Assam massacre intercepts were lost in translation

  • Digambar Patowary, Hindustan Times, Guwahati
  • Updated: Jan 15, 2015 00:34 IST

It didn’t need any high-tech equipment or deep espionage skills to crack this one.

The Intelligence Bureau could have averted the massacre of 70 Adivasis in Assam last December if it had a simple little skill: basic knowledge of the native Bodo language.

An intelligence report shows crucial time was lost in mobilising ground forces because the bureau took two hours to interpret an intercepted radio message in the Bodo language from a separatist leader to his cadre about the impending attack.

It failed to quickly pass on the information to the Multi Agency Centre (MAC), the nodal agency that coordinates the fight against terror by various security structures.

The failure to inform the army and paramilitary forces within “sufficient reaction time” reflects an alarming communication gap.

“The Intelligence Bureau is the country’s premier agency on internal security. They have offered a silly excuse (inability to interpret the message) because Bodo enjoys constitutional status as a major Indian language and an expert in that language should have been on board. Our intelligence agencies have clearly not learnt any lessons from previous failures,” a security agency officer said.

The delay points to a lack of coordination among the agencies, a loophole the MAC was supposed to plug. The MAC that operates under the Intelligence Bureau was revamped after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks to synchronise the fight against terror by sharing information among security agencies.

It operates with the help of its state-level wings, called the Subsidiary Multi Agency Centre (SMAC).

The bureau intercepted around 12:40pm on December 23 — hours before the carnage — instructions by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) military chief B Bidai to his cadre to kill Adivasis, or tea garden workers, in Kokrajhar and Sonitpur districts.

Bidai was heard overruling other leaders of the outfit who were wary of a major counter-insurgency offensive if they kill Adivasis, a softer target than migrant Muslims they had killed earlier.

The two hours gave ample time for the militants to attack five villages almost simultaneously around 5pm. The cadre, in groups of 10-12, attacked these villages spaced out on a 350km stretch bordering Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh.

Assam Police chief Khagen Sarma was not saddled with this language barrier since many of his officers belong to the Bodo community but mistakes were made in coordinating with multiple agencies involved in anti-terror operations.

“We foiled the outfit’s plans in an accessible area in Kokrajhar district but difficult terrain prevented the forces from reaching other villages on time. We are now examining what went wrong on our part,” he said.

Police, an affiliate of SMAC, intercepted Bidai’s message too, and mobilised its personnel at 3.40pm. By that time the Intelligence Bureau had only managed to decode the message and alert other security agencies.

When his police force faced flak for failing to thwart the Bodo outfit’s terror plan, chief minister Tarun Gogoi said it was the responsibility of all the SMAC affiliates, including the central agencies, to share intelligence.

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