Now we know: Mumbai’s nightmare could have been prevented. As this newspaper exposed on Tuesday, the terrorists could have been stopped before the mayhem. Paradoxically, the fact that the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) had intercepted a satellite phone conversation between a Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operative and an unknown person — discussing target sites and operational plans — can be a pointer to the fact that terrorism is not a fatalistic phenomenon but a meticulously planned act that can be stopped if we immediately fix gaping holes in a tottering system.
Experts agree that India is strong in gathering intelligence. What India is woefully lacking in are intelligence dissemination and communication capabilities. Information related to external and internal threats to the country are fed to the National Security Council (NSC) by our various intelligence agencies. Such information in turn is disseminated and fed to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and via the latter to state administrations when required. What 26/11 has uncovered without doubt is a failure of communicating the intelligence gathered and a failure of reacting to the intelligence. To put it bluntly, it is a system that may well not be there.
One immediate change required is to make quick and effective sense of the tremendous amount of ‘chatter’ that is gathered by the various agencies. These seemingly disparate bits and pieces of information need to be made sense of and funnelled to one nodal position. The current model in which each agency provides disparate information must have a built-in architecture where information is shared. A daisy chain of intelligence gathering must be made from a lower tier that will enable strands of information to be collated so as not to leave a cohesive reaction for the last minute — or, as in the case of 26/11, not at all. Also, the NSC itself should not be treated as a ‘dumping ground’ for ineffectual bureaucrats. The intelligence machinery, on its part, should be up and running and manned by the best from within and outside the sphere of agencies. The bottom line: it should function professionally; not be hamstrung by hierarchy.
On a different front, the ordinance pushing for Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel being available for the protection of private institutions must be quickly brought into force. In this arena of ‘asymmetrical war’, choosing private or public institutions as targets makes little sense for terrorists.
On a more micro-level, security checks — whether in public spaces like malls or airports — have to be conducted with diligence, and not as a cosmetic device to show that something is being done. If that means the citizenry facing ‘inconveniences’, these must be seen as necessary inconveniences.
Whether it is acting on the next intelligence report or taking action when a metal detector beeps alive, without implementation and reaction, any system will be nothing but an impotent tool that will lull us into a false sense of security and continue to expose us to our enemies.