How much of the devil is in the details?

A reader, Rajendra Bora, wrote to me last week criticising a report that HT had published several days after four explosions went off in Pune on August 1, injuring one person.

india Updated: Aug 19, 2012 00:46 IST

A reader, Rajendra Bora, wrote to me last week criticising a report that HT had published several days after four explosions went off in Pune on August 1, injuring one person.

Initially, the blasts had puzzled investigators because, although menacing, they seemed designed to cause only limited damage. The question then was whether those responsible for the explosions had deliberately kept them low in intensity (for whatever reason) or whether the explosions had misfired.

In the report, unnamed forensic experts involved in the investigation said that the blasts had probably failed because too much wax had been used in the explosives. They suspected that the bombs consisted of shrapnel sheets, instead of the normal shrapnel pieces, and that the wax had been used to glue those sheets together.

“It is extremely surprising that a national newspaper should reveal the causes of the bombs’ failure,” wrote Bora. “This is indirectly offering the services of technical experts to the bomb makers, who otherwise would not have access to knowledge of where they have gone wrong. This is similar to the 26/11 attack, where media coverage helped the control room in Pakistan guide the terrorists.”

I put Bora’s criticism first to the reporter, Mohamed Thaver. He pointed out that the official forensic report with many more details about the bombs would anyway become public once the police filed it in court along with their charge sheet. Therefore, the article was not revealing anything that would not eventually become public.

Thaver also said that his forensic sources had told him that they believed the bombs had actually meant to cause harm but had failed. “But I could not merely state that,” he said. “I had to say why they had come to that conclusion. So I revealed some details to support this. You have to remember that until then there were two theories doing the rounds.”

I then asked Vaibhav Purandare, a senior associate editor at HT who had been in charge of the edition that day, what he thought. “By highlighting how those behind the blasts had actually intended to cause far more damage than they did, the report exposed the designs of the group or groups behind the blasts,” he said. “Also, the report is in no way comparable to the coverage of the 26/11 attacks, where information relayed live, while the attacks were on, became a matter of much debate.”

Finally, I also contacted a former director of the Intelligence Bureau, Ajit Doval. Like Thaver, he pointed out that the forensic report would legally become a public document. He felt that this was a good thing.

“The more we expose details about terrorist technology, methodology, tactics and communication methods, the better it is for the security of the public,” he said. “Citizens will know what to look out for.” He went on to say that what should be kept secret were the government’s response to terrorist threats and the work of state intelligence and security agencies.

So overall, I think Bora’s criticism does not hold up. Readers need only do an internet search to see that similar details about bomb blasts have routinely been made public. I also agree with Purandare about the 26/11 attacks being different. In that case, information was revealed about the location of trapped people, endangering their lives.

First Published: Aug 19, 2012 00:46 IST