Saturday, March 07, 2009

Terrorism: Urgent review of physical security architecture in sensitive establishments is needed

See also:

In our preoccupation with what is happening and what could happen in Pakistan, we should not overlook the urgent need for having a relook at our physical security architecture in sensitive establishments such as the nuclear establishments, oil refineries, gas production infrastructure, road, rail and air transport, critical information infrastructure etc.

As I have emphasised repeatedly in the past, physical security is the most important component of counter-terrorism. If it is strong, a terrorist attack can be thwarted even if the intelligence agencies fail. If it is weak, even the best of intelligence may not be able to thwart a terrorist attack. In both India and Pakistan, we have a weak culture of physical security. The main reason why the US has been able thus far to prevent a repeat of 9/11 is the strengthening of the physical security apparatus by the newly-created Department of Homeland Security.

2. What happened at Mumbai, Kabul and Lahore---namely, commando-style surprise attacks by small groups of well-trained terrorists wielding lethal hand-held weapons--- could happen again in India. We should not think that only Pakistan is vulnerable to such attacks.We too are vulnerable as demonstrated so tragically at Mumbai. Our security architecture may not be as bad as that of Pakistan, but Mumbai clearly showed that it is not as good as it should be.

3. There is an urgent need for two actions. Firstly, an audit of the physical security measures at all sensitive establishments----whether run by the Government or the private sector ---- in order to determine whether any physical security enhancements are called for.There is a need for dividing all sensitive establishments into two categories-----those where a single-layer of physical security would be enough and those where a double or multiple-layer of physical security would be necessary .

The idea of a double or multiple-layer of physical security is that even if the terrorists manage to beat the outside gate or perimeter security, they will not have a free run of the establishment due to a second or more layers of armed physical security. To counter determined terrorists such as those one saw at Mumbai, Kabul and Lahore a single-layer of physical security may not be sufficient in sensitive establishments.

4. The second action required is to have a relook at our consequence management capabilities to deal with a situation should, despite revamped physical security, the terrorists manage to have access to sensitive establishments. The consequence management drill should take into account various issues such as control over media coverage, prevention of panic, minimisation of damage and lethality etc. It is important to associate the consequence management set-ups of the States with this exercise because it is ultimately they who would act as the protector of first resort through their consequence management capabilities till there is intervention by the consequence management community of the Govt. of India.

5. In Mumbai, the terrorists succeeded so dramatically because they targeted private establishments with no physical security measures except some anti-explosive capability. Since the security guards of these establishments were unarmed, they were helpless before the terrorists wielding sophisticated hand-held weapons. Once the terrorists managed to gain access to these establishments and take them under their control, the special intervention forces of the Govt. of India such as the National Security Guards (NSGs) found themselves unable to act fast enough without causing too many loss of lives.

6. Situated as we are in the sub-continental region where terrorism will continue to be a fact of life at least for another 10 years or more and keeping in view our ambition of emerging as a major economic power, we just cannot afford to take up the stand that the physical security of the private sector is its responsibility and that the Government's role will be limited to issuing periodic advisories regarding likely threats.

The Government has to play a more proactive role in encouraging and helping at least establishments of a strategic nature such as those associated with the tourism industry, the information technology companies etc in improving their physical security.They already have some capability for checks for explosives, but the methods used by them are primitive and do not take into account dangers from suicide bombers and vehicle-borne suicide terrorists.

7. Their weakest capability----which is almost non-existent--- is in facing a commando-style surprise attack by small groups of terrorists with modern hand-held weapons. The only way of thwarting them is by having well-armed and well-trained guards. Do the present laws allow the employment of such guards? If not, should the laws be modified to permit them to employ such well-armed guards? Who is going to supervise their training and keep them under control to prevent the arms issued to them finding their way into the hands of terrorists? These are questions, which need urgent attention.

8. From the point of view of the physical security architecture. the distinction between the public and the private sector is disappearing. Many private companies are already in the fields of oil refining and gas exploration, production and transport. An increasing number of airports is now privately managed. We intend allowing private companies into the field of nuclear power production.

The Government cannot evade the responsibility for ensuring that such private establishments have a high level of physical security. There is a need for a joint task force consisting of the representatives of the intelligence and security agencies and professional organisations of private industries such as the FICCI (Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industries), the CII ( the Confederation of Indian Industries) etc as well as representatives of foreign business organisations to go into the question of physical security enhancements for private establishments of strategic significance.

9. Practically all major private establishments----Indian as well as foreign--- have their own physical security set-up. It is important for senior intelligence and security officials at the State and Central levels to regularly interact with them to exchange threat and vulnerability perceptions and ideas as to how to strengthen physical security.

10. In an important article titled "The Coming Swarm" in the "New York Times" of February 15,2009, which should be required reading for all our physical security experts, John Acquilla, who teaches in the special operations program at the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey in California, wrote as follows: "It seems that a new “Mumbai model” of swarming, smaller-scale terrorist violence is emerging.

The basic concept is that hitting several targets at once, even with just a few fighters at each site, can cause fits for elite counterterrorist forces that are often manpower-heavy, far away and organized to deal with only one crisis at a time. This approach certainly worked in Mumbai. The Indian security forces, many of which had to be flown in from New Delhi, simply had little ability to strike back at more than one site at a time. While it’s true that the assaults in Kabul seem to be echoes of Mumbai, the fact is that Al Qaeda and its affiliates have been using these sorts of swarm tactics for several years...... How are swarms to be countered?

The simplest way is to create many more units able to respond to simultaneous, small-scale attacks and spread them around the country. This means jettisoning the idea of overwhelming force in favor of small units that are not “elite” but rather “good enough” to tangle with terrorist teams. In dealing with swarms, economizing on force is essential. ....For the defense of American cities against terrorist swarms, the key would be to use local police officers as the first line of defense instead of relying on the military. The first step would be to create lots of small counterterrorism posts throughout urban areas instead of keeping police officers in large, centralized precinct houses.

This is consistent with existing notions of community-based policing...... At the federal level, we should stop thinking in terms of moving thousands of troops across the country and instead distribute small response units far more widely. Cities, states and Washington should work out clear rules in advance for using military forces in a counterterrorist role, to avoid any bickering or delay during a crisis. Reserve and National Guard units should train and field many more units able to take on small teams of terrorist gunmen and bombers. Think of them as latter-day Minutemen.Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen all responded to Qaeda attacks with similar “packetizing” initiatives involving the police and armed forces; and while that hasn’t eliminated swarm attacks, the terrorists have been far less effective and many lives have been saved."

11.Jihadi terrorism in India outside Jammu & Kashmir is essentially an urban phenomenon. We cannot use against it the techniques learnt by us in dealing with the insurgency in the North-East and with Maoist terrorism in Central India, which is essentially a rural phenomenon. We need a different system of response, which is comprehensive enough to cover all likely targets of strategic significane----whether in the Government or private sector.

12. Even if we do not create an independent Ministry of Internal Security,we should create a separate Department of Physical Security in the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is, inter alia, responsible for counter-terrorism, to act as the nodal agency for all physical security measures on the pattern of the Department of Homeland Security of the US. This newly-created department should interact continuously with its US counterpart to pick its brains and profit from its expertise and experience. (7-3-09)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
Putting principles before profits