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    Paper no. 1176          06. 12. 2004

by B.Raman

(Based on the opening and concluding remarks of the author at an International Workshop on Maritime Counter-terrorism  organised by the International Terrorism Watch Project of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) at its headquarters at New Delhi on November 29 and 30,2004. The Workshop was attended by naval and non-governmental experts from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, the USA and the International Maritime Bureau of  London )

The International Terrorism Watch Project of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi, with which I am associated, will be one year old in December,2004. It was started a year ago to study the activities of international terrorist organisations, which could pose a threat to India's national security.

2. It operates with a shoe-string budget. Hence, it has to be per force austere in the way it organises  its workshops and interactions and in its hospitality. It tries to make up for this material austerity by its mental richness. It is rich in the quality of its staff, in their new ideas, in their ability to think and see ahead and to bring to bear a laser-sharp focus on the limited tasks  undertaken by it. There is nothing stereotyped about it. Stereotypes have no place in the Project.

3. Post-9/11, counter-terrorism experts all over the world have been focussing attention on three new aspects of counter-terrorism:

  • Counter-terrorism relating to weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
  • Maritime counter-terrorism.
  • Counter-terrorism relating to energy security.

4. Each of these requires a new approach and a new thinking. During the next five years, the ORF's International Terrorism Watch Project seeks to develop a core competence in the study of maritime counter-terrorism and counter-terrorism relating to energy security, if the required budgetary support is forthcoming . This would be in addition to our monitoring the activities of international terrorist organisations, which could pose a threat to India's national security. This is our vision for the future.

5. In the first year of our existence, we have organised two international and two national Workshops.  The first International Workshop, organised on April 28 and 29,2004, at New Delhi,  was devoted to "International Terrorism in South-East Asia and Its Likely Implications for South Asia". This was followed by a National Workshop on the "Recent Intelligence Failures in the USA, the UK and Russia: Their Lessons for India" held at New Delhi in October, 2004, and another on "The North-East: The Problems & the Options" held at New Delhi in November,2004. The present Workshop, the second international, is being devoted to maritime counter-terrorism.

6. We hope to organise a Regional Workshop on the "Naxalite Violence: Its Economic & Social Root Causes"  at Chennai in January,2005, and a Workshop, with limited international participation, on "Women & Terrorism" in March or April, either in Mumbai or in  New Delhi. We are also thinking in terms of an International Workshop on "Energy Security and Counter-Terrorism" in the second half of 2005  at New Delhi.

7. The International Workshop on Maritime Counter-terrorism is the outcome of a suggestion made during the Critical Evaluation session of the earlier Workshop of April,2004, on "International Terrorism in S.E.Asia and Its Likely Implications for South Asia." Post-9/11, there have been many seminars and conferences in different parts of the world on "Maritime Terrorism" and 'Maritime Security". Why we have called the theme of this Workshop as "Maritime Counter-terrorism" and not "Maritime Security"?

8. "Maritime Counter-Terrorism" and 'Maritime Security" envelope each other. Without effective  Maritime
Security, there cannot be effective Maritime Counter-terrorism and vice versa. But, the two are not  synonymous. Maritime Counter-terrorism covers a much  larger canvas. It deals with a large gamut of issues such as intelligence collection, analysis and assessment, physical security measures required to prevent maritime terrorism, crisis management if there is a failure of  intelligence and physical security, the decision-making apparatus to deal with maritime terrorism, the co-ordination mechanism and the leadership role in different situations such as an act of maritime terrorism on the high seas, in a port, in territorial waters and against shore-based targets such as an oil refinery, a nuclear or missile establishment etc, the role of the maritime communities in counter-terrorism, the training syllabi and methods etc. There is a need for a situation-specific drill, with a clear determination in advance of who will exercise the leadership role.

9. This Workshop does not mark the culmination of the thinking process on this subject in the ORF. Rather, it marks the beginning of it.

10. One of the questions, which we will have to address in our study of the subject is---is there a need for a maritime counter-terrorism strategy and doctrine? What should be its components? Who will be responsible for its implementation? What would be the role of different agencies of the Government in its implementation?

11. India has been a victim of terrorism of different hues since 1956. And, yet, we dot as yet have a comprehensive, well-articulated counter-terrorism doctrine. Has the time not come to enunciate such a doctrine, not only in respect of land-based and air-mounted terrorism, but also with regard to maritime terrorism?

12. Many seem to view maritime security and maritime counter-terrorism as synonymous.  They seem to think that since effective security measures have already been taken or are being taken in the form of strengthening naval patrolling of  maritime choke points, the proliferation security initiative, the container security initiative etc, the question of maritime counter-terrorism is already being addressed adequately. This is not so.

13.Post-1967, the world was confronted with a new wave of terrorism directed at civil aviation in the form of hijackings, mid-air explosions etc. This resulted in nationally, regionally and internationally co-ordinated measures to strengthen civil aviation security. A strong civil  aviation security infrastructure came into being, but this could not prevent the 9/11 catastrophe or mitigate its human and material costs. This was because the counter-terrorism experts of the world had not paid attention  to the  need to evolve an effective civil aviation counter-terrorism strategy and doctrine, with appropriate techniques and clear definition of co-ordinating roles and leadership in different scenarios.

14. A perusal of the USA's 9/11 National Commission report would indicate the kind of confusion which prevailed  there when it was realised that it was not a classical hijack situation, but an attempt to use a hijacked plane as a human-piloted cruise missile on to a land-based target. The possibility of  such a terrorist operation mounted from the air was nothing new. It had been figuring in the planning and training of the LTTE and in the terrorist training camps of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) since the early 1990s. Since the targeted victims  were only Indians and  Sri Lankans, nobody in the West, and particularly nobody in the US, paid much attention.

15. The LTTE had been examining for many years  the possibility of an explosive-laden  suicide bomber piloting a microlite aircraft crashing on a land or sea-based target. A Sikh terrorist arrested by the Indian authorities in the early 1990s had stated during his interrogation that during his training in Pakistan, the ISI had asked him to join the Mumbai (Bombay) Flying Club, go on a solo flight and crash his trainer plane on to the Mumbai off-shore oil platform.

16. Despite its being known that this idea of an unconventional  terrorist operation mounted from the air was engaging the attention of different terrorist groups, the counter-terrorism agencies of the  world did not pay much attention to evolving appropriate civil aviation counter-terrorism techniques and strategy to deal with new types of situations, which could arise. Apart from strengthening the physical security infrastructure of the airports, nothing further was done. The result: 9/11. We should not repeat the mistake in respect of maritime terrorism.

17. In one of his messages, Osama bin Laden  was quoted as saying that he had told Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), who allegedly orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes, and Mohammad Atta, the  leader of the groups that participated in the strikes, that they would have a maximum of 40 minutes at their disposal to carry out their operations.  If they took longer than 40 minutes, the US counter-terrorism agencies would be able to react and neutralise their operations. To their pleasant surprise, the US agencies took much longer to react and it gave them all the time they needed to make their strikes successful.

18.  The long and confused reaction and reflexes, which facilitated the success  of the 9/11 terrorist strikes, were the outcome of a lack of thinking, a lack of a scenario visualisation, a lack of an identification of  available options for response, a lack and neglect of training to create the required instinctive reflexes, the absence of appropriate counter-terrorism games similar to the  war games in the training institutions, inadequate thought to the need to list 'terrorism indicators" similar to the "war indicators", which could be used for training and briefing intelligence officers etc.

19. It is hoped that this Workshop would trigger a process of greater thinking on  these aspects. The objective of the process should be not  only to think of what has already been thought of in order to see whether any mid-course changes are needed, but also to think of what has not yet been thought of.   

(The author is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter . E-mail: )