Sunday, September 4, 2011



Foreign offices and intelligence agencies of the world interact with each other and among themselves at two levels----formal and informal.

2. In the case of Foreign Offices, the formal component is much more than the informal. In the case of intelligence agencies, it is the other way round.

3. The formal component of Foreign Offices’ interactions consists of exchanges of notes verbales, memos, aides-memoires, non-papers etc. They remain as permanent records in the files of the respective Foreign Offices for purposes of future reference.

4. The informal component consists of chats between diplomats and officials and other interlocutors of the host Governments over a drink or a cup of tea. It does not involve exchanges of papers of any kind. The diplomat after going back to the Embassy will send a cable to his Foreign Office as to what transpired during such informal interactions.

5. Intelligence agencies having a liaison relationship also follow a similar procedure when exchanging intelligence, assessments etc. Certain exchanges do involve formal papers----for example, exchanges of forensic evidence and reports.

6. The intelligence agencies of India and the US have been having a liaison relationship almost since 1947, but you will not find many papers formally exchanged between them. Officers responsible for liaison will meet informally over a drink in a safe house or in the lobby of a hotel, orally brief each other and then take leave of each other. When they do exchange intelligence documents, they will not indicate which agency prepared the document.

7. An examination of State-to-State relations between countries will reveal that often breakthroughs are achieved and policies are better understood during such informal interactions and not during formal meetings.

8.People tend to speak much more freely when there is no paper trail and when the meetings are informal than during formal interactions with a lot of possible paper trail.

9. One of the major casualties of the WikiLeaks would be such informal tete-a-tete exchanges. After seeing the damage caused by the Wikileaks, all public servants----whether political leaders or Foreign Office bureaucrats or intelligence officers---- will hesitate to agree to informal meetings and to speak freely during such meetings.

10. To illustrate my point, I will give the example of the Cable sent by Timothy Roemer, the then US Ambassador, to the State Department on December 17,2009, after an interaction---that was apparently informal--- with M.K.Narayanan, the then National Security Adviser, on the question of David Coleman Headley, of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), who was involved in the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai.

11. A careful reading of this cable would indicate that M.K. and the Ambassador were informally discussing the implications of an Indian request for his extradition. The Ambassador was hinting that this could create difficulties in the way of the FBI interrogating Headley and sharing the resulting intelligence with the Indian agencies.

12. MK, while showing some understanding of the point made by the Ambassador, was pointing out as to why India had to make a nam-ke-waste request for extradition. That is the way informal exchanges are conducted.

13. The US Ambassador then went back to his office and shot off a cable to the State Department. This cable has now been released by Julian Assange of WikiLeaks without editing the name of MK, thereby creating a personal embarrassment for MK and also for the Government of India in the eyes of the Indian public.

14. The cable shows the propensity of the GOI and its officials to exaggerate the usefulness of the Indo-US counter-terrorism co-operation when facts were otherwise. The leakage of the contents of an informal interaction would thus create political embarrassment for the host Government and the former NSA.

15. The result of such leakages would be a drying-up of informal interactions at the Foreign Office and intelligence agencies levels. State-to-State diplomacy and intelligence liaison would suffer as a result.

16. How to limit the damage and how to ensure that informal diplomatic exchanges do not suffer are questions that need to be discussed by all Foreign Offices.

17. An important ethical question is also involved. The media initially projected a wilful violator of the law (Assange) as a hero. Non-governmental organisations and the media created hurdles in the way of his arrest and prosecution for disseminating a large number of sensitive documents having implications for national security and State-to-State relations.

18. The hero has now turned a menace by releasing to the public hundreds of thousands of documents without editing them. He has become a Frankenstein’s monster. To discourage copy-cats of such monsters in future, the media and the non-Governmental organisations should at least now co-operate with the authorities to facilitate his arrest and prosecution. ( 5-9-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: . Twitter: @ SORBONNE75 )




The late Osama bin Laden never believed in carrying out terrorist strikes to mark important anniversaries in the history of Al Qaeda such as the anniversary of the terrorist strikes outside the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in August 1998, the attack on USS Cole, a US Navy ship, off Aden in October,2000, or the 9/11 strikes in the US Homeland.

2. According to a prevalent belief among tribal sources in Pakistan’s Pashtun belt, he believed tight physical security on important anniversaries such as these would make a successful strike very difficult.

3. It was, therefore, no surprise that he did not carry out any major terrorist strikes targeting the US on the anniversaries of 9/11 till now. Now that OBL is dead and has been succeeded by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian, as the Amir of Al Qaeda, can the position change? Can there be a terrorist strike coinciding with the 10th anniversary of 9/11? Will Zawahiri order a strike on this occasion to establish his ability to strike at the US and to demonstrate that despite the death of OBL, Al Qaeda remains as motivated as ever and remains determined to make the US pay a heavy price for the clandestine raid by US naval commandos at Abbottabad on the night of May 2, which resulted in the death of OBL?

4. A major reprisal attack by Al Qaeda or its affiliates directed against the US such as the catastrophic strike against seven CIA officers at Khost in Afghanistan on December 30, 2009, remains a strong possibility to be guarded against. After the death of OBL, there has been a major terrorist strike on August 5,2011, directed against a group of helicopter-borne US troops in Afghanistan in which 30 US troops, 22 of them US Navy SEALS, reportedly from the same unit that had participated in the Abbottabad raid, were reported to have been killed. This attack, which bore the hallmark of Al Qaeda’s conception and planning, was, however, believed to have been carried out by the Afghan Taliban, which did not project it as in reprisal for the Abbottabad raid.

5. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had projected the mysterious attack on the headquarters of the Pakistan naval air wing PNS Mehran in Karachi on May 22 as in reprisal for the death of OBL. Its claim could not be authenticated. Moreover, considering that Pakistani elements----governmental or non-Governmental or both--- had connived at OBL living in his Abbottabad hide-out for nearly five years, it is very unlikely that Al Qaeda would have targeted Pakistan in reprisal for the death of OBL.

6. The reprisal for the death of OBL is, therefore, yet to come and when it comes, Al Qaeda will ensure that it bears its signature and is worthy of it. When OBL was alive, it used to be believed that Zawahiri and some of his associates in Al Qaeda were unhappy over OBL’s decision to strike at the US in its homeland thereby inviting massive retaliation from the US in the Af-Pak region. They were reportedly of the view that Al Qaeda should have continued targeting the US outside its homeland as it did in Saudi Arabia in 1996 and in Nairobi, Dar-es-Salaam and Aden subsequently.

7. If Zawahiri continues to hold this view and if his close lieutenants also share this, the reprisal attack may not come in the US Homeland. It could come in an area that has a strategic US presence and where Al Qaeda feels confident of operating with success. Among such areas, one could think of the Af-Pak region, Aden once again, possibly India and Germany, where the Islamic Jihad Union had come to notice in the past for planning terrorist strikes against US military establishments that were thwarted by timely intelligence.

8. Al Qaeda has never operated in India before. There was a suspicion of an Al Qaeda brain behind the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai by the Lashkar-e-Toiba. This remained without concrete evidence to back it. Neither Al Qaeda nor its ideology has had many takers in the Indian Muslim community.

9. But India has undetected sleeping cells of jihadis of unproven origin who had carried out two major terrorist strikes after 26/11---in Pune in February,2010, and in Mumbai in July 2011. None of the terrorist strikes---major or minor--- in Indian territory outside Jammu & Kashmir after 26/11 has been detected. All this shows that India has in its midst jihadi terrorist elements well-trained in planning and executing a terrorist strike and remaining undetected.

10. In the absence of its own jihadi foot soldiers, Al Qaeda could turn to such jihadi elements which are able to operate in India with ease like fish in troubled waters for its act of reprisal if it considers India as a possible theatre for its reprisal against the US.

11. In the absence of human and technical intelligence and interrogation data from detected and arrested cell members, one has to rely on circumstantial analysis.

12. Such analysis underlines the need for heightened alert by the Indian counter-terrorism agencies in the days to come. It also underlines the need for close interaction between the counter-terrorism agencies of India and the US. ( 4-9-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and , presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: . Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )