U.S., U.K., India had many leads but failed to stop 26/11

New York Times investigation says intelligence not shared

Updated - November 16, 2021 05:33 pm IST

Published - December 22, 2014 02:45 pm IST - New Delhi

Had British, American and Indian intelligence pooled together all the information they had, they could have averted the Mumbai attacks of 2008, concludes a stunning new investigation carried out by the New York Times , ProPublica and PBS in the U.S.A.

The revelations, that caught some in India’s intelligence establishment by surprise, throw up questions on whether their western intelligence partners could have cooperated more closely to avoid what the New York Times said was among the most devastating near-misses in the history of spycraft.

The report, published in the New York Times on Sunday, also lays bare the hollowness of the Pakistani government’s claims of not having sufficient evidence against the 26/11 planners now in custody, including Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, as it itemizes all the electronic intercepts that connect the ten attackers, the planners, and officers of the ISI and Pakistani Army named already by US courts.

Speaking to The Hindu , New York Times reporter James Glanz said: “I personally hope that whatever the end results of the case, our investigation forces Pakistan to own up to and to have another look at its trial in the case that hasn’t concluded yet.”

hidden history of the Mumbai attacks reveals the vulnerability as well as the strengths of computer surveillance and intercepts as a counter-terrorism weapon

The report, published in the New York Times on Sunday said, British intelligence at GCHQ had been tracking the Lashkar-e-Taiba “technology chief” Zarrar Shah for “several months” in advance of the attacks. They were able to, according to the intercepts, follow him as he used google maps, wikimapia and mapsofindia.com to plot the route for the ten Mumbai attackers including Ajmal Kasab to take.

They were also able to track all his google searches for possible targets, and trace his purchase of VoIP (Voice over internet phone) connections, used to contact the attackers during the three-day siege of Mumbai. While the US NSA operatives were able to track Shah and others involved in the planning like David Headley and Sajid Mir through other methods , the New York Time s report says they weren’t aware of the extent of British intelligence ahead of the attacks.

“The British had access to a trove of data from Mr. Shah’s communications,” notes the report, “But contend that the information was not specific enough to detect the threat. The Indians did not home in on the plot even with the alerts from the United States.”

But senior Indian intelligence sources have told The Hindu that British intelligence never directly passed on any information to them, and that it was a surprise to note that they had “real-time” evidence of the planning on the Mumbai attacks.

They also insist that while the US intelligence passed on three alerts -- once in September 2008 of a threat to the Taj hotel and other “iconic targets” in Mumbai, once in October of a possible attack on October 27, and once in November of a ‘6-grid’ reference of a Lashkar boat off the Karachi coast -- they never shared the origins of the intelligence.

This has been a particularly sore point for India, given that even though the US agencies had been tipped off by David Headley’s ex-wife of his activities, they didn’t alert their Indian counterparts about him till nearly six months later, even when he visited India again in February 2009.

Speaking to The Hindu Mr. Glanz of the New York Times said it was surprising that even the US was not aware of the British investigations before the attacks began.

In response to the New York Times investigations, the British government bristled at suggestions it could have shared more information with India, saying: “We do not comment on intelligence matters. But if we had had critical information about an imminent act of terrorism in a situation like this we would have shared it with the Indian government. So the central allegation of this story is completely untrue.”

The report takes on new meaning as US intelligence agencies have shared alerts with India in the past few weeks, and will be coordinating very closely ahead of President Obama’s visit on January 24 to India.

The question that remains is whether the new intelligence alerts signify that there is more information that is not being shared in the manner of what the New York Times report calls the “hidden history of the Mumbai attacks.”., now revealed by the NYT-Propublica-PBS investigation.

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