Originally Published 2004-12-07 06:03:24 Published on Dec 07, 2004
Post-9/11, counter-terrorism experts all over the world have been focussing attention on three new aspects of counter-terrorism: counter-terrorism relating to weapons of mass destruction (WMD), maritime counter-terrorism and counter-terrorism relating to energy security. Each of these requires a new approach and a new thinking.
Maritime Security & Maritime Counter-Terrorism
Post-9/11, counter-terrorism experts all over the world have been focussing attention on three new aspects of counter-terrorism: counter-terrorism relating to weapons of mass destruction (WMD), maritime counter-terrorism and counter-terrorism relating to energy security. Each of these requires a new approach and a new thinking. 

"Maritime Counter-Terrorism" and 'Maritime Security" envelope each other. Without effective Maritime Security, there cannot be effective Maritime Counter-terrorism and vice versa. But, the two are not synonymous. Maritime Counter-terrorism covers a much larger canvas. It deals with a large gamut of issues such as intelligence collection, analysis and assessment, physical security measures required to prevent maritime terrorism, crisis management if there is a failure of intelligence and physical security, the decision-making apparatus to deal with maritime terrorism, the co-ordination mechanism and the leadership role in different situations such as an act of maritime terrorism on the high seas, in a port, in territorial waters and against shore-based targets such as an oil refinery, a nuclear or missile establishment etc, the role of the maritime communities in counter-terrorism, the training syllabi and methods etc. There is a need for a situation-specific drill, with a clear determination in advance of who will exercise the leadership role.

One of the questions, which we will have to address in our study of the subject is--is there a need for a maritime counter-terrorism strategy and doctrine? What should be its components? Who will be responsible for its implementation? What would be the role of different agencies of the Government in its implementation?

India has been a victim of terrorism of different hues since 1956. And, yet, we dot as yet have a comprehensive, well-articulated counter-terrorism doctrine. Has the time not come to enunciate such a doctrine, not only in respect of land-based and air-mounted terrorism, but also with regard to maritime terrorism?

Many seem to view maritime security and maritime counter-terrorism as syonymous. They seem to think that since effective security measures have already been taken or are being taken in the form of strengthening naval patrolling of maritime choke points, the proliferation security initiative, the container security initiative etc, the question of maritime counter-terrorism is already being addressed adequately. This is not so.

Post-1967, the world was confronted with a new wave of terrorism directed at civil aviation in the form of hijackings, mid-air explosions etc. This resulted in nationally, regionally and internationally co-ordinated measures to strengthen civil aviation security. A strong civil aviation security infrastructure came into being, but this could not prevent the 9/11 catastrophe or mitigate its human and material costs. This was because the counter-terrorism experts of the world had not paid attention to the need to evolve an effective civil aviation counter-terrorism strategy and doctrine, with appropriate techinques and clear definition of co-ordinating roles and leadership in different scenarios.

A perusal of the USA's 9/11 National Commission report would indicate the kind of confusion which prevailed there when it was realised that it was not a classical hijack situation, but an attempt to use a hijacked plane as a human-piloted cruise missile on to a land-based target. The possibility of such a terrorist operation mounted from the air was nothing new. It had been figuring in the planning and training of the LTTE and in the terrorist training camps of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) since the early 1990s. Since the targeted victims were only Indians and Sri Lankans, nobody in the West, and particularly nobody in the US, paid much attention.

The LTTE had been examining for many years the possibility of an explosive-laden suicide bomber piloting a microlite aircraft crashing on a land or sea-based target. A Sikh terrorist arrested by the Indian authorities in the early 1990s had stated during his interrogation that during his training in Pakistan, the ISI had asked him to join the Mumbai (Bombay) Flying Club, go on a solo flight and crash his trainer plane on to the Mumbai off-shore oil platform.

Despite its being known that this idea of an unconventional terrorist operation mounted from the air was engaging the attention of different terrorist groups, the counter-terrorism agencies of the world did not pay much attention to evolving appropriate civil aviation counter-terrorism techniques and strategy to deal with new types of situations, which could arise. Apart from strengthening the physical security infrastructure of the airports, nothing further was done. The result: 9/11. We should not repeat the mistake in respect of maritime terrorism.

In one of his messages, Osama bin Laden was quoted as saying that he had told Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), who allegedly orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes, and Mohammad Atta, the leader of the groups that participated in the strikes, that they would have a maximum of 40 minutes at their disposal to carry out their operations. If they took longer than 40 minutes, the US counter-terrorism agencies would be able to react and neutralise their operations. To their pleasant surprise, the US agencies took much longer to react and it gave them all the time they needed to make their strikes successful.

The long and confused reaction and reflexes, which facilitated the success of the 9/11 terrorist strikes, were the outcome of a lack of thinking, a lack of a scenario visualisation, a lack of an identification of available options for response, a lack and neglect of training to create the required instinctive reflexes, the absence of appropriate counter-terrorism games similar to the war games in the training institutions, inadequate thought to the need to list "terrorism indicators" similar to the "war indicators", which could be used for training and briefing intelligence officers etc.

Note: This paper is based on the opening and concluding remarks of the author at the International Workshop on Maritime Counter-Terrorism, organised by International Terrorism Watch Project, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi, New Delhi, November 29-30, 2004.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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