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Q+A - Who was to blame for intelligence failure?

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Three days before Islamist militants landed in Mumbai to launch deadly attacks, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had warned the country’s police chiefs India could not afford another attack.

Foreign students hold candles inside a school auditorium in memory of those who were killed in the Mumbai attacks, in Lucknow December 1, 2008. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

“I only wish to emphasise here that time is not on our side,” he said prophetically, bemoaning the inability of the police and intelligence agencies to obtain “pinpointed and actionable intelligence” in time to prevent this kind of attack.

Just the day before that, Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who has since resigned, warned the same gathering that India’s coastline needed to be guarded better.

With India’s police, coast guard and intelligence communities pointing fingers over whether information existed that should have been acted on, here are a series of questions and answers about the apparent intelligence failures before the attacks.

* Were intelligence agencies to blame?

India had suffered a series of bombings on its cities even before the Mumbai attacks, and since 2004 has trailed only behind Iraq in terms of lives lost to attacks by militants.

Just as U.S. intelligence agencies are often criticised for failing to recruit enough Arabic speakers, India’s Hindu-dominated security apparatus has come under fire for failing to enlist enough Muslims or to penetrate the networks of Islamist militants.

* Were warnings issued?

Intelligence sources told the NDTV news channel they had issued a series of warnings of a possible attack on Mumbai by sea in the months leading up to last week’s strike.

The latest, warning that the “sea wing” of Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (L-e-T) was planning an attack, was issued on Nov. 18, just eight days before the militants struck, the TV channel said.

An earlier report warned that the Gateway of India monument and the Oberoi-Trident hotel were among the possible targets.

* But were those reports specific enough?

A senior police officer told Reuters the intelligence was were not specific enough to be actionable, especially along such a vast coastline as India’s.

A top coast guard official, though, did confirm they had received an intelligence report shortly before the attacks.

“Yes, the coast guard and navy did have intelligence inputs that an L-e-T boat was to land in the creeks off the northwest Gujarat coast,” he told Reuters, referring to the western state which borders Pakistan and lies to the north of Mumbai.

* Were the fishermen’s warnings ignored?

Fishermen are sometimes seen as the eyes and ears of the coast guard in India.

The head of Maharashtra’s leading fishermen’s union says he had tipped off the government some four months ago about militants using sea routes to land RDX explosives in Mumbai with help from the city’s underworld.

“No one acted upon our information,” said Damodar Tandel, the president of Maharashtra fishermen’s committee.

Mumbai is the capital of Maharashtra. Tandel said the information came to him from fishermen in neighbouring Gujarat.

* Were politicians complacent?

India’s top politicians are routinely guarded by elite commandos and already the media and Indian people are accusing leaders of complacency, inefficiency and simple incompetence.

The chief minister and deputy chief minister of Maharashtra have both followed Patil in tendering their resignations.

* Did hotel owners do enough?

Security analysts say the attacks showed the vulnerability of major cities to this kind of determined assault from well-trained militants who are prepared to die.

But security has long been lax at India’s luxury hotels.

Ratan Tata, the head of the Taj Group of hotels which owns the Taj Mahal hotel, told CNN that they had received a warning that an attack might take place.

“We did have some measures too, you know, where people couldn’t park their cars in the portico where you had to go through a metal detector,” he said.

“But if I look at what we had, which all of us complained about, it could not have stopped what took place. They didn’t come through that entrance. They came from somewhere in the back.”