(Part 1) Mumbai terror attack: Time for action

More than 70 blasts in last six months and scores of people dead. The latest in the series of unending violence against India is the bold and daring attack that took place in Mumbai. The latest attack was totally different from previous bomb blasts and took everybody by surprise.

Around 11 (according to media reports) terrorists walk into our country by a sea route and create the kind of mayhem that we witnessed in last few days. This is unprecedented. It is very sad that so many innocent people had to lose their lives because of the incompetence of our political leadership coupled with weak law enforcement and intelligence setup.

The attack on Mumbai was waiting to happen. While the political blame game has already claimed its first casualty (Shivraj Patil), we need to sit back and analyze the situation. Resignations of a minister or few officials will not fix the situation we are in. The Mumbai attack has presented the top leadership of the country with a unique opportunity; to entirely change the way we perceive national security and also revamp the crumbling law enforcement and intelligence apparatus in our country.

Some of the important factors that we must consider before we move forward to bring a revolutionary change are mentioned here:

  1. Multiple agencies, overlapping objectives, zero coordination
  2. Lack of accountability of Intelligence agencies
  3. Politics over national interest: Politicisation of Intelligence agencies
  4. Long coastline but negligible security
  5. Lack of strategic vision and political will

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Multiple agencies, overlapping objectives, zero coordination:

It has emerged now that various intelligence agencies had passed on vital inputs regarding an impending attack on India’s financial capital. Information was also passed on to various state and central agencies about the arrival of RDX. The following is a list of the information that the different agencies and individuals had apparently passed on:

  • A warning four months ago from the President of the local fishermen’s union, Damodar Tandel, that he had received information from his colleague in Gujarat that ammunitions and explosives were being smuggled into Mumbai. Tandel wrote a letter to the official in-charge of the port. It was treated as a general statement and no action was taken.
  • India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), had sent an advisory about terrorists entering Mumbai via sea route. The same was even sent to the Prime Minister’s Office. RAW even intercepted a satellite phone call between terrorists and passed on the information to various agencies, but no action was taken.
  • The Intelligence Bureau (IB) too warned the Indian Navy about a possible entry of terrorists in Mumbai from the sea route, but again no action.
  • Even the Taj hotel was warned about the possibility of a terror attack.
  • Some villagers living near the shore in South Mumbai informed the local police about a group of youngsters climbing out of a rubber raft. There was no follow-up on this too.

No action was taken on the available inputs and the terrorists carried out a daring attack in full media glare. Why did this happen? If we had prior information about the attack, then what went wrong. The failure to prevent the attack suggest negligible or zero coordination between various intelligence agencies. The various agencies that we are talking about here are

Research and Analysis Wing: This external intelligence agency of India is a wing of the Cabinet Secretariat, which functions under the PMO. The RAW chief reports to the National Security Advisor. The agency has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. The repeated failures of the country’s top intelligence agency in past few years demand a complete overhaul of the agency.

Intelligence Bureau: IB carries out operations within the country and it comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs. The bureau is already facing acute shortage of field operatives. The lack of coordination between the RAW and IB is very well known and needs to be rectified immediately.

Military Intelligence agencies: The Directorate General of Military Intelligence (DGMI), a part of the Army, is the most prominent one. Its personnel carry out intelligence activities near India’s forward posts, border areas and diplomatic missions in various countries.

The Air Force and the Navy have their own intelligence gathering units.

A Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) was created in 2002 to facilitate coordination between these three units, but it is already short-staffed and doesn’t have enough funds.

Intelligence units of Paramilitary forces: Organisations like the Central Reserve Police Force and the Border Security Force (BSF) maintain their own intelligence network in the areas they operate in.

Intelligence units of other agencies: Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Special Protection Group (SPG) and National Security Guards (NSG) have their own units.

Intelligence units of the state police: Every state has its own local intelligence unit like the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Special Branch or the Crime Branch. These units, which are a primary source of information on the ground, have the advantage in detecting the terror networks, but the condition of these departments in almost all the states is pathetic. The implementation of police reforms still seems to be a distant dream. The most important problems that plague them are increasing police-criminal nexus and rampant corruption, which prevents them from gathering quality intelligence.

These multiple agencies at the central and state levels have no mechanism to share and collate information. Advisories are sent to various agencies, but there is no follow-up action.

Apart from these intelligence gathering units, India does not have an anti-terror agency which can just gather intelligence on terror networks and also investigate terror-related cases on both central and state level. There is a greater need for an anti-terror agency after what happened in Mumbai. Most of the policemen on the streets of Mumbai in the initial hours of the attack had the good old .303 rifles. How are they expected to take on the highly trained and heavily armed terrorists? It seemed the state government and the officials did not even knew what hit them. The chief minister took almost two hours to ask for the assistance of NSG guards.

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