The government came close to sacking top intelligence officials soon after 26/11 because of serious lapses that led to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, senior officials have told HT.
Disclosures made by 26/11 handler Zabiuddin Ansari, alias Abu Jundal, have only confirmed the assessment that IB and R&AW both failed in analysing, disseminating and acting upon intelligence that was fairly specific.
The unprecedented step of fixing bureaucratic accountability wasn’t taken only because the chiefs of the internal and the external agencies were retiring soon after, an official revealed. The Intelligence Bureau chief was to retire December-end, a month after the attacks. The Research and Analysis Wing chief’s tenure was to end January 2009.
“The government wanted to send a similar message through the intelligence community as it did in political circles by removing home minister Shivraj Patil and Maharashtra CM Vilasrao Deshmukh,” the official said.
Confirming intelligence failure, Jundal has told his interrogators that the SIM cards used by the 10 terrorists in Mumbai were sent to Pakistan in advance. The SIMs were sent to PoK through Laskhar-e-Taiba operatives by the Jammu and Kashmir Police as part of a covert operation aimed at infiltrating the terror outfit’s ranks.
In a costly slip-up, the IB didn't monitor the numbers though it received the details, including a list of numbers, five days before the attacks.
If Jundal and the others present in a 'control room' in Karachi were able to coordinate the finer details of the 26/11 strike, it was because the 10 terrorists were armed with Indian mobile numbers well before they set sail for Mumbai.
The details of the SIM cards were shared with the IB through a note marked 'secret'. Thirty-five SIM cards were given to Lashkar operatives, the note said.
It underscored the need for the numbers to be monitored, saying, "These numbers are likely to emerge in other parts of the country. These numbers need to be monitored…."
The numbers, however, were not put under surveillance by the intelligence agencies. According to the dossier shared with Pakistan by the ministry of external affairs, Ajmal Kasab — the lone terrorist taken alive during the attacks — and his nine accomplices were four nautical miles (7.4km) from Mumbai on 26/11 at 4pm and got off a dingy in Colaba's Badhwar Park, a little after 8pm.
It was only after midnight - when the carnage was well underway -- that the security and intelligence apparatus realised that some of the numbers being used by the terrorists were on the list shared by the J&K Police.
Similarly, while R&AW had specific inputs that Mumbai hotels would be targeted and sea route used, the information was not disseminated to the officials concerned. The task of plugging the holes was begun by P Chidambaram when he took over as the home minister from Patil.