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Updated: March 12, 2013 00:30 IST

Why the U.S. has not had an attack after 9/11

Vappala Balachandran
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Given the turf wars and lack of coordination among the police and intelligence agencies in India, the National Counter Terrorism Centre will not enhance security

The debates on the proposed Rs.3,400 crore National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) have seen extreme views from both sides. Its protagonists claim that it is a “Batman” who will swoop down on terrorists anywhere. Those opposing it feel it is a “Joker Villain” who will trample upon State autonomy.

Doubts about the Home Ministry’s scheme surfaced when a senior official, who was in office during Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s 2009 visit to the United States to study its NCTC system, wrongly told a national daily in February 2012 that the American NCTC worked under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As a matter of fact, USNCTC, which is under the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in the White House, is one of three new instruments that has kept the American mainland comparatively safe from terrorism since 9/11. By itself, the NCTC could not have achieved that. Although the CIA has had a Counter Terrorism Centre (CTC) since 1986, it was felt by the 9/11 National Commission that more coordinated intelligence efforts were needed.

Gilmore Commission

The idea of a national office under the President for combating terrorism was mooted earlier by a U.S. Congressional advisory panel known as the “Gilmore Commission,” which commenced its work from 1999. Until 9/11, broad security intelligence integration in the U.S. was done by the National Security Council’s three-tier “Inter-Agency Groups”. The 9/11 Commission suggested the creation of a Director, National Intelligence (DNI), and under him a multi-agency NCTC. The “Intelligence Reform & Terrorism Prevention Act” of 2004 (PL 108-458) codified this scheme. The DNI’s charter was coordinating with the 16-member national intelligence community, establishing priorities, resolving conflicts in collection process and sharing intelligence.

Section 119 (d) (3) specified that the NCTC “shall not direct the execution of any resulting operations.” This follows the traditional NSC philosophy of not directly conducting any operations from the White House, after the disastrous Iran-Contra Affair of the 1980s. One important component of NCTC is its Interagency Threat Assessment and Coordination Group (ITACG), a team of State and local civil and law-enforcement officials posted by turn. They examine intelligence which would be of interest to the local authorities. They also seek what local “first responders” want to know.

It is thus clear that the charter envisaged in 2009 by our former Home Minister for our NCTC with investigation and operations responsibility besides intelligence integration did not exist in the U.S. model. That job is done by the DHS and the FBI with the help of State and local authorities. The Deputy Director of the American NCTC, who was present during an Oxford Counter-Terrorism Conference in October 2010, where I was one of the speakers, told me that anything beyond intelligence integration would be unworkable. Former DNI Mike McConnell had told the Council on Foreign Relations (June 29, 2007) that American agencies collected one billion pieces of information daily.

Thus, the onerous task of intelligence integration and interpretation is kept separate from operations. Even with this, the November 2009 CIA alert on the Nigerian “Underwear Bomber” (Abdulmutallab) was not converted into a “no fly notification” and he was able to attempt igniting a liquid bomb on 25 December 2009. How then could we expect our version to succeed? Where is the need for special powers when the NIA, which is supposed to work under NCTC, and which was specially created after 26/11, has been duly empowered under the NIA Act in December 2008?

It would appear that our government wants to follow the U.K.’s version of “Joint Terrorism Analyses Centre” (JTAC), which is under the MI-5 (IB’s counterpart). This might have been based on Mr. Chidambaram’s 2010 visit to the United Kingdom. According to media reports, the head of our proposed NCTC has to report to Director Intelligence Bureau (IB) whose office, however, has no legal backing. But MI-5 has a legal basis under the Security Service Act 1989 and it was also clarified that JTAC would be bound “by the provisions of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 and subject to the oversight of the Parliament’s Intelligence & Security Committee”.

‘Intelligence-led policing’

Terrorism is no longer an intelligence issue. It is inexorably tied to reviews by courts with the concept of “Intelligence-led policing.” This has happened in several countries where the courts insisted on perusing the exact intelligence that led to the arrests. The U.K.’s Intelligence & Security Committee’s special report dated May 6, 2009 (“Could 7/7 have been prevented?”) gives details of the “Executive Liaison Group” (ELG) for sharing secret MI-5 intelligence with the police. Those interested in further studying this should access the court judgments in Maher Arar (2004-05- Canada), Izhar ul- Haque (New South Wales Supreme Court-2007) and “Operation Crevice” (U.K.-2007). Are we sanguine that such an eventuality will not arise in India and the IB would not be called to testify?

The other two instruments which have been successful in preventing attacks in the U.S. are the FBI led multi-agency Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) and 78 “Fusion Centers” under the DHS, both involving non-police investigators, analysts and private persons. As many as 106 teams of JTTF with about 4,400 officers pursue intelligence leads from various intelligence agencies and investigate. Each JTTF has representatives from federal agencies, local police and other departments. New York JTTF has 500 investigators with only 130 from NYPD. They are coordinated by the National Joint Terrorism Task Force (NJTTF). Such joint operations are beneficial in compensating for others’ laxity as in the case of the Times Square bomber Shahzad. Couldn’t we have tried this out at least in New Delhi or Centrally administered territories?

The objective of Fusion Centers is to channel NCTC intelligence to local “stakeholders,” including private bodies. Fusion Centers “translate” possible national or international happenings to the local authorities to make them aware of the possibility and nature of the attack. The 26/11 Committee found that the Mumbai Police were not aware of even open source information on two incidents, which if studied could have prepared them better . In March 2007, there was a media report that two suspected LeT terrorists, arrested by Rajauri Police, had revealed that their boat was intercepted off the Mumbai coast by the Coast Guard but let off. The second case was an attack on Serena Hotel, Kabul, on January 14, 2008 similar to 26/11. That was the period when repeated Central alerts were being received (although not date specific) on multiple targets, including hotels in Mumbai. During our 26/11 enquiry, we did not get an impression that our Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) and State MACs worked like Fusion Centers.

The biggest achievement of the DHS is the nationwide alignment of anti-terrorist methodology through constant dialogue among the “Homeland Security State and Local Community” with about 1,000 key members from the States, the national capital and six federal departments who collaborate through secure conference calls. If we have some such arrangements, the constant bickering between our State police departments on terror cases investigation could have been resolved.

Integrated network in U.K.

The U.K. also follows the concept of “integrated national network of dedicated policing resources” through four Regional Counter-Terrorist Units (CTU), besides the London-based Counter-Terrorism Command (CTC). A July 2011 report to Parliament said that more than 7,700 officers were on CT duty in the U.K. The regional Counter-Terrorist Intelligence Units (CTIU) have a large presence of non-police officials. In addition, a senior officer designated as Senior National Coordinator Counter-Terrorism (earlier known as National Coordinator Terrorist Investigations) coordinates investigations into terrorist crimes. Compare this with ours where even within a State conflicting conclusions are arrived at by State police teams.

The hallmarks of effective terrorism prevention and CT operations as experienced by others who have done better research are two-way intelligence flow through multi-agency structures, local fusion units to interpret possible situations, joint operations and active participation by the public as “stakeholders.” Setting up our present version of NCTC which is neither Batman nor the Joker, but only an ornamental “Nutcracker” that might occasionally dance, would not enhance public security. It will only end up in employment opportunities for some chosen superannuated officials.

(The writer is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, and member of the two-man High Level Committee appointed by Government of Maharashtra on 26/11 attacks. Vappala.balachandran@gmail.com)

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Indian politicians and their cohorts interfere in the day to day functioning of law enforcement agencies and it is a great hurdle for the functioning of intelligence units. Ego plays a larger part in implementation of decisions. In the U.S Nation's security and security of American citizens are given the top most priority. Everyday the President of the great country gets a one on one briefing from the Director of National intelligence. Directors of CIA and National security also do the briefing. FBI does profiling and they have the behavioral analysis unit which does a very good job. India has a long way to go in revamping the job of intelligence gathering and intelligence network. Intelligence agencies should be allowed to act without fear or favor. Complete autonomy for the intelligence agencies is the need of the hour. There should be more spies and informers on the streets gathering information.

from:  Nathan
Posted on: Mar 13, 2013 at 17:16 IST

The geographic position of the US, its demography and friendly neighbors also helped the country achieve its goal.

from:  Jacob
Posted on: Mar 13, 2013 at 10:03 IST

An enlightening article from an experienced administrator.Given the savvy, it is desirable that
the writer evaluates the proposed NCTC concepts and suggests desirable improvements
soon by another article.

from:  G.Rajaram.
Posted on: Mar 13, 2013 at 00:31 IST

One important aspect of American security system is providing the
required state of the art infrastructure and giving the authority to the
corresponding heads of the organization to carry out tasks on their own.
That culture needs to come here. The security forces should not be
asking the executive for each and every step they take.

from:  krishnan
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 23:55 IST

It has been clear on many occasions that Americans have made the self destruction of twin towers only to start war with peace loving Muslim nations. After that they are into one war or another. There is no Islamic terrorism or other wise. This word "Islamic terrorism" was coined by Americans for their selfish motives.

from:  Ahmed
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 23:43 IST

you see, in india though the police men work or not they are going to get all the benefits which they need to get and they need to worry about others.when the govt system will change i.e when the people in the locality will have all the rights to punish the police if the police itself is not following certain rules and giving recommendation to the political people then only the public will be safe. for e.g: if a unknown person goes to the police station for filing a complaint in his locality then all the police men will say they are busy in some work where as a local M.L.A goes for water problem in his house the the police by hand will bring the water tank and satisfy M.L.A s need as the police men are going to get some money every month as gift from the M.L.A or not. And M.L.A will earn lots of black money from the public i.e putting bills in central to implement so and so work and never going to complete that work at all.....this is the thing happening most of the places in india.

from:  hemanth
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 23:39 IST

It's possible for the Americans to prevent terror attacks as the governing party does not need to play 'vote-bank' politics with a minority. In fact the American authorities took the drastic step of ensuring that every Muslim American was registered with the security authorities. Can you imagine that happening in India with its pseudo-secular policies? Irrespective of which minority community is blamed for terror offences, bold steps and decisions have to be made to protect the majority innocent civilians.

from:  Vida
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 16:19 IST

India's politicians are not tough on terrorism and are not held accountable by the public. That is the difference between India and the US. No wonder that there has been no terrorist attack in the US by radicals after the 9/11 attacks. Mistakes occur but the US unlike India has learns from them and prevents their recurrence.

from:  krishna
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 16:16 IST

Excellent article to self-examine our current system and do something better/different. No doubt our political leadership has to change and we need someone with iron hand to deal with security of country strongly. Even opposition has to understand this as something beyond politics and all should cooperate. Only when country security is taken away from petty politics, and police department without corruption, we can have a much safer place for everyone to live & carryout our activities without fear.

from:  Ramarao
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 14:37 IST

"Why the U.S. has not had an attack after 9/11"

Except for the DC Area sniper, the Anthrax letters, the Fort Hood shooter and the opportunity to kill thousands of Americans out of their comfort zone in Iraq and Afghanistan.

from:  Arman D
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 14:06 IST

Actually, the US has had at least one attack after 9/11. Luckily, the bomb in Times Square
fizzled out.

from:  Krishna
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 12:18 IST

In the US the central govt and the president is steadfast in their advocation of the need for
intelligence coordination between central and state agencies, and by and large the
opposition is in line with the govt when it comes to homeland security matters. Both govt and
opposition know well that the US poodle won't take it lightly if it is found that there was
another attack due to a lackadaisical and bickering govt or opposition. But in India the central
govt is weak kneed and lacks the determination to push through the needed changes to plug
the gaps in intelligence gathering process and central and state agencies cooperation and on
the other hand the opposition plays petty politics and fail to rise to the occasion in the interest
of national security all the while paying lip service to it. But most of all I hold the central govt
responsible and the PM for failing to use his bully pulpit to make things happen. This is time
for stronger leadership, time for change.

from:  Suvojit Dutta
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 10:20 IST

The writer fails to mention one key aspect of governance in the US that has kept them safe - No political interference in law enforcement. Local police and federal law enforcement agencies work with a great deal of autonomy and the national interest is put on the forefront. With criminals in politics controlling the police force, and vote bank politics that puts self interest ahead of national interests, there is no way that India can succeed in foiling terrorism.

from:  bala raja
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 10:12 IST

It is very informative piece of information on the background for NCTC. Any central government should work on the model discussed here and should not tread on the rights and responsibilities of state police to make proposed NCTC successful.

from:  MVJRao
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 10:00 IST

To empower NCTC perhaps we would have to time and again raise finger
on integrity of Home minister and its functionality. Agreed with
Writer that we need to build the role model,such as fusion center as
it was in U.S or U.K.But before fall into trap to adopt such model
without stong policy of NCTC, would have a hideous result.
Besides this to combat terrorism, we have to arrange training for
ground level police personal,to empower them they must be given more
power to act, finally they would have the latest weapons to carry for
self-guard of his/her own life as well as for the public.

from:  Prasannajeet Mohanty
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 09:24 IST

much needed article! excellent news. pl keep such articles coming.

from:  prasad
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 07:54 IST

Authors argument that we have to follow strictly the models that are
there in USA, UK,may not be feasible in India for following
reasons.First police in India are neither autonomous nor accountable
like in USA and UK. Second there is no broad separation of police in
India as is the case in USA and UK .Well,I am not arguing that our
intelligence should not be legally accountable as in these two
countries,what we require is long pending police reforms to build
professionally trained ,operationally autonomous,socially sensitive and
legally accountable police force as in USA and UK.To ensure broader
coordination and timely intervention without any political intervention
we do require a legally accountable ,professionally autonomous national
level intelligence agency with active involvement of provincial and
local intelligence networks.

from:  sudhakar naik
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 06:10 IST

It was great or article to know things. I am working in New York and New Jersey and read a book called "AFTER 9/11". People also alert here and have saying here "SEE SOMETHING and SAY SOMETHING". I strongly believe, in India too, we need to have a book called "AFTER 26/11" like maual where police and public can follow it not to have any terrorist incident repeat.

from:  kumar
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 05:59 IST

Why indeed the U.S. has not had an attack after 9/11 why not similar
happening in India? What is the need for a lengthy investigation to
find out at the conclusion which so obvious? That America occupies a
preeminent standing because it is in the society’s nature to encourage
talent, not matter of colour creed language or origin. It is this
genius of the society which continues to draw best talent round the
world and where college dropout like Bill Gates or Steve Job are
allowed full freedom to express their genius. On the other end of the
spectrum, countries like India, preference is for everything other
than talent like political connections, caste, language, region and
last if at all talent. Ours is a “republic of mediocrity, genius is
dangerous”!

from:  N.G. Krishnan
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 05:42 IST

Because in USA no one plays politics on national security issues. US introduced new homeland security act, new anti-terror laws, strengthened intellegence gathering and were able of thwart many terror attacks as well as successfully get terrorists convicted in their courts. While in India, first Congress played to gallery by repealing POTA and TADA, and now the non-Congress state govts are playing politics with NCTC. While more and more politician are getting Z class security and whatever little specialized forces that states have, are busy protecting the state level VVIPs and their families. A common man has no better security against terror attacks than 2 decades back. If a major terror attack did not take place, it is because terrorists did not attempt it.

from:  Harpreet
Posted on: Mar 12, 2013 at 02:20 IST
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