What we learnt from Mumbai: US agencies to Senate

Key US security officials have revealed how their agencies are drawing important lessons from 26/11 to strengthen their own anti-terror mechanism.

Written by Amitabh Sinha | New Delhi | Published:January 20, 2009 10:53 am

The Indian response to the Mumbai terror attack was hamstrung by lack of coordination between “different levels of the government” and the local police’s inadequate training and lack of “powerful” weapons. Making these observations in their testimonies to a Senate committee,key US security officials have revealed how their agencies are drawing important “lessons from the Mumbai terror attack” to strengthen their own anti-terror mechanism.

The lessons range from how the attackers knew about the “vulnerabilities” of security forces to the need for police training in “heavy weapons,” a programme that has been incorporated into the NYPD after the Mumbai attack.

The testimonies were presented by senior officials of the FBI and the New York Police Department before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. And detail the steps taken in the aftermath of the Mumbai attack.

“Part of the reason the members of the Lashkar-e-Toiba were able to inflict severe casualties was that,for the most part,the local police did not engage them. Their weapons were not sufficiently powerful and they were not trained for that type of conflict. It took more than 12 hours for the Indian commandos to arrive,” said Police Commissioner Raymond W Kelly of NYPD in his statement on January 8. He also said that the “attackers appeared to know their targets better than the responding commandos”.

The testimonies reveal important information about the US response. An FBI team had landed in Mumbai on November 29 itself,followed by a team of three senior officials of NYPD on December 3,as first reported by The Indian Express. The seniormost of the NYPD officers was the one who had been flown into Mumbai from Amman in 2006 on a similar mission following the serial train bombings. “The relationships he forged during that trip proved helpful in November,” said Kelly.

Even while the operation in Mumbai was on,the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) started issuing alerts to state and local offices with the latest updates. On December 3,an intelligence bulletin was issued to building owners and operators to alert them to preliminary findings regarding the techniques and tactics used by terrorists in Mumbai attacks.

“The bulletin indicated that the FBI and DHS had no credible or specific information that terrorists were planning similar operations against similar buildings in the United States,but urged local authorities and building owners and operators to be aware of potential attack tactics,” said Donald Van Duyn,Chief Intelligence Officer of FBI,during his testimony.

He added: “In Mumbai,the Indian government gave FBI unprecedented access to evidence and intelligence related to the attacks from the Mumbai Police and the Indian Intelligence Bureau. The FBI was provided access to most of the attack locations and technical evidence recovered from the scenes. The FBI was able to use advanced forensic and technical exploitation techniques to develop critical leads for both the Indian and US investigations. The FBI also conducted more than 60 interviews of individuals in Mumbai,including witnesses with first-hand accounts of the attacks and security personnel who were involved in responding to the attacks.”

On December 5,NYPD arranged a meeting of 3000 private security operators in New York and linked them through teleconference with its team in Mumbai.

“We posted photographs and maps to help them visualize locations. We also reviewed a list of best practices in hotel security,” Kelly said.

Kelly said NYPD had also initiated extensive checks at several major hotels immediately after the attack.

The inadequacy of the Indian response was also brought out by Charles Allen,Under Secretary for Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analyses.

“In Mumbai it was not immediately clear to authorities whether there were multiple attack groups or a single group. The attackers were able to exploit the initial confusion because of the indiscriminate firings to move on to new targets. While preparedness training for this type of attack may not have prevented it,the effects likely could have been mitigated and reduced if the authorities had been prepared and had exercised responses to terrorist attacks across all levels of government,” he said.

The three officials told the committee about the lessons that US agencies were drawing from the Mumbai attack. The salient ones:

Disrupted plots may resurface: In February 2008,Mumbai police had arrested a LeT operative who revealed that important landmarks were terror targets. But security was lowered to routine levels after some time

Security must be unpredictable for the adversary,but predictably responsive to those it is meant to protect; the attackers were able to ascertain “the routines and vulnerabilities of security forces at the primary targets during pre-operational phase.”

Unified command system is of paramount importance if governments are to respond to terrorist attacks quickly and effectively

Attack sites must be protected to collect intelligence and evidence to identify the perpetrators.

Relatively localised terrorist groups can have capabilities to strike in foreign lands

Small number of trained and determined attackers with relatively unsophisticated weapons can do a great deal of damage.

Shift in tactics from suicide bombs to a commando-style military assault

Sophisticated level of training,coordination and stamina of terrorists who clearly have extensive practice of their operations. Experienced in working together as a unit as exemplified in the use of hand signals to communicate across loud and crowded places.

Police need to train in heavy weapons. On December 15,16,17,NYPD gave its police recruits basic instruction in three types of heavy weapons. This training will now be made a routine part of police academy course.

When lives are at stake,law enforcement needs to find ways to disrupt cell phones and other communications in a pinpointed way against terrorists who are using them.

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