July 30, 2008 By Indrajit Basu, International Correspondent
Bangalore Police using hi-tech sensors to search for unexploded bombs. Photo Courtesy:hubpages.com
As the Indian government struggles to pinpoint the culprits behind two back-to-back terror strikes that hit India over the weekend, it appears that the government has finally realized it has few options but to bank on technology to curb sharp escalation of terrorism within its borders.
Last weekend was perhaps the most macabre weekend in a long time for India. The country was rocked by 24 bomb blasts within a span of just twenty four hours. The quick succession of terror attacks was. unprecedented in India. Bangalore, the global IT hub was the first city to be hit on Friday when chain blasts of 8 bombs went off over four hours in congested market places, killing two and injuring eight. Just 24 hours later, while Bangalore was still recovering from the shock, 16 similarly orchestrated blasts, deadlier and more brutal, rocked the northwestern city of Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat, killing another 48 and injuring more than 100. Even now, unexploded bombs are still being discoverer from another major town in Gujarat, while all major cities like Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata are getting inundated with bomb threats to mock the nation's vulnerability to terrorism.
Like the dozen -odd similar terror attacks since 2004 that took over 3800 lives, the authorities this time round too had no clues that the attacks were coming, or who did it, and why. The reasons for this failure are many: lack of intelligence, lack of adequate security cover, and lack of alacrity are some of the significant ones. But an equally significant reason is the inability of all authorities, local and federal, to apply and use technology for monitoring and nabbing terrorists. In fact, the terrorists usually have manage to remain a step ahead with innovative use of technology.
"Terror groups are outsmarting the intelligence set-up in both tactics and technology," says Shashi Kant, additional director general of Punjab Police.
For instance, after each of the four blasts in the last year, the terrorist have sent emails to the media claiming responsibility for the blasts. And although the servers from which these emails originate were tracked, authorities failed to nab the culprits. Terrorists were tech-savvy enough to either hacked into those servers or cloned the IP addresses to erase their trails.
Similarly, the terrorists use cell phones freely to communicate between themselves but such calls are rarely traced since the terrorists use a combination of foreign SIM cards and computer hacking to trespass into Indian communication networks making detection of the origin of the calls almost impossible. Besides encrypted emails and SMS services, the encryption keys of which are not available to the government, are also used extensively.
The weekend blasts too used high-technology. For the first time, instead of using timers, the terrorist used ICs to trigger the blasts at equal intervals and to even leave some of the bombs unexploded to convey the message that they can "strike anywhere and at will."
One reason why the government has been slow to harness technology for anti-terrorism efforts is lack of expertise and manpower. "Effective intelligence gathering network is lacking in the country," says an advisor to National Technical Research Organization (NTRO), an undercover agency under one of the country's intelligence outfit Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), requesting anonymity. "India not only lacks adequate technology infrastructure but lacks manpower and most importantly funding."
Nevertheless, it seems that the government has woken up to the urgent need to get more focusing on the use of technology. "The latest terror attacks have forced the government to go high on hi-tech," said the source from NTRO. This is evident from the slew of high-technology security measures that various authorities in India have adopted in the past few days.
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