Thursday, December 31, 2009




There can be no effective counter-terrorism without effective counter-penetration and counter-sanctuaries techniques and capabilities.

2.Penetration refers to one’s capability to penetrate the set-up of a terrorist organization to collect human and technical intelligence about its future plans. The impressive success rate of the unmanned Drone flights of the US in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan since August,2008, spoke of a significant improvement in the penetration operations of the US intelligence community in their continuing fight against Al Qaeda and the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

3. Similarly, the impressive number of instances of detection and neutralization of indigenous and Pakistan-sponsored terrorist cells by the Indian intelligence community and police during 2009 was the outcome of an improvement in their penetration operations----after the series of explosions in the urban areas organized by the so-called Indian Mujahideen since November,2007, and after the 26/11 terrorist strikes by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) of Pakistan in Mumbai.

4. Effective penetration is important for successful counter-terrorism, but the gains made by effective penetration can be diluted if it is not accompanied by effective counter-penetration.

5.Counter-penetration refers to one’s ability to thwart the attempts of the terrorists to penetrate one’s set-up-----sometimes to collect the intelligence required for planning their operations and sometimes for the planning and execution of their terrorist strikes.

6. A weak counter-penetration capability facilitates a terrorist strike. Weaknesses in the counter-penetration capability of the Indian counter-terrorism community were brought out by the ease with which David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana of the Chicago cell of the LET managed to obtain visas from the Indian Consulate-General in Chicago without a proper scrutiny of their visa applications and the equal ease with which they repeatedly managed to pass through the Indian immigration manned by intelligence officers without a proper scrutiny of their passports and their landing and departure cards.

7.The success of Headley in visiting different places in India in order to collect operational information, staying in hotels and making a network of contacts without being suspected even once by the police Special Branches in different states showed the disturbing state of our counter-penetration capability. One of the principal tasks of the police Special Branches and the regional offices of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) all over the country is to detect and neutralize attempts of indigenous and foreign terrorist organizations to penetrate our set-up. The fact that neither the passport-visa section of the Ministry of External Affairs nor the airport set-ups of the IB and the R&AW nor the Special Branches of different States and the regional offices of the IB and R&AW suspected Headley and Rana even once till they were ultimately arrested by the USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in October,2009, speaks poorly of them.

8. Weaknesses in the counter-penetration capabilities of the US in the US homeland were brought out by an incident in a US military base in Fort Hood, Texas, on November 6, 2009.Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a psychiatrist of the US Army born to Palestinian migrants to the US from Jordan, suddenly went on a killing spree killing 13 soldiers with a handgun before he was injured and overpowered. Initially, it was presumed to be an isolated attack of an angry Muslim individual in the US Army, but subsequent enquiries have brought out worrisome details of his alleged contacts with Anwar Al Awlaki, an extremist cleric born in the US, who has been living in Yemen since 2002. Many regard Awlaki as an ideologue of Al Qaeda in Yemen. There were adverse indicators about Major Hasan in the past, but these were either not noticed or, if noticed, not taken seriously.

9.Even now, there is a reluctance in the Obama Administration to admit that the case of Major Hasan indicates a possible success of Al Qaeda in penetrating the US Army and was made possible by a weak counter-penetration capability in the US homeland. This is similar to the reluctance of the Government of India to admit weaknesses in our counter-penetration set-up, which were exploited by Headley and Rana.

10. Weaknesses in the counter-penetration capabilities of the US in the Af-Pak region have now been revealed by the ease with which the Afghan Taliban penetrated the Afghan National Army (ANA) by having one of its members recruited into it and used him to kill seven officers of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) deployed near the Pakistan border in the Khost province of Afghanistan through an act of suicide terrorism.

11. Details available till now indicate that the CIA set-up in the Khost area was playing an important role in facilitating the Drone strikes in the FATA. If this is correct, the Afghan Taliban not only managed to identify the CIA set-up in Afghan territory, which was behind the increasing successes of the Drone strikes against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but also managed to penetrate it without its penetration efforts being thwarted by the counter-penetration capabilities of the US intelligence community.

12. Counter-penetration is a difficult task in an operational area such as Jammu & Kashmir in India’s fight against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism or in the Af-Pak region in the USA’s fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Failures are bound to be there despite the best efforts at counter-penetration. One should keep admitting and analysing those failures in order to identify and close gaps in counter-penetration security.

13. Counter-penetration failures in non-operational areas such as in the Indian hinterland in the case of Headley and Rana and in the US homeland in the case of Major Hasan should be a matter of serious concern. In the case of India, the failures lasted nearly three years before they were noticed after the arrest of Headley and Rana by the FBI in October,2009.

14. If such failures have to be reduced, if not prevented, in future, one must have the political courage to admit them and go into them thoroughly. One does not find evidence of such courage either in Washington DC or in New Delhi. The reflexes in the two capitals are similar---- play down the gravity of the failures and avoid a thorough probe.

15. The post-1967 escalation in terrorism by organisations such as the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Abu Nidal Group, the Hizbollah, the set-up of Carlos, the Baader-Meinhof of the then West Germany, the Red Army factions of West Germany and Japan, the Irish Republican Army etc was made possible partly by the support received by them from the Muslim States such as Syria, Libya, Sudan, Iraq and Iran and partly by the support from the USSR and other communist states.

16. While the PLO, the Abu Nidal Group and the Hizbollah were the beneficiaries of support from the Muslim States, the other organisations received the backing of the communist states in East Europe, North Korea and Cuba. In both cases, the support consisted of not only money, training, arms and ammunition and false documentation, but also, more importantly, sanctuaries.

17. It was the realisation that no counter-terrorism fight against a foreign-sponsored terrorist organisation can be effective unless action is taken against the guilty State, which motivated the US Congress in the late 1970s to make it mandatory for the US Administration to act against foreign state-sponsors of terrorism. The post-1991 collapse of the Communist States in East Europe practically brought an end to the activities of the ideologically-oriented leftist terrorist groups. Without sanctuaries and other assistance from countries such as the then East Germany and Yugoslavia, they could not survive.

18. It was again the pressure exercised by the US against States such as Syria and the Sudan, which made organisations such as Al Qaeda shift their sanctuaries to the Af-Pak region. It is the present reluctance of successive US administrations to act as vigorously against Muslim States sponsoring or aiding jihadi terrorism in foreign territories as they used to act against communist states in the past which should account for the continuing successes of organisations such as Al Qaeda and the LET.

19. India paid a heavy price on 26/11 for the continuing inaction against Pakistan’s state-sponsorship of jihadi terrorism. The US almost paid a similar price at Detroit on 25/12 when a Nigerian terrorist, trained in a sanctuary in Yemen, narrowly failed in his attempt to blow up an American plane over Detroit. Whereas Pakistan has been using terrorism as a strategic weapon to advance its foreign policy objectives, there is no reason to believe that Yemen is doing the same. But Yemen’s inability to act effectively against the sanctuaries in its territory is posing the same threat to the security of the US homeland as Pakistan’s active complicity with the terrorists is posing to the security of the Indian and US homelands.

20.Unless effective counter-penetration and counter-sanctuaries strategies are devised and enforced vigorously, we will all continue to bleed at the hands of the jihadi terrorists.

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )



Ships from the Chinese Navy patrolling the seas on anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden area for over a year now could not go to the rescue of De Xin Hai a Chinese bulk carrier with a Chinese crew of 25 members transporting coal which was hijacked by a group of Somali pirates 400 miles North-East of Seychelles and taken to the waters off Somalia in October last.

2. Their demand for ransom was initially resisted by the Chinese. How can China, which views itself as a power on par with the US, pay ransom? The Government-controlled media in China gave its people very few details of the hijacking, but those, who had been following the incident through the Internet, were certain that the Chinese would not cave in. They were hoping and expecting that the Chinese Navy would emulate the example of the US, Dutch and French Navies, whose special forces had rescued their seamen from the custody of the pirates during 2009. The US Navy’s Sea Air Land Commandoes (SEAL) had rescued the master of the US ship “Maersk Alabama” in an operation on April 4,2009. There were similar instances of intervention by the naval special forces of Holland and France.

3. Independent experts outside China were not hopeful of the Chinese Navy’s ability to intervene. They were certain that the Chinese Navy would ultimately have to cave in to the demands of the Somali pirates. The Jamestown Foundation, a prestigious American think-tank based in Washington DC, had predicted that China was unlikely to use its special forces in a rescue operation because it had too few ships in the area and its ships had no combat experience, especially in dealing with pirates. Moreover, there was the danger that while a botched-up operation could embarrass the Chinese Navy, a successful operation might worry Asian nations who have territorial disputes with China.

4. While Chinese Internet surfers and bloggers were eagerly waiting for news of the rescue of the Chinese bulk carrier and its crew by the Chinese Navy vessels patrolling in the area, news came from international shipping circles, which monitor the activities of the pirates, that the Chinese authorities managed to get back their ship and crew from the pirates on December 28,2009, after air-dropping sacks containing US $ four million on board the ship from a helicopter. The pirates collected the money and left the hijacked ship, which is now reported to be on its way back home.

5. The Chinese Government has so far not told its people that it paid a ransom in order to get the ship and its crew back. The “China Daily” News merely told its readers that the ship had been “successfully rescued”.

6. Their embarrassing experience with this incident has brought home to the Chinese the limitations from which their Navy suffers. One of the lessons mentioned by their experts is that the Chinese Navy could not hope to be the equal of its US counterparts unless it had overseas bases in areas of concern. Another lesson is that their ships on anti-piracy patrol feel handicapped due to the absence of a base in the area being patrolled by them where they can go periodically for refueling and re-stocking and for rest and recreation for their crew.

7. In an interview over the State radio on December 28,2009, Rear Admiral Yin Zhou, an expert of the Chinese Navy, said: “"I believe that a relatively stable, relatively solid base for resupply and repair would be appropriate. Such a base would provide a steady source of fresh food, along with facilities for communications, ship repair and recreation. Any definite decision to establish such a base would have to be taken by the Communist Party. Supplying and maintaining the ( Chinese) fleet off Somalia was challenging without such a base. Other nations were unlikely to object.”

8. He did not say where such a base could be located, if the Party ultimately accepted his suggestion. China already has two options before it---- Gwadar on the Balochistan coast in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka. It has already constructed for Pakistan a commercial port at Gwadar, which is now being managed by a Singapore company. During a second stage, it is proposed to construct a naval base for the Pakistan Navy there. This could serve the purposes of the Chinese Navy too. The Chinese are helping Sri Lanka in the construction of a modern commercial port at Hambantota. There is presently no talk of a naval base there.

9. Pakistan would be only too happy to respond positively to any Chinese request for naval base facilities at Gwadar. The only inhibiting factor for China would be the bad security situation in the area due to the ongoing Baloch freedom struggle. From the point of view of security, Hambantota could be ideal for the Chinese, but would the Sri Lankan Government agree to any such proposal if it comes from Beijing? (31-12-09)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

Wednesday, December 30, 2009




The year 2009 ended with two attacks by suicide bombers on processions to mark the culmination of the period of Muhurrum observed by the Shias of Pakistan. Fifteen persons were killed in the first incident at Muzzafarabad, the capital of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), on December 27. Forty-two were killed in the second incident in Karachi on December 28.

2. Sectarian clashes between Shias and Sunnis occur frequently in the Northern Areas consisting of Gilgit and Baltistan, where the Shias constitute the largest single sectarian group. To counter the growing influence of Shia sectarian organizations such as the Tehrik-e-Jaffria Pakistan and its militant wing called the Sipah Mohammad, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had over the years encouraged and helped Sunni extremist organizations such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) to set up a presence in the Gilgit area. This has led to periodic clashes between the two communities.

3. The POK itself, where the Shias are in a very small minority, was till now relatively free of anti-Shia incidents. The attack on a Shia procession in Muzzafarabad has, therefore, comes as a surprise. One possible reason could be the anger of the Sunni organizations of the POK over the recent decision of the Government of President Asif Ali Zardari to upgrade the political status of the Northern Areas in order to make it a de facto separate province without giving it the de jure status of a separate province. This amounted to a rejection of the long-standing demand of the Sunni leaders and political organizations of the POK to merge the Northern Areas with the POK. The Shias were strongly opposed to it. It is quite likely that the attack on the Muhurrum procession at Muzzafarabad was in retaliation for this decision of the Zardari Govt to virtually recognize the separate status of the Kashmiri Shias in Pakistan.

4. Anti-Shia incidents and targeted assassinations of Shia professionals in Karachi have been a frequent occurrence ever since Pakistan became independent in 1947. When Pervez Musharraf was in power, a large number of Shia doctors were killed in Karachi by Sunni extremists. Sindh and the Baloch majority districts of Balochistan are the only areas of Pakistan where the extremist ideology of the Deobandi-Wahabi sects have spread the least. The majority of the Sunnis in these areas follow even today the more tolerant Barelvi sect and have kept away from the Deobandi/Wahabi groups. The Barelvis have more cordial relations with the Shias than the Deobandis and Wahabis. This has made both the Barelvi Sunnis and Shias of these areas the targets of periodic attacks by organizations such as the LEJ and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In 2006, the entire leadership of the Barelvi Sunni Tehrik in Karachi was wiped out in a terrorist attack by a Sunni suicide bomber.

5. Since 2007, the sectarian strife in Pakistan has been rendered more virulent by certain developments such as the following:

(a). In an interview disseminated in December,2007, by As-Sahab, the propaganda wing of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, its No.2, accused Iran of stabbing the Ummah in the back by allegedly colluding in the US occupation of Afghanistan and Iran. He said: “Iran stabbed the Muslim Ummah in the back and recorded a historic mark of shame against itself and against the Shites who follow it. The effects of this stab will stay in the memory of Muslims for a long time to come.”

(b). Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban suspected that the Pashtun Shias of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas and the Dera Ismail Khan area of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) were colluding with the Americans in their operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. They nursed similar suspicion against the Hazaras of Balochistan, who are Shias.

6.This resulted in Al Qaeda joining hands with the Pakistani Taliban and Punjabi organizations such as the LEJ and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) in attacking the Shias in the Kurram Agency of the FATA, where there are a large number of Shias and in the Dera Ismail Khan area of the NWFP.

7.The "Post", a Pakistani daily published from Peshawar,, reported as follows on December 31, 2007: "A delegation of notables from Kurram Agency has appealed to President Pervez Musharraf and Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani to stop the ongoing violence that has resulted in the loss of more than 100 lives and billions of rupees' worth of property. Haji Latif Hussain, President, Kurram Welfare Society, said the residents had been fighting the Taliban infiltrating from Afghanistan, North and South Waziristan and Al Qaeda operatives in the area who were thousands in number. He added over 70 people had been killed in furious clashes during the last 45 days. "The armed forces of Pakistan are playing the role of silent spectators instead of countering the attackers and protecting the residents under attack," he said. Latif Hussain said Al Qaeda fighters had occupied various areas of Kurram Agency and blocked the main road from Peshawar to Parachinar, resulting in a shortage of basic commodities. "There is an acute shortage of medicines, food, electricity and water," he added. The Kurram Welfare Society President said that as a result of the war, hundreds of women, children and the elderly had taken refuge in Peshawar while over a hundred students who were unable to move to their native areas because of the war had been forced to stay in Islamabad. Mehdi Ghulam from Kurram Agency said Alizai, Balyamin, Tangi Amro Khail, Arravali, Santikot, Singk, Burqi and Pevar were under Taliban and Al Qaeda attacks while dozens of injured were waiting for their death in the Parachinar hospital owing to a shortage of medicines.”

8.Muhammad Hussain Turi, Secretary of the Ittehad-e-Ummat Committee, said: "We are not only fighting for our lives and the area but also for the sovereignty of our country. We are fighting the international war against terrorism on our borders by shedding our blood but, instead of helping us, everyone is creating trouble for us by trying to stop us from defending our area." Turi appealed to the President and the Chief of the Army Staff to issue a directive to the army to intervene to save the lives of thousands of people. The Turis of Kurram, like the Hazaras of Afghanistan and Balochistan, are Shias.

9.Gull Ishrat, member, Kurram Welfare Society, said: "We are fighting the battle of the Pakistan Army against those who managed to escape from Swat, Bajaur, North and South Waziristan and Afghanistan and are involved in furious attacks on the Pakistan Army."

10.The clashes picked up fresh intensity since the beginning of July, 2008, reportedly resulting in over a thousand fatalities on both sides. The Shia leaders of Karachi strongly protested against the failure of the Pakistan Government and Army to protect the Shias in these areas. On September 1,2008, the Shias of Karachi held a large demonstration to protest against the attacks on the Shias of Kurram and Dera Ismail Khan by Al Qaeda and the Taliban and threatened to take out a long march of the Shias from Karachi to these areas if the Govt. did not stop the atrocities on the Shias in those areas by Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the LEJ.

11.This made matters worse for the Shias all over Pakistan and particularly in the Pashtun tribal belt with many murderous acts of terrorism against the Shias during 2009. Among the major acts of terrorism against the Shias during 2009 before the Muzzafarabad and Karachi attacks were the following:

• January 4 : At least seven people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in front of the Government Polytechnic College near a Shia imambargah on Multan Road in Dera Ismail Khan.
• January 26 : At least five people were killed in a bomb blast in Dera Ismail Khan. Hussain Ali Yousafi, Chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, was shot dead in Quetta.
• February 5: 32 people were killed when a suspected suicide bomber blew himself up amidst a crowd of Shia worshippers outside a Dera Ghazi Khan mosque. Police said the blast targeted dozens of people converging on the Shia Al Hussainia Mosque after dark, shortly before a religious gathering.
• February 20: A curfew was imposed in Dera Ismail Khan and the army called in to quell riots immediately after a suicide bomber killed at least 30 Shias and injured another 157 who were attending a funeral in southern Dera Ismail Khan district. Witnesses said police ran away when gunfire broke out after the blast at the funeral of Shia leader Sher Zaman – who was gunned down a day earlier.
• March 2: A suicide bomber killed five and injured 12 people at a Shia girls’ religious school in the Pishin District of Balochistan.
• March 5: One person was killed and 19 others injured when a hand-grenade hurled by unidentified elements at the worshippers exploded in the Ameer Hamza mosque in Dera Ismail Khan. In Peshawar, unidentified elements blew up the mausoleum of the most-revered mystic poet of the Pakhtun land Rahman Baba.
• March 27: 76 persons were killed and over 100 injured in an apparent suicide attack on a mosque on the Peshawar-Torkham Highway in Jamrud in the Khyber Agency.
• April 5 : A suicide bomber blew himself up at a Shia religious gathering in an Imambargah in Chakwal , killing at least 22 people and wounding 60.
• June 5: At least 40 people were killed and another 70 injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a mosque in Hayagai Sharqai village in the Upper Dir District.
• June 12: A leading Sunni Barelvi cleric, Sarfraz Ahmed Naeemi with anti-Taliban views, and six others were killed by a suicide bomber at the Jamia Naeemia madrassa on the Allama Iqbal Road in the Garhi Shahu area of Lahore. In Nowshera, five worshippers were killed and 105 others injured when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden van into a mosque in the Cantonment area on the Grand Trunk Road. The TTP claimed responsibility for the suicide attacks in Lahore and Nowshera.
• December 18: A suicide bombing occurred just outside a mosque in Taimergara in Lower Dir District.At least 12 people, most of them policemen, were killed and 28 wounded.

12. Jihadi terrorism in Pakistan was the outgrowth of anti-Shia terrorism encouraged by Zia ul-Haq after the success of the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979 in order to intimidate the Shias. Most of the jihadi terrorist leaders of Pakistan occupying important positions in the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) and the JEM had initially been members of the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and the LEJ. After it captured power in Kabul in 1996 with the help of the ISI, the Afghan Taliban under Mulla Mohammad Omar indulged in a wave of violence against the Hazaras. The Shura of the Afghan Taliban, which now operates from the Pashtun majority areas of Balochistan, including Quetta, its capital, has been trying to intimidate the Hazaras of Balochistan.

13.The Mohajir Shias of Karachi and Hyderabad in Sindh are largely migrants from India’s Uttar Pradesh, the then undivided province of Bombay and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh and their descendants. In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the ISI tried to weaken the leadership of Altaf Hussain, the Mohajir leader, who now lives in exile in the UK, by making overtures to the Mohajir Shias, but when they remained loyal to Altaf the ISI instigated the Sunni extremist organizations to attack the Shias. When the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) did well in the elections of December 1988 after the death of Zia, the Army then headed by Gen.Mirza Aslam Beg and the ISI then headed by Lt.Gen.Hamid Gul opposed Benazir Bhutto from becoming the Prime Minister on the ground that her mother Nusrat Bhutto was a Shia. Ultimately, she became the Prime Minister on strong US backing.

14. The post-2007 escalation in anti-Shia violence has been due to Al Qaeda, the TTP and the LEJ, which is now allied with Al Qaeda. It is difficult to explain the Army’s silence and inaction in the face of this escalation. No campaign against jihadi terrorism in Pakistan can succeed unless anti-Shia terrorism is eliminated. Hardly any attention is paid to it by any Government----whether headed by the Army or by the political parties. (31-12-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )

Tuesday, December 29, 2009




One has to await the findings of the enquiries ordered by President Barack Obama and the hearings to be held next month by the Congressional Oversight Committees on the human, systemic and technological failures which enabled Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, a 23-year-old Al Qaeda trained Nigerian student, to get into a flight of the North-West Airlines of the US at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam with a concealed explosive device and unsuccessfully try to blow it up as it was about to land at Detroit on December 25,2009.

2. The human and systemic failures resulted in his being allowed to board the aircraft at the Schiphol airport despite the fact that his father, a reputed banker of Nigeria, who had reportedly come to know of his son’s presence in Yemen since August,2009, had met separately an official of the US State Department and of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) posted in Nigeria and shared with them his concerns over the religious radicalisation of his son. However, he apparently did not tell them that his son was in Yemen. Had he done so, they might have possibly shown greater concern over the information than they seem to have done.

3. The officers of the State Department and the CIA did what was expected of them. It has been reported that the State Department official immediately conveyed the information to his headquarters in Washington DC and the CIA officer to his headquarters . Both the headquarters passed the information on to the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) under the Director, National Intelligence.

4. While the information conveyed by the father of the Nigerian was thus promptly shared by everyone who was in receipt of it with all those responsible for counter-terrorism in Washington DC, the failure still occurred because none of those in receipt of the information subjected it to an action-oriented analysis and assessment in order to decide what action was called for on that information. Did it call for the cancellation of a two-year visa issued to the student by the US Embassy in London in June 2008? Did it call for an advisory to the North-West Airlines and to the security authorities at the Schiphol airport not to let him board the flight and to subject him to a special physical security check?

5. It would appear that neither the State Department nor the CIA nor the NCTC posed these questions to each other and examined what follow-up action was called for. All they did was to add the information to their database of 550000 names of persons who had come to adverse notice but against whom the evidence was not strong enough to warrant non-issue or the cancellation of the visa and/or the denial of permission to board a flight to the US.

6. The lesson: Information alone serves only a limited purpose unless it is subjected to an action oriented analysis and assessment followed by joint action by all concerned. The absence of joint action oriented analysis and assessment of terrorism-related information was one of the major deficiencies in the US system pointed out by the National Commission which went into the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US homeland. One of the reasons the NCTC was set up in 2004 was to address this deficiency. Despite the NCTC being in position for five years now, this deficiency has again come to notice.

7. The second lesson relates to the need for proper scrutiny of a visa application. This has been repeatedly stressed by counter-terrorism experts since 9/11. Despite this, one keeps coming across instances of poor scrutiny. The poor scrutiny of the visa applications of David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) by the Indian Consulate-General in Chicago enabled them to obtain a visa for coming to India and prepare the ground for the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai. Similarly, a poor scrutiny of the visa application of Abdulmuttalab by the US visa officer would appear to have resulted in his obtaining a US visa despite his reputation as someone sympathetic to the Taliban. Around the same time, he had applied to the British for a renewal of his student visa to enable him to continue studying in the UK. The British visa officer, who scrutinised his application, immediately noticed that he had given a false particular about his educational institution and rejected his request.

8. The third lesson relates to the inadequacies of the technological means presently available to the physical security officials which come in the way of their detecting explosive devices concealed in private parts of the body. In the past, narcotics and gold smugglers used to evade detection by concealing the narcotics or gold in their private parts. Now, terrorists have started doing so with explosive devices. How to deal with this? This is a question needing urgent attention by physical security experts and scientists. ( 30-12-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )

Monday, December 28, 2009




According to the NEFA Foundation of the US, a non-Governmental organization which closely monitors the activities of Al Qaeda, “Al-Qaida's network in Yemen (otherwise known as "Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula") has issued an official communique claiming responsibility for the failed terrorist bomb plot targeting a Delta/Northwest airliner traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day. The communique included original photographs of would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab grinning in front of an Al-Qaida banner. The group acknowledged that the device had failed to properly detonate, but promised that it would "continue on this path until we achieve success." The statement also congratulated Ft. Hood shooter Maj. Malik Nidal Hasan and urged fellow Muslims to follow in his footsteps and kill American soldiers. “

2.According to the same Foundation, “Al-Qaida's network in Yemen has issued an official response to the airstrike earlier this week on a suspected Al-Qaida gathering in the region of Shabwah that reportedly killed up to 30 people, including a number of senior Al-Qaida operatives. The group threatened that it would not allow "the slaughter of Muslim women and children to pass without taking vengeance for them, Allah willing. We call upon all Yemeni tribes... and the people of the Arabian Peninsula to confront the crusaders and their clients in the Arabian Peninsula by attacking military bases, embassies, intelligence agents, and naval fleets occupying the waters of the Arabian Peninsula."

3.There is so far no reason to doubt the authenticity of these claims which show that the attempt to blow up a plane of the North-West Airlines on December 25,2009 as it was approaching to land at Detroit was part of a wider conspiracy of Al Qaeda orchestrated from Yemen and not the isolated act of an individual as sought to be made out by some officials of the Obama Administration. They also show that the massacre of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas by Maj.Malik Nidal Hasan of the US Army on November 6,2009, was an act of Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism and not an act of irrational anger of a Muslim serving in the Army.

4.The Obama Administration now faces a two-front “war” against Al Qaeda---- one in the Af-Pak region and the other in the Yemen-Saudi axis. Its success or failure in this “war” will determine the security of Americans in their homeland in the months to come. These developments clearly show that Obama’s overtures to the Arabs through his Cairo address earlier this year and his marking his distance from the Israeli Government and the Jewish people since coming to office on January 20,2009, have had no impact on Al Qaeda, which is as determined as ever to make the Americans bleed. It is to be hoped that these developments will mark the beginning of the end of Obama’s illusions relating to how to counter jihadi terrorism. There is no soft option in dealing with Al Qaeda and its associates whether in the Af-Pak region or in other areas.

5.Al Qaeda’s jihad against the US started in 1992 in Yemen , from where bin Laden’s father had migrated to Saudi Arabia. That year, suspected members of Al Qaeda bombed a hotel in Aden used by U.S. troops going to Somalia, killing two civilians. This was followed by the October 2000, suicide bombing of the USS Cole off Aden that killed 17 U.S. sailors

6.In 2007, remnants of the Saudi branch of Al Qaeda, who had survived an anti-Al Qaeda offensive by the Saudi security forces in the wake of the post-2004 incidents involving Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, fled into Yemen and took sanctuary there just as Osama bin Laden and other remnants of Al Qaeda had fled in 2002 from Afghanistan into North Waziristan of Pakistan and took sanctuary there. This was followed by a car bomb attack on Spanish tourists killing eight of them and the assassination of two Belgians. During 2008, there was a failed mortar attack on the US Embassy in Sana’a. Later, 17 Yemenis, including seven terrorists, died in a twin car- explosion near the US Embassy.

7.Like the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, Yemen, with its mountainous terrain dotted with caves and other natural hide-outs, provides an ideal shelter and launching pad for Al Qaeda. The widespread poverty and the lack of facilities for modern education drive a large number of youth into the arms of Al Qaeda. It has nearly 4000 madrasas, which are the breeding ground of fundamentalist ideological beliefs. Yemen had contributed a large number of volunteers for the jihad against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Many of them returned to Yemen after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops. Some of them were rehabilitated by being recruited to the Police and the security forces. Others took to a new jihad--- this time against the US and Israel. Those rehabilitated in the security forces and those, who had joined Al Qaeda, remained in contact with each other having fought shoulder to shoulder against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

8.In January, 2009,Al Qaeda announced the merger of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of the organization under the leadership of Yemeni Nasir al-Wahishi, with a Saudi Said Ali al-Shihri, as his No.2. al-Shihri used to be detained by the US in its detention centre at the Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The group called itself Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

9. In March, 2009 a suicide bomber killed four South Korean tourists near the eastern town of Shibam. Another then targeted a convoy of South Korean security officials and the families of the victims while they were on their way to the airport of Sana’a, the capital. On March 28, 2009,four policemen died in clashes with persons believed to be from Al Qaeda in the south of the country.

10. The Yemeni Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al-Alimi, who is in charge of Security and Defence, told his parliament on March 23, 2009, that he suspected that Al Qaeda had managed to infiltrate the Yemeni security services. The suspicion that it had penetrated the security services was strengthened by the precision attack of Al Qaeda on the South Korean convoy to the airport. It was apparently aware of the proposed route of the convoy and the time at which it would be moving to the airport.

11. The merger of the Saudi and Yemeni branches of Al Qaeda and the activities of the AQAP rang the alarm bell in the US and Saudi Arabia. Barbara Starr, the CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, reported on February 5,2009, as follows:"There are strong indications of heightened activity in Yemen," one U.S. official told CNN. "There is real concern in the U.S. government that al Qaeda is trying to mount attacks in Yemen." The United States continues to worry about attacks against the US Embassy or other U.S. business interests in Yemen, the official said. But there are also growing concerns that a renewed al Qaeda network in Yemen could plan attacks against Saudi oil infrastructure or the massive cargo shipping operations that run through the immediate region -- potentially disrupting an already shaky world economy. The official said there is a flow of intelligence information in recent weeks backing up that assessment. "There are clear indications al Qaeda is placing emphasis on Yemen as a place to conduct operations and train operatives." The official said the United States has been watching closely and is seeing 'gatherings' of al Qaeda operatives and communication among them. There have also been signs of communication between al Qaeda in Yemen and the al Qaeda leadership believed to be hiding in Pakistan, an official said.”

12.The US authorities feared the emergence of a Yemeni Waziristan, which could become a new launching pad for Al Qaeda operations abroad. US concerns were multiplied by the fact that there were about 100 Yemenis among the terrorist suspects detained in Guantanamo Bay. If President Barack Obama closed down this centre, how to prevent these detenus from joining the AQAP?

13. John Brennan, Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser, visited Yemen in March,2009, to discuss this with President Ali Abdallah Saleh. General David Petraeus, commander of the US Central Command, told a Congressional hearing on April 1, 2009, that the inability of the Yemeni Government to exercise control over all of its territory was offering Al Qaeda a “safe haven in which to plan, organize and support terrorist operations.”

14. Saudi concerns over the resurgence of Al Qaeda in Yemen and the activities of the AQAP were strengthened when a suicide terrorist deputed from Yemen with an explosive device reportedly concealed in the rectum area narrowly missed killing the Saudi Deputy Interior Minister in August 2009. The concealment technique worked, but he did not succeed in killing the Deputy Minister presumably because the remote control device was activated prematurely before he was within killing range of the Deputy Minister.

15.The Obama Administration’s plans to neutralize Al Qaeda set-up, with the co-operation of the Yemeni security authorities, took shape only after reports emerged in November,2009, that Major Nidal Malik Hasan of the US Army was in touch with Anwar Al Awlaki, an extremist cleric born in the US, who has been living in Yemen since 2002. Many regard Awlaki as an ideologue of Al Qaeda in Yemen.

16.The US authorities do not as yet regard the massacre of fellow soldiers by Major Hasan as an act of terrorism, but Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and others have cited the connection between Hasan and Al-Awlaki as proof that the Fort Hood shooting was a terrorist attack. Their suspicions were strengthened by Al-Awlaki’s open approval of the act of Major Hasan. Al Jazeera quoted al-Awlaki as saying in an interview: “My support to the operation was because the operation that brother Nidal carried out was a courageous one, and I endeavored to explain my position regarding what happened because many Islamic organizations and preachers in the West condemned the operation.” While approving post-facto Major.Hasan’s action, he refrained from saying anything which might create a suspicion that he had prior knowledge of what the Major intended doing

17. While continuing to treat Major Hasan’s act as not amounting to terrorism, the Obama Administration decided to act against the camps of the AQAP in Yemen. There were two major air raids----supposedly by Yemeni planes, but actually by US aircraft------ which reportedly killed 30 members of Al Qaeda. Reports that some senior leaders of Al Qaeda in Yemen, including its No.1 and 2, might have been killed have not been confirmed so far. The second of these raids took place on December 24,2009, a day before the Detroit attempt and the first a week earlier.

18.There is no reason to believe, despite the claims of the AQAP, that the Detroit attempt was triggered off by these raids because according to the Nigerian authorities, the Lagos-Amsterdam-Detroit itinerary of Abdulmutallab had been finalized and the tickets for the to and fro journey bought from the KLM office in Accra on December 16. This was before these air raids.

19.However, after the first of these raids, Al Qaeda was reported to have held a protest rally of its local supporters in Southern Yemen at which speeches were made threatening retaliation against the US . The speakers also reportedly said that their jihad was against the US and not against the Yemeni army.

20. My assessment on the basis of the available details is that the Detroit conspiracy involving the use of the Nigerian was planned by Al Qaeda much before the US decided to go into action against Al Qaeda in Yemen, that Abdulmuttalab was in Yemen between August and December,2009, for being trained and that Al Qaeda’s ability to attempt a repeat of the December 25 plan would depend on the availability of another volunteer with a valid visa for the US.

21.The concerns for the US authorities would be the possibility that Major Hasan and Abdulmuttalab could be the tips of an Al Qaeda iceberg and that unless they identify the rest of the iceberg and neutralize it, they cannot be certain of the security of their homeland. The interrogation of Abdulmuttalab should theoretically enable US officials to get information about other anti-US assets of Al Qaeda and its future plans against the US, but, unfortunately, the capture of senior Al Qaeda operatives from Pakistan in the past such as Abu Zubaidah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and others did not appear to have yielded any worthwhile information about the future targets and plans of Al Qaeda. My own impression is that they came out with a lot of details about the past, but hardly said anything or knew anything about the future. Al Qaeda’s restrictive security is quite strong. As a result, information regarding its future plans known to those captured is not very significant. (29-12-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )




( I have attempted to answer some questions received from the readers of my earlier three articles on Al Qaeda’s unsuccessful attempt to have a North-West Airlines plane blown up as it approached Detroit on December 25,2009)

Q: You have said the Detroit attempt was part of Al Qaeda’s continuing efforts to target the US, but the US authorities seem to believe that the present evidence does not indicate that the Detroit attempt was part of a wider conspiracy.

A.A new method of concealment of explosives in the rectum region was tried out by Al Qaeda in its unsuccessful attempt to kill the Saudi Deputy Interior Minister in August 2009. A similar method would appear to have been used by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to smuggle the explosive into the aircraft. It is unlikely that an individual with no previous expertise in the fabrication and concealment of explosive devices would have succeeded in fabricating the device and smuggling it in concealed in the rectum area. He had been trained in this technique by Al Qaeda in its training camp in Yemen. This shows that this was an Al Qaeda plot and not the plot of a lone wolf. The British authorities also feel that Abdulmutallab was not acting alone. Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, British Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: “"We don't know yet whether it was a single-handed plot or (there were) other people behind it - I suspect it's the latter rather than the former." He added that the British police and security services were examining whether he was radicalised while at University College London (UCL) between 2005 and 2008. He also revealed that Abdulmutallab had been placed on a watch list earlier this year after UK authorities refused to renew his student visa. It has been reported that the British authorities refused because he had given false particulars of the educational institution where he intended continuing his studies. The Home Secretary hinted that the US authorities must have been aware of this by remarking that they should theoretically have been informed, and he doubted there had been a "hiccup" in procedures.

Q. It has been reported that he managed to obtain a tourist visa to visit the US around the same time the British refused to renew his visa. How could this have happened if the British had informed the US authorities?

A.There has apparently been a communication gap somewhere. This needs to be checked.

Q. Was he recruited by Al Qaeda during his stay in the UK from 2005 to 2008 or during his subsequent stay in Dubai?

A.It will be difficult to answer this question at present. However, it is significant that he obtained his US visa before he proceeded to Yemen for training. His value to Al Qaeda was because of his having a valid US visa. The reports till now are that he obtained the US visa from the US Embassy in London and not at Dubai. If this is correct, it will be reasonable to surmise that he was probably already in touch with Al Qaeda from London and that his obtaining a US visa before going to Yemen was the beginning of the conspiracy to use him to attack the US. Thus, Al Qaeda’s conspiracy involving the use of the Nigerian was at least seven months old.

Q.Some reports have alleged that he managed to get into the flight to Detroit at the Schiphol airport of Amsterdam without a passport.

A. Not correct. Reliable sources say that he had a valid Nigerian passport with a valid US visa.

Q.It has been alleged by some that he had only a one-way ticket, which should have sounded the alarm bell?

A. Again not correct. The British media has quoted the Nigerian civil aviation authority as saying that Abdulmutallab bought his return ticket from Lagos to Detroit via Amsterdam at a KLM office in Ghana's capital, Accra, on 16 December, with a planned return of 8 January. He paid the £1,775 fare in cash. Before the flight departed on December 24, he checked in as normal, taking only a carry-on bag. There are some intriguing aspects here. It has been reported that he flew from Yemen to Ethiopia, then to Accra, then to Lagos and from there to Schiphol en route to Detroit. Did he reach Accra from Yemen via Ethiopia before December 16 in order to buy the ticket personally or did someone else buy the ticket for him at Accra and hand it over him? Did he travel from Yemen to Accra via Ethiopia under a different name with a different passport? The fact that he bought the ticket right up to Detroit shows that the decision to blow up the plane over Detroit had been taken by Al Qaeda before he started his journey from Yemen. The decision to catch the flight to Detroit and blow it up was not taken by him on the spur of the moment. It was a carefully-considered decision taken by Al Qaeda in Yemen and his itinerary was worked out accordingly. It is not clear why Detroit was chosen for the attempt.

Q.What is the likelihood of the complicity of the Yemeni Government?

A. The Yemeni Government has been extending counter-terrorism co-operation to the US. Complicity with Al Qaeda at the Governmental level is unlikely. Complicity at the level of individual officials is likely in matters such as providing false documentation. Many Pakistani officials serve in the Yemeni Police and other security establishments in Yemen. There is a strong possibility of their complicity. In the past, many Palestinian and international terrorists such as Carlos, Yohannes Weinrach alias Peter of the Baader-Meinhof etc had even managed to obtain false passports----even diplomatic ones--- from contacts in the Yemeni security services.

Q. If it is a conspiracy hatched by Al Qaeda, would it have been done by the central command and control headed by Osama bin Laden based in North Waziristan or by the local unit of Al Qaeda in Yemen?

A. Generally, all operations directed at the US are planned and orchestrated from the central command and control in North Waziristan. However, the local command and control in Yemen plans and carries out other operations , such as in Saudi Arabia, Somalia etc. ( 28-12-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )

Sunday, December 27, 2009



Continuing inadequacies in airline security have once again been brought out in the incident relating to the unsuccessful attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, allegedly trained by Al Qaeda in one of its camps in Yemen, to blow up a flight of the North-West Airlines of the US from Amsterdam to Detroit on December 25, 2009, as it was approaching to land at Detroit.

2. Subsequent details indicate that after spending some months as a student initially of engineering in London and then of business management in Dubai, Abdulmutallab, who as a youngster had made no secret of his sympathy, if not admiration, for the Taliban, had found his way to Yemen, which has become for more than a year now the motivating and training ground of Al Qaeda and the launching pad for Al Qaeda’s acts of terrorism in other countries of the world, including the US.

3. Links between Yemen and jihadi terrorism are more than two decades old. Yemenis constituted the largest single group of foreign mercenaries who fought against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s. There is greater admiration and loyalty for Osama bin Laden amongst the various tribes of Yemen than in any other Arab country. Bin Laden’s father was of Yemeni origin and had migrated to Saudi Arabia from Yemen. There was considerable focus on Yemen by the US security agencies after the attack by Al Qaeda on the US naval ship USS Cole in Aden in October,2000, which pre-dated the 9/11 attacks in the US homeland. The largest single group of terrorist suspects detained in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba consists of Yemenis or people of Yemeni origin. Some of the terrorists involved in anti-US terrorist incidents in Pakistan had Yemeni blood in them. Some of the conspirators involved in the brutal kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, the US journalist, in Karachi in 2002 were allegedly Yemeni-Balochs----born of mixed Yemeni and Baloch Pashtun parentage. Pakistani sources always claimed that Ramzi Yousef, a principal plotter in the explosion at the New York World Trade Centre in February 1993, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who allegedly orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, were trusted by bin Laden because they had Yemeni blood in them. Normally, he keeps non-Arabs out of Al Qaeda for security reasons. Ramzi Yousef and KSM were exceptions.

4. For these reasons, anyone with links with Yemen, which cannot be satisfactorily explained, has to be carefully screened. Abdulmutallab seems to have obtained his US visa from the US Embassy in London before he left London and proceeded to Yemen. The US Embassy cannot be blamed for issuing the visa since at the time he applied for the visa his links with Yemen were apparently not known.

5. The first person to sound a wake-up call about Abdulmutallab was his father, who is a reputed banker of Nigeria. He reportedly came to know of his son going to Yemen from Dubai and unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to go back to Dubai and resume his studies. When he did not succeed, he is reported to have shared his concerns over his son with the US Embassy in Nigeria and with the Nigerian authorities. The suspicions or concerns of the father were conveyed by the US Embassy to the appropriate authorities in Washington DC, who rightly included his name in a data base of about 550000 names of persons, who have come to adverse notice, but the evidence against whom was not strong enough to deny them a visa or to prevent them from flying to the US.

6. Presumably, US visa officers all over the world have access to this data base so that they could consult it while processing visa applications. Apparently, the US Embassy in London failed to notice and alert Washington that Abdulmutallab, whose name had been brought on this list on a complaint from his father, already held a valid US visa, which he had obtained before going to Yemen.

7. Had this fact been noticed, it might not have led to a cancellation of his visa and the denial of permission to him to visit the US. But it should have led to a close questioning of him at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam by the security authorities of the US and Holland. There was apparently no such questioning. As a result, the security authorities failed to find out that he was travelling to the US by a circuitous route which started in Yemen. It has been reported that he flew from Yemen to Ethiopia, then to Ghana, then to Lagos in Nigeria and from there to Schiphol to catch the flight to Detroit. The circuitous route taken by him should have sounded an alarm bell and led to his being subjected to special security checking at Schiphol, which should have included a detailed interview on his itinerary and on the purpose of his stay in Yemen and a physical search and a search by dogs more intensive than that to which other passengers are subjected.

8. An intriguing question is whether his passport contained the immigration stamp of Yemen, which might have raised eyebrows at Schiphol. If not, did he travel from Yemen to Ethiopia by a different passport to conceal the fact that his travel started from Yemen?

9.A more than normal intensive checking of selected individuals is an important component of physical security. From the details regarding the Nigerian emerging after the incident, it would appear at least in hindsight that his was a fit case for such intensive checking. Why this did not happen? That is one of the questions which needs to be addressed by the enquiries by the US administration as well as by the Congressional Homeland Security Committees ( 28-12-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )

Saturday, December 26, 2009




From additional details of the attempt on December 25,2009, by a Nigerian member of Al Qaeda to cause an explosion in a plane of the US North-West Airlines flying from Amsterdam to Detroit as it was approaching Detroit to land there, it is evident that it was not a lone wolf terrorist attempt by an angry individual Muslim to give vent to his anger against the US. It was an attempt by Al Qaeda’s command and control to cause a spectacular incident involving mass casualties in the US air space and possibly US territory in order to demonstrate to the US and the rest of the international community that Al Qaeda remains strong and active despite the leadership losses suffered by it in the Af-Pak region during 2009.

2. The target was the US homeland and the audience was the US public, whose confidence in the revamped counter-terrorism set-up of the US might have been shaken had the Nigerian whom Al Qaeda trained and used succeeded in causing an explosion. The credit for the fact that the aircraft and its passengers escaped what could have been a disaster should go to some passengers of the plane and its crew, who acted promptly and with bravery after the terrorist suspect had attempted to cause a detonation, which remained incomplete in the sense that it caused only a fire and not a full-blown explosion. They overpowered the suspect and put out the fire and the flight crew managed to land safely.

3. Since 9/11, Al Qaeda has repeatedly tried to carry out another major terrorist strike against the US in the US Homeland, and had infiltrated many groups and individuals from Pakistan and elsewhere into the US for this purpose. An alert Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) thwarted these attempts. It detected and neutralized the cells, which were seeking to act as the Trojan Horses of Al Qaeda in the US Homeland.

4. Al Qaeda also sought to attack the US by targeting US-bound flights in order to cause mass casualties if not on the ground, at least in the air. Its 2001 attempt to have a Miami-bound plane blown up through shoe-bomber Richard Reid, who had concealed the explosive in his shoes, failed under circumstances similar to those of Detroit due to malfunctioning of the device and the alertness and courage of the passengers and the crew, who intervened to prevent a disaster.

5. In 2006, it again tried to have a number of planes bound for the US from the UK blown up with the help of some persons mainly from the Pakistani diaspora in the UK who were instructed to carry material capable of being converted into explosives into the aircraft by concealing it in soft drink bottles and use it to cause explosions. The alertness of the British intelligence and security services thwarted this attempt while it was still in the planning stage. The would-be perpetrators were arrested and prosecuted before British courts. One of the would-be perpetrators, Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani origin from Birmingham, who was based in Pakistan was used by Al Qaeda to orchestrate this conspiracy. He was related by marriage to Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of the Jaish-e-Mohammad.

6. He was arrested by the Pakistani authorities, who avoided handing him over to the British for interrogation and prosecution. He escaped from custody under mysterious circumstances and was ultimately reported to have been killed in a US drone strike in Waziristan.

7. Despite the failure of its previous two attempts to blow up US-bound planes with the help of suicide bombers, Al Qaeda has not relented in its determination to strike at the US in its homeland----- either on land or in its air space. This is the chilling message from the Detroit incident. The failure of the attempts involving Richard Reid and the latest Detroit incident on Christmas Day (December 25,2009) were due to circumstances beyond the control of Al Qaeda and not due to the effectiveness of the security measures at the Schiphol airport of Amsterdam or the alertness of the Western intelligence agencies.

8. What should be of concern to governmental and non-governmental security experts all over the world is the fact that Al Qaeda’s conspiracy almost succeeded in that the Nigerian trained by it in Yemen managed to evade the security screening at Schiphol airport and carry concealed on his body, reportedly in his underwear, a high-grade explosive and a syringe with a chemical trigger to detonate it. Even after 9/11, on air flights diabetic patients are allowed to carry syringes and insulin on the basis of a certificate issued by a doctor, but the airport security have no way of verifying the authenticity of the medical certificates carried by a passenger.

9.Citing US security sources, sections of the media, including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), have identified the explosive material carried on board the aircraft by the suspect as containing PETN, also known as pentaerythritol, a high grade explosive. Did he carry it concealed in his underwear as reported by sections of the media or inside his anus as was reportedly done by an Al Qaeda terrorist trained in Yemen who tried to kill the Saudi Deputy Interior Minister in August this year? The device inside the anus of that terrorist was reportedly triggered off by a remote control device. Did the Nigerian use the syringe to trigger off his device?

10. Even at the time of the attempt to kill the Saudi Deputy Interior Minister, counter-terrorism experts had warned of the implications for airline security of the new method of concealment devised by Al Qaeda. The security set-up of the Saudi Deputy Minister totally failed to detect the presence of the explosive material inside the anus.

11 The Nigerian, chosen by Al Qaeda for its latest attempt, has been identified as 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, allegedly the son of a serving or retired banker of Nigeria, who has reportedly identified his son. It is reported that till 2008 he was studying engineering in a college of London and then disappeared from the UK. He seems to have come into contact with Al Qaeda during this period and undergone training in Yemen.

12.The suspect came from an affluent family of Northern Nigeria which since 2007 has been showing signs of becoming another recruiting ground for Al Qaeda.

13.The Reuters news agency disseminated the following report on May 10,2008: “Al Qaeda Islamist militants have renewed their threat to bomb targets in Nigeria, , a newspaper reported quoting the national police chief. The United States embassy in Nigeria said last September the country was at risk of "terrorist attack" and Osama bin Laden once named the world's eighth biggest oil exporter as ripe for jihad or Islamic holy war. "The al Qaeda network has threatened to send time bombs to Nigeria ... CPs (commissioners of police) of all the commands should be on the alert and ensure that these items (bombs) do not pass through their end," the Punch newspaper quoted Inspector General of Police Mike Okiro as saying. He gave no details of what the targets might be, but he told a group of senior officers that intelligence reports showed the threat was real. A number of suspected jihadists have been arrested by police and the State Security Services (SSS) in recent years, but the cases have dragged on in the courts and there have been no convictions. No conclusive evidence of al Qaeda's presence in Nigeria has been made public. Five Islamist militants with suspected links to al Qaeda are on trial in the capital Abuja for plotting attacks on government targets in Africa's most populous country. The men were arrested in November (2007) by the SSS in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria. Three of them have also been charged with training in Algeria with the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) between 2005 and August 2007.The GSPC renamed itself al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in January 2007. The charge sheet said the five militants, all in their early 30s, "did conspire to commit terrorist acts," and said three of them trained in Algeria "with intent to attack government facilities and cause insurrection in Nigeria". Another charge said the militants had an AK 47 rifle, ammunition, dynamite, fertiliser "and 11 explosive devices" which they planned to use to attack government facilities and installations in the southern cities of Lagos and Ibadan.”

14. The alleged infiltration of Al Qaeda into Northern Nigeria was preceded by the spread of the ideology of the Taliban in the local Muslim community. An Islamic fundamentalist movement which disseminated the ideas of the Taliban became active. It was referred to by the locals as the Boko Haram movement. Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful.” It strongly opposed Western education as anti-Islam. Its founder Mohammed Yusuf, who was reportedly Iran-educated, was alleged to have been killed by the security forces, but the movement started by him, which is also referred to as the Nigerian Taliban, has remained active.

15. Shortly after the world came to know of the Detroit incident, a non-Governmental organisation of Nigeria known as “Citizens For Nigeria”, which is believed to consist largely of representatives of the Nigerian Christian community, put out the following statement: “Today, we heard of a Nigerian, Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, who said he was an agent for Al Qaeda and tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane as it was preparing to land in Detroit, Michigan, USA. The Citizens for Nigeria can predict that when Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab's identity is revealed, he will be known to come from the northern part of Nigeria that has always received state protection and patronage for religious persecution. In July, 2009, when the security forces in northern Nigeria battled the remnants of an Islamic sect loosely modelled on Afghanistan's Taliban movement, the world did not pay attention. In that particular incident, more than 180 people died. It was a local Nigerian news. Now that a Nigerian likely affiliated with Al Qaeda attacked an American airline, the world's attention will be fixed on Nigeria. To a majority of Nigerians, religious terrorism has a long history. To Christians, particularly those living in the northern part of Nigeria, terrrorism began long before Al Qaeda and 9/11. Northern Nigeria has always provided the breeding ground for intolerant Islamic fanaticism, the kind that gave life to Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab's ill-fated attack on the American soil. Nigerians have for years been killed in large numbers by Islamic fanatics with quiet but active support of the northern elite that have ruled Nigeria for most of her life.” (27-12-09)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )

Friday, December 25, 2009




It is too early to assess definitively the failed attempt by a person of Nigerian origin to create an explosion on board a North-west Airlines flight (Airbus 330 with 278 passengers) from Amsterdam to Detroit as it was about to land in Detroit on Christmas Day on December 25,2009.

2.The attack seems to have failed due to the mal-functioning of what was intended by the suspect to be an explosive mixture and the prompt intervention of fellow-passengers, who managed to overpower the suspect after he had unsuccessfully tried to cause a detonation. While official sources in the US have characterised the incident as an attempted terrorist attack, the US Attorney-General has not yet done so.

3. A tentative assessment on the basis of available details would indicate that this could be an attempt by Al Qaeda to cause an explosion on board an aircraft by concealing a powder in the groin of a passenger posing as a diabetic patient and injecting a chemical trigger carried without being detected by the security inside an insulin injection tube.

4. Two serious breaches of security have come to notice: Failure to detect a person with a previous suspicious background as a terrorist despite the fact that his name figured in databases of terrorist suspects and failure to detect the concealment of a suspicious-looking powder in the groin of the suspect. The attempted use of medicines such as insulin for concealing chemical triggers, if corroborated, shows the continuing evolution of the modus operandi tried/used by the terrorists to escape detection.

5.The available details of the incident from open sources are given below:

(a). Identity of the suspect: A senior law enforcement source speaking to CBS News has identified the suspect as Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23. ABC News named the suspect as Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, who was said to be an engineering student at the University College of London.

(b). His background: US media reported that the passenger told investigators he was affiliated with Al Qaeda. CNN and other broadcast channels said the man told investigators he had acquired the explosive device in Yemen, along with instructions as to when it should be used. Peter King, a Republican Party member of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, told Fox News that the suspect "definitely has terror connections". "My understanding is ... that he does have Al-Qaeda connections, certainly extremist terrorist connections, and his name popped up pretty quickly" in a search of intelligence databases. The CBS News reported that the suspect was on a U.S. government watch list of people with suspected terrorist ties. It said that a senior administration official declined to elaborate on how a man on a U.S. terrorist watch list was able to board the airline

( c ): Where did he get into the flight. At Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. According to “The Sun”,the man, who flew from Nigeria to Amsterdam and then Detroit, was taken into custody at the Detroit airport.

(d). What kind of explosive or incendiary device he carried and how did he conceal it?: According to the Associated Press, one of the U.S. intelligence officials said the explosive device was a mix of powder and liquid. It failed when the passenger tried to detonate it. It added that a law enforcement source said the explosives may have been strapped to the man's body but investigators weren't immediately certain, partly because of the struggle with other passengers. According to the Agence France Presse, the explosive, which was apparently carried onto the flight from its originating airport in Amsterdam, was originally believed to be a small firecracker, but a US official said the device was "more complicated than gunpowder firecracker" and caught fire as the man tried to set it off. According to a report on the ABC television network, the suspect told the authorities he had had explosive powder taped to his leg and used a syringe of chemicals to mix with the powder that was to cause explosion. Another US intelligence official quoted by AP said an explosive device had been used consisting of a "mix of powder and liquid". The CBS reported that the explosive material was apparently taped to the man's leg and lit the lower part of his body. He was immediately subdued and restrained and was later transported to a hospital unit. He reportedly told US investigators that he picked up the explosive material in Yemen and was instructed to set it off on board an airplane. Those claims could not immediately be verified. One law enforcement source said the man claimed to have been instructed by Al Qaeda to detonate the plane over U.S. soil. A high-ranking law enforcement official told CBS News that the suspect apparently used a syringe to inject a chemical into a powder located near his groin, a technique not seen in previous attempted attacks. It's possible, the source said, that this incident was a test of whether the materials could pass screening and how effective they might be at causing damage. (26-12-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )

Thursday, December 24, 2009



Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visited Myanmar on December 19 and 20,2009, during the course of a four-nation tour covering Japan, South Korea, Myanmar and Cambodia. He went to Cambodia from Myanmar. Xi, who undertook the visit at the invitation of Vice Senior-General Maung Aye, Vice-Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), called on SPDC Chairman Senior-General Than Shwe in Nay Pyi Taw.

2.Xi is believed to be in the run to succeed President Hu Jintao, when he completes his tenure. His visit to Myanmar was significant for three reasons.

3.Firstly, through the importance accorded to the visit, the Myanmar military junta sought to reassure Beijing that despite recent moves for increased contacts between the junta and the Obama administration, the junta continued to give priority to Myanmar’s relations with China. Improved relations with the US will not be at the expense of the relations with China. Xi as well as his Myanmar hosts described the relations between the two countries as “baobo relationship”, which has been interpreted by local analysts as cousin-cousin relationship. The next door cousin is more important than the distant US---that was the message of the Junta to the Obama Administration.

4.Secondly, China reiterated its determination to go ahead with the construction of the parallel oil and gas pipelines between the Arakan area of Myanmar and Yunnan despite opposition from the local residents and insecurity along the route of the pipelines. China has accorded greater priority to the Arakan-Yunnan pipeline than to the Gwadar-Xinjiang pipeline proposed by the Pakistan Government. The Chinese Government has greater confidence in the ability of the Myanmar Army to ensure the security of the parallel pipelines passing through Myanmar territory than in the ability of the Pakistan Government to ensure the security of any pipeline passing through Pakistani territory. Moreover, with the recent commissioning of the first stage of the pipeline connecting Xinjiang with the Central Asian Republics, the need for a Gwadar-Xinjiang pipeline is not that urgent. Whereas the Arakan-Yunnan pipelines will have the dual purpose of transporting oil brought by Chinese tankers from West Asia and Africa thereby reducing the present Chinese dependence on the Malacca Strait and transporting the gas procured locally in Arakan by Chinese companies, any pipeline from Gwadar will have to be exclusively for transporting oil/gas from West Asia. Pakistan does not have any oil or gas to sell to China.

5.Thirdly, the visit underlined the concerns of Beijing over the anti-Chinese riots in the Kokang area of the Shan State in August,2009, when thousands of Chinese traders, who had illegally settled down in the Kokang area, had to flee to Yunnan following attacks on them. The attacks on the “Chinese cousins” ---- and the action of the Myanmar Army in closing its eyes to these attacks----were a rude shock to Beijing.

6. In an editorial published on December 22,2009, the Government-owned “ New Light of Myanmar” said that Xi’s visit strengthened the mutual friendship and the bilateral cooperation between the two countries. It added: “The peoples of the two countries have mutual respect and deep friendship as they have been dealing with each other like brothers for a long time. With reciprocal goodwill visits by the leaders of the two nations, bilateral relations and cooperation are thriving.”

7.It was stated by official spokesmen that Xi discussed with Maung Aye matters relating to the further improvement of bilateral relations and cooperation in the agriculture, transport, energy, electricity and communications sectors. The two countries signed five agreements on the development of trade, economy, the transport infrastructure, technological cooperation and purchase of machinery; seven financial agreements, three agreements on hydroelectric power; and one agreement on the energy sector and the oil and natural gas pipelines.

8. Among the MoUs signed during the visit was an agreement to allow the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) exclusive rights to build and operate a Myanmar-China Crude Oil Pipeline. According to a press release issued by the CNPC on December 21, the agreement grants the CNPC rights relating to tax concessions, transport of crude oil through Myanmar, customs clearance and road operations.

9.The press release added: “The agreement also stipulates that the Myanmar Government shall ensure the company's ownership and exclusionary (exclusive?) right to the pipeline and guarantee the safety of the pipeline.”

10.The pipeline will be constructed and run by a subsidiary of the the CNPC called the South-East Asia Crude Oil Pipeline Ltd. Earlier in June, 2009, the CNPC and the Myanmar Government had signed an MOU, agreeing that the CNPC would be responsible for the design, construction, and operation of the pipeline.

11.The CNPC started building a crude oil port on October 31 as part of the 771-kilometre pipeline project, which will start from the Maday Island in the Arakan state on the western coast of Myanmar and run through the Arakan State, the Magway division, the Mandalay division and the Shan State, and will finally enter Ruili in China’s Yunnan Province. Some reports have estimated the length of the pipeline as 1100 kms. This probably includes its length from Ruili to Kunming too.

12.The natural gas pipeline is proposed to be extended from Ruili to Kunming and then to the Guizhou province and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, covering a total distance of 2806 kms.

13. Earlier, in March 2009, the two Governments had signed an agreement which provided for the construction of a parallel oil-gas pipelines starting from the Kyaukpru port in the Arakan State. The construction is scheduled to be completed by 2013. According to the March,2009, agreement, a gas collection terminal and a port for oil tankers will be constructed on the Maday Island.

14. The Chinese state-owned CNPC will hold a 50.9-percent share in partnership with the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) in the company which will construct and run the pipelines. The project is expected to yield $29 billion over 30 years to the Myanmar military junta. Initially, the gas to be transported by the gas pipeline will be bought from the Shwe Gas consortium, which has already struck gas in the blocks for exploration allotted to it by the Myanmar Government, but it hopes to supplement it with gas found by Chinese companies in the blocks allotted to them by the Myanmar Government.

15.The Daewoo International from South Korea, holds 51 percent of the shares in the Shwe Gas Consortium, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) of India 17 percent and the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL), 8.5 percent.

16. This will be the third oil/gas pipeline being developed by China---the other two being the oil and gas pipelines from the Central Asian Republics the first stage of which was recently commissioned by President Hu Jintao and the proposed Sino-Russian oil pipeline. Pakistan is interested in making the Chinese agree to the construction of a gas pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang. Talks in this regard between the two countries are still in the preliminary stage. Bejing has so far not shown much enthusiasm for this project due to the deteriorating security situation in Balochistan.

17. The importance of maintaining peace and stability in the areas near the Sino-Myanmar border was repeatedly emphasized by the leaders of the two countries during their interactions. The junta sought to reassure the visiting Chinese leader of its sincerity and determination in this regard. Beijing’s suspicion that despite the repeatedly professed friendship of the junta for China, Myanmar Army units were complicit in the attacks on the Chinese in the Kokang area remains strong.

18. According to a statement posted on the web site of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on December 21,2009, Than Shwe assured Xi that Myanmar will work with China to preserve peace and stability in the border areas. He reportedly added that he understood that China and Myanmar shared a long border and maintaining peace and stability on the border was extremely important to both the countries.

19. China’s State-owned Xinhua news agency reported that Xi said China wanted stability on the Sino-Myanmar border. He reportedly said: “China believes the Myanmar side would settle the relevant problems through peaceful ways such as dialogues and consultation so as to guarantee the stability in its border area with China.”

20. The Xinhua reported that Than Shwe assured Xi that his Government would continue to work with Beijing to ensure peace and development in the border areas. It would demonstrate good neighborly friendship and cooperation, he said.

21. Interestingly, the Myanmar-Government owned “The New Light of Myanmar” remained silent on these exchanges between Than Shwe and Xi. It merely said that the two leaders exchanged views on “matters to which two neighboring countries should pay serious attention.”

22. The August attacks on the illegal Chinese traders in the Kokang capital Laogai were triggered off by the refusal of anti-junta Kokang ethnic groups such as the United Wa State Army to disband themselves and join a border force formed by the Myanmar Army unless some of their conditions regarding the command and control of the proposed border force were met. The Myanmar Army seems to have suspected that these groups were being instigated by the illegal Chinese settlers from Yunnan living in the Kokang area not to accept the order of the Army. These dissident groups continue to defy the Army which has given them time till December 31,2009, to disband themselves and join the border force of the Army. It is not clear whether Xi pressed Than Shwe to withdraw this order and, if so, whether Than Shwe agreed to it. If the junta insists on enforcing its order after January 1, one could expect more violence. The fact that the Chinese are going ahead with the construction of the pipelines without worrying about the disturbed situation in the Shan State gives rise to the suspicion that some kind of an assurance might have been conveyed to Xi in this regard by Than Shwe. A possible face-saving for both will be to keep the order in force, but not to enforce it.

23. Lt-Gen Ai Husheng of the Chinese Chengdu Military Region that oversees Sino-Myanmar border security paid a six-day visit to Myanmar from December 5 to 10,2009, and met, among others, Maj-Gen Kyaw Phyoe, of the Triangle Region Command, Lt-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, Commander of Shan and Kayah states, and Maj-Gen Aung Than Tut, of the Northeastern Region Command. (25-12-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

Wednesday, December 23, 2009



Delivering the 22nd Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture at New Delhi on December 23,2009, P.Chidambaram, the Minister for Home Affairs, who inter alia is responsible for dealing with indigenous as well as externally-sponsored threats to internal security, outlined a series of measures for revamping our internal security architecture. These measures, if implemented as outlined by him, would make the Home Minister the internal security Czar of the country.

2.The concerns nursed by Indira Gandhi and other senior members of her Cabinet such as Jagjivan Ram over the inadvisability of an over-powerful Home Ministry led to a series of actions by Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao to create a decentralised structure for internal security. Indira Gandhi used the criticism from the defence forces regarding the inadequate performance of the IB during the 1965 Indo-Pak war and the 1966 revolt in Mizoram to set in motion a series of measures to decentralise the architecture and strengthen the primacy of the Prime Minister in supervising and co-ordinating the functioning of different wings of this architecture through the mechanism of the Cabinet Secretariat headed by the Cabinet Secretary functioning directly under the Prime Minister.

3. Among the various decentralised wings, which came into being since 1968 and were placed under the Cabinet Secretariat were the newly-formed (in 1968) Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), the Directorate-General of Security (DGS) and the Aviation Research Centre simultaneously removed from the control of the IB, and the newly-created National Security Guards (NSGs) and the Special Protection Group (SPG), which is responsible for the protection of the incumbent and past Prime Ministers and their families. Even before 1968, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) was under the over-all control of the Prime Minister who exercised his or her supervision over it through the Cabinet Secretary.

4. The tenure of the National Democratic Alliance Government under A.B.Vajpayee
(1998-2004) saw new additions to this architecture in the form of the revived post of National Security Adviser (NSA), the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) and the National Technical Research Organisation. The NSCS was made part of the Prime Minister’s office and placed directly under the NSA.

5. In pursuance of the recommendations made by the various Task Forces set up by the NDA Government for revamping the national security capabilities after the Kargil conflict of 1999, the NSA was entrusted with the over-all responsibility for operational supervision of national security management and intelligence co-ordination, with the Cabinet Secretary’s responsibility confined to administrative co-ordination and management. The fact that both the NSA and the CS functioned directly under the Prime Minister facilitated the two working in close co-ordination with each other and there were no conflicts of jurisdiction and responsibilities between the NSA and the CS.

6. The country’s national security architecture---whether relating to internal or external security--- cannot remain static. It has to constantly evolve in keeping with the evolving threats to national security. All past changes in the national security architecture since 1968 were preceded by a detailed study of the changes required and their discussion in the Cabinet Committee on Security as well as in public to the extent possible in order to evolve an administrative, political and national consensus on the proposed changes.

7. The leadership and initiative for policy decisions to introduce the changes came from the Prime Minister of the day, who also articulated the need for and the importance of the proposed changes. The latest changes proposed by Chidambaram were not preceded by a similar detailed examination. The role and views of the Prime Minister and other senior Ministers of the Cabinet in respect of the proposed changes remain obscure. These changes, if and when implemented, could lead to a strengthening of the role and the status of the Home Minister in respect of internal security management and a corresponding dilution of the role of the Prime Minister, his NSA, the PM’s Office and the Cabinet Secretariat. Is this desirable?

8. The three major changes proposed by the Home Minister relate to making the Home Ministry exclusively responsible for the professional management of internal security similar to the Department of Homeland Security in the US, the creation in the Home Ministry by 2010-end of a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) similar to the NCTC of the US and the revamping of the immigration control apparatus whose inefficiency was exploited by David Coleman Headley alias Daood Gilani and Tahawwur Hussain Rana of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) for frequent clandestine visits to India to prepare the ground for the 26/11 terrorist strikes. These changes have been advocated by many security experts of the country, including this writer, since 2004 when the US homeland security architecture was revamped in pursuance of the recommendations of the National Commission which enquired into the failures that facilitated the 9/11 terrorist strikes and the discussions on its report in the Congress.

9. These changes are welcome, but the ideas behind them are not new. What is new is the political will shown by Chidambaram to accept the desirability of these changes and the need to introduce them. Chidambaram needs to be complimented for this.

10 However, what should be of concern is the manner in which he proposes to introduce these changes. After reading the reports on his address as published in the media, one cannot but nurse an apprehension that the manner in which he intends to implement them could result in an over-centralised and over-powerful Home Ministry with the role of the Minister in charge strengthened at the expense of that of the Prime Minister.

11. References have been made to the post-9/11 changes in the US, but attention has not been drawn to the fact that in introducing the changes in the US over-centralisation has been avoided. The NCTC in the US functions under the Director National Intelligence, who reports directly to the President and takes orders from him and not from the Secretary for Homeland Security. The independence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as the leading investigation agency in terrorism-related cases has been maintained. The Secretary for Homeland Security has no control over it. The responsibilities of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency relating to counter-terrorism outside the homeland and covert operations against terrorists in foreign territory have been maintained. He reports to the Director National Intelligence, who, in turn, reports to the President and not to the Secretary for Homeland Security. The National Security Agency and other technical intelligence agencies, in the exercise of their functions relating to counter terrorism, continue to report to the Defence Secretary and the Director National Intelligence and not to the Secretary for Homeland Security.

12. While the Secretary For Homeland Security is the overlord of physical security measures and follow-up action on intelligence reports, his powers have not been expanded at the expense of other agencies of the Government, which play an important role in respect of counter-terrorism.

13. What Chidambaram seems to want is that all agencies of the Government of India, except the SPG, which have counter-terrorism capabilities, should function directly under the Home Minister and take orders from him. Is this desirable? Will it improve counter-terrorism?

14. Another worrisome aspect of Chidambaram’s address is that it makes no distinction between terrorism as a threat and terrorism as a phenomenon, between indigenous terrorism by our nationals and externally-sponsored terrorism by foreign nationals, between operational and political management of terrorism and between the use of hard and soft power in dealing with terrorism. It tends to treat all terrorists as one and the same though he does talk of a nuanced approach.

15. While the changes proposed by Chidambaram in the internal security set-up should be welcomed, the questions as to how to implement them, how to avoid over-centralisation and how to ensure that while strengthening the counter-terrorism capabilities of the intelligence agencies, we do not weaken their capabilities relating to China and Pakistan should be examined by a group consisting of the Finance, Home, Defence and External Affairs Ministers and its recommendations discussed in the Parliament. ( 24-12-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )


( Extracts from my article of December 1,2008, titled “After Mumbai: Points For Action” available at )

POINT 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.

POINT 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.

POINT 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.


(Extracts from Chidambaram’s address as reported by “The Hindu” online on December 23,2009)

Proposing a "bold, thorough and radical restructuring" of the security architecture at the national level, Union Minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday suggested bifurcation of the Home Ministry, saying subjects not directly related to internal security should be dealt with by a separate Ministry or should be brought under a separate department in the Home Ministry itself and dealt with by a Minister independently.

"The Home Minister should devote the whole of his/her time and energy to matters relating to security," Mr. Chidambaram said. In his view, given the imperatives and the challenges of the times, a division of the current functions of the Ministry of Home Affairs "is unavoidable".

In order to counter, prevent, contain and also respond to a terrorist attack should one take place, India must set up the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) by the end of 2010, he said while delivering the 22nd Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment lecture here.

In his 40-minute address, he touched upon the situation post 26/11 terror strikes, the state of India’s police and outlined the tasks that lay ahead to ward off crisis like the hijack of IC-814 or another catastrophe like Mumbai terror attacks.
Referring to the proposed NCTC, Mr. Chidambaram said: "Such an organisation does not exist today and it has to be created from the scratch. I am told that the United States was able to do it within 36 months of September 11, 2001. India cannot afford to wait for 36 months. India must decide now to go forward and India must succeed in setting up the NCTC by the end of 2010."

He said that the NCTC must have a broad mandate to deal with all kinds of terrorist violence directed against the country and the people.

"While the nature of the response to different kinds of terror would indeed be different and nuanced, NCTC's mandate should be to respond to violence unleashed by any group – be it an insurgent group in the North East or the CPI (Maoist) in the heartland of India or any group of religious fanatics anywhere in India acting on their own or in concert with terrorists outside India."

He said: "NCTC would, therefore, have to perform functions relating to intelligence, investigation and operations. All intelligence agencies would therefore have to be represented in the NCTC. But I am clear in my mind that, without 'operations', NCTC and the security architecture that is needed will be incomplete. It is the proposed 'operations' wing of the NCTC that will give an edge - now absent - to our plans to counter terrorism."

Turning to the functions of the MHA, Mr. Chidambaram said the Ministry now performed a number of functions that have no direct relation to internal security which include a division dealing with freedom fighters though it does not have even a desk for dealing exclusively with forensic science.

"There are other divisions or desks that deal with Centre-State relations, State Legislation, Human Rights, Union Territories, Disaster Management, Census etc. These are undoubtedly important functions and deserve close attention. However, internal security is an equally, if not more, important function that deserves the highest attention," he said.

Venturing after a year in office to outline the new architecture for India’s security, Mr. Chidambaram identified two enemies of change. "The first is 'routine'. Routine is the enemy of innovation. Because we are immersed in routine tasks, we neglect the need for change and innovation. The second enemy is 'complacency'," he told top police and intelligence officials that included National Security Advisor M. K. Narayanan, Home Secretary G.K. Pillai, Director IB Rajiv Mathur and others.

Striking a note of caution, Mr. Chidambaram said there was no time to be lost in making a thorough and radical departure from the present structure. "If, as a nation, we must defend ourselves in the present day and prepare for the future, it is imperative that we put in place a new architecture for India’s security," he said.

He also announced commencement of two more projects early next year: business porcess re-engineering of the Foreigners Division at a cost of Rs. 20 crore and the more ambitious Mission Mode Project on Immigration, Visa and Foreigners' Registration and Tracking with the objective of creating a secure and integrated service delivery framework for facilitating legitimate travellers and strengthening security.

Mr. Chidambaram said that the positioning of Research and Analysis Wing, Aviation Research centre and the CBI would have to be re-examined and a way would have to be found to place them under the oversight of NCTC to the extent that they deal with terrorism.

The Home Minister said the new organisation could be led by a police officer or a military officer who must be one who has impeccable professional credentials and the capacity to oversee intelligence, investigation and operations.
While the head of the NCTC will be the single person accountable to the country on all matters relating to internal security, the organisation would be at the command and control of Ministry of Home Affairs, he said.