New Delhi: As the investigation into the intelligence failures that preceded the Mumbai attacks proceeds, there is evidence that even quite specific information that was gathered was either not properly analysed or not acted upon.
The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external intelligence agency, had provided several intercepts from signals intelligence over the last three months. These suggested that a terror strike on a Mumbai hotel was imminent. But they were largely ignored.
RAW passed on the information contained in each intercept on the very day it was received to the centralized intelligence group set up by the national security adviser. Its officers say RAW’s job ended there—it does not have the authority to operate on Indian soil. National security adviser M.K. Narayanan did not respond to calls for comment.
On 18 September, RAW computers intercepted a satellite phone conversation between a known Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) asset and an unknown person. The LeT asset said that an operation to target a hotel at the Gateway of India in Mumbai was being planned and that the sea route would be used.
On 24 September, RAW’s computer recorded another satellite phone conversation. This time, the LeT asset identified the hotels that were being considered for the attack by name. They were the Taj, the Marriott, the Land’s End and the Sea Rock. A possible attack on the Juhu airfield (used by a flying club) was also discussed.
All these hotels have one thing in common: they are easily accessible from the sea. The Taj is on the Apollo Bunder waterfront, the Marriott is on Juhu sea face and the Land’s End and the Sea Rock are both on the sea-facing tip of Bandra. This should have been enough to let police know that:
* hotels were the target
* the attackers would use the sea route.
On 19 November, RAW listeners picked up another unexplained satellite phone conversation. A voice said, “We will reach Bombay between nine and eleven.” RAW trackers identified the exact coordinates of the call and discovered that it came from the sea near Mumbai, 40km west of Jhol. This was clear evidence —at the very least—of an attempt being made to enter Mumbai illegally by people armed with advanced satellite phones.
On 26 November, on the day of the attack, but several hours before it had begun, RAW trackers recorded a conversation between LeT’s Muzammil, who has been under surveillance for some time, and a Bangladesh number. Muzammil said that five SIM cards would be required for the operation.
RAW analysts are still making sense of the conversation. Was Muzammil referring to another operation? Why would he ask somebody in Bangladesh for SIM cards to be used in Mumbai on the day of the operation?
One theory is that LeT was unwilling to phone its Mumbai assets directly for fear that they would be traced. The Bangladesh number was either a relay station from which the call was forwarded to Mumbai or, perhaps, LeT communicated with its Mumbai cells through Bangladesh based cut-outs or intermediaries.
The revelations about the phone intercepts (which RAW has documented) are certain to lead to questions about the government’s inept response to the attack, especially as the intercepts make it clear that (a) Mumbai hotels were being targeted (b) that the sea route was being used, and (c) that the attacks were imminent.
The Mumbai police say they had no specific inputs from intelligence agencies. But these intercepts were clear, detailed and specific. So, are the police lying? Was this information not passed on? Or was it just incorrectly processed?
So far, there are no answers.