India disbands spy unit that conducted covert operations abroad

VK SinghBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A controversial military intelligence unit that conducted at least eight covert operations in foreign countries between 2008 and 2012 has been disbanded by the government of India. The country’s Ministry of Defense authorized the establishment of the unit in late 2008, following the Mumbai attacks, which killed over 150 and injured nearly 600 people. The attacks, which lasted for almost four days, involved a dozen coordinated bombing attacks and shooting incidents in India’s largest urban center, carried out by Pakistani nationalists. The covert-action unit was named Technical Services Division (TSD) and led by retired General VK Singh, who served as the Indian Army’s Chief of Staff from 2010 to 2012. According to Indian news media, the TSD was approved by a host of senior Indian government officials, including Lieutenant General RK Loomba, Director General of India’s Military Intelligence. The new agency was tasked with “planning and executing special operations inside depth areas of countries of interest” to India. It was also tasked with “countering enemy efforts within the country by effective covert means”. Most of its “special operations” on foreign soil are said to have been conducted inside Pakistan, in an effort to combat what the Indian government views as “state-sponsored terrorism” by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). Its main tactical mission centered on targeting Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, said to have been behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. But the TSD has now been disbanded following revelations that it used its mandate to spy on Indian politicians in New Delhi and the Indian province of Kashmir, whose political views on India’s relations with Pakistan were seen as too conciliatory. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #824 (India edition)

Tony MendezBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►CIA honed ARGO exfiltration skills in India. The Oscar-winning movie Argo has popularized the 1980 exfiltration by the CIA of a group of American diplomats from Tehran. But few know that Tony Mendez, the CIA officer in charge of the Iran operation, cut his teeth exfiltrating CIA targets in India. In his book, titled Argo, Mendez mentions the 1970 exfiltration of a Soviet defector in India codenamed Nestor. He claims that Nestor was a “huge catch” for the CIA, as he provided the Agency with “invaluable intelligence on the KGB’s operations in Central and Southeast Asia”.
►►Ex-CIA officer says al-Qaeda wanted India-Pakistan nuclear war. In his latest book, Avoiding Armageddon: America, India, and Pakistan to the Brink and Back, former CIA officer Bruce Riedel says al-Qaeda helped plan the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Its goal was to “spark a nuclear war between India and Pakistan in order to polarize the world between Islam and the ‘Crusader-Zionist-Hindu’ conspiracy”. But the group’s plan was hampered by India’s restraint and refusal to strike back using force, he argues.
►►Man passing defense info to Pakistan held in India. Reports suggest that Sumer Khan, 34, from Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer district, has been arrested for sending strategic information to Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency via emails and mobile calls for the past three years. A source said that Khan was caught after his calls to Pakistan were intercepted by Indian military intelligence and Intelligence Bureau. The arrest comes just two days after the conclusion of India’s biggest-ever air exercise, ‘Iron Fist’, in Jaisalmer.

Will former US government informant face terror charges in India?

David HeadleyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A former United States government informant, who helped an Islamist militant group plan the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. David Coleman Headley, a former US Drug Enforcement Administration informant, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2009 for helping to plot an attack by Islamist radicals on a Danish newspaper. It eventually became apparent that Headley had been a member of Pakistani militant group Lashkar e-Taiba and had also helped plan the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai. The terrorist plot involved at least a dozen attacks on tourist and other civilian targets in India’s largest city, conducted by small cells of highly trained LeT members who had arrived from Pakistan by boat. The coordinated attacks, which began on November 26 and ended three days later, killed 164 and wounded over 300 people. According to the FBI, Headley, who was born to a Pakistani father and an American mother, took advantage of his Western manners and physique to travel to Mumbai posing as an American tourist, in order to help map out the LeT operation. On Thursday, a court in Chicago sentenced Headley to 35 years in prison. Prior to his sentencing, Headley had pleaded guilty to all 12 counts brought against him by US prosecutors and is said to be cooperating with authorities —which is reportedly why he was spared the death penalty. However, the question in the minds of many terrorism observers is, will Headley be extradited to India to face charges there for what is often referred to as ‘India’s 9/11’? The answer is not so simple. Read more of this post

Pakistani militant group ‘more dangerous than al-Qaeda’: ex-CIA official

Bruce RiedelBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former senior official of the United States Central Intelligence Agency has argued that al-Qaeda is no longer the most powerful group in the global Islamist insurgency. Writing in The Daily Beast earlier this month, Bruce Riedel, who served in the CIA for nearly 30 years prior to his retirement in 2006, warned that Lashkar e-Taiba is now “the most dangerous terror group in the world”. In his editorial, the former CIA analyst, who is now a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said that LeT operates freely inside Pakistan and continues to have strong operational connections with the Pakistani armed forces and the country’s intelligence establishment. Since its founding in 1990, LeT’s traditional political aspiration has been to end Indian rule over the predominantly Muslim state of Jammu and Kashmir, and then integrate the latter with Pakistan. But the group’s aims appeared to expand significantly in November of 2008, when it sent ten heavily armed operatives to Mumbai on speedboats. Once they landed in India’s most populous city, the LeT operatives proceeded to strike nearly a dozen tourist-related targets in well-calculated suicide missions. By the end of the four-day terrorist spree, 166 people —including six Americans and many other Western tourists— had been killed. Riedel views the 2008 Mumbai strike as “the most significant and innovative terrorist attack since 9/11”, and says that it marked LeT’s maturation “from a Punjabi-based Pakistani terror group targeting India exclusively” to an outfit with a global outlook, “targeting the enemies of al Qaeda: the Crusader West, Zionist Israel, and Hindu India”. Today, nearly four years after the Mumbai attacks, LeT maintains a global presence, with active cells throughout the Middle East and Asia, and funding operations in North America, Australia and Europe, claims Riedel. Additionally, LeT does not appear to feel threatened by Washington. Read more of this post

Analysis: India’s spies keep tabs on political opponents, not terrorism

IB seal

IB seal

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
She is America’s rising ally in South Asia and is widely regarded as the world’s largest democracy. But India’s political system is highly chaotic and often repressive. This is aptly reflected in the operations of the Intelligence Bureau, India’s foremost domestic intelligence agency. One would think that the IB has its hands full with India’s countless domestic security concerns, which include increasingly popular and active Maoist insurgents, as well as mounting religious and political tensions in the predominantly Muslim states of Jammu and Kashmir, located in the country’s north. But one of India’s most respected English-language newspapers, The Hindu, cites “highly placed intelligence sources” who allege that most of the IB’s intelligence collection activities are targeted against the Indian government’s political opponents, not terrorism. According to the unnamed sources, “less than a third of the IB’s estimated 25,000-strong manpower [sic] is dedicated to what might be described as national security tasks”. Conversely, over two-thirds of the organization’s staff is reportedly tasked with “providing the government raw information and assessments on its increasingly bleak political prospects”, claims the paper. Examples of political policing by the IB include monitoring public meetings led by Rahul Gandhi, parliamentarian and leader of the National Congress, which is India’s main political opposition group. Another target of the IB’s alleged political policing campaign is anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare, who has become internationally known for spearheading popular protests against government sleaze in New Delhi and elsewhere. According to The Hindu, intelligence on political figures is collected by the IB’s state-of-the-art communications interception systems, which were purchased from Western hardware manufacturers following the sophisticated 2009 Mumbai Attacks by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Read more of this post

Did US agencies fail to heed warnings of 2008 Mumbai attacks?

David Coleman Headley

David Headley

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
We have written before that the CIA alerted Indian authorities prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people, including six American citizens. The incident, which was perpetrated by Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, is routinely described as the most sophisticated and spectacular terrorist strike since 9/11.  But there are numerous questions about the complex relationship between the United States, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, which is widely believed to be protecting the terrorist group. Many of these questions center on David Coleman Headley, an American citizen, born in Washington, DC, who is currently in US custody, having confessed to helping plan the Mumbai attacks. According to Headley’s own court testimony, he worked for the ISI; moreover, despite early denials, the US government eventually admitted that Headley was a paid informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration. There is, however, intense speculation in India and Pakistan that Headley, who is of Pakistani background, is in fact a CIA agent-gone-rogue, who used his CIA connections to pursue his militant plans undisturbed (something with the CIA flatly denies). Such rumors are reinforced by the US authorities’ puzzling refusal to allow Indian government investigators of the Mumbai attacks access to Headley. The curious relationship between US intelligence agencies and David Headley has been probed by several media outlets, including The New York Times, which in March of 2010 pointed out that Headley “moved effortlessly between the United States, Pakistan and India for nearly seven years, training at a militant camp in Pakistan on five occasions”. Now a new documentary by investigative group ProPublica, which aired on Tuesday as part of PBS’ Frontline television series, has unearthed new information that shows US government agencies failed to heed “repeated warnings over seven years”, which might have helped prevent the Mumbai attacks. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #462

  • CIA secrets could surface in Swiss nuclear case. A seven-year effort by the CIA to hide its relationship with the Tinners, a Swiss family who once acted as moles inside the world’s most successful atomic black market, hit a turning point on Thursday when a Swiss magistrate recommended charging the men with trafficking in technology and information for making nuclear arms.
  • Pakistan spy chief to ignore US summons. The Pakistani government has announced that hat there is “no possibility” that Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, would obey a summons requesting his appearance before a court in the United States relating to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
  • Australia told to prioritize spy recruitment. Carl Ungerer, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has advised the Australian intelligence agencies to “look at ways to improve information gathering from human sources”, as they undergo a period of reform.