Originally Published 2011-07-16 00:00:00 Published on Jul 16, 2011
The coordinated serial bombings in Mumbai on July 13, 2011, have raised serious questions about India's counter-terrorism (CT) policies which rely more on technology enablers and not as much on robust intelligence gathering and analysis at the local as well as national level.
Mumbai attacks: Time to Rethink CT Strategy
The coordinated serial bombings in Mumbai on July 13, 2011, have raised serious questions about India's counter-terrorism (CT) policies which rely more on technology enablers and not as much on robust intelligence gathering and analysis at the local as well as national level.

An immediate review of the CT strategies, plans, acquisitions and directives has become imperative.

A balance must be achieved between investigations of terrorist incidents and preventive actions. Both are key elements of a strong and deterrent CT strategy. The current emphasis and effort has been to strengthen post-event investigations and follow-ups. Prevention must now become the keystone of the new CT strategy.  This means setting up a strong network of ground level humint operations utilising the manpower and technology available with the agencies, at the local police station level, in the community and at the NGO/think tank level.

These operations must be supported by incorporating elements of para-military and military units, particularly those who are responsible for the safety of infrastructure, government publics and mass transit facilities like Metro. There is an urgent need to create a network of auxiliary units and individuals to strengthen the CT operations on ground. 

These bombings also flag an urgent need to review the priorities given to intelligence operations and investigations after the Mumbai 2008 attacks.

Although it is too early to suggest the group or individuals behind the latest bombing in Mumbai, the investigations so far indicate the involvement of Indian Mujahideen, a group of terrorists recruited and trained in the last three to four years from different parts of the country. The top leadership of the group consists of members of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), a radical group which was banned after 9/11. The middle rung and foot soldiers of IM come from different strata of society, and are mostly young, educated and tech savvy.

By not keeping a close watch on the activities of IM post 26/11, the intelligence agencies and police compounded a grave error committed earlier in 2007-2008 when the group managed to carry out coordinated attacks on several cities in the country, including Delhi. The error was in not tracking those who were associated with SIMI after the group was banned and its offices shut down. The leaders and the cadre of the group, which once claimed to have a membership of over 100,000, relocated themselves in the hinterland to regroup and plan revenge attacks after the 2002 Gujarat riots.

At least some of them were influenced by the radical ideology propagated by global jihadist groups like al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT).

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), set up after the Mumbai attacks, followed several leads emerging out of the Mumbai 2008 investigations, interrogated LeT spotter and facilitator David Headley and tracked down several IM and SIMI modules in different parts of the country. The agency, however, spread its resources really thin by re-investigating some terrorist cases involving the so-called Hindutva terrorist group, Abhinav Bharat.

Although the agency did a commendable job in pursuing these cases, it is open to question how much of the leads it discovered, particularly about the SIMI and IM individuals and modules, were shared with the state as well as central agencies and police forces.

The National Intelligence Grid or Natgrid, when it becomes fully operational, might resolve some of these issues. What it might not is the analysis part of the intelligence operation. This has been one of the critical weak points in the Indian intelligence structure. The investment and attention paid to collection of intelligence is not matched by equal credence given to analysis. In the case of Indian Mujahideen, for instance, there has been considerable open source reporting on the possibility of regrouping of the group after the 2008 crackdown. The failing was in 'connecting the dots' early enough to disrupt the bombings.

At the same time, it is unfair to pin the blame entirely on the intelligence agencies and various other coordinating bodies like Multi Agency Centres which are responsible for collection, analysis and dissemination of raw and processed intelligence. This process is jeopardised by political considerations. Intelligence agencies like Intelligence Bureau have, in the past, been used by political parties to spy on rival political leaders and parties. The recent case of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee writing to the Prime Minister about a possible security breach in his office in North Block raised suspicions about IB's possible role.

The other 'political' issue relates to the directives given to the intelligence and police agencies in pursuing cases related to terrorism. Unwittingly, or otherwise, there have been instances of certain cases taking priority over other, perhaps, more important operations.

Many of these issues involving the intelligence agencies can be addressed by locating them in a legal framework and making them answerable to a parliamentary oversight committee. These initiatives could facilitate a more dispassionate, and transparent, review of the functioning of the intelligence agencies. This has become all the more important given the fact that while the newly set up agencies, be the NIA or Natgrid, have been set up under a legal framework of a parliamentary Act, some of the older ones like IB and RAW are still to acquire such a 'legitimacy'.

This is also the time to revisit the issue of creating an independent Ministry of Internal Security to deal with the growing number of traditional and non-traditional threats to the country from within.
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