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Maritime Counter-Terrorism—Indian Navy's Lead Over China

The attack, stated to be by Al Qaeda, on the US naval ship USS Cole at Aden in October, 2000, and the subsequent investigation into that incident gave birth to concerns that international terrorists might expand their acts of terrorism from the land to the sea. Terrorist groups of West Asia and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had indulged in acts of maritime terrorism even before October,2000, and the LTTE, through its fleet of ships, ostensibly used for legitimate commercial purposes, had been using the sea for the clandestine transport of arms and ammunition and other material required for its acts of terrorism on the land. However, such uses had limited tactical objectives and did not think in terms of mass casualties or mass damage to be inflicted on the global economy as a whole.

2. The 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US and the precision and the evil ingenuity with which they were planned and executed created a wave of alarm about the likelihood of similar strikes at coastal and maritime targets.Since 9/11, there is hardly any discussion, governmental or non-governmental, on threats to national security and to international peace and security in which possible threats from maritime terrorism do not figure prominently.Post-9/11, scenario-building exercises have invariably included scenarios involving possible catastrophic acts of maritime terrorism. Four of these possible scenarios are or should be of major concern to national security managers:

  1. First, terrorists hijacking a huge oil or gas tanker and exploding it in mid-sea or in a major port in order to cause huge human, material and environmental damage. There were 67 reported attacks on oil and gas tankers by pirates during 2004. This despite the stepped-up patrolling by the Navies of different countries. What pirates with no ideological motive and with no suicidal fervour can do, ideologically-driven suicide terrorists can do with equal, if not greater, ease.

  2. Second, terrorists hijacking an oil or gas tanker or a bulk-carrier and exploding it or scuttling it in maritime choke-points such as the Malacca Strait in order to cause a major disruption of energy supplies and global trade. There were 52 reported attacks on bulk carriers by pirates during 2004. If the pirates can do it despite naval patrolling, so can the terrorists.

  3. Three, terrorists smuggling weapon of mass destruction material such as radiological waste or lethal chemicals or even biological weapons in a container and having it exploded through a cellular phone as soon as the vessel carrying the container reaches a major port.

  4. Four, sea-borne terrorists attacking a nuclear establishment or an oil refinery or off-shore oil platforms.

3. American maritime counter-terrorism experts have been projecting the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean region as highly vulnerable, if not the most vulnerable,to such catastrophic acts of maritime terrorism. Amongst factors influencing their perceptions are:

  1. First, the presence in this region of terrorist or insurgent organisations with proved or suspected capabilities for maritime operations. Amongst the organisations coming to mind are the LTTE of Sri Lanka, with proved capabilities for maritime operations, conventional as well as unconventional; and the Abu Sayyaf of Southern Philippines, with its proclaimed readiness to extend its operations from the land to the sea.

  2. Second, the wide networking of Al Qaeda across this region—either through its own members or through surrogate jihadi terrorist organisations, which are members or associates of the International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed by it in 1998. The existence of this networking had been suspected since the discovery of a Manila-based plot under Ramzi Yousef in 1995 for spectacular acts of terrorism directed at civil aviation. Corroboratory details emerged after 9/11—particularly during the investigation of the Bali explosion in October,2002.

  3. Third,the long-known reputation of this area as the world’s leading producer and supplier of heroin from the Golden Triangle and the Golden Crescent and its recent emergence as a producer and supplier of synthetic drugs. Drug money, which was first allegedly used by the US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for funding their operations against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, has since become an important source of revenue for insurgent and terrorist organisations in the Latin American and Asian regions. Amongst organisations of the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean region, which are known or suspected to be using drug money to finance their operations are the Hamas, the Hizbollah, Al Qaeda, the various Pakistani jihadi organisations, the LTTE, the United Wa State Army of Myanmar and the jihadi terrorist organisations of the Southern Philippines.

  4. Four, the continuing availability in this region—in Pakistan as well as in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia— of large quantities of arms and ammunition to anyone with the means to pay for them and with the capability for their clandestine transport to areas of intended use.

  5. Five, the presence in this region of terrorist organisations such as the LTTE with a commercial shipping capability, which can be diverted for the clandestine transport of narcotics and arms and ammunition.

  6. Six, the presence in this region of trans-national mafia groups such as the one headed by Karachi-based Dawood Ibrahim with vast financial resources, a capability for clandestine shipping and a willingness to place their resources and shipping at the disposal of Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorist organisations operating across the region.

  7. Seven, the long-known(to India), but only recently admitted role of Pakistan as the region’s leading supermarket for nuclear weapon-capable material and equipment and the nexus of some of its scientists, enjoying the protection of its Army, with Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorist organisations. Recent investigations into the proliferation activities of A.Q.Khan & Co have brought out how they had outsourced proliferation responsibilities to others in countries such as Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, thus possibly sowing the seeds for nuclear or radiological terrorism. The detailed post-9/11 investigations have brought out as to how there was a Pakistani involvement in all major acts of international jihadi terrorism since the New York World Trade Centre explosion of February,1993. Recent investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of Vienna have brought out an ubiquitous Pakistani hand in all clandestine proliferation commerce across the Asian and the African regions.

  8. Eight, the presence in this region of tempting choke-points such as the oft-mentioned Malacca Strait through which pass a half of the world’s oil and a third of its trade. The annual shipping traffic across the region rose from 44,000 in 1999 to over 62,000 in 2003. It is since believed to have risen further. There is a large volume of container traffic originating in this rapidly developing region. It has been estimated that 48 per cent of the global container traffic passes through this region.

  9. Nine, the reputation of this area as one of the most piracy-prone in the world. There has been an increase in the tactical sophistication of pirates. The International Maritime Bureau has been quoted by the media as saying that pirates now break into freight companies’ computer systems, change order forms, arrange for changes in shipping, and then intercept the shipment. This is especially a problem in the South China Sea and around Indonesia. There is still no conclusive evidence of the nexus of any group of pirates with terrorist organisations, but fears that the pirates of today may turn into accomplices or mentors of terrorists of tomorrow strongly influence threat perceptions.

  10. Ten, the presence of a large number of uninhabited islands in the region, which serve as sanctuaries and operational bases for the pirates and could similarly serve for the terrorists tomorrow.

4. While there are thus growing concerns over the likelihood of catastrophic acts of maritime terrorism, it needs to be underlined that there is no unanimity among counter-terrorism analysts about the magnitude of the threat. Skeptics feel that while the possibility of catastrophic acts of maritime terrorism has to be taken seriously, one has to keep in mind that there has been a certain over-projection and over-dramatisation of the threat by embedded analysts of the US in order to serve its own strategic objectives in the region. There is similar skepticism in certain circles regarding the correctness of the statistics relating to piracy attacks. It is alleged that often trivial incidents and instances of misappropriation or theft of goods by the crew of ships are reported as due to piracy attacks.

5. Despite such misgivings among sections of the policy-makers, senior intelligence officials of the countries of the South-East Asian region take seriously the possibility of a major act of maritime terrorism in the region. According to them, terrorist organisations active in the region had contemplated such acts in the past, though they might not have carried them out. In August,2004, the “Jakarta Post” quoted Hendropriyono, of Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency, as saying :”Senior Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists now in detention have admitted that attacks on Malacca shipping traffic had been contemplated in the recent past.”

6. The growing concern over the likelihood of a catastrophic act of maritime terrorism has led to measures for increasing physical security. Amongst such measures, one could cite the co-ordinated patrolling by the navies of the region, the strict enforcement of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code adopted in December,2002, which went into effect globally in July, 2004,and attempts towards a similar strict enforcement of the Container Security Initiative.

7. The concern is also reflected in the frequent joint exercises by the Navies of the region with maritime counter-terrorism as an important objective of the exercises and the large number of conferences and seminars held on the subject in the countries of the region during the last two years. The role of non-governmental experts in creating a better awareness of the threat and in proposing measures for meeting it has also been increasingly recognised.

8. At the same time, the still lingering misgivings that the threat is being magnified by the US to serve its strategic objectives in the region have come in the way of regional countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia agreeing to a greater participation by the US in the regional initiatives such as joint or co-ordinated patrolling of the Malacca Strait. Their contention is that any such US participation or assistance should be at their instance when they feel the need for it and not at the instance of the US. These have also created doubts about the real purpose of other US ideas such as the Regional Maritime Security Initiative (RMSI).

9. Amongst the countries of the region,the policy-making circles of India, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and Australia have shown the greatest awareness of the threat of catastrophic maritime terrorism and of the need to develop the required maritime counter-terrorism capabilities, individually as well as through mutual assistance. The policy-making circles of Indonesia too have shown a considerable awareness of the threat, but their capability to translate this awareness into the required action is still weak. In the case of maritime terrorism too, as in the case of land-based terrorism, Bangladesh continues to be in a denial mode– showing neither an awareness nor a willingness to co-operate with others.

10. Maritime counter-terrorism has received considerable attention in India, but till recently the focus was naturally and mostly on maritime counter-terrorism and security in the waters off Sri Lanka and in the Malacca Strait. There was till last year inadequate attention to terrorist threats of a strategic nature from the seas to the West of India— whether from the Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Strait of Hormuz or the Mediterranean.

11. Over 80 per cent of the terrorist organisations with a capability for maritime terrorism operate in the areas and seas to the West of India. Over 90 per cent of successful maritime terrorism strikes have taken place in the areas and seas to the West of India. Israel has been the largest single victim of maritime terrorism in the Mediterranean, with nearly 60 strikes by organisations such as the Hamas, the Hizbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) etc. The only two successful strikes and one unsuccessful attempt by Al Qaeda were off Aden. Almost our entire energy supplies come from this area. The security of the Malacca Strait has limited relevance for our energy security, whereas our entire energy security depends on maritime security in the areas to the West of India.

12. There have been many instances of maritime terrorism in the waters to the West of India since 1985 carried out by the Palestinians, the LTTE and the Chechens. The acts of maritime terrorism carried out by the Palestinians and the Chechens were confined to acts such as hijacking of ferries and holding the passengers in custody in order to achieve demands of a tactical nature, attacks from the sea on coastal military targets etc. The LTTE developed a dreaded Sea Tigers wing, which specialised in suicide tactics such as ramming explosives-laden boats against chosen targets on the coast, in ports or on the sea. The Al Qaeda attacks on the US Naval ship, USS Cole, in October,2000, and on the French oil tanker Limberg in October,2002—both off Aden— were in emulation of the tactics developed by the LTTE and involved ramming a boat laden with explosives.

13. Among other illustrative incidents of maritime terrorism in the waters to the West of India before 9/11, one could mention the following:

  1. The hijacking of the Italian-flagged cruise ship P/V Achille Lauro in 1985 off Port Said, Egypt, by terrorists of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), who held the ship with 180 passengers and 331 crew members on board, hostage, demanding the release of 50 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. They killed an invalid Jewish American passenger, before negotiating the release of the rest of the hostages.

  2. In 1994, the LTTE shipped 50 metric tons of TNT and ten metric tons of RDX explosives on board one of their own freighters, operated by a front company called Carlton Trading, from a Ukrainian Black Sea port via the Turkish Straits to Sri Lanka. It also hijacked in 1997 a freighter called “Stillus Limassul”, loaded with more than 30,000 81mm mortar rounds, worth over three million dollars. The owning and operation by the LTTE and by the PKK, the Kurdish organisation, of ocean-going ships, which were normally used for legitimate commercial activities and, when needed, also for facilitating acts of terrorism like hijacking, arms transport and seizure.

  3. In January 1996, nine pro-Chechen gunmen (six Turks of Abhkaz origin, two Chechens, and an ethnic Abkhaz from Georgia) hijacked a Turkish ferry in the Black Sea and kept 255 passengers and crew hostage for three days. They threatened to blow up the vessel and their hostages, but released the ferry and the passengers after negotiations with the Turkish authorities. The Turkish authorities had alleged that in order to draw attention to the Chechen cause, the hijackers had earlier considered blowing up one of the two suspension bridges over the Bosphorus with explosives in order to block the Strait to traffic.

14. However, none of these incidents, though serious by themselves, could be described as mass casualty or mass destruction or mass damage terrorism. The intelligence and security agencies were alerted to the dangers of acts of catastrophic maritime terrorism by the arrest of the organizer of the Limburg attack, a Saudi national of Yemeni origin called Abd al Rahman al Nashiri, who was also suspected to have been involved in the attack on the USS Cole. His interrogation brought in information about Al Qaeda’s preparations to attack ships in the Mediterranean and elsewhere using tactics such as ramming, blowing up medium-sized ships near other vessels or at ports, attacking large vessels such as supertankers from the air by using explosive-laden small aircraft, and attacking vessels with underwater demolition teams using limpet mines or with suicide bombers. During his interrogation, Nashiri also reportedly revealed that if warships became too difficult to approach, tourist ships could be targeted. Amongst the documents reportedly captured from him was one giving details of Western Cruise ships, which could be attacked if a suitable opportunity presented itself. His interrogation brought out that Al Qaeda had also planned an operation to bomb American and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar, off the northern coast of Morocco.

15. One would have, therefore, expected that the concentration of our maritime counter-terrorism efforts would have been on building a database of capabilities, threats and risks from the areas and seas to the West of India, adopting a vigorous proactive policy of co-operation with the navies of this region and developing preventive and termination capabilities, which would have relevance in the areas to the West of India. Unfortunately, this was not so.

16. The Americans did not want our Navy playing any proactive role in maritime security in the waters to the West of India lest it cause any undue concern in the minds of Pakistan. They, therefore, tried to keep our Navy confined to the East and the Malacca Strait. Till last year,we seemed to be happy to go along with this role.

17. Presently, the deployment of a large number of naval ships belonging to the US-led coalition has thwarted any other serious incident of maritime terrorism after the suspected Al Qaeda attack on Limburg in October, 2002 and the attacks on oil terminals in Iraq post-April, 2003. We should not leave the protection of our shipping and our energy supplies totally in the hands of the US-led coalition. We should develop our own capabilities and networking with the countries of the region.

18. Against this background, one is gratified to note the correctives to India’s maritime security policy, which have been sought to be given by Admiral Suresh Mehta, India’s new Chief of the Naval Staff (CONS), so soon after taking over by giving it a “Look West Dimension” to complement the “Look East Dimension”, which has dominated our thinking and policies so far. The “Look East Dimension” continues to be important for our power projection, but our capability for self-defence against conventional and unconventional threats will be weakened without the “Look West Dimension” brought in by our new Naval Chief. He needs to be complimented for thinking and acting fast.

19. As the starting block for putting in motion his “Look West Dimension”, he chose the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One need not have any qualms over his decision. The UAE is as important from the point of view of our maritime security as Kuwait is. It is very significant that his first overseas visit since taking over as the chief was to the UAE. It is not as if our Navy did not have any interactions with the UAE and other friendly nations to the West of us before Admiral Mehta took over.The Indian and the UAE Navies held joint exercises in November 1995 during the visit of three Indian naval ships. Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier INS-Virat and two other ships visited the UAE in March 1999. In 2004, Rear Admiral Pratap Singh Byce, Flag Officer Commanding, Western Command, visited the UAE, leading four ships. But such interactions were few and far between as compared to the interactions of our Navy with its counterparts in the East. And, no chief had visited the UAE before.

20. In his interactions with the media at Abu Dhabi on February 8, 2007, Admiral Mehta stated as follows as reported by “The Hindu” of February 9, 2007: He chose the UAE as his first overseas destination because “we look at the UAE as a neighbouring country with whom we wish to engage.” The UAE personnel would now be able to avail themselves of some of the training course in India.” Naval exercises would also begin in due course.” The Navy has a key role to play in ensuring the free flow of oil and gas from abroad. Protection of the country’s growing off-shore assets is also a top priority. There are three choke points that are of specific concern. These are the Bab Al Mandab, that links the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, the area south of the Cape of Good Hope (Africa) and the Strait of Hormuz (Gulf). Countries round the world need to work together to make sure that the Strait of Hormuz is not blocked. Nearly 90 per cent of the oil exports from the Gulf pass through it. The primary area of India’s maritime interest range from the Gulf to the Antarctica. It also covers the zone extending from the Cape of Good Hope and the east coast of Africa to the Straits of Malacca and the archipelagos of Malaysia and Indonesia. There are 30 process platforms and over 125 well platforms whose security is vital. Besides, the Navy has to look after more than 3000 KMs of pipeline on the seabed that carry oil and gas from the process platforms to terminals onshore.

21. 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.

22. 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.”

23. 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.

24. 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.

25. 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.

26. 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.”

27. 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.

28. 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.”

29. 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.

30. 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.

31. 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.

32. 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.

33. 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.

34. 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.

35. 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.

36. 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.

37. 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.

38. 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.

39. 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.

40. 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.

41. 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..

42. 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.

43. 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.

44. 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.

45. 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.

46. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive approach to maritime counter-terrorism covering the various dimensions 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.

47. 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 maritime counter-terrorism strategy.

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, 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:

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