The Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) have mounted a damage-control exercise by sharing with senior journalists details of technical intelligence (TECHINT) collected by them, which clearly indicated that the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Pakistani terrorist organisation, which is a member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) For Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People, was planning to carry out sea-borne terrorist strikes against hotels on Mumbai's coast, one of the hotels being the Taj Mahal hotel, which was actually attacked and occupied by some terrorists on the night of November
26, 2008. This intelligence was disseminated by them to those responsible for physical security. It seems to be the contention of the IB and the R&AW that what happened in Mumbai was a serious instance of physical security failure and failure to act on available intelligence and not an instance of intelligence failure.
Other independent reports indicate that the reports were acted upon by the Mumbai Police and the security authorities of the Taj Mahal Hotel. It was not as if they ignored them. The Mumbai Police alerted the hotels mentioned in the R&AW report and advised them on the need to strengthen security. The Mumbai Police also set up a security barrier at a point near the sea where, in their assessment, clandestine landings might take place.
The two specific reports of the R&AW based on intercepts were disseminated in September. There was no follow-up report for nearly five weeks, either from the IB or the R&AW. As a result, the Mumbai Police and hotels downgraded the security alert. The Taj Mahal Hotel removed a security barrier, which they had erected, and the Mumbai Police removed the security barrier which they had set up to prevent clandestine landings. The terrorists from Pakistan seem to have landed at this very point, where the Mumbai Police had erected the security barrier on the receipt of the alert from the R&AW.
The R&AW and the IB have their offices in Mumbai headed by senior officers to interact closely with the local police and the Armed Forces units. All of them are members of special co-ordination committees. How come the IB and the R&AW officers did not come to know that the security alert had been downgraded following the non-receipt of any follow-up reports from the R&AW? Did the R&AW immediately advise the Mumbai Police, the Navy and the hotel authorities that the alert should be continued till they receive information that the LET has abandoned its plans?
While the intercepts of September speak well of the interception capability of the R&AW, it does not necessarily speak well of its capability for analysis, assessment and follow-up action. Many questions are relevant in this regard: In what form did it report the intelligence? Did it tone it down while reporting the intercepts in a paraphrased form? Did it tell the persons to whom it sent the two reports of September that the intelligence was based on intercepts of telephone conversations of an LET operative based in Pakistan? If it did not do so on grounds of operational security, how come it is now sharing them with journalists? This only strengthens the suspicion that the IB and the R&AW show a greater readiness to share sensitive intelligence with journalists to protect themselves than with each other to protect the nation and its people. To which Ministries and departments were the reports sent and at what level?
Unless one looks into all these questions, one cannot say where the failures occurred, which made the terrorist strikes possible. In 1987, the R&AW received a human intelligence report about a Khalistani plot to kill Rajiv Gandhi, then Prime Minister, during his visit to Rajghat on Mahatma Gandhi's birthday. The R&AW officer--of the rank of Director, one rank below a Joint Secretary--conveyed the information in a written note to a Joint Secretary in the Home Ministry and the Delhi Police. He did not alert other senior officers.
The report proved to be accurate. Rajiv Gandhi narrowly escaped the assassination attempt. T.N. Seshan, who was then co-ordinating the security arrangements for Rajiv Gandhi, was asked to enquire into this. He held both the Delhi Police and the R&AW responsible for omissions, which could have led to a national tragedy. He blamed the Delhi Police for inaction on the R&AW report and the R&AW for not realising the gravity of the information when it was received and for disseminating it at a lower level without alerting the senior officers responsible for Rajiv's security.
A report in the Hindustan Times of December 2, 2008, quotes an unnamed officer of the R&AW as saying that its job in the Mumbai case was over with sending the report to the concerned quarters in the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) and that it had no other responsibility since it does not operate in Indian territory.
This is a highly irresponsible mindset, which needs to be checked. B.N.Mallick and R.N.Kao, the founding fathers of the Indian intelligence, used to stress on their officers that the responsibility of an intelligence officer does not stop with his sending a memo or a note about intelligence of a serious nature collected. It is equally their responsibility to ensure that the intelligence receives the attention it deserves in the ministries and departments concerned and that the necessary follow-up action is taken. In respect of terrorism, the role and responsibility of an intelligence officer starts from the moment he collects a piece of intelligence and continues till it is acted upon and the act of terrorism thwarted.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.