Guwahati, Friday, January 01, 2010
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Intelligence failure and galloping terror
— Talmizur Rahman
The arrest of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Coleman Headley by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States in connection with LeT’s future terror strikes in India and also Headley’s alleged involvement in the Mumbai attack tantanounts to a highly dreaded and elusive vista in the terror scenario. While FBI investigation reveals that multiple terror attacks by the LeT in several Indian cities could be round the corner, what may be alarming is the modus operandi of engaging unsuspecting foreign nationals as operatives apparently with a view to bamboozling the security net. It is anybody’s guess whether or not other terror outfits are also following suit.

The arrest of Headley and his accomplice Tahawwur Rana could only be the tip of the iceberg. One can never know if there are hundreds or even thousands of such terror operatives at work under various guises in different parts of the country. According to the FBI, Headley visited India as many as nine times on business visas between 2006 and 2009 and could possibly have formed sleeper cells in the Indian cities he had visited, while the conspiracies sowed to trigger terror could possibly be still on. Significantly, during his Mumbai visit in March 2008, Headley reportedly made a detailed study of the targets of the Mumbai terror attack. It is highly probable that he scripted the Mumbai attack blueprint, while FBI is of the view that he was directing the 26/11 attack from Pakistan.

Delving into the pages of history, one embarks upon agents and even double agents rubbing shoulders in the corridors of power both in London and Berlin even at the height of the World War II. And in all cases money was the motivating factor. So far as terror project are concerned, presumably they involve huge funds, may be in astronomical figures. Conflict analysts are often of the view that without active involvement of some locals, it may be exceedingly difficult to strike terror in the desired manner.

A common sense analysis also makes one feel the same way. It is perhaps this phase of a terror project involving enticement of locals that an operative might find difficult to get through. However, with huge money power to back up his project, the terror operative presumably overcomes all obstacles by ‘buying’ a few locals. Again, being one of the most corrupt nations in the world, it may not be wrong to presume that India could serve as a fertile ground for terror operative or any enemy of the country to ‘buy’ his way. With virtually all wings of the government reeling under galloping corruption, it may turn out to be a cake walk for a terror operative with a fat purse and a business or intellectual profile to manage his way into the circle of the so called elite and the high ups in and around the corridors of power, known more for rollicking in untold corrupt wealth. And what guarantee is there that a few key persons in high places do not ‘sell’ themselves off at an exorbitant price to such terror operatives?

While Headley fell into the FBI net, the question arises if our intelligence agencies have the adroitness to nab terror operatives as shrewed, intelligent and slippery as Headley. It may be worth noting that despite nine visits to India, our intelligence wings miserably failed to even suspect the sinister mission undertaken by the LeT operative. He also reportedly used two mobile numbers during his visits to India. While the Union Home Ministery has banned pre-paid mobile service in Jammu & Kashmir on security ground and ‘is actively considering to follow suit in the North East, it may do a world of good for the likes of Chidambaram to remember that with corruption ruling the roost, anything or any favour, no matter how illegal, can be “bought” for a price in India. Beyond a shadow of doubt, the rampant corruption that is causing India to reel is a mighty blessing to any enemy of the nation.

As of now it is highly pertinent to question our intelligence agencies if they have worked out any strategy to foil all plans and conspiracies hatched by such unsuspecting foreign citizens engaged as terror operatives, while being successful in nabbing them. While the likes of Headley could be on the prowl across the country working on their terror designs, the all important question that surfaces is — Are our sleuths intelligent and effective enough to bring such operatives to book? The problem appears to be perpendicularly uphill for our apparently ineffective intelligence network as every foreign tourist visiting this country cannot be rounded up or harassed or even suspected to be a terror operative lest the tourism industry suffers a ruinous blow.

That being the highly tricky scenario emerging with the unfolding of the Headley chapter, the authorities are bound to enforce a tough and yet a balanced and apparently gentle approach towards confronting the new challenge. To speak in the language of Napoleon Bonapart, the approach must be one involving “an iron hand in velvet gloves”. Do our intelligence agencies and the security forces have the desired culture not to disturb the flow of foreigners into this country, while foiling all moves by foreign terror operatives? The answer obviously is anybody’s guess.

Over the years, following almost every major terror strike in the country, the intelligence network has been found to have miserably failed to deliver. On rare occasions when the intelligence agencies succeeded in furnishing right inputs, the security forces prove themselves to be a pack of imbeciles. The picture is similar both in the case of the state and central intelligence and security forces. Has the government delved into the causes of such repeated failures? Have corrective measures been taken to make the network effective? Or will the network continue to be as superfluous and redundant as ever before? The fact that our intelligence wings were given the wake up call by FBI on the Headly issue speaks volumes on this front.

With the intelligence network failing almost as a rule and the security forces reducing themselves to laughing stocks, the people are being forced to be the sacrificial goat at the alter of the terror mongers. Already thousands of crores of rupees from the public exchequer have apparently gone down the drain under the internal security head. And what is the output? Terror, blasts, bloodbaths and death. Beyond a shadow of doubt the entire internal security system needs total overhauling. Till that is accomplished, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the people will continue to meet with gory deaths at the hands of terror masterminds.