A terror input by India’s external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) about an impending attack by terrorists on Mumbai and parts of Gujarat turned out to be false, causing major embarrassment to New Delhi. By Thursday afternoon, media reports from Pakistan showed that two of the five suspected terrorists were shopkeepers selling cellphones while another was a security guard at the Hafeez Centre in Lahore.
Embarrassed RAW officials tried to salvage the situation, but the damage had been done. Islamabad started a whisper campaign by stating that Delhi had a habit of issuing “fake intelligence alerts to embarrass” Pakistan.
Prior to this goof-up, RAW had also messed up with the inputs on the 26/11 terror strike. Instead of sending the inputs from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the Pakistan-analysis desk, it sent it directly to the Multi Agency Centre (MAC). Without a detailed analysis, most security officials failed to connect the dots and detect the impending attack.
The build-up to the latest blunder began last week, nearly 48 hours before home minister P Chidambaram was making a pitch for a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) to the chief ministers of various states. Senior officials from RAW along with their counterparts in the Intelligence Bureau (IB), National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) and the military intelligence walked into the meeting and said a “top source” had alerted them about a fresh Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) plot to attack “sensitive installations” in Mumbai and somewhere in
According to them, the “top source” also supplied them with pictures of the five LeT men who had entered Mumbai from the sea and planned to go to various parts of the state to attack installations such as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.
At first, senior officials from MAC, a body created to collate and coordinate all intelligence inputs, were sceptical. When RAW officials shared the antecedents of their “top source,” MAC officers checked their database and found that the same source had given a false input earlier. The officials asked for more details about the suspected terrorists.
However, since RAW officials were unable to get technical intercepts or other information, they sought a meeting with IB director Nehchal Sandhu. He too was sceptical about the input and asked RAW officials to review it. But they insisted that the input was correct and pressed him to share it with the states immediately. They also raised the spectre of 26/11, when technical intercepts from CIA had been passed on by RAW to the IB about the impending attack in Mumbai.
The IB decided not to take a chance as the chief ministers were in Delhi for the NCTC meet and shared the input to their offices in Mumbai and Gandhinagar. By Saturday morning, IB officers in the state were briefing senior police officials about the input.
On Thursday, three men from Lahore – Atif Butt, Mehtab Butt and Baber Shabbir – went to the local police station after seeing their pictures online. Their photos were leaked to the media by state police officials. IB officials had raised suspicion about the intelligence unit after looking at their photos. But their doubts were brushed aside by RAW officials. Pakistani media reports said Atif and Mehtab ran adjacent mobile phone shops at Hafeez Centre, a shopping mall in Lahore, while Baber was a security guard there.
The false terror alert shocked the internal security division in the ministry of home affairs which is responsible for sending the advisory after analysing it with MAC. The blunder was even more embarrassing because Chidambaram referred to it in his speech while addressing the chief ministers. “Two days ago, central agencies received specific inputs about an imminent terrorist attack. Several states were notified and specific targets were identified,” he said in an effort to build his case for the NCTC.
Now that the input has proved false, Chidambaram is very upset. “He plans to take up the issue with RAW chief SK Tripathi at his morning briefing on Friday,” sources said. Union home secretary RK Singh, however, said the input was credible and they stand by it.