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Mumbai: Failure of Collective Intelligence?
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The city’s been held hostage for 60 hours. The city’s been blown to bits. The city’s been mistaken for a battleground by mafia goons. Normal cities would bend over and snap into two. Not Mumbai. Mumbai’s made of something tougher. Mumbai’s a tough city. In the brightest day, in the darkest night, the Mumbai spirit has always shown through. Mumbai will pick itself up. In fact, it is picking itself up even as I type this. Hoorah to resilience, right?

Well that could be one way to go about things. How about a different route, however? How about a more introspective route? The very same route the collective nation takes in the immediate after math of a terror attack, but chooses to abandon less than hour later. Something about inconvenient truths, or maybe the collective memory really is 140 characters long.

Why exactly did this attack take place? Why exactly do any of the attacks take place? Post 26/11, the Indian public had been promised tighter checks and a more secure India. The National Investigative Agency Bill and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill became a law and the National Investigative Agency (NIA) was set up. Never again seemed to be the tone used by the Government. And yet, 13/7 happened. Three blasts. Fifty-six killed, over 200 injured. Mumbai the target again. Intelligence failure? Or merely a failure of collective intelligence?

The very fact that each attack catches the Indian public and Government by surprise hints at bumbling ineptitude on the part of the various intelligence agencies. It’s not like the best intelligence agencies don’t fail. In fact, the FBI and CIA failed to prevent 9/11 even though Mossad had tipped them off about it one full month in advance. No intelligence agency can be 100% accurate. And yet we see this vast difference in the times the two nations (India and USA) are targeted. That even though many terror outfits recognize USA as enemy #1. Maybe it has something to do with stringent security measures? Or maybe it has something to do with the policies adopted by the two with respect to terrorism.

While talking to the media in the aftermath of the 13/7 attacks, Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani claimed that the attacks were caused because of a policy failure, and not an intelligence failure. While condemning the attacks, he urged the Government to also adopt a zero-tolerance approach towards terrorism. While one can’t really be certain whether such an approach would work in the Indian context, it should be noted that USA and Israel both follow a zero-tolerance approach, and are generally considered to be the toughest countries to launch an attack against.

While talking about the various ‘security’ measures which are meant to act as ‘deterrents’ against attacks like these, one must keep in mind the numerous ineffective pat-downs, the non-functioning metal detectors and the generally lazy security guards. While timely intelligence reports would help tremendously in the fight against terror, displaying an iota of collective intelligence would work wonders too.

This post was first published in SIMC Wire.

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  • Vivek

    I agree with most of what you’re trying to put across in this post. Coordination between intelligence agencies can be much better. Sure, they’re sending reports to one another, but they’re a) not always taken 100% seriously, b) mainly used to disclaim any blame that might come their way after a security breach has taken place.

    Besides, it’s not just intelligence, but vigilance too. The police force aren’t paid well (on par with, say, private security guards), often get to work long hours (I assume) and thus may not always be 100% on the job, physically or mentally. Sure, you’ll probably raise hell about corruption if I try to side with them, but I’d like to point out that they too are doing a job, and to maximize productivity, they better have some incentives to perform: to check each car entering the border properly, to check every passenger entering a railway station, to make road barricades worthwhile. 
    The trigger shouldn’t be an intelligence report in the first case.