Artificial intelligence: How counter-terror failed us
Our Intelligence is said to have brains, but nobody has seen them yet. There isn’t a single clear-cut case where they have caught terrorists immediately before or after bombs are put. In many border states, such as in the Northeast, newspapers frequently run cock-and-bull stories planted by the Intelligence, which are meant to put out an impression that they are on the job.
Typically, they seem to have all information and crucial details, except that the culprits are never in their bags. Consider this recent headline: “Alert in Guwahati after reports of ULFA bombers sneaking in.” Click here
The story says at least three bombers of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) had sneaked into the state’s main city Guwahati to carry out serial explosions in public places.
The police spokesperson quoted seems to know exactly how many would-be bombers have descended (as if they alighted from a flight, waving guns), which wing of the militant outfit they belong to, and even the marketplaces they would precisely target.
If so much is known, why are they not caught? How come the radar blanks out once they are inside the city limits? Poor intelligence at work, not in counter-terrorism, but in story-telling.
As a result of our sleepwalking intelligence, internal security has suffered.
There is serious doubt if they get the right people, map the right plots and crack the right terror rings. Their gadgets pick up conversations of chief ministers, not terror masterminds. Click here
Every time a bomb goes off, the usual suspects are Muslims. Many Muslims are rounded up and the police spin stories about them in the media. Crime reporters are usually the most inexperienced. They are invariably the youngest, working for city reporting bureaus. These reporters depend on the police for their bread and butter. So, they never question police theories.
All bombings between 2006 and 2008, which took place in multiple cities and towns, were immediately blamed on people of one community by an intuitive intelligence. As a Muslim, it was appalling and dreadful for me. It was equally shameful. Yet, there was no option but to keep quiet. After all, bombs don’t fall from Mars. Someone must have planted them. It must be Muslims, a few who ultimately kill for geo-political reasons, but in the name of religion.
It has become such an all-too-familiar story that even Muslims were starting to believe that only Muslims can get really ugly and Islam really evil.
However, serious about-turns have taken place in investigations into the bombings in Muslim shrine Ajmer Sharif and Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid, both of which took place in 2007. The blasts in Malegaon in 2006 and 2008, and then the violence in Modasa, were all initially blamed on Muslim outfits, either the Kashmir-linked terror groups or alleged homegrown terror like the Indian Mujahideen.
It now appears that some of these acts were committed by groups acting in the name of Hindutva, an ideology equally prone to be extreme. Am I saying no Muslim ever detonated a bomb? No. But when terror strikes repeatedly at the heart of one religion, it is common sense to look elsewhere for clues. But common sense is not all too common. Our intelligence blamed Muslims for what were essentially attacks on Islam.
An intuitive intelligence jumps the gun. Smart intelligence is driven not by instinct or intuition but hard information. Therefore, it has ended up tainting just one community, transferring the sins of a potent few to the whole of it.
Somebody must be brought to justice for arresting 75 Hyderabadi Muslim youths for the Mecca Masjid blasts. Many of them have been freed. But tainted by terror, their lives are going nowhere. During visits to Hyderabad, I had met one of them. I felt terrible to see a peaceful, educated, law-abiding young Muslim to have been wrongly blamed for terror.
How is it that soon after the bombs go off, police and even home ministers, quoting intelligence, immediately blame members of the Muslim community, alleging links with Huji and Lashkar? It takes them more than two days to ascertain what explosives were used, but two minutes to blame Muslims.
Stereotyping of Muslims is often blamed on the media, but the real culprit and the root cause is the Muslim-obsessing intelligence of this country.
It’s difficult to know how they operate, and whether they update and hone their skills. Such information cannot be sought even under the Right to Information Act.
We now work closely with Israel, a country known for its ruthless but highly accurate intelligence.
During my December 2009 visit to Israel, our ambassador in Tel Aviv, Navtej Sarna, called me over for a dinner. His wife Avina spread out a simple but a delicious Indian meal.
Sarna said he was focusing on increasing the tremendous business potential between the two countries. I had told him that, given the growing closeness of the two countries, our intelligence agencies should hone their skills with the help of Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence, and Shabak, Israel’s internal security agency in charge of monitoring the West Bank.
On hundreds of occasions, Israel has managed to kill enemy operatives in pin-point strikes based on real-time information. Often, fugitives are killed by firing missiles at their cars, when they traveled from one safe haven to another.
Israel’s intelligence works closely with that country’s minority community. Time magazine writer Dan Ephron, in a recent article on how Israel got the son of a Hamas founder to defect, writes that the Shabak security agency maintains a list of every Palestinian in every town and village, ranking them in order of their usefulness. That’s the kind of hard work it takes to ferret out the real operatives.
Problems of India and Israel are very dissimilar. Israel was born out of a debatable part of history. But sharing intelligence skills does no harm, especially when we have so many shades of terror — red, green and saffron — to take care of. If targets are precise, innocents are spared.
All public money spent across all departments is accounted for by the government before Parliament. Lawmakers routinely review “demands for grants” of all government wings, except in the case of internal and external intelligence agencies.
With Delhi’s Batla House shootout on September 19, 2008, intelligence officials claimed the masterminds of one of the deadliest outfits had been wiped out. To kill a revolution, it is said, you have to kill its leaders. Yet two days after Batla House, a bomb went off in south Delhi’s Mehrauli.
Indian Muslims continue to face risks of persecution, especially in Gujarat. One of Gujarat’s senior-most policemen, Abhay Chudasama, has been arrested in connection with the Sohrabuddin fake encounter. Chudasama is the chief of the Ahmedabad Crime Branch. Imagine? Such policemen, if their guilt is proved, deserve the same contempt as terrorists. When protectors turn predators, they should be treated as extraordinary offenders.
Shamefully, Chudasama is the 14th police officer to be arrested for abducting and killing Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife, Kausar Bi, in 2005, near Ahmedabad. The police wanted us to believe that Sohrabuddin was a terrorist after they shot him dead in a fake encounter.
Sohrabbudin’s death was first investigated by the Gujarat CID, which came under severe censure from the Supreme Court for deliberately moving too slowly, and for botching up the investigation. It was then handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The CBI has charged Chudasama with trying to influence witnesses into changing their versions. He also allegedly arranged guns that were used in the shootout, including one that was planted on Sohrabuddin.
Sohrabuddin and his wife were pulled out of a bus near Gandhinagar and taken to a farmhouse. Later, he was allegedly taken by the police to a highway. A hail of bullets was fired to make it seem as if Sohrabuddin had attacked the police. Kausar Bi was never found. Investigating officials suspect she may have been set on fire.
Three senior police officers who were arrested earlier for the fake encounter include former deputy inspector general D.G. Vanzara, superintendent of police Rajkumar Pandyan, both from the Gujarat Police, and superintendent of police Dinesh MN of the Rajasthan police force.
On September 8, 2009, the Ahmedabad metropolitan magistrate, S.P. Tamang, had found that the June 2004 killing of Ishrat Jahan, a young girl suspected to be a terrorist, was a case of ‘fake encounter’.
The war on terror looked different to some Muslims, like the Hyderabad boy, who found themselves under instinctive suspicion because of their religion. If counter-terrorism is seen to be harassing or partial, there is a danger of people identifying more with terrorism than with the government.
Therefore, we need a law-respecting police force and a non-partisan intelligence. Nobody has a greater duty to follow the law than those who make or enforce it.
Brash as ever, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has alleged a witch-hunt, accusing the CBI of harassing senior policemen. Modi’s crying hoarse makes me wonder if these policemen are his henchmen. Egregiously enough, he gets BJP leader L.K. Advani, whose political steam is fast depleting, to lead a protest against the CBI’s probe. Modi’s fear, of law catching up with him, is finally showing.
Rajya Sabha MP Brinda Karat made a statement on May 6 in Parliament. “It seems there is a network of groups operating in different parts of the country that are committed to acts of terror in the name of Hindutva. The government should institute an enquiry into this,” she said.
When Muslims are linked to blasts, then Islam itself is blamed. Should we not then strongly condemn the politics that act as factories for extremist ideology, the politics of communal hatred?