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CBR terrorism a clear danger to India: ORF-RUSI Study

June 15, 2012 - New Delhi

There is a clear danger to India from CBR (Chemical, Biological and Radiological materials) terrorism due to the known intentions of terrorist groups active within India's borders, according to a new research study.

Terrorist organisations may seek to carry out CBR attacks in future by detonating a radiological dispersal device ('dirty bomb'); by carrying out an armed assault on an industrial facility handling CBR materials or on vehicles transporting material between sites; or by infiltrating facilities in order to steal CBR materials or to sabotage the site, the study done by Observer Research Foundation and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has warned.

Releasing the study report, titled 'Chemical, Biological and Radiological Materials: An Analysis of Security Risks and Terrorist Threats to India', former Home Secretary G.K. Pillai admitted that for the government, CBR threats so far had been of "low priority importance".

"It is a low priority issue. With too much happening, it is something likely to happen. Also with threats low," said Pillai, who was at the centre of introducing internal security reforms after the Mumbai terror attacks.

Pillai said the wake-up call on this issue for the government came when, just before the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, the radio-active material sold from the Delhi University created problems for the people.

Explaining the threat that can be posed by the missing explosives from factories, Pillai said once the Madhya Pradesh Police found out that 14,000 tonnes of explosives went missing. He added that much of this landed in the hands of mining mafia which used it for illegal mining activities.

Noted strategic expert Dr. C. Raja Mohan, RK Mishra chair at ORF, said though India has been raising WMD-related issues at various international fora, not much work has been done on domestic aspects of the issue, though "it is not an inconsequential threat."

"Though India has been battling insurgencies and terrorism for over three decades, the changing nature of the threat now make it more deadly. CBR threat for India is loud and clear given that Pakistan has become the locus of international terrorism making the threat that much more horrifying," said Dr. Rajeswari Rajagopalan, ORF Senior Fellow, who led the study team.

She said external terrorist groups active in India, such as the the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI) aggravate the danger for India, point out that these groups had in the past attacked key installations and public buildings, including the Indian Parliament in December 2001. "These groups are capable of posing the more serious CBRN threat. Such a possibility became apparent when David Coleman Headley, an American working for LeT, disclosed that he had conducted hostile surveillance on nuclear installations in India," Dr Rajeswari Rajagopalan said.

Saying that the role of small-scale industries is crucial in this regard, she said control of the flow of CBR material from small-scale industries needs special attention.

The ORF-RUSI study found that site security at facilities and industries handling CBR materials is variable. Large industrial sites, particularly under the protection of the Government-funded Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), are well-protected with robust security and safety arrangements, but this is not mirrored in all medium- and small-scale facilities, some of whom have employed private security agencies who are not adequately trained.

The study found that transport of CBR materials presented particular vulnerabilities as the majority of regulation focused on transport accidents, not on deliberate attack. Protection of CBR materials in transit needs to be strengthened, the study suggested.

In such a scenario, the study suggested greater standardisation of site security with well-developed practical plans for implementation.

The study also suggested that CBR training and awareness needs to be pushed out to frontline staff in security agencies and industry in order to ensure that the threats are both fully understood and that any observed incidents are recorded correctly.

Another important suggestion is to give an increased role to the National Disaster Management Authority in prevention and mitigation of CBR incidents, as well as the response to such events.

The report noted that the threat of CBR terrorism is a global security concern with past incidents such as the deliberate contamination of food by the Rajneeshee religious cult in Oregon, USA in 1984 and the release of a chemical agent by the Aum Shinrikyo cult on the Tokyo subway in March 1995. These incidents showed that deliberate attacks are within the capabilities of malicious actors and can have devastating consequences.

In addition, industrial accidents such as the Bhopal gas tragedy in India in 1984, mishandling of dangerous radiological material such as the accidental sale of radioactive Cobalt-60 to a scrap dealer in Delhi in 2010, and the intentional poisoning of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station water supply in Karnataka in 2009 showed the damage that could be caused by malicious actors using CBR materials. Such incidents also highlight security and safety vulnerabilities surrounding CBR materials and the sites on which they are stored and used.

Since India faces a serious battle against terrorism from armed Naxal rebels, insurgent and separatist groups such as United Liberation Force of Assam (ULFA), and other international terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), CBR threats needs to be taken care of more seriously, the report said.


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