Inter-agency stand offs responsible for laxity in terror watch

The shocking 13/7 attack on Mumbai has again exposed the inter-agency turf wars and political stand offs which are creating hindrances in India’s tackling of terror incidents. The laxity in the government’s will to get its act together is evident from the fact that despite the horrific attacks of 26/11, The National Counter-Terrorism Centre is yet to come into being. Its crucial adjunct, the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid), has been set up, but the right-to-privacy campaigners have blocked its data collating functions. Moreover, the lack of unison in topnotch officials has only added to the grimness of the situation.

The National Technical Research Organization, whose functions include telephone surveillance, is yet to be notified as a “monitoring” agency despite clearance from the cabinet committee on security. Formed in 2004 as part of post-Kargil security reforms, the home ministry has still not been able to activate it due to opposition from the Intelligence Bureau Notification is needed to empower the agency to intercept internet and other electronic communication, for which it now has to seek case-by-case permission.

In another setback, P Chidambaram’s brainchild, The National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) has also got intertwined as it faces stiff challenge from activists of the far right. The sharing of databases involving banking, air travel and police organizations has been opposed by right to privacy activists who are said to have found an ally in the finance ministry.

The US set up the NCTC within three years of the 2001 attacks. But India’s NCTC proposal is yet to be tabled for approval of the CCS. Natgrid, which is to bring 21 databases into a seamless network for intelligence and investigation agencies, received approval for its first phase only a few weeks ago.

Also, due to lack of political will to push through reforms in the security establishment, almost three years after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, initiatives like the appointment of a maritime security adviser, on the lines of a national security adviser for maritime issues, have been abandoned. Security analysts said privacy issues should be sorted out and Natgrid made fully functional as it could help track suspicious movements like those of Pakistani-American extremist David Coleman Headley, whose crucial role in 26/11 came to light only in Chicago in October 2009. Now, banks are needed to hand over banking data by CDs to the financial intelligence unit in a procedure that results in a 15-day lag.

Even as there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel due to the achievement of inter-agency cooperation through the multi-agency centre (MAC), the mutual coldness among the higher officials of the government has only taken the plight to the next level. Given the current degree of stalemate, one can only hope that national security would be given more emphasis than the starwars in the bureaucratic corridors. (Saiyed Danish)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 August 2011 on page no. 11

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