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India to overhaul security, intelligence agencies

APTopix India Shooting
A Muslim woman on Wednesday looks at the damaged Taj Mahal hotel through binoculars in Mumbai, India.The Taj Mahal hotel is one of the two hotels attacked by terrorists on Nov. 26, 2008. Manish Swarup / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

India will create an FBI-style national investigative agency, beef up security and streamline intelligence gathering after a string of lapses — and a torrent of criticism — tied to the deadly Mumbai attacks, the top security official said.

The Mumbai attacks that left 171 people dead revealed glaring gaps in the nation's security systems and a shaky intelligence apparatus that missed several warning signs of the siege, which lasted for three days and paralyzed much of India's largest city.

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, the country's top law enforcement official, acknowledged serious failures Thursday. He outlined a new approach to fight terror in the government's first detailed response since an unprecedented outpouring of public anger and a hail of calls for urgent reform.

Besides creating the National Investigation Agency, Chidambaram said India would strengthen coastal security, improve training of local police, draft tighter anti-terror laws and improve intelligence sharing.

"Given the nature of the threat," he said, "we can't go back to business as usual."

'We have identified the gaps'
India's intelligence failures were among the most troubling missteps in the attacks, and Chidambaram said Thursday, "We have identified the gaps."

India's foreign intelligence agency had heard as recently as September that Pakistan-based terrorists were plotting attacks on Mumbai, according to a government intelligence official familiar with the matter.

The information, intercepted from telephone conversations apparently coming out of Pakistan, indicated that hotels might be targeted, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the details.

India had also received intelligence of a waterborne attack from the United States. The terrorists reached Mumbai's coast on a dinghy, after hijacking a boat, authorities say.

"I have found that there is a tendency to treat some intelligence inputs that are not specific or precise as not actionable intelligence," Chidambaram said. "There is a need to make intelligence gathering and intelligence sharing more effective and result-oriented."

Hubs for National Security Guards
Another change announced Thursday was creation of regional hubs for the National Security Guards, the commando force that led the fight against the 10 gunmen who attacked sites across Mumbai.

The NSG is currently based near New Delhi, and it took nearly 10 hours for the commandos to reach Mumbai — one of several problems analysts have cited in the response to the attacks.

The commandos "are hampered by the distance between their headquarters and the airport, the absence of a dedicated aircraft, and the poor logistics" in the field, he said.

Chidambaram also said new commando units from the state police would be trained in 20 counterinsurgency and anti-terrorism schools across the country.

Some experts said Chidambaram's speech to Parliament was as much about politics as security.

"This is a predictable response from the government...but it may not be enough to deal with the challenges of India's security," said C. Uday Bhaskar, a prominent defense analyst in New Delhi.

"This is really piecemeal at this point. We need something that is pre-emptive that will prevent problems," he said.

'We need a total revamp'
He said some of the changes, like creating new hubs for the commandos, were long overdue, and others, like improving maritime security, were important, but not innovative enough.

These changes "presume that the next attack will be a repeat" of the Mumbai siege, he said. "We need a total revamp."

Chidambaram said a new Coastal Command would be responsible for the security of India's 7,500-kilometer coastline.

The 10 gunmen who attacked Mumbai were Pakistanis trained by the banned Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba. Pakistan has arrested at least 20 people, including two extremists alleged by India to be instrumental in the Mumbai siege, but India has made it clear it wants to see more action.

The lone surviving gunman, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, 21, is in Indian custody and has been repeatedly interrogated by Indian authorities.

He is being held on 12 offenses, including waging war against the country, murder, and other offenses, but he has not yet been formally charged, said Rakesh Maria, Mumbai's chief investigator.