Friday, June 12, 2009

Why India looks at Germany for new anti-terror blueprint

New Delhi: One common strand running through all the lapses in the anticipation and response to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, as shown in The Indian Express series, was the lack of inter-agency coordination at every level: from intelligence assessment and operational networking after the attacks to coordination with support groups meant for response, rescue and even medical help.

As the new government works on its internal security revamp roadmap that includes a national counter-terrorism centre to address these very issues, it’s looking at several measures, key among them being the setting up of the NCTC with a detailed reporting structure and creating joint commands with Central and State representatives for Naxal-affected areas.

The NCTC will have “collation and fusion” centres down to the district level so that intelligence can be streamlined and relayed more effectively. Each state will have a subsidiary multi-agency centre that will be connected to the NCTC. The goal: to provide professional and analytical treatment to every bit of local intelligence.

While there are several models available across the world, Germany presents a good case to take up here for three broad reasons:

n It is one country that has not witnessed a major terrorist attack since the 1972 Munich Games, has thwarted seven major attempts since 9/11 and works an efficient system despite high threats given some of its own citizens converted to Islam and received training Pakistan and Afghanistan for attacks inside Germany — all that Hans-Gorg Maassen, Deputy Director General of the Interior Ministry’s Counterterrorism Directorate, says is “we have very good staff, but I also think we have been very lucky.”

n The National Security Guard is modelled largely on Germany’s famed counterterrorism force GSG-9 with the same equipment profile (MP-5 sub machine guns, PSG-1 snipers and Glock pistols)’

n And most significantly, Germany too has a federal system of governance with its 16 states responsible for law and order issues as in India.

Other countries of similar importance would be US, UK, Israel and France from an Indian perspective.

India is in talks with all these countries, but has moved closer to signing an agreement with Germany — a draft for which is ready, covering a range of areas, particularly intensifying deeper cooperation with GSG-9 and its police.

Though there have been issues with Berlin on procuring weapons, which has laws for its weapons not to be used in conflict areas like J&K and against minorities, exceptions have been made like in the case of the Eurocopter , meant for ferrying soldiers to Siachen.

In any case, German officials too have indicated that these are not insurmountable issues when it comes to training elite forces.

But there are larger lessons to be learnt here. Like other countries, Germany has a counterterrorism centre that works round the clock:

n As many as 40 different agencies are represented in this facility. They are in contact with every state besides being the nodal point for all intelligence received from within or outside Germany.

n Every information has to be brought to the centre, which assesses, consults with other agencies and obtains real time feedback to operational authorities.

n A joint internet centre has been added to monitor all “jehadi” websites, blogs and related information.

n A new law empowers police to use spyware or other such tools to access the hard drive of computers of individuals sending and receiving suspect emails. But a panel of eminent jurists has to first approve any such request from the police.

n Routine daily interaction among different agencies has fostered a habit of cooperation that allows greater ability to appreciate each other’s resources and limitations, vital during a real emergency.

n Significantly this centre also has a link with the Bundeswehr Military Command centre which monitors German military operations.

The GSG-9 is no different. In the spirit of Germany’s federal system, the elite commando force has developed an ethos of “coordinated ops”.

Each state has a SWAT team, some even have two. The trick here is that GSG-9 conducts exercises round the year with these teams. Recently, it had three to four SWAT teams of states located along Germany’s coast and created a mock situation of hostage aboard a luxury liner.

The SWAT teams would be the first to act. But what should they do till the GSG-9 arrives? Here is where exercises of this nature help and according to GSG-9 officials, the SWAT teams know what is expected of them to make the GSG-9 assault successful.

Having trained together, the SWAT teams are seen by GSG-9 as its key assets in such situations.

As a result, GSG-9 remains a small force of 274 personnel unlike the NSG that has grown well beyond 8000. GSG-9 officials say a smaller number helps retain the elite character and the SWAT teams are able to provide the numbers when needed. The improving performance levels of SWAT teams make GSG-9 much bigger than it seems on paper. GSG-9 too had five-member HIT teams like the ones NSG deployed in Mumbai. But this has since been improved to nine. One important addition being a paramedic, which is important given that NSG felt the need for immediate medical help.

Also, one team member has a small camera fitted into the gear to record operations, which could be vital in terms of evidence besides gaining important training lessons.

So, it is crucial for India to introduce key changes that do not require a major legal framework, but more revamp and reworking of the systems that currently work as islands.

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