Friday, September 19, 2014

Krittika Biswas Case: An Update

The following is an update on the Krittika Biswas incident which took place in February 2011.

The case filed by Krittika Biswas, an Indian diplomat's daughter, against New York City and others, for wrongful arrest and detention on cyberbullying charges, was settled, according to her attorney Ravi Batra.

The incident occurred when Krittika was a 12th grade student at the John Bowne High School in Flushing, New York.

She was arrested February 8, 2011 after her school alleged that she had sent threatening and obscene e-mails to her calculus teacher Jamie Kim-Ross and Ivan Cohill, her gym teacher.

The real culprit, who was uncovered later, confessed to the crime, but was not criminally charged, the suit noted.

The civil suit sought at least $500,000 and $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages, respectively, as well as the termination of Howard Kwait, principal of the John Bowne High School, and teacher Jamie Kim-Ross, who retired recently.

The main defendants were the City of New York, the New York City Department of Education; Howard Kwait, who is employed by the Department of Education; Kim-Ross, a teacher employed by the DOE; Elayna Konstan, chief executive officer of the DOE Office of School and Youth Development; Margaret Maldonado, a police officer; and Larry Granshaw, another police officer.

Krittika joined the school in the 11th grade in 2009. She had differences with Kim-Ross about how many classes she would miss during a trip she was taking to India after her grandmother's death.

Kim-Ross, her math teacher, received the first threatening e-mail on November 8, 2010, and the second one on December 16. Her parents were called to the school and warned of severe consequence, even though Krittika maintained her innocence.

School officials claimed they traced the e-mail's Internet Protocol address to the apartment building where Krittika lived with her parents. Her proficiency in French added to the suspicion because the French word merde (murder) was used in the e-mail.

Kim-Ross and Cohill received two more threatening e-mails on February 6, 2011, after which the police were called in.

At the assistant principal's office, Granshaw questioned Krittika aggressively and asked her to confess to having sent the e-mails. According to the suit, the officer said that if she refused he would handcuff her and take her to 'jail with prostitutes and people with HIV.'

When Krittika did not confess, Granshaw handcuffed her tightly, so as make it extra painful for her, and continued the interrogation, the suit stated.

The next day, at the intervention of Batra, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown freed her without charges. "Judge Brown, as DA Brown is known, took the rare step to administratively dismiss all criminal charges against Krittika based upon my word -- such that Krittika never had to step into a criminal court and pled 'not guilty,' her file was 'sealed,' and she could legally say that she was never arrested," Batra noted.

Though exonerated by the legal authorities, the school insisted on more disciplinary action, suspending her in consultation with Department of Education authorities. According to the suit, Krittika was sent to a 'reform' school where 'alleged criminals' go for their constitutionally mandated education.

Later, she allegedly met the ostensible culprit who may have been upset because he had earlier been asked to leave a class as he had failed his trigonometry regents exam. But no action was taken against him and the suit noted discriminatory practices against South Asians compared to East Asians.

"Having completely won Krittika's case on the law, I advised, and Krittika agreed, with her diplomatic family's support, that in recognition of the warm relations between India and United States, that a just resolution of this case also needed to be mutually respectful in both tone and timing so as to enhance the bilateral relationship," Batra added.

[Source: 18.9.2014]

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The ISI’s Lankan Connection – An Unfolding Spy - Terror Network

Arun Selvaraj or Selvarajan is no David Coleman Headley. He however, adopted modus operandi similar to Headley, namely, setting up a cover for the purpose of espionage and scouting targets for a possible attack to be carried out by Pak-sponsored terrorists. He and the other Pakistani spies had a task to lay the groundwork for the ISI to execute a 26/11 style attack in either Chennai or Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore).

The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) along with its protégé the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) have either shifted their focus from Western India to the South of the country or have expanded their operations in the South. This is apparent from the arrests of ISI agents made by the Indian law enforcement agencies in the last few months. 

In April 2014, the law-enforcement agencies arrested a Sri Lankan national Sakir Husain in Chennai who revealed a Pakistani conspiracy to attack US and Israeli consulates in Chennai with help from two Maldivian nationals. Sakir Hussain, told his interrogators that he had been hired allegedly by an official in Pakistani high commission in Colombo as part of the ISI’s alleged plans to conduct reconnaissance of US consulate in Chennai and Israeli consulate in Bangalore. Hussain was arrested on April 29 in a coordinated operation involving various countries. (See wherein the threat posed from Maldives was highlighted) A month later, his associate Mohammed Sulaiman, another Sri Lankan, was arrested in Malaysia on similar charges.

Husain’s interrogation revealed that the ISI was planning to send two men from Maldives to Chennai and that he had to arrange for their travel documents and hideouts. He was chosen as he was engaged in human trafficking and in forging passports and smuggling fake currency.

Husain’s name cropped up during an investigation in a Southeast Asian country (possibly Malaysia) which tipped a security agency in India about possible attack on US and Israeli consulates, the sources said.

An immediate surveillance led the investigators to Husain who had been constantly shifting his base in neighbouring Sri Lanka prompting the sleuths to seek cooperation of the island nation, the sources said.

After Husain’s arrival in Chennai, he was picked up and subjected to sustained interrogation during which, the sources claimed, he spoke about a possible terror strike on the two consulates and that his handler was Amir Zubair Siddiqui, Counsellor (Visa) at the Pakistani mission in Colombo.

The sleuths recovered pictures of US and Israeli consulates showing various gates and roads leading to the two premises, the sources said, and claimed that these pictures had been mailed to his alleged handlers in Pakistan and its high commission in Colombo.

Cyber signatures showed that the pictures were downloaded at a computer within the premises of Pakistan high commission at Colombo and the same had been shared with Sri Lankan authorities, the sources claimed.

Arun Selvarajan, a Sri Lankan national and suspected to be a member of the Tamil Tigers was recruited by the ISI’s Amir Zubair Siddiqui, the handler of Husain and was arrested by National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Chennai. Selvarajan’s assignment was to carry out a recce of possible targets in and around Chennai (similar to what Daood Sayed Gilani better known as David Coleman Headley carried out in Mumbai to enable Pakistan to 26/11 attacks) for a possible repeat of Mumbai 26/11 in Chennai. The Times of India reported that Selvarajan had posed as a bartender at a dinner party organized for the Army Officers at the Officers’ Training Academy in Chennai in August 2009. For the party held in 2009, OTA had given the bartending contract to a star hotel in Chennai. NIA officials said Selvarajan tagged along a friend who worked in the star hotel for the officers' party. "He served drinks and managed to take some photographs of senior officers in the academy, using a pen camera. He downloaded these photographs and sent them to his handler called Shaji in Sri Lanka. Shaji worked for the Pakistan high commission in Sri Lanka. He carried out this ‘assignment’ before he set up an event management company called “ICE Events” as a cover for his espionage activities. The modus operandi has been more or less similar to that adopted by David Coleman Headley. While it is not clear when he was recruited, the very fact that he was operating since 2009, proves that he was able to evade scrutiny of the intelligence agencies. Another factor that possibly worked in his favour, like that of Headley, was he was a Sri Lankan Tamil Hindu and may not have aroused suspicion.

Selvarajan is also reported to have conducted reconnaissance of Kalapakkam nuclear plant site.

The other ISI spy Thameem Ansari, a native of Thajavur, was arrested pursuant to a joint operation carried out by the Indian Intelligence Bureau (IB)-Q Branch of Tamil Nadu Police while he was on his way to Trichy airport carrying a digital dossier on defence installations in South India in the third week of September 2012. He was scheduled to catch a flight to Colombo the day he was arrested. Ansari was arrested after six months of surveillance in 2012.

A failed onion trader, Ansari was contacted by Pakistani agent Shaji when he was in Colombo. Pakistani diplomat Siddiqui was suspected to be their handler.
Ansari was caught with Compact Discs and a pen drive that had data on important military areas and also landing points on the southern coastline. He was carrying a DVD of training paratroopers landing in some desert and also a Signal Corps parade. He was also carrying visuals of the Indian Army insignia that army officers wore on their shirts which raised suspicion that it was meant to smuggle terrorists into Wellington and other sensitive places dressed like Indian army officers.

An official recalled that he was carrying CDs of extensive footage that he had shot of the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington and other military places.

Intelligence sources said, there was information that not only was ISI regularly recruiting youth from this troubled region of Sri Lanka for espionage and covert operations against India but even the LeT has set up a base and now wielded some sort of influence in the region. "The region has been in some ethnic turmoil of late and Pakistan has been fishing in troubled waters. For its intelligence-collection and covert action operations directed against India, ISI uses four external bases - Kathmandu, Dubai, Bangkok and Colombo. The last one has traditionally been used as a base to collect intelligence about developments in sensitive Indian nuclear and missile establishments, many of which are located in south India, particularly in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. But the last few arrests show that these elements could now be used to mount an attack. This is worrying," said a security establishment officer. 

In an unrelated development a leading Indian newspaper reported that a partially burn diary was found by a security guard of Hanging Gardens (a well known garden in South Mumbai) on the evening of 15th September 2014 warning the city police of a repeat of 26/11 attacks to avenge the deaths of ten Pakistani terrorists (who were killed in the 26/11 attack). A letter in the diary said that ten jawans (soldiers) of Pakistan would be assisted by five Indians, including three police personnel, in the attack. "The security guard told the police that a man informed him about a diary lying in the garden. When the security guard opened it, he found a two-page letter in Hindi. He suspected something suspicious and informed the police about it. However, the man who had informed the security guard about the diary had by then left," a police officer said.

The letter read: “You will feel the same pain the way my brother, Ajmal Kasab, was executed. You take care of Mumbai, we challenge you. Remember 26/11 when my brother Kasab and his associates proved to be tough for the Mumbai police. Forget 26/11 and remember a new date 26/9 (September 26, 2014). First blast at Taj (Taj Hotel) will be followed by strikes at Churchgate, CST, Airport, Dadar, Andheri RTO, Kurla, Tilak Nagar and between Church (probably referring to Churchgate) to Mira Road, anywhere, there could be an attack.”

The letter warned of a tehelka (sensation) at Byculla station between 10 am – 6 pm. “If the Maharashtra police is powerful enough, stop it,” it said. The letter said Aamir Kasab would win the war on 26/9. Sixteen names, including those of the attackers were mentioned. In the end, the letter mentioned about hoisting the green flag in Kashmir.

While the letter seems to be prank, it cannot be taken lightly for the following reasons: Firstly, the last week of September witnesses a very important Hindu festival of Dusshera which commences on 25th September. Being a festival which is celebrated on a mass scale where people in large numbers congregate in Puja Pandals and processions, a terror strike is certain to cause mass casualties and panic. Secondly, the Maharashtra state elections are scheduled to be held in mid-October and any 26/11 type attack will impact the polls and its outcome. Thirdly, the November 2008 attack (26/11) was to have been originally carried out in September 2008 (according to the late B. Raman on 26th September 2008) but was postponed due to various reasons. The security agencies in Mumbai cannot let their guard down in the light of the contents of the letter.   

Friday, September 12, 2014

An ‘Obamian’ Strategy to Combat the Islamic State

The Obama Administration’s foreign policy continues to dither. To intervene or not to intervene; to strike or not to strike, be it in Libya or Syria or Iraq is a dilemma which has dogged the Obama Presidency.

Having drawn flak over not outlining any clear strategy yet on how to check the Islamic State's murderous advance, US President Barack Obama finally seems to have a clear “game plan” on ISIS offensive which he disclosed in a speech on 10th September.

Obama held a news conference on 5th September at the conclusion of the NATO Summit in Wales, touching on the crisis in both Ukraine and Iraq. Obama echoed the words of Secretary of State John Kerry, who said that the U.S. was committed to “destroying” the extremist group within three years as he announced a plan for an international coalition to confront the group in the Middle East.

President Barack Obama unequivocally said that the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State must be dismantled, degraded, and "ultimately defeated," days after he earned criticism for saying the goal was to roll back the organization to a point it was “manageable”.
Appearing in an interview on the NBC's “Meet the Press”, Obama told the moderator Chuck Todd that the US has a capability to deal with the serious threat posed by the Islamic State and over a course of months, the US will manage to blunt, degrade and defeat the extremists.

“Over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum of ISIL. We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We're going to shrink the territory that they control. And ultimately we're going to defeat 'em,” said Obama.

The broad grand strategy that is being conjured up by the US President is to form an international coalition and regional partnerships to attack the Islamic State in order to degrade and destroy its operations. What the President is indicating is that the US is committed to providing air support, logistics and training to its allies in the region. Period! The US will not take active part in ground combat. 

While agreeing to the fact that the US can't defeat ISIS with air strikes alone, Obama said that it was not possible to "deal with this problem by having the United States serially occupy various countries all around the Middle East".

"'We've got to have a more sustainable strategy, which means the boots on the ground have to be Iraqi...  and in Syria, the boots on the ground have to be Syrian," said Obama.

“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil,” he said. Obama compared the new initiative to smaller-scale fights the United States has engaged in. “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years,” he said.

But the scope of the new operation — which will immediately involve expanded airstrikes, additional U.S. personnel in Iraq and new support for moderate Syrian rebels — is likely to overshadow those two efforts. In the 13-minute address, Obama did not give a fixed date for when the operation might end, and his top aides have suggested it might last beyond his time in office.

The US under Obama is embarking on a military campaign bereft of any strategic objectives. The planning too is cumbersome because it involves an international coalition of ten countries as well as the Arab countries of the region whose politico-military objectives may well be different from and in conflict with the US agenda. There is also mutual distrust and infighting amongst the Arab states which is not very encouraging for the anti-IS alliance.

Wars against insurgents are fought and won, if at all, on the ground, not in the air or not from the air. Proof of this is seen in Afghanistan (2001 onwards) Iraq (2003) and Libya (2011). But Obama's forces is likely to comprise, initially at least, of the remnants of Iraqi army troops (who were sent fleeing by ISIS during its spring offensive around Mosul), Kurdish peshmerga, Syrian rebels, Shia militias and, possibly, moderate Sunni tribal groups.  A thousand or more US service personnel who have been deputed to Iraq are involved in facilitating airstrikes and training local forces. An additional 475 personnel are likely to be sent to Iraq which is unlikely to make any qualitative difference on the ground.

Obama’s emerging strategy depends on cooperation and contributions from regional partners, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey, besides the sustainability of a new government in Iraq.

A serious flaw is getting a motley group of ten nations (the US along with Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Poland, Australia, Italy and Turkey) to contribute and cooperate in militarily combating the IS. As to why Obama sought volunteers from the North Atlantic Alliance to form a coalition to fight the IS is anybody’s guess.  It is not clear why he thinks those NATO countries -- with the exception of Turkey -- will spend money and risk lives (and reprisals in the form of terror attacks) to contain the Islamic State. Turkey (which is following Pakistan’s policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds) which is presumably one of the members of this coalition has been accused of turning a blind eye to the IS’ activities along the jihadist highway that feeds the extremist elements in Syria. Jihadis transit Turkey to get into the ranks of ISIS, and the Turks buy millions of dollars worth of diesel fuel that the IS smuggle out.

In its obsession to remove Bashar al- Assad from power, Turkey’s ruling political dispensation did not bother to distinguish between moderate Syrian groups and jihadists like the IS. It was Ankara’s pro-Islamist policies in Syria (and Egypt) that paved the way for this catastrophe.

It remains to be seen how Turkey’s policies will alter the Obama administration’s relationship with Ankara, but the President’s choice of language in recent months has been increasingly accusatory and underlies the West’s sense of frustration. In his August 28 speech, Obama said: “The truth is that we’ve had state actors who at times have thought that the way to advance their interests is, ‘Well, financing some of these groups as proxies is not such a bad strategy.’”

Qatar, though not a partner in the coalition against the IS, is a long-time regional ally of the US and is known to have funded Islamist groups like the Hamas and Al Nusra and has had close links with the Muslim Brotherhood. The German Development Minister, Gerd Muller recently hinted that Qatar may be funding the IS. According to the US Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, David Cohen, Qatar has for many years openly financed Hamas, a group that continues to undermine regional stability. Mr. Cohen also stated that press reports indicated that the Qatari government was also supporting groups in Syria. According to Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Qatar is a “frenemy”. On one hand it hosts the biggest US military base in the Middle East at Al Udeid; invests billions of dollars in the US and across the globe in a bid to make itself indispensable and acts as the ‘white knight’ intermediary in hostage negotiations.

Too many pitfalls

The principal problem with this grand strategy is that US is leading a coalition “from behind” – Obama has unequivocally stated that there would be no US boots on the ground; a small number of US troops would be involved in training the forces fighting the IS and the US Air Force would be involved in carrying out strikes in Iraq and Syria. President Obama’s comparisons with Somalia and Yemen are misplaced. No two conflicts can be fought with the same strategy or tactics. The situation in Iraq and Syria threatens to engulf the whole region in a conflict without end. This is not the case with the Al Qaeda in Yemen or al-Shabaab in Somalia.

The “regional partnerships” which the White House is trying to conjure is extremely fragile and ambiguous. For instance, Saudi Arabia has agreed to host and help fund the training program, according to White House officials. Saudi Arabia, while being supportive of the United States, worries that going to war with IS could provoke a backlash among Sunni extremists in its own population. Jordan has agreed to help with providing intelligence. Turkey, as stated above, is likely to be non-committal notwithstanding the fact that the IS holds 49 kidnapped Turkish diplomats as hostage. In June, Sunni militants with ISIS stormed the Turkish Consulate in Mosul, Iraq, kidnapping the consul general and other members of his staff, and their families, including three children.

The Arab League pledged on Sunday to take steps to defeat the Islamic State, although it did not officially agree to back U.S. action against the terrorist organization. Arab League Chief Nabil Elaraby asked the 22-member body to set aside regional infighting for possible military action against the Islamic State.

Another problem would be to act against the financiers of IS in the Gulf region. Stemming the flow of money that finances the Islamic State’s operations in Syria and Iraq is one of the top ways Arab countries can make a difference. Apart from Qatar, private individuals in the region provide a substantial amount of funding to the extremist groups. Direct monetary contributions are frequently disguised as charitable donations, and the Islamic State is adept at raising funds from ransoms and smuggling, according to Bloomberg.

Further any campaign against terrorism or insurgency is open-ended. The duration of such conflicts is uncertain; it may well be a war without end, like the one being waged against Al Qaeda or al-Shabaab. According to senior Administration officials, the campaign may take three years to end. If the conflict were to drag on for more than a year, it is debatable whether the coalition and regional partnerships would remain united in its resolve to defeat the IS.

Zvi Bar’el wrote in The Haaretz: “There is no sense even in arguing about the plan’s military benefit, since Obama is not suggesting a solution for the ideological threat that Islamic State poses. Obama is selling tickets to a long, expensive show that has no plot, a show he will be producing only because he received permission from the theater owners.” According to him no foreign force, even a well-equipped one, will be able to replace a strong, determined local power.

One only hopes that this military campaign does not end up degrading the US Presidency and that Obama does not leave behind a troubled legacy for his successor in 2017.