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The Mumbai Terrorist Attacks

Will Geddes
Will Geddes (NCI)

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Will Geddes
Counterterrorism Specialist, ICP Group
Monday, December 1, 2008; 2:00 PM

More top Indian officials resigned Monday in the wake of last week's terror attacks in Mumbai, while the U.S. and Indian governments stepped up pressure on Pakistan to cooperate in investigating responsibility for a siege that left 174 dead.

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As authorities finished clearing bodies from the devastated Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, FBI forensic teams landed in the country and began visiting the hotel and other of the 10 sites attacked by a band of gunmen.

Will Geddes, counterterrorism expert and managing director and founder of ICP (International Corporate Protection) was online from London on Monday, Dec. 1, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the attacks, the aftermath, the investigation and the current situation in the country.

A transcript follows.

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Will Geddes: Hi,

Glad to be online with you today and look forward to hopefully answering your questions regarding this recent event.

Will

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Washington, D.C.: What do you think they will learn from the one captured terrorist?

Will Geddes: This will likely all depend on the interviews undertaken by the Security Services. The Indian Intelligence Agency schematic is based on the British system, so one would hope that their methods will ensure that the intel gathered is reliable and not given under duress.

The objective should likely start with corroborating the information they will have likely gathered from the cellphones and satellite phone they've recovered.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think the terrorists were trained in Pakistan?

Will Geddes: It seems highly likely that there was a Pakistan 'flavor' due to the attack modus operandi and the speculation is that although not necessarily a group of Pakistani nationality origin, there could have been some degree of facilitation provided within or connected to the country.

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Fairfax, Va.: Some of the captives used their cell phones while the attack proceeded. Will those calls be checked? Were they recorded? How does that work?

Will Geddes: The cell phones will be an incredibly valuable source of intelligence for the investigation and will be utilized to not only trace and check the numbers dialed to and from, but also checking against telecom masts to triangulate the locations they would have travelled through. There is a high likelihood that the phones would have been bought especially for this attack and therefore likely to not provide a great amount of 'history', but should certainly furnish the investigators with other numbers to check through. The Satellite phone retrieved from the Trawler will the most valuable due to it's GPS and the greater levels of accurate pinpointing, unless of course they 'blanked' it. This is a common procedure utilized by Special Forces if caught, as it erases all details. However this can even indicate the levels of training and 'preparedness' of the terrorists.

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Washington, D.C.: I haven't read the article yet, but just saw on ABC News that the U.S. warned India of a potential coming attack. What do you think about that?

Will Geddes: There have been a number of reports of a forewarning, one most critically in the Deccan Herald, the local paper of the first group to claim responsibility.

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Washington, D.C.: It seems to me like this type of attack could happen anywhere, anytime....Scary.

Will Geddes: In fact this type of attack is the most feared as it causes the most confusion to the security services as it is multiple attacks to varied targets. The most notable, historically, was the Munich Olympic attacks in 1973 - full frontal with hostage taking.

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Washington, D.C.: Is this India's equivalent of 9/11? Are there al-Qaeda ties?

Will Geddes: This could be perhaps categorized as the India equivalent and there are many hallmarks of AlQ especially in the specific identification of targets and US and British passport holders by the terrorists.

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Alexandria, Va.: There are two scenarios that are discussed [that] have some pretty serious implications. One has the Pakistani government complicit even if indirectly; the other has them being totally out of it. If they are complicit, even indirectly, then a potential war could loom between nuclear powers. If this terrorist group is just another terrorist group functioning freely in Pakistan, it speaks of an impotent government that has lost control of it's territory. What is your take?

Will Geddes: Recently the Pakistan President has been endeavoring to build strong relationships with the US, however there are strands within ISI (Pakistan Intelligence) that have been allegedly opposed, especially as their political wing is to be disbanded. There has been a longstanding animosity between Pakistan and India but neither wish to ideally go to all out war. There could be greater pressure now levied against Pakistan to completely 'refresh' their intelligence agencies, however the 'feel' from my sources is that there are likely more connections to the long running Kashmir issues and the groups that have been politically motivated by this that are behind these attacks.

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Arlington, Va.: Were British and American citizens specifically targeted?

Will Geddes: Yes, U.S. and U.K. passport holders were specifically targeted according to eye witnesses within the Taj and Oberoi hotels and the cafe Leopold.

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Maryland: What did the attackers hope to gain? Was there a political aim in sight or just glory of being a martyr?

Will Geddes: Good question and perhaps too early to say. At the moment we know that they appeared to have every intention of causing as much carnage as they could but also potentially escape. The speculation, at this stage, leads to this not being a suicide attack only as they did not appear to have entered the attacks with IED to conclude their endgame.

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Anonymous: Reports say 15 toothbrushes were found, but only 10 terrorists located. Will they check DNA samples from dead terrorists and then start to screen future suspects? Does Indian security think along these lines?

Will Geddes: Thank you. Good question.

Naturally, the investigative process will follow any and all leads and DNA recovered will certainly be checked and cross-referenced where possible. This will also be likely shared across all other Intelligence communities.

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Columbus, Ohio: Since 9/11, no major terrorist attack has happened in the U.S. To what do you attribute this achievement? Do you think India can achieve the same, or is there any distinction that make it harder for India?

Will Geddes: As many of us security guys will say, there is never 100% security anywhere, however the US is equipped with an extremely capable intelligence network. It should always be remembered that the number of 'attempts' that are thwarted that reach the public attention are only a tiny fraction of the number that really are. India has very soft borders and this recent tragic incident will certainly make them focus to how they can strengthen in the future.

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Richmond, Va.: Is it fair to blame Indian security officials? It seems to me that this kind of attack would be hard to protect against and that once there were hostages the police had to proceed carefully.

Will Geddes: Absolutely. Very difficult to blame the authorities as you are very correct that this could happen anywhere. The purpose of the attack and the schematic of targets was specifically aimed at causing major chaos and undermining the response by the security services. Equally, as you rightly say, once hostages have been taken, the 'fight', so to speak, takes on a whole new dynamic and greater caution has to be then applied. The terrorist were extremely well-prepared for this.

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Columbus, Ohio: Is there any chance the attackers disguised themselves as hostage and escaped? Just like in the movie (Inside Man).

Will Geddes: Thank you. Good question.

Highly unlikely, as the standard procedure will be to ensure that any persons within the local environs will be treated with 'suspicion' until verified to be innocent. There were quite a few reports of innocent bystanders being arrested and questioned before being released. Often passengers on hijacked planes will be treated quite harshly until the Special Forces can verify there are no hijackers among them.

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Washington, D.C.: Do we know why the attacks occurred?

Will Geddes: Answer; no, not yet. The hardest thing is that no group/s has taken 'official' credit for the attacks yet. Once they do, we should have a far better idea.

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Virginia: I read somewhere all the Indian police and military forces were not coordinated because they all have different radio frequencies. Will there be a lesson learned?

Will Geddes: Thank you and very good point.

One thing learnt both in the US after 9/11 but also in the UK after 7/7 was that there needed to be a uniform, yet secure, means for the various agencies to be able to respond to.

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Fairfax, Va.: What do you make of the Pakistani government's offer to send the director general of the ISI to India to share intelligence information? Wouldn't that be read as the Pakistanis cooperating with the investigation?

Will Geddes: Good question and fair statement.

The Pakistan government, by all accounts, would not wish for this incident to have been born in their own backyard. As this, if found to be true, would cause untold damage to an already precarious international position. As with any country, if the threat comes from within, the Intelligence Agencies will do whatever they can. With the capabilities available today within both the intelligence and investigative communities the truth will out, eventually.

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Columbia, Md.: Even if you give them a Kashmir, will the problem be solve? And if not (see history) why so much pretext of Kashmir? Is the problem lies somewhere else?

Will Geddes: It will be difficult to say until we find out who the group/s is or are behind these attacks. As you say, the Kashmir situation is not easily resolvable and there are other 'agenda' that might have been the motivators.

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Chennai, Tamil Nadu: My question is Terrorist prepared for the death before the Mumbai attach, then why they did not collapse the whole hotel by throwing the RDX? instead they shotted and counted the death ...

Will Geddes: I did answer this previously for another guest. Please refer and if this doesn't answer come back at me?

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Washington, D.C.: Can you speculate as to why the terrorists targeted the Chabad Lubavitcher building (Nariman House)? There is no official or unofficial Israeli connection with this organization, which is based in Brooklyn. Is this simply evidence of hardcore anti-Semitism from Muslim terrorists? Thank you.

Will Geddes: At the moment we can only go with the potential Extreme Islamist anti-Semitism angle as the targets were so diversified it is difficult to determine any specific driver behind the attackers MO.

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Washington, D.C.: Has this attack had any significant impact on Indian-Pakistani relations? I've heard that there has been some tension as many suspect the terrorists were trained in Pakistan. How are the governments responding to one another?

Will Geddes: There has been a strained relationship between both for many years and there is an immediacy in these types of incidents for a knee-jerk reaction to connect Pakistan. How the Pakistan government react in the imminent period will be critical to how situations will ultimately develop.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Do you think U.S. cities or say my own city Atlanta is better prepared to handle a terrorist attack like this one?

Will Geddes: Thank you. Good question.

Atlanta, as you know well, has had it's own brush with terrorism and has subsequently developed it's CT provisions. With regards this type of attack, no city is potentially impervious, however it will always be dependent on how easy it is for the terrorist to achieve it's aims. The access by sea was the vulnerability for Mumbai as the roads were far too congested and ease to the incursion, and possible extraction, would have been an impacter.

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Baltimore, Md.: Is it fair to say that the Indian intelligence has failed? India's intelligence repeatedly thwarts hundreds of terrorist incidents a year all over the country. Israel and its vaunted security has been repeatedly penetrated by Palestinian militants on a daily basis but you never hear the IDF, Shin Bet and Mossad as incompetent.

Will Geddes: The Indian intelligence agency has had a great deal to deal with from October and September this year with the number of attacks that have occurred. Sadly, as in any country in the world where a major incident occurs, questions are asked of the intelligence agencies as to their 'state of preparedness' and they are naturally always the first to be scrutinized. As the saying goes, you can stop a hundred potential attacks but the terrorist only needs to be successful once.

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Washington, D.C.: So I'm going to India later this month and will be in Goa for New Year's. That's a huge tourist spot...will there be a bigger cop presence (detriment to the ravers but necessary considering the present times) or would it be wise for me to stay away from the 5-star resorts and hotels?

Will Geddes: You should be hopefully ok in Goa, but I would recommend that you don't pack quite yet. Keep check of the US State Dept travel advice and see how the situation is developing. None of us know quite yet and I don't want to potentially ruin your fun, but best to be safe than sorry. so just keep an eye on it, but hopefully you should be ok.

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Falls Church, Va.: What are the captured terrorist's rights under Indian criminal law? Will a lawyer be appointed for him? Can he refuse to answer questions? How long before he must be arraigned?

Will Geddes: Thank you and good question, although a Lawyer might be better placed to answer some of your questions.

The interview of the captured terrorist will be scrutinized by the global community and therefore a degree of restraint will need to apply. A lawyer will likely be appointed but an arraignment may be sometime off.

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New York, N.Y.: What in your opinion has been the role of ISI in supporting and training terrorists involved in these attacks? Earlier it was reported that ISI's chief was going to visit India for helping investigate this case, but then suddenly Pakistan has backtracked on this promise. There are reports in the media stating that PM of Pakistan was overruled by Pakistani military establishment on this matter. Do you think that Pakistani military and ISI is under the control of Pakistani government?

Will Geddes: ISI are an interesting group. There are allegedly rogue elements and much speculation as to their involvement with certain groups that have a political agenda. As mentioned to another guest, it is believed that the Pakistan President is endeavoring to dismantle their political 'wing'.

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Chantilly, Va.: Did the Twittering that went on among those attacked have any effect on the outcome?

Will Geddes: Thank you. Good question.

I had a few clients within one of the hotels that I was communicating with, although advising them to limit and even cease their communications with the outside world. The reasons for this was to ensure that their location could not be compromised. Contact, albeit by twitter, was important as I know that many felt very isolated and it was good for them to feel they weren't entirely alone.

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Riverside, Calif.: It is evident that in today's world terrorism is a global evil. Many of these organizations seem to be interlinked, like the global drug-dealing network but only with much worse outcomes. In your opinion how can the major nations work together towards a solution?

Will Geddes: Thank you and good observation.

Indeed, various groups around the world are 'linking' with each other and a document we intercepted a few years ago that was a terrorist handbook gave an worrying insight to how many different groups with apparent different 'motives' would provide support and facilitation to others.

As you state, the only solution is to truly approach this through a globally supportive structure of intel and resource sharing. At the moment this is not as synergic as it should be and there tends to be a touch, in my opinion, too much finger pointing in the event of these attacks. The threat now extends everywhere and we all have to contribute to the solution.

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Portland, Ore.: It seems that the number of clues (e.g. cell and satellite phones, GPS unit, etc. ...) left for investigators to follow is extensive. Could you comment on what that says about the sophistication of the attacking group?

Will Geddes: Good question.

It would appear that they were very well-trained and very well prepared. I answered the elements regarding the cell phones and what they can do with those for a previous guest, so please have a look if you like.

However, there are other elements that the investigators can also dig into such as the explosives, grenades and even the food they have have packed. These will all have 'signatures' which although not giving perhaps fully conclusive answers will start the 'trail' to determining where these terrorists came from. Even, without wishing to make any reader queasy, the contents of their stomachs will be a big tell-tale.

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Will Geddes: I'd like to thank you all very much for your very good questions and I hope I was able to furnish a few answers for you. To those of you i was unable to get to, my apologies. There were some questions that were very in-depth and I didn't feel I could properly justify the answers they deserved with summary points.

India is one of the most beautiful countries I've visited, but for those of you thinking of travelling to India, please just keep your eyes on the media and how situations develop. The US State Dept Overseas Travel Advice is also a very good point of reference.

Lastly, I'd like to thank the Washington Post for inviting me today.

Be safe,

Will

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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