Incredibly, sources in the highest quarters in Delhi, have told Tehelka that the mobile numbers that were used by the Mumbai terrorists were available with the Intelligence Bureau for at least five days before 26/11.
Highly placed sources shared the contents of a ‘Secret’ note that contains 35 mobile numbers. Of the 35 SIM cards, 32 had been purchased from Kolkata and three from Delhi, by over ground workers of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and sent to Pakistan occupied Kashmir by mid-November. The precise contents of the ‘Secret’ note could not have been more direct. It reads, “The numbers given below have been acquired from Kolkata by over ground workers (OGWs) and have been sent through Pakistan trained militants based in Kashmir to PoK. These numbers are likely to emerge in other parts of the country. These numbers need to be monitored…”
The note contains more: “These numbers need to be monitored and the information takes from these numbers regarding the contents of the conversation, current locations of the call detail records are required for further for further developing the information. The monitoring is possible at Kolkata.”
Highly placed sources reveal that this crucial piece of information was received by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) on November 21, at least five days before Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist and his nine accomplices got off the inflatable dinghy at Mumbai’s Badhwar Park on the evening of 26/11.
For all the four crucial days the numbers were available, they were not being monitored. The lapse is all the more critical because at least three of the 32 numbers contained in the Secret note, were the same cell numbers that the Mumbai terrorists used to keep in touch with their handlers in Pakistan.
It is well possible that the terrorists only activated their mobile numbers after reaching Mumbai but that does not excuse the fact that the numbers were not put under surveillance despite the knowledge that they had been sent to trained militants in PoK.
Were the phones activated at 1600 hours (when the terrorists were four nautical miles from Mumbai) or at 2030 hours (when they arrived at Badhwar park, according to the dossier India has given Pakistan)? The answer to this question was not known, at least, on the day of the attack.
Sources in the PMO reveal that the numbers were not being monitored. It is only after Ajmal Kasab and his accomplice Ismail Khan (the ten had broken up into five pairs) had killed 58 passengers at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, after ATS Chief Hemant Karkare had been shot dead with two other officers; after the remaining four pairs had lodged themselves at their intended targets (Nariman House and the Taj and Oberoi Hotels) that someone in the IB woke up to the fact that it had received a list of phone numbers. Quick calls were then made to Kolkata, the service providers alerted and the blood curdling truth soon hit home – three of the 35 numbers that ought to have been monitored, were being used by the terrorists.
It was only after this that the Mumbai Police was alerted and the process of recording the conversations began. The dossier of evidence provided to Pakistan emphasizes the fact that the terrorists were using mobile phones to stay in touch with their handlers in Pakistan.
Covert operations are key to gathering advance information and keeping pace – if not staying at least one step ahead – with what terrorist groups are planning. In this case, in a superb covert operation Indian forces had managed to penetrate the ranks of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and plant 35 Indian Sim cards on them. In other words, the Sim cards used by the mumbai terrorists were like Trojan horses in the LeT ranks. But in a terrible communication and execution bungle the scrupulous follow-up monitoring of the sims that should have taken place was not done. And now ironically, despite the gravity of the Mumbai attack, the agencies are once again engaged in a blame game, with the IB blaming the Jammu and Kashmir Police for having provided the Sim cards in the first place!
If there is one important lesson post 26/11, it is this – that the diverse agencies work on a coordinated manner to process information, for if there is one thing that will help prevent future attacks, it will be advance intelligence.
Harinder Baweja is Editor News and Investigations at Tehelka