Botched alert? Is it time for NCTC?

IB suspects from Pakistan. Photo courtesy: India Today
IB suspects from Pakistan. Photo courtesy: India Today

An alert that sent shivers up the spines of many has now been termed as a botched alert. The alert by the Intelligence Bureau read that five operatives of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba had entered the country through the sea route and were planning on carrying out an attack which was on the lines of the 26/11 attack.

There were photographs of these persons which were put up along with the alert and also the advisory that was sent to the Maharashtra police. However the Pakistan media reported a couple of days later that three of the men that India claimed were terrorists were mobile retail operators who were very much in Pakistan. Their whereabouts came to light when they approached the Lahore police seeking protection after this alert was issued. They even claimed that they had never set out of Lahore.

The matter is today being debated even as the Indian Home Ministry has defended the alert. There are many who are even comparing this to the dossier that India had sent to Pakistan a year back seeking the extradition of 50 persons of which two were already in India. However this alert and that incident cannot be compared according to the experts since the latter was a lazy error.

This alert in question spoke about an attack on Oil refineries in Maharashtra and Gujarat and if what has been said in the alert is correct then it sure is terrifying. The bigger question now is whether this alert was a hoax. Sources in the Intelligence Bureau say that it was not a hoax and these refineries have been under the radar of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba. In fact it has also been said in very clear terms by David Headley that the Lashkar was looking to target oil refineries in these areas.

On an average there are nearly 20 alerts that are issued everyday. Each one of them is passed on to the jurisdictional police station for action. It is not necessary that all of them are actionable in nature. IB sources however add that at times it is necessary to issue such an alert to keep the police on their toes as more often than not there is every chance of them slipping up.

The IB says that the alerts that are issued and in this the case the photographs of the persons is on credible information. An alert would mean that the police need to keep a watch out for such persons and also secure the installations that are mentioned in the alert. Just because the Pakistan media claims it to be a hoax that does not mean that there is something wrong in what we have issued. India would need to verify the claims that have been made in the Pakistan media as that could well be a lie.

India would however not let go of this matter that easily and would go into this matter thoroughly before coming to any conclusion. Home Secretary R K Singh who has defended this alert is scheduled to visit Pakistan in the next 15 days and he would ensure that the matter is cleared out before that visit. India would like to have their own information on this matter and would not like to take a blame from Pakistan that it has been issuing false alerts.

Senior police officials point out that an alert cannot be equated to a conviction. If our agencies find any suspicious behaviour or activity from across the border then we are very much right in issuing such an alert. It is for the police to look into the matter and then decide on whether the same is actionable or not.

This incident would once again raise the subject pertaining to the National Counter Terrorism Centre and the need for a centralised agency. Currently there is too much confusion and alerts end up in bits and pieces at police stations. More often than not the police are not sure whether to act upon the alert or not. India desperately needs a centralised institution which acts as a pool of information. This data ought to be studied and analysed by a team of experts who would also decide whether the same actionable or not before sending out the alert to the respective police stations who will need to act upon the same.

Author: Vicky Nanjappa

just a reporter

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