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Maritime Counter Terrorism ( Part 02)

The National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), which presently acts as the nodal agency for the co-ordination of the intelligence collection process, would not be in a position to co-ordinate the implementation of the preventive security measures. Its capability in counter-terrorism matters is very limited.

It was a very comprehensive and lucid enunciation of the Indian Navy's core concerns while ensuring maritime security. He underlined the importance of the Malacca Strait also in our maritime security architecture, but put it in the proper perspective as only one important component of our maritime security policy. This is a welcome departure from past enunciations in governmental and non-governmental debates which made the Malacca Strait appear as if it was the end-all and be-all of our maritime security.

By unintended coincidence, the three-day visit of the Naval chief to the UAE from February 7, 2007, came at a time when Al Qaeda elements based in Saudi Arabia had renewed their call for attacks on energy supplies-----including production and transport facilities. In the 30th issue of its electronic magazine called "Sawt al-Jihad: [Voice of Jihad]", which was uploaded on February 8, 2007, Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia once again stressed the importance of the oil weapon in the global jihad against the US. An article titled “Bin Laden and the Oil Weapon”, written by Adeeb al-Bassam, called upon Al Qaeda members to continue to follow bin Laden’s directives and strike oil targets not only in Saudi Arabia, but elsewhere. The article said: "We should strike petroleum interests in all areas which supply the United States, and not only in the Middle East, because the target is to stop its imports or decrease it by all means. Targets should be oil fields, pipelines, loading platforms and carriers, which will ultimately choke the U.S. economy."

While the call of Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia to attack oil production and transport facilities was meant to hurt the US economy, its success will hurt our economy too as badly as it will hurt the economy of the US. For protecting our energy security and for strengthening our maritime counter-terrorism capability, it is important to give further momentum to the "Look West Dimension" initiated by Admiral Mehta and to bring within its regional networking Kuwait,Qatar,Oman and Saudi Arabia too. Apart from Navy-Navy interactions, it is equally important to strengthen the interactions at the non-governmental level between maritime security experts of India and those of these countries.

Addressing a press conference at New Delhi on July 31,2007, Rear Admiral Pradeep Chauhan of the Indian Navy gave details of a planned series of exercises in August-September,2007, in the waters to the West of India, which confirmed further that under the new Chief of the Naval Staff more attention is being paid to the Look West policy of the Navy. According to him, the INS Rajput (D51), INS Beas (F39), INS Betwa (F37), INS Delhi (D61), and INS Jyoti (A58) would undertake a visit to West Africa and the Persian Gulf for 48-days from August 8,2007. The flotilla would move in two groups. The first group consisting of INS Rajput (D51) and Betwa (F37) will proceed to the Northern Persian Gulf to hold exercises with Kuwait and Bahrain, then will rejoin the other ships for a larger exercise with Saudi Arabia later in August, followed by another PASSEX with Oman in late August. The flotilla will move to the Red Sea in the second week of September for the Varuna exercise with FS La Motte Picquet (D 645), a ship of the French Navy. An exercise with the Oman Navy and a patrol close to the Gulf of Aden were also being planned. Some of these exercises were to be held just off the choke points of the Straits of Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandeb through which most of the world’s oil supply passes. “These are places of geographical and strategic significance and we will get the opportunity to hone our skills with top-of-the-line consorts,” he said.

To underline that the increased attention to our Look West Maritime Security policy would not mean any dilution of attention to the Look East Dimension, the Navy would be organising an ambitious exercise involving the participation of 15 ships of the Navies of India, the US, Singapore, Japan and Australia in the Bay of Bengal in the first week of September,2007. In the past, the Indian Navy had been holding exercises in a bilateral framework with the navies of the US and Singapore and the Coast Guard of Japan. This would be the first time this bilateral framework has been sought to be extended to a limited multilateral one.

Addressing the 14th annual meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) at Manila on August 2,2007, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, India's Minister For External Affairs, underlined the continued importance attached by India to the Look East Dimension of its maritime security policy. He said: " India will design and conduct a training module on maritime security specially for the ARF member-states, with themes of anti-piracy, search and rescue missions,off-shore and port security, anti-smuggling and narcotics control and anti-poaching operations. The nucleus of the module would be capacity-building for these and related aspects of maritime security."

Thus, with the encouragement of the US, Japan and Australia, India has sought to further enhance its role in maritime security in the South-East and East Asian regions. It has taken a significant lead over China, whose capabilities continue to be confined to coastal presence as in Gwadar in Pakistan and the projected presence in Hambantota in Sri Lanka, the Arakan area of Myanmar and possibly Chittagong in Bangladesh. The enhanced role of the Indian Navy is welcomed in the region, much to the discomfiture of China.

The first reference to the possible dangers of an act of maritime terrorism involving the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) material was contained in a letter which Albert Einstein, the renowned scientist, wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt on August 2, 1939. In this letter, while advising President Roosevelt on the need for extreme caution in the development and use of uranium as an important source of power, Einstein said: "Uranium could also lead to the construction of bombs. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory."

This warning, which remained forgotten in the Presidential Archives of the US since then, has seen its resurrection since the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US. Since then, it has been haunting the international community as one of the possible catastrophic terrorist scenarios, which might confront it in the months and years to come. It is said that the expression catastrophic terrorism was given currency by a group of American terrorism analysts associated with the Harvard University in the wake of the unsuccessful attempt by a group of international jihadi terrorists to blow up the New York World Trade Centre in February, 1993.

This attempt drew the attention of the international community to the emergence of a revanchist group of terrorists, largely, if not entirely, drawn from Islam and owing their ideological inspiration to the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, the late Abdullah Azam, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, his No.2, and the late Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai of the Binori madrasa of Karachi, who were indifferent to the impact of their actions on public opinion. Any worries over the possibility of public revulsion as a result of their serial and mass killings of innocent civilians, including Muslims, were not a restraining factor on their actions. The need to avenge what they looked upon as the historic wrongs committed against the Muslims by the non-Muslim world was of paramount importance to them and the likely consequences of their actions, even if fatal, to large sections of their own community, did not deter them from giving vent to their revanchist impulses.

Till 1995, terrorism threat analysts viewed catastrophic terrorism scenarios as largely likely to arise only on the land. The likely dangers of similar scenarios in the air started receiving attention, but inadequately, only after the accidental discovery by the Filipino authorities in 1995 of a plot by Ramzi Yousef, a Pakistani now in jail in the US for his role in the February, 1993, explosion in the New York World Trade Centre, and some of his associates to launch well-orchestrated serial attacks on civil aviation in a number of countries.

The 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US saw the post-1995 fears of catastrophic acts of terrorism mounted from the air turning into traumatic reality. The much-noticed testimony of Mr.Richard Clarke, who was the counter-terrorism co-ordinator in the US National Security Council Secretariat, before a Congressional Committee enquiring into the 9/11 incident in 2004 and his book brought to light how the repeated wake-up calls of security and counter-terrorism experts regarding the likelihood of a catastrophic act of terrorism mounted from the air failed to make an impact on the minds of Ms.Condoleezza Rice, the then US National Security Adviser (NSA), and other governmental strategic analysts, whose minds were attuned to thinking and analysing conventionally. Those, who warned of the likelihood of unconventional scenarios, were greeted with skepticism. This skepticism extracted a heavy price on 9/11.

One of the important lessons of 9/11 was the need to anticipate and prepare oneself to prevent other similar unconventional scenarios of a catastrophic potential and, if prevention fails, to have in place a capability for coping with the resulting situation. Amongst such likely scenarios of catastrophic potential increasingly receiving attention since 9/11 are those relating to maritime terrorism, terrorist threats to energy security, terrorism involving the use of WMD material and terrorist threats to critical information infrastructure. Strategic counter-terrorism refers to the drill and the capabilities to be put in place in order to be able to prevent such scenarios and to cope with them if they do materialise despite the preventive measures.

Strategic threat analysis has undergone a significant change since 9/11. Before 9/11, analysis and assessment of threat perceptions were based on actual intelligence or information available with the intelligence and security agencies. 9/11 has brought home to policy-makers the difficulties faced by intelligence agencies, however well-endowed they may be, in penetrating terrorist organisations to find out details of their thinking and planning. This realisation has underlined the importance of analysts serving policy-makers constantly identifying national security vulnerabilities, which might attract the attention of terrorists, and suggesting options and actions to deny opportunities for terrorist strikes to the terrorists. Vulnerability analysis has become as important as threat analysis. When Einstein cautioned President Roosevelt of the dangers of an uranium-made bomb being smuggled into a port and exploded, he did not sound the wake-up call on the basis of any specific intelligence. He was doing so on the basis of his understanding of the vulnerabilities.

National security managers should not confine themselves to an analysis and assessment of strategic developments of a conventional nature arising from State actors, but should pay equal attention to the strategic impact of non-State actors, such as international or trans-national terrorists, crime mafia groups and nuclear proliferators on global security in general and our own national security in particular. The development of the contours of a Strategic Maritime Counter-Terrorism Mechanism should be an important part of the exercise undertaken by them to protect national security.

Strategic Maritime Counter-Terrorism would require an intelligence collection, analysis and assessment capability of a nature different from what we have presently---whether in respect of human (HUMINT) or technical intelligence (TECHINT). Our civilian intelligence capabilities continue to be largely land-based and land-related, with some capability, though inadequate, relating to the air. Sea-based and sea-related capabilities are not yet adequate even to meet the needs of conventional threats from State actors. The needs to meet unconventional threats from non-State actors have to be identified and analysed and appropriate follow-up action to create the required capabilities should be taken.

Police and civilian intelligence officers do not adequately understand the sea. The responsibility for the collection, analysis and assessment of Strategic Maritime Counter-Terrorism Intelligence cannot be left to their efforts alone. At the same time, there cannot be an effective Strategic Maritime Counter-Terrorism Intelligence Mechanism without the active involvement of Police and civilian intelligence officers. Terrorist threats of a strategic nature----whether land or air or sea related----would always arise from the land. The planning and the initial preparations would be on land. Land-based terrorist strikes of a tactical nature generally involve the use of hand-held weapons or explosives or a mix of the two. Terrorist threats of a strategic nature would generally involve the use of explosive material--- conventional or non-conventional, WMD related or both. Initial collection of intelligence about the planning, preparations and procurement of explosive material has to be from the land. For this, a strong police and civilian intelligence collection capability is essential.

Once the planning and the operations of the terrorists shift from the land to the sea, the Coast Guard and the Navy have to play a more important role in the intelligence collection than the Police and the civilian agencies. The collection of timely TECHINT would call for sea-based monitoring capabilities. The present monitoring capabilities of the civilian agencies are largely, if not totally, land-based. They do have some air-based capabilities, but within a restricted radius. They do not have adequate capabilities for intelligence collection over the high seas.

Strategic maritime counter-terrorism would, therefore, call for a dedicated intelligence collection, analysis and assessment capability bringing together under one roof police, civilian,Army, naval, Coast Guard and Air Force experts, with the Navy or the Coast Guard exercising the leadership role in its functioning. The Special Task Force for the Revamping of the Intelligence Apparatus set up by the Government of India in 2000 did go into the question of improving the capability of our intelligence collection agencies in matters relating to terrorism, but it recommendations had only limited relevance to Strategic Maritime Counter-Terrorism. It is time to pay attention to this aspect.

The post-9/11 period has seen the formulation and implementation by the international community of many physical security measures relating to maritime and WMD terrorism. Amongst such measures, one could mention the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code), the Container Security Initiative (CSI), the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) etc. A number of bilateral, regional and trans-regional networking arrangements for co-operation against different kinds of terrorism has also come into existence. There is a need for a single nodal agency to constantly monitor the implementation of these preventive security measures, to identify deficiencies in their implementation and take action to remove them.

The National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), which presently acts as the nodal agency for the co-ordination of the intelligence collection process, would not be in a position to co-ordinate the implementation of the preventive security measures. Its capability in counter-terrorism matters is very limited. There is, therefore, a need for a separate nodal agency for the co-ordination of all preventive security measures having a bearing on Strategic Counter-Terrorism, whether land, air or sea based..

The National Security Guard (NSG) was created by the Government of India in the 1980s to perform the role of a special intervention force to terminate terrorist situations such as hostage-taking on the ground, occupation of premises, hijacking of aircraft etc. One does not know whether in the wake of 9/11 the Government of India has already taken measures for a similar force to terminate terrorist situations on the coast, in ports, in sensitive coastal installations and on the high seas. There is a distinction between preventing and terminating a terrorist situation. The task of termination arises when the preventive measures fail and the terrorists have taken control of an installation or a ship or an oil or LPG tanker and threaten to blow it up.

The ability to terminate such situations without catastrophic consequences requires specially trained personnel with special equipment, which would facilitate rapid and stealthy movement, the ability to co-ordinate the termination operation from the land or the sea, depending on the circumstances of the case etc. If such a force has not already been raised, its raising should have a high priority. Our Coast Guard has a good record of preventing and terminating piracy strikes, but terminating terrorist operations with catastrophic potential requires a different capability, which cannot be acquired through improvisation, when a situation actually arises.

The post-9/11 international co-operation against terrorism has led to the mushrooming of Joint Counter-Terrorism Working Groups involving India and other countries. One does not even know whether the maritime counter-terrorism experts of the Navy and the Coast Guard are represented in such working groups. In the media reports on the meetings of such working groups, one hardly finds any reference to maritime counter-terrorism.

In land-based terrorism, the Police is the weapon of first resort and the army the weapon of the last resort except in border areas, where one faces the problem of cross-border infiltration of terrorists. In maritime counter-terrorism in the high seas, the Navy, including the Coast Guard, has to be the weapon of first resort, aided by others such as the Army,the Air Force, the coastal Police and the civilian intelligence agencies.

There is an urgent need for a comprehensive approach to maritime counter-terrorism covering the various dimesions of it such as intelligence collection, analysis, assessment and dissemination; the need to strengthen the capability for the collection of technical intelligence (TECHINT) relating to maritime terrorism through monitoring stations on the coast and the islands as well as sea-based monitoring platforms; port security; strengthening coastal patrolling in the vicinity of sensitive establishments such as nuclear installations, oil refineries and off-shore oil platforms; intensive naval patrolling in the high seas; monitoring developments in coastal maritime communities; a rapid action capability to deal with a maritime situation if preventive measures fail; a crisis management capability; and regional and international co-operation.

It is high time the Government of India set up a dedicated Task Force to go into the entire gamut of maritime counter-terrorism and make suitable recommendations for a comprehensive martitime counter-terrorism strategy.


(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies.E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com)

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