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Lessons from Mumbai 7/11

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The Mumbai blasts expose the continuing weaknesses in the security management system, including the preventive capability of the intelligence agencies, the physical security architecture and competence in crisis management. In addressing these issues, B. RAMAN suggests reviving the post of Minister of State for Internal Security, giving the incumbent full powers to deal with the operational aspects.

DID THE intelligence alarm bell not ring? Vivek Bendre
DID THE intelligence alarm bell not ring? Vivek Bendre

B. Raman

Tuesday's serial blasts in Mumbai, set off by yet-to-be-identified

jihadi

terrorist elements, should be a matter of serious concern not only for national security managers, but also for the general public.

This is because the blasts expose the continuing weaknesses in the national security management system. These weaknesses pertain to the preventive capability of the intelligence agencies, the physical security architecture and competence in crisis management.

The intelligence inadequacies are evident from the apparent failure to mount a vigorous drive to identify and neutralise sleeper cells which might have been operating in Mumbai following the recovery of explosives and other articles in the Aurangabad area.

Alarm bells did not ring

The recovery of explosives should have set alarm bells ringing and led to a joint operation by the intelligence and security agencies of the Maharashtra Government and the Centre for identifying terrorist networks which might have escaped detection. If necessary, the police organisations of other States should have also been associated with this. This was apparently not done. The whole thing seems to have been treated in a casual manner.

Collection of preventive intelligence about planned acts of terrorism is a difficult task due to the problems of penetrating terrorist organisations. This difficulty is enhanced if the terrorist organisations observe caution in using modern means of communication. This would affect the flow of technical intelligence.

After the Kargil conflict of 1999, the Government of India had set up in 2003 a separate organisation for the gathering of technical intelligence. There is need for a review of its functioning in order to assess the capability it has developed for the collection of technical intelligence with specific reference to counter-terrorism.

The Special Task Force for Revamping of the Intelligence Apparatus, set up by the NDA Government in May 2000, had,

inter alia

, recommended a number of measures to ensure better co-ordination in the collection of intelligence and in taking follow-up action relating to counter-terrorism.

Multi-disciplinary centre

One of its recommendations for a multi-disciplinary centre in New Delhi under the leadership of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has been implemented. It consists of representatives of all Government agencies dealing with terrorism and is chaired by a senior IB officer. The Mumbai blasts indicate possible inadequacies in its functioning. These need to be identified and rectified.

Another recommendation of the Task Force was for setting up a similar co-ordination mechanism in each State under the leadership of the IB. This recommendation was not implemented by the NDA Government. After seeing what happened in Mumbai, one concludes that there has been no progress in its implementation.

What follow-up action was taken after the recovery of explosives in the Aurangabad area? Was a general alert sounded to the police set-ups of all States? Was the public informed about it and its co-operation sought in looking for other consignments of explosives that may have been lying elsewhere? Were enquiries made about the origin of the explosives? The answers to these questions are not clear.

The NDA Government Task Force mainly examined the inadequacies in the capabilities of the intelligence agencies, as revealed by the Kargil conflict. It went into the counter-terrorism capabilities of the intelligence agencies only incidentally. Counter-terrorism was not one of its main terms of reference. The Madrid blasts of March 2004 and the London explosions of July 2005 indicated the damage that terrorists could inflict on public transport systems, which were soft targets till then, with highly inadequate physical security. These incidents led to an in-depth review in many countries of the physical security set-up in public transportation systems in order to identify and plug loopholes.

One cannot totally prevent terrorist attacks on public transportation systems, but one should be able to reduce the dangers of such attacks through enhanced physical security. The Madrid and London blasts do not seem to have led to a similar review of physical security in our public transportation systems. The weaknesses of India's crisis management system were exposed during the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar by

jihadi

terrorists belonging to the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen in December 1999.

It was alleged that even senior officers responsible for internal security were unaware of the crisis management drill to deal with hijacking that had been prepared in the 1980s, and allowed the hijacked aircraft to take off from Amritsar, where it had initially landed, and to fly out of the Indian air-space.

From the kind of public complaints one witnessed on the TV after the 7/11 Mumbai blasts, it is apparent that in the initial few hours, the crisis management response left much to be desired.

After the London blasts, the British Government had set up groups of experts to review the inadequacies in intelligence collection, physical security and crisis management systems that came to light during the blasts and immediately thereafter, and suggest correctives. There is a need for similar action by the Centre.

Internal security portfolio

There is also an urgent need for an examination of the political and operational management of internal security tasks in the Ministry of Home Affairs. Till 1996, the two tasks were separate. While the Home Minister concentrated on the political management, he had under him a competent and livewire Minister of State for Internal Security who focussed on the operational management. In that capacity, he supervised intelligence collection and follow-up action, and co-ordinated among the different agencies of the Government, and between the Centre and the States, physical security and crisis management.

The post of Minister of State for Internal Security was held with great distinction by Mr P. Chidambaram under Rajiv Gandhi; Mr Arun Nehru under Mr V. P. Singh and Rajesh Pilot under P. V. Narasimha Rao. Since 1996, this division of responsibility for political and operational management has got blurred. The result: Political and operational management have suffered. It is time to appoint a capable Minister of State for Internal Security and give him full powers to deal with the operational aspects.

Messrs Chidambaram, Arun Nehru and Rajesh Pilot were successful because their Prime Minister and Home Minister (Buta Singh, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Y. B. Chavan) gave them a free hand in dealing with the operational aspects. I would even suggest the creation of an independent Ministry of Internal Security to deal with the operational management.

(The author is a former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. E-mail: itschen36@gmail.com)

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 14, 2006)
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