Resources generated by US’ National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will now be available to India

New Delhi: When 79 US commandos and Cairo the dog, a Belgian Malinois, stormed into the Abbottabad, Pakistan, residence of Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden at 1.30 am (IST) on 2 May 2011 in order to neutralise him, they knew the exact number of steps that they will have to take from the landing zone where their modified Black Hawk helicopters would land to reach the third floor room of Laden, where he was sleeping.

This was possible because for months they had studied and analysed the exact replica, down to the number of stairs and the number of doors of Laden’s hideout. The model of the house took six weeks to be built and 1 inch on the model meant 7 feet on ground.

So, when the commandos landed at the doorstep of Laden, it was like the proverbial walk in the park for them. They knew where the doors were, where the kitchen was and which side they had to turn as they “cleared” the three-floor house.

For a long time, it was assumed that someone from the inside, who knew the house inside out, had helped the commandos. However, this swift execution of such a difficult mission in an inhospitable environment, which was over within nine minutes of the commandos entering the Laden compound, was made possible because of the pin-pointed intelligence that included very high resolution images gathered and the model of the house built by men and women at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or the NGA, which is located at Fort Belvoir North Area in Springfield, Virginia.

The importance and the resources at the disposal of the NGA can be gauged from the fact that it is the third-largest government building in Washington after the Pentagon and the Ronald Reagan Building. (The helicopters landed in Laden’s house at Abbottabad at 1 am IST, Laden was shot at 1.09 am and by 1.40 am, every commando was out of Abbottabad.)

As per intelligence experts, the NGA, among the many US agencies that were tracking Laden, perhaps played the most crucial role in closing the Laden chapter.

When Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) with their US counterparts—United States Secretary of Defence Mark Esper and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo—earlier last week, they paved the way for the use of similar high value intelligence data for Indian agencies, including those engaged in intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism.

The resources generated by NGA, that will now be available to India following the signing of BECA, have far-reaching advantages not just for intelligence agencies, but also the agencies and organisations involved in taking offensive and defensive actions on the border, including on India’s eastern border.

The geospatial information, which BECA will generate for Indian agencies, will be useful both against China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and against the state-supported terror groups functioning from inside Pakistan. It will also lead to training of Indian officials at the US National Geospatial Intelligence College.

“The Laden operation was carried out in 2011, almost 10 years ago. One can just speculate the improvement in intelligence generation by NGA that has happened since then. The capabilities of many of our offensive platforms, including ballistic missiles and drones, will grow exponentially due to the resources which we will be able to access post BECA. It will also allow us to take more prudent military decisions and allocate our resources more judicially,” a senior government official said.

India has a number of space satellites that are focused on intelligence gathering, including EMISAT and RISAT-2, but the assets that it will be able to use post BECA are state-of-the-art and they will augment Indian offensive capabilities, both during direct and indirect war, manifold.

The provision “10 U.S. Code § 454” that talks about “exchange of mapping, charting, and geodetic data with foreign countries, international organizations, nongovernmental organisations, and academic institutions”, will govern the BECA with India.