A Lesson From 26/11 – Better PR?

Recently there have been reports of a terrorist group aligned with Al-Qaeda, LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba, for the uninitiated) a.k.a. JuD (Jamat-ud-Dawa) planning on hijacking an Air India flight [source: Indian Express] and reports of LeT possibly using paragliders to launch suicide attacks against India [source: Indian Express]. These reports have prompted the home ministry to deploy air marshals on all flights [source: The Times of India] and tighten security over vital installations [source: The Times of India].

The kind of lucidity and clarity in the news reports seemed unusual. Typically the reasons for such “high alert” is one of the following three:

  1. Reactionary, that is, in response to confirmed terrorist activity. Examples:
    • July 14, 1997: Himachal Pradesh was put on alert after field officials admitted that terrorists have been entering Himachal for re-grouping and planning attacks [source].
    • June 28, 2003: Army formations were on full alert following a suicide attack on a Dogra battalion camp [source].
    • July 22, 2003: Army formations in Jammu & Kashmir were put of full alert following two major suicide attacks on army camps and intelligence reports that there may be more [source].
    • October 1, 2003: Troops along the Indo-Pak border were put on high alert after Pak army’s Border Action Teams provided cover fire to push terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir [source].
    • November 12, 2007: Army was placed on alert in Jammu & Kashmir after terrorist “sleeper cells” had become active [source].
  2. Obvious: on occasions like the Republic day or Independence day, or during known periods of terrorist infiltration. Examples:
    • January 26, 2003: Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, and the Northeast were put under high alert to safeguard against terrorist threats to disrupt the Republic Day celebrations [source].
    • March, 18 2004: Indian forces were put on hight alert because the melting snow along the LoC at the end of winter increases terrorist infiltration [source].
    • August 14, 2007: Security forces around New Delhi were on high alert for Independence day to safeguard against terror attacks [source].
    • August 15, 2008: India rolled out a security clampdown ahead of the Independence Day [source].
  3. Secretive or vague information. Examples:
    • July 13, 2006: Army cantonments were put on high alert following intelligence reports that terrorists could carry our suicide attacks [source].
    • January 11, 2007: Airports across India were put on high alter follows intelligence reports on possible attempt by terrorists to hijack an aircraft or storm airport terminals [source].
    • January 16, 2008: Central security agencies were put on guard following intelligence reports of a possible suicide attack by a Pakistan-based militant group on “VIPs” in Jammu & Kashmir [source].

In contrast the news articles on possible hijacking and paragliding suicide attacks provided us with a lot more and specific information. It seemed to come with more authority, almost trying to convince us that the government is doing its job and is very serious about security. Looks like among the lessons learnt from 26/11 (and mind you that there ARE changes in policy and execution effected by those lessons) is that it is not sufficient to just do your job, you need to make sure that your stakeholders (the people of India) know that you are doing your job. In other words PR/marketing. So are we going to see more ‘transparency’ from the government on intelligence information and credibility of terrorists threats?

Interestingly, in April 2003, security was beefed up around the Vaishno Devi Temple in Jammu & Kashmir following (specific) intelligence warning about a possible suicide attack [source news article]. The news article reported: “Although inputs regarding general threat perceptions are received regularly, the threat is specific this time,” the sources said. So, a less flattering interpretation is that Indian intelligence has been doing what it can, but its work was of really poor quality, and hence the secretive or vague information on terror threats, and hence a catastrophic intelligence failure that lead to 26/11. Post-26/11, there has been a revamping of the Intelligence and now we are finally getting quality intelligence.

A more cynical possibility is that the 2003 Vaishno Devi alter, and the recent two specific intelligence alert were all just accidents! Indian Intelligence simply got lucky, and so don’t expect anything much to change at all!

Wonder where the truth really lies…

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