A year has gone by and we have come to the time that keeps many of us awake even now; the time when Mumbai, India’s cosmopolitan city, was turned into a jungle and the residents of the city were hunted out on streets, restaurants and five-star hotels.
It was naked terror that came via the sea and then walked in without the need for any disguise. The man who became the face of the attacks looked ecstatic in a particular picture and later it became known that the crew was on certain drugs that kept them numb, focused and inhuman. With a global audience glued to the TV screens the terrorists achieved what they had come for.
I’ve seen footage of the Scotland Yard in London and that of the New York Police Department (NYPD) on BBC and CNN and I’ve seen what the CCTV at CST showed when the two terrorists were there; if you’ve seen that you understand the point. The action of the local forces in the first few hours was that of total incompetence and it was this period that made all the difference in what could have been a few lives lost and the threat eliminated in a matter of hours to the fact that the trained terrorists got their hideouts with civilian lives as hostages around them and the situation continuing for what seemed like endless 62 hours of agony. It has now been over 365 days of anger, helplessness and embarrassment.
Hardly anything went right that day or the one prior to that and every machinery responsible to ensure the safety of the citizens and that of the country itself from a terror attack failed. The intelligence community defended itself by saying that the intelligence was provided and the enforcing agencies came out saying that it was not actionable. Three of Bombay’s senior police officers, who could have provided leadership, died around Cama Hospital within the first few hours of the attack when they came in the line of fire of two terrorists who were hiding and had a position of advantage.
William Bratton, the recently retired well-known chief of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) who has headed NYPD before once said ‘all terrorism is local because ultimately, when it happens, it’s local. It’s on your shores. The police are the first line of deterrence rather than the last. It’s the police who know the neighbourhoods and there has to be some level of effective local intelligence.’ Bratton is a legend and there are enough stories on the Internet that show how crime rates have dropped significantly wherever he has provided leadership.
IBN Live carried a story last year after speaking to US security expert Alex Alexiev who put the blame squarely on India’s poor grasp of terror dynamics and lack of coordination between various agencies. Thankfully the US security expert just used the word poor grasp and did not actually say something downright demeaning because we should have been better prepared living near what is called by the world as the ‘epicentre of terrorism.’ And we’ve had a history of terror acts pointing towards the ISI with the one prior to Mumbai being that on the Indian Embassy in Kabul.
The TV journalists did not know that the live footage was being used by the terrorist handlers but what about people from operations and from intelligence who are trained and were also listening to the intercepts? They should have barricaded the place and briefed the media and better still used it to their advantage. If intelligence and operations people knew that the handlers were passing information of our channels to their men inside the three places, then how much intelligence did they need to figure out that media would have been a perfect vehicle to foil their operations; and I am quite certain the journalists present would have been extremely happy to help. Instead people not authorised to speak were briefing the media about things not needed and we ended up showing the NSG getting into Nariman House and the handler shouting kill everybody, their forces are coming.
Our machinery is not working despite dozens of terror incidents because corruption and incompetence run riot in our systems and that is what needs to be rooted out. I read that the external intelligence agency R&AW has been destroyed by years of abuse by senior officials in a column and that the morale is at an all time low.
I saw an interview of GE’s Jack Welch where he spoke about four kinds of employees and what the company should do with them. 1. High on skills and high on values: you value them and try to keep them. 2. Low on skills and low on values: you fire them. 3. Low on skills but high on values: you give them opportunities to learn. 4. High on skills and low on values: this is the dangerous category and companies often persist a bit longer with them to their own detriment.
Our culture needs to realise that competence matters at all levels and that we need to value it in every field and then perhaps the right people will find their rightful place and the intelligence agencies will function; may be even the right politicians and the police officers would come to the fore and you’ll also have journalists who can edit or write a copy.
Otherwise five years will pass and we would still be sitting ducks.