26/11 puzzle: How ISI colluded with Lashkar, and how everyone failed to read signals

mumbai-attackMore than six years after the terror mayhem in Mumbai shocked India and the world, the unresolved puzzle of the 26/11 strike continues to outrage and intrigue the intelligence and security community around the world.  The latest set of disclosure documented in a detailed investigative report by the New York Times, ProPublica and the PBS series show how the US, British and Indian spy agencies failed to piece together all the strands gathered by their high-tech surveillance to foil the assault on India’s financial capital.  The report, entitled “In 2008 Mumbai Killings, Piles of Spy Data, but an Uncompleted Puzzle,” fittingly calls the 26/11 Mumbai attacks a result of one of the “most devastating near-misses in the history of spycraft.”

The report says that “the hidden history of the Mumbai attacks reveals the vulnerability as well as the strengths of computer surveillance and intercepts as a counter-terrorism weapon.” “What happened next may rank among the most devastating near-misses in the history of spycraft. The intelligence agencies of the three nations did not pull together all the strands gathered by their high-tech surveillance and other tools, which might have allowed them to disrupt a terror strike so scarring that it is often called India’s 9/11,” said the report.

The report also throws up a chilling disclosure and shows how the 26/11 operation was hatched to burnish the image of the Lashkar-e-Taiba by terror chieftains and their bosses in Pakistan’s powerful ISI establishment. A terror strike of this magnitude, being staged as a kind of game – this is the most revolting and sensational disclosure contained in the report which has made headlines across the world. The report shows how the 26/11 attack by plotted to get the LeT, which was becoming increasingly interested in the West, to refocus its attention on India.

Lashkar-e-Taiba’s alliance with the ISI, its “powerful patron”, came “under strain as some of the militants pushed for a Qaeda-style war on the West,” says the report. “As a result, some ISI officers and terror chiefs decided that a spectacular strike was needed to restore Lashkar’s cohesion and burnish its image,” the report said, citing interviews and court files.

“The plan called for a commando-style assault in India that could also hit Americans, Britons and Jews there. The target was the centerpiece of Indian prosperity: Mumbai. “Lashkar’s chiefs developed a plot that would dwarf previous operations.” “The US intelligence community ? on multiple occasions between June and November 2008 ? warned the Indian government about Lashkar threats in Mumbai,” said Brian Hale, a spokesman for the director of the Office of National Intelligence.

“The information identified several potential targets in the city, but we did not have specific information about the timing or the method of attack.”

“Whatever the reason, no one fully grasped the developing Mumbai conspiracy,” the report said.

“They either weren’t looking or didn’t understand what it all meant,” said one former American official who had access to the intelligence. “There was a lot more noise than signal. There usually is.”

The report, coming as it does after the cold-blooded massacre of children by hardened militants at a military-run school in Peshawar, only reinforces the need for not just intelligence-sharing, but concerted efforts by the global community to unscramble the insidious designs of terrorists. The collusion between the ISI and LeT, vividly documented by the report, only bolsters India’s long-standing demand that Pakistan prosecutes the choreographers and assassins behind the Mumbai carnage, promptly, without hiding behind legal persiflage.