Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A SHODDY COUNTER-TERRORISM DATA-BASE

B.RAMAN

More than two years after the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai and the setting-up of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Government of India continues to have a shoddy counter-terrorism data-base.

2. That is the inevitable conclusion from the current controversy over an embarrassing professional and diplomatic faux pas relating to the alleged inclusion of the name of Wazhul Kamar Khan, a terrorism suspect living on bail with his family in Thane in Maharashtra, in a list of 50 terrorism suspects allegedly enjoying sanctuary in Pakistan. This list was reportedly given by the Government of India to the Interior Ministry of Pakistan some weeks ago and had remained a secret till now. This list was released to the media by the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India after the Abbottabad raid by US naval commandos, which led to the death of Osama bin Laden. The belated release of the list was seen by many as an attempt by our Home Ministry to step up pressure on Pakistan to act against terrorism suspects wanted in India and allegedly sheltered in Pakistan.

3. The fact that Wazhul Kamar Khan's name was mistakenly included in the list was discovered not by the counter-terrorism agencies of India or Pakistan, but by Mateen Hafeez, a well-reputed journalist of the " Times of India". His investigative report was carried by the paper on May 17,2011.Our MHA and retired officers of the intelligence and investigating agencies appearing in TV debates have uncomfortably tied themselves in knots in trying to explain away or rationalise this faux pas. They have been projecting it as a clerical or human error, which does sometimes take place in Government and urging that one should not make a mountain of a mole hil and captalise on this unfortunate error to discredit our agencies.

4. There is nothing mala fide about the inclusion of the name of this suspect. It was not an instance of a fabrication of evidence against him or Pakistan in an attempt to fix Pakistan. At the same time, this error indicates serious deficiencies in our counter-terrorism data-base which should cause concern to our policy-makers. It would also cause concern to the international intelligence and investigating community and add to the suspicions that they already have about the credibility of our investigation process and about our allegations regarding Pakistan giving shelter to Indian terrorists.

5. Our credibility as professional counter-terrorism experts will be weakened by this serious error. A terrorism suspect had been arrested in Maharashtra. He had been gven bail by a court. He was living with his family. And, yet, the Government of India in New Delhi was not aware of it and its data-base indicated that he had been sheltered in Pakistan. That is why his name found its way into the dossier given to Pakistan.

6. At the time the dossier was prepared for being handed over to Pakistan, none any of the agencies of the Government of India or of the Government of Maharashtra would appear to have detected this embarrassing mistake. This would clearly show that there was no co-ordination in the preparation of the dossier. Nor was there any effective supervision of the process and any proper vetting of the dossier before the decision to hand it over to Pakistan was taken. In our anxiety to embarrass Pakistan, the whole exercise seems to have been handled in a very casual manner.

7. Other countries would be greatly concerned by this faux pas and by our casual approach for one very important reason. After the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, there was a demand in India for a retaliatory strike on the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan from which these attacks had emanated. The Government of Dr.Manmohan Singh managed to resist the demand from some sections of the public for a retaliatory strike.

8.If there is another 26/11 ( God forbid), the demand for a retalitory strike against the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan could be revived. For such a strike to be effective, it has to be based on an accurate data-base of the infrastructure in Pakistan. If this incident indicates the shoddy state of our data-base, by ordering a retaliatory strike on the basis of a shoddy data-base we might create a messy situation and find ourselves in an indefensible position before the international community.

9. Instead of minimising the implications of the faux pas and dismissing it as a human error sometimes unavoidable, we must tale the matter much more seriously than we seem to be doing so far, try to find out how the whole thing happened and take the required corrective action. Our reputation as professional CT experts is at stake in the eyes of the international community. ( 19-5-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

10 comments:

harihar said...

To that one can add "a shoddy counter-terrorism culture." When you have an intelligence and counter-terrorism culture in which the entire emphasis is on shuffling papers, passing the buck and scoring brownie points and in which there is no premium on credibility, reliability and action-oriented thinking, such gaffes are inevitable.

Para 8 goes to the heart of the problem. What a mess, indeed, would be created if any real action were to be taken on the basis of such shoddy information.

The shoddy counter-terrorism databases and the shoddy intelligence and counter-terrorism culture are unlikely to change unless and until there is there is real understanding and appreciation of the value of good intelligence and the uses to which it can be put to at the highest level of government. Merely paying lip service to the importance of the intelligence function will not do.

Esoteric said...

If Khan was accused in 2002-3 blasts why hasnt the Mumbai police filed a chargesheet yet?

Surely there are political reasons at play here.Im not assuming his guilt before its proven but if you cannot charge a man in 6-7 yrs either you are incompetent or corrupt.In this case,sadly in case of Mumbai police its both as shown up on 26/11.

On another note,the root causes for the rot in policing and investigation is due to resource gaps,poor training,poor infrastructure,poor leadership and finally coordination.Infact,lack of coorddination and competition between agencies and officers is only symptomatic of the rot not its root cause.If they were coordinated,they might deliver passing marks at best in fight against terror.capability development is a long term project and to assume cleaner DB will fix the mess is foolhardy,even though necessary to address.

Also,if political motovations are behind the lack of coordination ie the go-slow has political assent behind it its very sad state of affairs.If the minority community has sympathy with the Jihadi cause,its a cause for concern.If you take that away,political ssent can be check mated.At the same time,everyone knows that in Mumbai(for instance) even high profile minority community members find it tough to find residences in all places but in ghettos.It breeds the sympathy that creates the political will....

Jai said...

Sir,
The shoddy database apart, IMO there is a more important question:
1. When we are asking a state like Pakistan for some "wanted" people - we obviously want to ask for some of those who are most valuable to us.
A guy, who is facing charges which are not sufficient to even keep him in custody & can get bail from our very own courts, has no business on being on the list in the first place.

If our MHA was aware of a few burglars who are now known to be hiding in Pakistan - are we going to be putting them on the list too?

This is a sheer lack of seriousness / understanding of what we want to achieve... shoddiness may even be forgiven - but this cannot.

Jai71

Krishna Kacker said...

Latest reports suggest that one more such name has been found in the list sent to Pakistan.It is scandalous, to say the least.
Does MHA not have a machinery to check,cross check and recheck again the veracity of the contents of such communications?
It certainly puts a serious question mark on the credibility of information furnished by us.
God alone can save us, if this is the way we are functioning today.Wonder if any head will roll and not of a scapegoat!!

Krishna Kacker said...

In continuation of my pervious blog, the name of the person wrongly placed in Most Wanted List is Feroz Rashid. The mistake has been owned by CBI as reported by NDTV's Rashmi Rajput

ambi said...

Come on guys, pls understand the matter. I know whay this mistake happened.

actually to investigate the cases you require time and energy. But honestly, Chidambaram, madam ji, MMS, CBI chief, N cong govt in maharashtra, un sabke paas, investigation ka time hee kahan hain? Unka pura waqt to Musalmanon ko shaitaan Hinduon se protect karnemain nikal jata hain. sab log haath main danda leke nigrani karne nikal padte hain. toh time kahan se hoga. 'Jaagte raho!!!! hamare bharose mat raho!!!!!'

Dear chidambaram ji, theek se dekho, nahin to pata chala ki dawwod Ibrahim bhi, peechle das saal se mumbai mein hi hain.

Esoteric said...

The DB goof up is much publicised in the Western media but the Kanimozhi arrest is not.

I guess some people would rather hear only 'bad' news from India(presuming they consider corruption clean up as 'good' news).

Pakistan hasnt displyed it much..though it finds a mention.I guess they wouldnt want to show that the Indian 'threat' is 'toothless'.

kuldeep singh chauhan said...

China is a long term threat to India and has been trying to encircle by cultivating opportunistic alliances and footholds in the region. The move in POK and northern areas is alarming and in long term would have implications for the whole regional security architechture in Asia. China is not supposed to dump pakistan in near future and would leaverage and coordinate with it to put pressure on india and bind it to low level equillibrium. This is the right time actually now is the time for india to premptly attack pakistan quickly neutralise it’s nuclear infrastructure with israeli help and dismember it. This will pave a long future of prosperity not only for india and south asia but for whole world. All well meaning people globally should think about it and through internet and various media create a movement to dismember pakistan in to independent countries of baluchistan, sindh, punjab and FATA should go to afganistan and save world peace.

Esoteric said...

Kuldeep,A desperate Pakistan will not hesitate to use Nukes especially against India.Pak Nukes are supposedly not kept at one location and are kept in a disassembled state.

Even getting OBL took Navy Seals a lot of effort despite no real security and a discrepit compound to be targetted..all above the ground.Reaching and then 'destroying' nukes in multiple locations of high security is well nigh impossible even for US-Israel and everyone put together,leave alone India.

Now to whats possible.If somehow the Nuke fuel is taken out then the Nukes are as good as dismantled.You could target information flow and knowledge & energy sources by killing scientists and by spreading viruses like stuxnet.In other words,disable the arsenal for a period.But there are no guarantees that all this will work.

Instead of dividing Pakistan,we might want to think of uniting it with India.

To think through your proposal,we arent sure if Nuke capability or weapons wont find their way to 4 new countries youve created.Further,they all might be hostile to India.Even if they are not,separation movements will gather momemtum in other parts of India notably in Kashmir.If Kashmir was independent and became friends with a nuke enabled Punjab(largest part of Pakistan),you would face more victim oriented(with some justification) and cohesive enimity compared to the rather divided Pakistan of today.The only advantage would be that Sindh(presumably) will be Pro-India(to start with) and New Pakistan(Punjab and Kashmir) will have no access to the Arabian sea.

But then there is China.Rethink your suggestion there could be other solutions....

Just another guy said...

Its a legacy of what babus like you have left behind ...