At a time when India is evaluating ways to beef up its response and prevention mechanism against terror attacks, lessons may be learnt from other cities like London, New York, Madrid, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Colombo.
While the first three have suffered some of the biggest terror attacks in recent times, the Israeli cities and Sri Lankan capital have been in the cross-hairs of terrorists for years. All have established systems to prevent further attacks.
High profile landmarks are closely guarded in New York. At the Four Seasons hotel for example, no security measure seems too extreme after 9/11. Uniformed guards keep a close watch on not just the lobby, but also the service and back entrances. Every employee’s ID is closely checked. And visitors at the hotel — one of the best known five-star accommodations in the city — cannot use the lift without a room key.
In Israel, a hotel, café or movie theatre gets a permit to operate only if it has armed guards. “There is no entrance where you are not checked,” says A Senior Fellow at the Harry Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace in Jerusalem, Professor Raphael Israeli.
While Spain has focussed on surveillance by thorough documentation, the UK relies on surveillance cameras. Barry Hughill, of the UK-based human rights organisation Liberty, has described Britain as “the CCTV capital of the world.” But Londoners don’t seem to mind. In the UK’s war against terror, CCTVs are used extensively to pre-empt undesirable behaviour because it allows people to go about their daily routine unfettered, even if they can’t remain unseen.
The security measures go beyond guarding important landmarks.
Effective intelligence gathering, alert citizens, coordination between departments and police empowerment are strategies that have worked for all these cities.
A former senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace in Washington DC, Jonathan B Tucker, says vigilance by the public plays a key role in preventing terror attacks. “The average Israeli is aware of suspicious packages, individuals, and actions that could pose a threat to public safety and does not hesitate to notify the police. As a result, ordinary citizens foil more than 80 per cent of attempted terrorist attacks in Israel,” he says.
Intelligence specialist on South Asia and a retired military intelligence officer who has served in Sri Lanka, Colonel R Hariharan, says identifying the indicators of terror attacks have been so drilled into citizens of Sri Lanka that recently, when they found an unattended bag in a bus, they stopped the vehicle and got down — without panic. The bomb went off, injuring only two persons.
To take terrorism head-on, coordination between various forces also becomes a priority.
Israel uses a national model for policing, combining regular police forces as well as quasi-military forces like the Border Guard under one roof in its headquarters in Jerusalem.
Post-9/11, efforts have been made in the US for a more coordinated approach to fight terror. Vice-President of research at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC, Alex Alexiev, explains, “One of the positive steps we have taken in the US has been to set up terrorism intelligence centres where various agencies of government and local police work side by side. For example, in Los Angeles, you have the FBI, CIA, LA police and various other agencies like the fire department and the airport police all working together. These professionals sit in the same office, the same department and they become colleagues as opposed to different competing departments. In India, they need to cooperate closely and make sure that no lead goes cold.”
While Spain could say its cities have not seen another attack since the Madrid train bombings in March of 2004 because of their focus on documentation, this too has been a success because of better coordination between departments.
Senior Analyst on International Terrorism, Fernando Reinares, in his report After the Madrid Bombings: Internal Security Reforms and the Prevention of Global Terrorism in Spain, writes, “As a result of a programme… which started just a few weeks after the Madrid bombings, shared access for the National Police and for the Civil Guard became a reality…for databases including the national identity document (DNI), arms and explosives, passenger lists, and voice and fingerprint identification systems.”
Empowering police is another key point. Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, Ajai Sahni, and editor of the South Asia Intelligence Review says, “We need a truly empowered police force with good counter-terrorism training and equipment, which understands the trends in international terrorism. What occurred in Mumbai was a consequence of the infirmity of the police.”
After 9/11, every group that shared responsibility in handling the attacks, from the New York Police Department (NYPD) to federal agencies such as the FBI and CIA, saw a massive overhaul. All of them beefed up overall numbers, spent millions of dollars on high-tech security measures, and assigned specific officers or specialists to focus on counter-terrorism efforts.
The concept of homeland security was also born at that time and city police forces received a major boost in counter terrorism training.
But in Mumbai and most other Indian cities, poor policing against terror attacks isn’t just a result of inadequate resources, it is also constrained by insufficient intelligence gathering. Alexiev from the Center for Security Policy explains, “The police in India are almost like a marginal factor in counter terrorism. It’s the police who know the locals and the neighbourhoods and there has to be some level of effective local intelligence.”
While lessons from other city targets are valuable, perhaps there are also lessons to be learnt from the West on what not to do. The shooting of an innocent Brazilian man on the London Underground a week after the 7/7 London bombings is a telling example. An independent intelligence consultant and well-known media commentator on terrorism and intelligence in the UK, Crispin Black, agrees that the ‘shoot on sight’ directive was a mistake. “That law is still there on the books, but I doubt it will ever be implemented again.”
Others, like Chief Foreign Correspondent of The Observer, Jason Burke, who has covered the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, says America’s response to the 9/11 attacks was profoundly flawed and counter productive in many ways — invading Afghanistan was not the answer.
“India needs to avoid subsequent errors. Lots of people in the subcontinent talk about how America needs to think before it acts — the same logic can be applied domestically. You need a logical, dispassionate approach,” he says.
Senior features writer Shloka Nath, principal correspondent N.S. Ramnath and reporter associate Elizabeth Flock are with the new business magazine to be launched by Network18 in alliance with Forbes, USA.