India must expand its intelligence capacity in Western countries
Until US authorities arrested David Coleman Headley/Dawood Gilani and Tahawwur Hussain Rana no public account of India’s investigations into the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai even mentioned the Chicago connection. It is highly likely that Indian investigators had no clue as to Headley and Rana’s existence, leave alone the extent of their possible involvement in terrorist attacks on Indian soil. The manner in which Rana and a woman believed to be his wife were issued a visa—bypassing standard procedures relating to visa applicants of Pakistani background—suggests that India’s external intelligence machinery was not tracking them.
That raises the big question: why was Indian intelligence unaware of the Chicago jihadi cell?
One explanation is that the R&AW staff in the United States were either incompetent or were outsmarted by Headley and Rana. The other explanation is that R&AW personnel in the United States didn’t even have the job of smelling out potential jihadis in their job scope.
Now, the R&AW doesn’t have the kind of resources to finance a huge intelligence gathering network across the United States. But if you are an intelligence agency with some resources the first thing you would do is develop some assets within the ethnic communities that are of interest to you. For instance, Indian intelligence agencies did have some assets within the North American Sikh community. The Headley-Rana case suggests that R&AW didn’t have a finger on the pulse of the Pakistani diaspora communities in the United States. It should.
Given that both al-Qaeda and the Pakistani jihadi groups are using operatives with passports issued by Western countries, it is incumbent on India to upgrade its capability to gather intelligence among the ‘South Asian’ communities in North America and Europe. This is the baseline requirement.
At a time when the intelligence apparatus failed to even spot Headley & Rana, it would be tall order to argue that India should invest in covert action capacity that can be used to target the likes of the Chicago jihadsters. The US government is more sensitive to the jihadi threat to India now as compared to a decade ago, and there is some co-operation between the two governments in tackling international terrorism, but India must have some independent options. It is possible that marginal jihadis would be deterred from placing that international call to Individual A or Lashkar-e-Taiba Member A if they knew that they might get in the way of a Chicago gangster’s truck…or bullet.