brought to the notice of the Prime Minister the alleged inaction of the Mumbai Police on their reports, he might have intervened and issued the required political directive to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

19: Either create a separate Ministry of Internal Security or strengthen the role of the existing Department of Internal Security in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and make it responsible for dealing with internal security operationally under the over-all supervision of the Minister for Home Affairs.

20: Either create a separate federal terrorism investigation agency or empower the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate all cases involving terrorism of a pan-Indian dimension. It need not take up cases where terrorism is confined to a single state or a small region such as terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir or the Al Umma in Tamil Nadu. It should be able to take up the cases for investigation without the need for prior permission from the Governments of the States affected. It should not have any responsibility for investigating crimes other than terrorism. If its charter is expanded to cover other crimes too, there will be political opposition. There is a lot of confusion about this concept of a federal terrorism investigation agency. Many critics ask when the IB is there, what is the need for another central agency. The IB is an intelligence collection agency and not an investigation agency. The IB has no locus standi in the Indian criminal laws.

It collects intelligence and not evidence usable in a court of law. It cannot arrest and interrogate a suspect or search premises or perform other tasks of a similar nature, which can be performed only by police officers of the rank of Station House Officers. The IB officers are not recognized as equivalent to SHOs.

21: Set up a task force consisting of three senior and distinguished Directors-General of Police (DGPs) and ask it to come up with a list of recommendations for strengthening the powers of the police in respect of prevention, investigation and prosecution of terrorism-related offences and the capabilities of the Police in counter-terrorism and implement its recommendations. This is the only way of getting round the present political deadlock over the revival of the Prevention of Terrorism ACT (POTA).

22: Expedite the erection of the border fence on the border with Bangladesh without worrying about opposition from Bangladesh.

23: Start a crash programme for the identification of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and for deporting them. Ban the employment of immigrants from Bangladesh anywhere in Indian territory.

24: Strict immigration control is an important part of counter-terrorism The post-9/11 safety of the US is partly due to the tightening up of immigration procedures and their strict enforcement. Among the best practices adopted by the US and emulated by others are: Photographing and finger-printing of all foreigners on arrival, closer questioning of Pakistanis and persons of Pakistani origin etc. We have not yet adopted any of these practices. Hotels and other places of residence should be banned from giving rooms to persons without a departure card and without a valid immigration stamp in their passports. They should be required to take Xerox copies of the first page and the page containing the immigration stamp of the passports of all foreigners and also the departure card stapled to the passport and send them to their local Police Station every morning. All immigration relaxations introduced in the case of Pakistani and Bangladesdhi nationals and persons of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin should be cancelled with immediate effect. The requirement of police reporting by them should be rigorously enforced. It should be made obligatory for all persons hosting Pakistanis and Bangladeshis to report to the local police about their guests. A vigorous drive should be undertaken for tracing all Pakistanis and Bangladeshis overstaying in India after the expiry of their visas and for expelling them.

25: The MEA’s capability for terrorism-related diplomacy should be strengthened by creating a separate Division for this purpose. It should continuously brief all foreign governments about the role of Pakistan and Bangladesh in supporting terrorism in Indian territory and press for action against them.

26: The Mumbai strikes have revealed serious gaps in our maritime security on our Western coast. This is partly the result of our over-focus on the Look East policy and the neglect of the Look West dimension. This was corrected earlier this year. Despite this, there are apparently major gaps and an alleged failure by the Naval and Coast Guard authorities to act on the reports of the IB and the R&AW about likely sea-borne threats from the LET. The identification and removal of the gaps need immediate attention. The Mumbai off-shore oil installations and the nuclear and space establishments on the Western coast are also vulnerable to sea-borne terrorist strikes.

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