Rediff 24 March 2014

'Govt has carefully hidden why NSG came late during 26/11 attacks'

March 24, 2014 14:08 IST
Vicky Nanjappa

book

“National Security and Intelligence Management, A new paradigm is a book by V Balachandran, former special secretary, cabinet secretariat, government of India. The book is a compilation of Balachandran’s published works and lectures over the past 15 years on various facets of our national security.

V Balachandran who also a member of the high level committee appointed to inquire into the police response to the 26/11 attack says in this interview with rediff.com that the 16 alerts prior to the 26/11 attack were not ignored, but they were not appreciated. He also speaks on a variety of subjects such as our intelligence, the Naxal challenge while adding that the Central government has carefully hidden the reasons as to why the NSG arrived late on the scene during the 26/11 attack.

 

You make a very critical analysis of our Intelligence system. You in fact equate it to the one that was present during the second world war. Why has India not upgraded its intelligence as yet?

There was no willingness to make intelligence reforms by successive governments or by the agencies themselves. The idea of intelligence agencies being held accountable & need to be supervised by outsiders started in USA after the Nixon era abuses when Congressional Committees were formed. UK was a late starter when the intelligence scandals during PM Wilson’s time forced them to enact Security Service Act 1989 (For MI-5) Intelligence Services Act 1994 (For MI-5 & GCHQ). US had already passed laws in 1947 on NSC and CIA. Canada & South Africa also passed such laws. We did not do anything since our own intelligence leadership did not want outside scrutiny.

You say in the year 2002 and 2003 there were some improvements in police reforms, but there was a decline after that. What brought about this decline and does the fact that policies change along with government have anything to do with this?

The reason is the unwillingness of the States ruled by any political party to effect any meaningful reforms despite Supreme Court directives. On August 30, 2010 Justice K.T.Thomas who was appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor police reforms told the media “No state government wants to lose power of recruitment and transfer.”

You say it is dangerous to give the CBI constitutional status. But how do we address the problems of Central government controlling the CBI?

As I have mentioned in a column of mine a totally independent investigating agency with extraordinary powers of arrest without any checks and balances does not exist in any democracy. I had quoted the American experience where the FBI which is not under the control of even the President and which is quoted as a model of independent investigation has still to be accountable to the Attorney General, Courts and US attorneys. We can remove the control of Central Government but some other mechanism has to be put in place to see that it does not become an “Unruly horse” as the Supreme Court had observed.

The naxal menace is bigger than the menace of jihadi terrorism. Have steps really been taken to solve the problem. If our government claims that it has taken steps then where are we falling short in addressing this problem?

It is sad that the end result our strategy to confront Maoists does not seem to be succeeding. Our Prime Minister had called upon the Directors General of Police on November 4, 2004 to treat the Maoists as “an even greater threat to India than militancy in Jammu & Kashmir and North East”. Ten years later it is the same story. We lost 15 CRPF soldiers in Bastar on March 11, 2014 in a re-run of an ambush like the 2013 Darbha Valley killings. According to a leading web site, 2,633 civilians and 1,667 security personnel were killed by Maoists since 2005. This is much higher than the Kargil War casualties (527) or the 26/11 killings (166 deaths) which had shaken the nation.

The first feature that strikes any observer studying the menace of Naxalism is that there is as yet no national consensus on how to tackle it. In fact there is no consensus even whether it could be called terrorism. Unlike other forms of terrorism which affect urban population making an immediate impact, the Naxalite violence has not, except in very few cases, targeted the city dwellers. Part of the reason why concerted attempts have not been made to curb the menace might be because of this. The second feature is that lofty promises made earlier have not been translated into concrete action by successive governments in Delhi or in the States. Thirdly political parties have not been hesitant in drawing political mileage from the support base of Naxalites”.

You say the UPA ignored storm signals from the naxals. Can you explain this to us sir?

What we need is centralized and co-operative efforts. If we want to win a war we have to appoint one general, not 28 generals who work and speak at cross purposes.

Despite the Trident and the Taj being attacked during the 26/11 attack you are very critical of setting up police posts at 5 star hotels. What is the reasoning behind this?

Police fixed posts cannot know who is a genuine hotel customer. Hence they cannot screen visitors.  The job of identification has to be done by hotel security. If at all a fixed picket is posted their only purpose is    to rush& engage terrorists who are already inside.  Experience reveals (as 26/11 has proved) that it is very difficult to dislodge a terrorist who is willing to die from inside a building without causing heavy toll of innocent civilians. For preventing unauthorized entry structural security arrangements have to be made. That was not done in Mumbai. Had the hotel security detected the 2 terrorists who were about to sneak inside as customers in Taj & locked the front entrance, they would not have been able to create havoc. Similarly if Trident had a bullet proof locking system to lock the front entrance the 2 terrorists would not have gained entry after they fired the shots at the shops outside.

That is why Marriot chain which is the largest hotel group in the world had set up their own security & intelligence system since 1993 independent of local police. In high risk locations they protect the hotels with window film, bollards & barriers. Due to long experience in the field they know who is a customer and who is not. In addition they prepared a crisis manual, set up a colour coded system of alerts, briefed the staff with table top exercises, hired outside consultants on appreciating terror related intelligence so that they do not have to depend upon Govt. agencies. Transferring that responsibility to a transferable policeman who may be a stranger in the field of operations is not a sufficient safeguard. Even if police or security guards are present there is no guarantee that terror attacks will not occur: Julio Ribeiro & wife were attacked at Jullunder Police camp by terrorists dressed as policemen. Oct 5, 2009 UN office, Islamabad was attacked by a Taliban suicide bomber dressed as Frontier Corps (5 killed). On October 10, 2009: Taliban dressed as soldiers breached security of GHQ, Rawalpindi (20 killed).  That is why Singapore police never gives police security to private hotels or malls unless there is a govt. function there. Public security does not mean private security. They only patrol the streets and come in when the situation needs their intervention.

Why were 16 intelligence alerts on 26/11 ignored by the Maharashtra police?

They did not ignore. It was a lack of appreciation. Any intelligence to be used for operations has to be explained to the field staff who form the cutting edge. Merely re-trasmitting central intelligence without explaining the applicability to the local conditions will only elicit the standard response from local staff like Nakka Bandis (Road blocks). In Mumbai all the attacks from 1993 were stealth bomb attacks. So when intelligence on likelihood of attacks came, the field staff thought that it would be another bomb attack. No preventive steps to bar entry into Mumbai through the sea were taken; nor did the central govt who had issued intelligence from 2006 thought it fit to take precautions by alerting the Coast Guards or Navy.

Does our intelligence still consider the Lashkar-e-Tayiba to be only a Kashmir problem?

 Not anymore. But it needed a 26/11 for them to realize that.

You say that many police officers who watched the terrorists killing their colleagues on television demoralised them. Is this how police personnel should react in such situations?

 No-but this was an unprecedented situation. Even in the army, death of a commanding officer affects the morale of the troops.

What if 60 terrorists as it was rumoured invaded the city that day. How different do you think the situation would have been?

This is a hypothetical question. I can only say that the panic would have been more & it would have taken more time to kill all the terrorists.

Do you think our maritime security is up to the mark after 26/11?

No-I don’t think so. The only solution is for the Coast Guards to take over the entire Coastal security to deal with an all India basis rather than asking the fragmented State Police who do it without any coordination.

What is your take on the Indian Mujahideen? Is it a major threat or have we over played it?

On the contrary we have failed to appreciate it for so long in our eagerness to blame only Pakistan, forgetting our own home grown Jehadis. It is a major threat. I have been writing about this threat since 2004.

Why do you think the NSG arrived so late on the scene on that fateful day of 26/11?

The Central Govt. had carefully hidden the reasons. I know that there was a standing instruction by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi when the NSG was raised to have a contingent ready in an aircraft 24 hours 365 days.

Sir, can you explain to us the connection between the Kolkata kidnapping and the 9/11 attack. You made this point at Washington DC in the year 2003.

 A chance arrest of Noor Sikandar in Mumbai in May 2003 for suspected complicity in the March 2003 Mulund blasts revealed that criminal Aftab Ansari had arranged the kidnapping of Partha Burman, owner of Kadim Shoes in Kolkata in July 2001 for a ransom of about $ 600,000. Ansari was in a UP jail along with Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist Saeed Omar Shaikh & were friends. Saeed was one of the terrorists released by the NDA govt. after the Kandahar hijacking.  Noor Sikandar told the police that this ransom was transferred by Ansari to Saeed thru Hawala channels. Saeed later sent it to Mohammad Atta. He was the one who had  later killed Wall Street Journal Reporter Daniel Pearl.

You have said that the movie Madras café depicting the LTTE and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi has some distorted facts. The movie claims to have decoded the conversations and failed to save the life of Rajiv Gandhi. What really happened?

There are several stages in electronic interception. First the location of the telephone or internet link, then actual interception, then recording, later decoding, then sending to the area experts for making a sense out of it. The next stage is alerting the authorities. The last stage is taking preventive steps. In Rajiv Gandhi’s case these stages were not successfully gone through and the intercepted conversation remained only on tapes.  Jain Commission had mentioned this.

What do you make of the politics that surrounds the release of the LTTE terrorists who killed the former Prime Minister? Will releasing them give birth to another LTTE or is that movement entirely dead today?

I have no comments on that.

We had intelligence about the assassination of Gamini Dissenayaka. How come we were lacking in the intelligence on Rajiv Gandhi or was this a deliberate failure?

We learnt after our mistake in Rajiv Gandhi case. Regarding Rajiv Gandhi assassination: It was not a deliberate failure but a faulty intelligence process. Pl. see page 59: “Intelligence becomes policy only after……as in the Kargil Crisis. This leads to a mistaken impression of ‘intelligence failure’”. Had these technical pointers bee converted into intelligence….None cared to process the raw product into actionable intelligence”