Homeland Security

Mumbai Blasts 13/7: Q& A with B Raman
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By B Raman
Issue Net Edition | Date : 05 Jul , 2011

 Q.Can the three blasts in Mumbai on July 13,2011, be attributed to an intelligence failure?

A.Yes. I have always held that every successful terrorist strike is due to either an  intelligence or a security failure or both.

Q.But the Home Minister Shri P.Chidambaram has said that despite there being no flow of intelligence, there was no intelligence failure. What did he mean by it?

“¦every successful terrorist strike is due to either an  intelligence or a security failure or both.

A.Many, including some foreign analysts, have been mystified by his remarks. Most of the queries that I received from abroad sought my explanation of his remarks. I replied that what he probably meant was that while there was no intelligence indicating the possibility of the blasts, he would not attribute the paucity of intelligence to any failure on the part of the agencies. They tried their best to collect intelligence, but this particular intelligence did not come their way. That is what he appears to have meant.

Q. Would you accept his explanation?

A. There was definitely a failure of intelligence. Whether this was due to any institutional failure on the part of the intelligence agencies or not could be established only by an enquiry into how the terrorists managed to carry out the successful strikes. Unfortunately, after each terrorist strike, our Government has avoided holding a detailed enquiry as to how the terrorists succeeded. The enquiry ordered by the Maharashtra State Govt after the 26/11 terrorist strikes only went into the deficiencies of the police. The deficiencies of the central agencies were not enquired into by the Government of India. The result: We have not learnt the right lessons. That is why most of our discourse on dealing with terrorism is on general terms and not in specific terms as a result of lessons drawn from each strike. In other countries, each strike involving large casualties or damage is followed by a detailed enquiry to draw the right lessons.

Unfortunately, after each terrorist strike, our Government has avoided holding a detailed enquiry as to how the terrorists succeeded

Q.Presuming there was an intelligence failure, where and how did it occur?

A. As of now there are four possibilities. Either the terrorist strike was carried out by a reactivated old cell of an existing indigenous organisation which had been lying dormant because of the stepped up security measures after 26/11 or it was carried out by a new cell of a new indigenous organisation or by one or more angry indigenous individuals with no organisational affiliation. If it was the first possibility, the surveillance of the old cells was apparently unsatisfactory. If it was the second or third, apparently their coming into being had escaped the attention of the agencies and the police. If these three possibilities involving indigenous elements are ruled out, there is a fourth possibility of the commission of the attack by external elements which had managed to sneak into India despite the stepped up immigration controls introduced after the 26/11 strikes.

Q.What could this be due to?

A. Poor penetration of terrorist organisations—old or new. Timely human intelligence comes through successful penetration. Good penetration comes through good contacts in the community from which the terrorist organisation or individual terrorists have arisen. There is always a reluctance on the part of the community to co-operate with the police against its members suspected of involvement in terrorism. The available means of overcoming this resistance have to be examined.

there is a fourth possibility of the commission of the attack by external elements “¦

Q. How about technical intelligence (TECHINT)?

A. There does not appear to have been any TECHINT in the form of electronic chatter through telephones or the Internet. This could be due to gaps in the TECHINT capability of the agencies or the successful adoption of evasive techniques by the terrorists or their not adopting any of the technical means for communication among themselves. What exactly was the reason for the non-flow of TECHINT could be established only if and when one or more of the perpetrators are arrested and interrogated.

Q.Any other point that needs to be considered?

A. There was possibly a certain complacency on the part of the intelligence agencies since there had been no major terrorist strike for some months. The terrorists probably noticed the slackening of vigilance and struck.

Q. Could there have been a security failure that was behind the successful terrorist strike?

A. One security dimension comes into the picture in respect of the procurement of the materials required for the improvisation of an explosive device. Three kinds of materials are required for an IED— the explosive itself, the detonator and the timer or a remote control device. The final results of the forensic examination are not yet available. The present indicators are that the terrorists had used ammonium nitrate possibly with a booster and made more lethal than normal by mixing it with projectiles and furnace oil, and a timer, possibly the alarm mechanism of a mobile telephone. The ammonium nitrate which is the ingredient of nitrogenous fertilisers is easily available for   procurement in India. After the use of the ammonium nitrate in large quantities in the attempt to blow up the New York World trade Centre in February,1993, by Ramzi Yousef and its subsequent use in other terrorist strikes many Western countries are reported to have issued instructions to all wholesale and retail dealers in fertilisers that they should alert the police if any suspicious-looking person, who is not a genuine farmer, seeks to procure nitrogenous fertilisers. A terrorist cell was disrupted in Canada when one of its members tried to procure a large quantity of fertilisers and the dealer, who became suspicious, alerted the police. In India, it is difficult to impose such curbs since terrorists can easily procure the ammonium nitrate from friends in the farmer community instead of from a dealer. The alarm mechanism of a mobile telephone can also be easily procured without attracting suspicion. Procurement of detonators can cause suspicion, but here too one can easily procure from friends in the community of industrial users of detonators such as granite quarry owners. Al Umma of Tamil Nadu reportedly stole detonators from quarry owners. It, therefore, becomes difficult to detect the preparations for an act of terrorism at the stage of procurement of the IED components unless the terrorists use military-grade explosives procured either locally or from other countries.

Three kinds of materials are required for an IED”” the explosive itself, the detonator and the timer or a remote control device.

Another security dimension arises in respect of the planting of the IEDs after they have been assembled clandestinely. The planting could be prevented in places where there is an access control. In public places, where there is no access control, it becomes very difficult to prevent the planting of an IED unless it is detected accidentally as it was in respect of the jihadi bomber who sought to plant an IED in the Times Square of New York last year. His IED, at the time of planting, reportedly started emitting smoke. An alert member of the public noticed it and he was caught and the IED neutralised. It was more luck than physical security which prevented this attempted strike.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

B Raman

Former, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai & Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat. He is the author of The Kaoboys of R&AW, A Terrorist State as a Frontline Ally,  INTELLIGENCE, PAST, PRESENT & FUTUREMumbai 26/11: A Day of Infamy and Terrorism: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

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