Why did state government take so long to react?

By Murali Krishnan, IANS,

New Delhi : Two precious hours were lost as marine commandos waited that Wednesday night for authorisation to act from the Maharashtra Chief Secretary Johny Joseph. By the time the commandos got the green signal to leave their base for Mumbai, the terrorists had already ensconced themselves in several key locations.

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As the establishment begins to examine what went wrong despite the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external intelligence agency, claiming they had given information specifying the places and the time bracket the terrorists were expected to attack, the state government’s role has come under the spotlight.

Highly-placed sources told IANS that at least on four occasions and even on Nov 26, the day that 10 militants laid siege on high-profile targets, including the Oberoi Trident and the Taj hotels, RAW had tipped off authorities of the impending attack by sea and even given information of the time.

RAW’s mandate is to disseminate alerts to the Intelligence Bureau (IB) that oversees domestic activities. It is now reliably learnt that the IB did pass on the “actionable intelligence” alerts to the Maharashtra government.

Why it did not act remains a mystery, says an official.

In a double whammy, it also procrastinated when the militants struck at 9.30 p.m. on Nov 26.

And so it was that the marine commandos – known by their acronym Marcos – left their naval base to leave for Mumbai an hour away only late on Wednesday night — more than two hours after the militants had struck.

“Last week’s terror attacks in Mumbai have once again exposed the sheer lack of critical connectivity needed between intelligence agencies and security agencies. We really have to do some serious soul searching,” said a senior home ministry official.

Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was not informed about the intelligence inputs. Officials say briefings from the IB director and the RAW chief to the prime minister are not so regular any more.

Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta has also made it clear his force had received “no actionable intelligence” that could have helped pre-empt the Mumbai terror carnage, even as he candidly admitted the entire episode was reflective of “a systemic failure” which needs to be urgently addressed.

“We really do not know what the state authorities conveyed or did not convey to the navy for action,” said intelligence sources.

According to another intelligence official, a failure of this magnitude occurred from primarily three factors.

“There was no intelligence information, there was intelligence but it was not properly relayed or the information was relayed but there was failure of optimum response,” he said.

In the light of the intelligence goof-up, new Home Minister P. Chidambaram has been stressing on accountability, which needs to be fixed, and on an effective feedback system every time threat perceptions are relayed to relevant quarters.

Chidambaram has been regularly meeting top officials of the ministry, including National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta, IB Director P.C. Halder and RAW chief Ashok Chaturvedi.

“He has been patiently listening out to the top functionaries in the ministry but is in a hurry to see systems are in place so that the security establishment is accountable to the people who want to live safe,” said a senior ministry official.

In the coming days and weeks, the home ministry is expected to quickly deal with some long-pending decisions aimed at enabling the government to effectively fight terrorism.

These measures would include the need to have a stringent anti-terror law and a federal investigating agency, massive modernisation of the police forces and the intelligence set-up and safeguarding coastal security.