Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Attacks

First, I hope you're okay, as is everyone you know.

Watching the coverage online for hours now, it strikes me that what we need more than anything else is the ability to respond to crises like this in an intelligent and organized way. With all these news reports of people having conversations with guests trapped inside the hotels coming in, I can't help wondering why no one seems to have thought of blocking communication in and out of the attack sites. If guests hiding in their rooms can call people on the outside, then presumably so can the attackers, which means they have both ready access to all information being publicly broadcast and the ability to coordinate with their fellow criminals in and around the city. It also means they have an unparalleled ability to spread disinformation (how do we know, for instance, that some of the reports coming in are not from the terrorists themselves?). I have to think this is a bad idea.

It's a particularly bad idea because it seems to me that most media channels are too busy trying to sensationalize the news to bother thinking through the consequences of what they're saying. It's not just that much of the coverage seems to be designed to amplify the general hysteria and panic, it's also that watching journalists describe what the police are doing or report on who is still trapped inside the hotels, I find myself wondering whether anyone's considered that at least some of that information might be helping the attackers.

Look, criminal acts like today's attacks are not going to go away. No matter what party is in power (and today's events probably made it more likely that will be the BJP - a pity), no matter how many civil liberties we suspend or how close to a police state we move, no matter how many arbitrary security procedures we put in place, this will happen again. What we can, and should, do is be better prepared for the next time it happens, so we can respond to it intelligently, instead of adopting what, from my admittedly distant perspective, looks suspiciously like the headless chicken approach.

UPDATE:

Given all the comments and incoming links to this post, I wanted to clarify that the primary point of this post was NOT to heap blame on the media. The key takeaway from the events of the last 24 hours for me is the desperate need to have better, more comprehensive plans, procedures and protocols to invoke in emergencies like this.

It would be nice, of course, if the media were to behave more responsibly. And it would be wonderful if some dynamic, hyper-competent leader were to take charge of the law enforcement response, thinking through all the angles in real-time. But expecting that either will automatically happen is unreasonable. Which is why we need to be better prepared for such eventualities in the future.

Look, television reporters have their own pressures and incentives. With the multiplicity of channels covering these events, responsibility is necessarily diffuse, and voluntary restraint would require a level of disinterested collaboration that is always going to be fragile. Even if n-1 channels self-censored, there would always be the 1 channel that would broadcast sensitive information just to get its ratings up. This doesn't excuse the media's behavior, doesn't make them less responsible for any and all negative consequences of their reporting; but it does mean that the media response we're seeing is predictable and unsurprising, and should have been planned for in advance.

By the same token, it's not surprising that spontaneous leadership in a crisis like this one is poor and spotty. You can't seriously expect someone caught up in the rush of events, overwhelmed by both information and emotion, to think of everything (or even of most things). Nor is it easy to actually implement a communication shut down unless there's a previously defined protocol to do so. To take just one example, assuming whoever's in charge of the government response realized that they need to black out all cellphone communication in the affected area. How would he go about doing that?

And it's not simply a question of whether live feeds have finally been disabled, or television input to the hotel eventually been cut. It's not even really a question of how much the information given out by the media helped the attackers this time around. The real question - to me, at least - is: if the government needed to clamp down on the media and cut communication channels in an emergency, could it do so quickly, efficiently and comprehensively? The answer, based on what we're currently seeing, is a frightening no. That's a vulnerability that future terrorist groups - groups far more sophisticated in their manipulation of information than the ones currently attacking Mumbai - could exploit to devastating advantage.

The point is - it would be a pity if our response to today's events was limited to a lot of hand-wringing about how the media are a bunch of sensation-addicted scavengers, or a lot of poorly informed speculation about the motives and backgrounds of the attackers (it doesn't really matter, does it? Today it's one cause, tomorrow it'll be another; terrorism is not a novel phenomenon, it's a standard manifestation of socio-political unrest). The questions we really need to be asking are: what can we do to be better prepared to respond to terrorist attacks like this one? How have other countries (Israel springs to mind) prepared for such situations? What can we learn from them? For that to happen, though, we're going to need to look carefully and objectively at today's response and study what we could have done differently, and do so without pointing fingers or getting angry or trying to ascribe blame. Because you can be certain that somewhere out there there's a group of criminals who are doing exactly that in preparation for their next assault.

UPDATE 2

Of all the idiotic nonsense to come out of the last 24 hours, all this talk about this attack being 'India's 9/11' has to come pretty much on top of the list. What does that mean anyway? If we absolutely have to compare these attacks to something else, surely a more appropriate comparison would be the FLN attacks in Algeria (combination shootings / bombings targeted at popular sites in affluent neighborhoods with a high proportion of foreigners) or the Munich attack (armed assailants attack a high visibility complex, take foreigners hostage) rather than 9/11?

Which is not to suggest that today's attack has anything to do with Black September or that the Deccan Mujahideen have anything in common with the Algerian Freedom movement, but rather that drawing random and inexplicable parallels between one act of terrorism and another is a futile and ridiculous exercise, especially when it's done purely for the sake of a sound-bite. Every major terrorist strike is an act by itself and must be understood on its own terms. Comparisons are not merely silly, they may also be misleading, because they create the illusion of understanding without helping us achieve any.

That said, if we are going to be saddled with this stupid India's 9/11 nonsense, we may as well draw what lessons we can from the analogy. In particular, we should draw the lesson that we must be suspicious of any and all claims that ascribe these attacks to foreign influence, that we must demand strong evidence for every alleged link to an outside terrorist group, that we must not allow ourselves to be fobbed off with poorly specified conspiracy theories, or be blinded to government incompetence by the bluster of their subsequent response. But most of all, that we must not allow ourselves to be taken over by the lethal combination of outrage and ignorance, must not allow our terror over today's events (and we should be afraid, very afraid) to translate into self-righteousness, prejudice, violence and the surrender of our principles and freedoms. Even if today's attack really is India's 9/11 (whatever that means) we must make sure that India's next seven years are not the US from 2001-2008.

And finally, can someone please explain to me where all this talk about these attacks being so sophisticated and well-coordinated is coming from? Arms sourcing aside, what's so hard about today's attack? You recruit a bunch of raw youths, give them, say, a week of basic training, hand them their weapons, tell them what building to hit and at roughly what time. What's the big deal? Every small-time dabbawalla in Bombay (what? you think Suketu Mehta is the only one who can come up with irrelevant local color?) handles greater coordination challenges on a daily basis.

49 comments:

Space Bar said...

you know this is exactly what i was thinking. these ndtv guys are showing the balcony from which, presumably, the ATS, the naval command and the army are going to attack. what is wrong with them?!

The Comic Project said...

very right. the media is behaving like a bunch of bad actors. The worst part though is - who is really in charge. One name, one face to tell us what is really happening instead of the wild speculation.

km said...

Well, they've killed the live feeds on TV (I just heard the NDTV anchor say this - not sure if it's true for all channels.)

D said...

Indian media forgets its responsibilities when faced with something like this. If they give a minute by minute account of where the policemen are heading, who's arriving on the scene, how many commandos are preparing to storm the hotels, like they are, they leave nothing to the terrorists' imagination. It's like they are being served all the information they need on a platter.

page175 said...

I don't get how they've allowed a mob to gather outside all the crime scenes? or why eyewitnesses haven't been taken away to be debriefed, treated and questioned (the media finds them as soon as they get out!). This response is so messy, it's scary.

Falstaff said...

SB: Scary. Though it isn't really about what the NDTV guys are or are not doing, is it? The real question is - why is there still information flow into the Taj? Shouldn't all communication have been clamped down as soon as it became a hostage situation?

Comic Project: Agree completely. Having someone in charge is crucial. As is having a plan to follow in such situations.

km: Finally. Too little, too late though. And as long as phone lines are still up and the area hasn't been cleared a little irrelevant. All the attackers inside need, even with the live feeds shut down, is an accomplice on the outside with good eyesight and a cellphone.

D: See above. While it would be nice if the media behaved more responsibly, I think it's unrealistic to expect that given competition and diffusion of responsibility. The people who should be ensure a press blackout are the law enforcement authorities.

page 175: Yes. I also can't help wondering whether anyone is checking who is coming out of the buildings. I'm not entirely sure what's stopping any / all of the perps from dropping their weapons and walking out of the crime scene claiming to be victims.

??! said...

One of the channels was talking to a guest inside, who said they the TV feed to all the rooms had been cut off. So that's something.

But how are the lines still open? So that the people who trained them can still call them and let them know what's happening? And why are the cops not talking to these guests, to find out what room they are on, and whether they can hear anything outside the room?

This is just so....amateurish.

Space Bar said...

falstaff: i suspect the three guys who took the cops' jeep and qualis did exactly that, but that's not fact - it's suspicion. after all, nobody's wearing a badge that says 'terrorist'.

what is also amazing is how the cops allow tv crews to mess up the evidence. the times now crew was in cama hospital with their feet in the blood, following the trail and muddying the SOC. Do none of them read any tec fic?

Pinku said...

well distance at times lends a clearer perspective...the same is in your case. you are right about the live feed and the communication lines being open. i want to agree with you but then again I think that perhaps those still inside found the communication link their biggest solace.

you are right the only way to tackle this is to be calm and prepared. Not just the forces but each one of us.

Space Bar said...

Good points in your update, falstaff.

i've also been asking myself: if one has to get used to being in a state of siege, how does one - personally - prepare for it every time one goes out? like a fire drill, what can we teach ourselves to do in an emergency? i think it's something we need to prepare ourselves for.

??! said...

About the update - exactly. Somebody, somewhere in the government or the law forces, has to sit down and make these contingency plans. And that includes media policy.

Of course, as you note, the fact that it hasn't, despite all that's happened in the country before, indicates that either the authorities were too naive to think this wouldn't happen, or too overconfident, or just not imaginative enough.

Renie said...

Bloggers from Mumbai speak out against the attacks.

Anonymous said...

Aside from your trenchant comments about the role of the media reporting - domestic Indian and foreign, you display a serious lack of perspective on not simply the terrorism that is afflicting India, but also on the new epoch of conflict that the world has moved into.

Oh...yes, this IS a sophisticated attack - in technical jargon, it is an example of what is called 'swarming' and to which the modern nation-state has no effective response. It is NOT merely a matter of collecting a few misguided youth, training them for a few weeks, handing them the weapons and shunting them off to their designated targets. And, even if it were so, the logistical planning that goes into such an operation is rather detailed and quite carefully calculated.

Last but not the least is your observation about this being irresponsibly referred to as India's 9/11. The use of this term is metaphoric. It is meant to signify the shock and disbelief that Indians in general and Mumbaikars in particular are experiencing. Let me be a bit more specific. In 'real' terms, the damage is not large. It is certainly painful for all concerned, but it is not large. The same was the case with the 9/11 attacks on the US (or for that matter the attacks in London, Madrid and Bali, among others). By suggesting that the events of the past 24+ hours that have occured in Mumbai are India's 9/11, it is being suggested that perhaps the time for complacency in India has (or, hopefully, must) come to an end. We can no longer fool ourselves about this 'war of the small and the many' that is being waged against the Indian state and its citizens.

May I advise that a little more nuancing of your thoughts and of your posts are in order?

Falstaff said...

anon: "yes, this IS a sophisticated attack"

Ah, capital letters. Very convincing. Why is the logistical planning "rather detailed and quite carefully calculated"? I see no reason why it needs to be. If you have a logical argument to make, make it. Don't waste my time with unsubstantiated assertions.

And what does "it is being suggested that perhaps the time for complacency in India has come to an end." mean? As opposed to what - the last X terrorist attacks where it was okay for us to go on being complacent? Or the last X terrorist attacks that no one was shaken or terrified by? By this standard, can't every terrorist attack in any part of the world from now on be called XYZ's 9/11 (so we could have Bali's 9/11, Madrid's 9/11, etc.; hell, every street in Baghdad could have its own 9/11)? Calling this attack 'India's 9/11' is an exercise in meaningless hyperbole that only a media dedicated to reducing everything to the silliest common denominator could come up with.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that the press has been ridiculous on this (and every other major crisis for the last 10 years), I can't agree with this comment:

"The real question - to me, at least - is: if the government needed to clamp down on the media and cut communication channels in an emergency, could it do so quickly, efficiently and comprehensively? The answer, based on what we're currently seeing, is a frightening no."

Do we really want governments (regardless of country) to be able to shut down communication at will? I understand your thinking, but I worry a lot more about a 1984 big brother style govt than terrorism. Terrorism can do no more than hurt us on occasion. Totalitarian govts imbued with technology like this would be an end game on personal freedom...

Let's not win the battle at the expense of the war.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe this was a complete surprise, having the police chief and I think others having had death threats. There were also other newspaper and media postings of this group from September and October of what they are capable of.

It is unfortunate what has happened and our prayers go to all those involved, but the media is more interested in who gets the story first, as evidenced in trampling through crime scenes to get the best pics.

But that is what the public wants--right now, on the scene.

But my biggest beef is that governments in the west just can't keep their mouths shut--we tell everything we are going to do, ahead of time so it is no surprise to the enemy.

The news reports that Israel is sending a team to free the Jewish hostages--Boom an explosion is then heard at the Jewish center.

Perhaps there should be some news blackouts when lives are at stake!

Falstaff said...

anon2: I agree, and in general no one is more staunchly opposed to the suppression of the freedom of the press than I am. But I think a temporary press black out (lasting, say, a maximum of 24 hours) in times of national emergency is acceptable. Particularly if the alternative is leaking sensitive information to the enemy that could result in the deaths of innocent people. Obviously, one needs to make sure there are sufficient checks and balances in place to ensure that powers like that don't get abused (another reason why you need to have proper planning and protocols), but not being able to control information flow to terrorists in the middle of an armed confrontation is not an option.

jenn said...

(thanks @shelisrael for the link here)

While this post is not about the media sensationalizing every possible 'breaking news', but it seriously bothers me that they are interviewing people who are in these terrible situations while they are still in shock. is this what our media has come to? smearing devastation on our screens in as much gruesome detail as possible? when will there ever be a shift? This sincerely breaks my heart. after spending 3 years with a crisis response operation, my immediate response is to shut off the TV, ignore a lot of "on the ground reports" and to try to connect with partners or people we know in the area...in order to help. it would be a serious news shift to immediately focus on helpful operations and see how people are being helped instead of focusing on the hopelessness and helplessness.

and...referring to ANY terrorist attack in the world as a "9/11" is not only irresponsible for the sake of soundbite but disrespectful as well. I personally did not know of anyone who died in 2001 but there are enough people who were affected to be carelessly waving around painful wounds as a means to higher ratings.

brilliant question though..."if govt needed to cut off comm channels, could it do it?" probably not. and while we still have a good population of the country who is still aclimating to these tools, it might be good to start testing precedents in how we, as a country, would act on our own behalf for security purposes. We all did fire drills in grade school and hear the emerg. broadcast on TV. what about other communications? the glorious part of our ability to have immediate communications is just that, the fact that we have the tools. it's just the use of the tools in these crisis situations that needs evaluation.

SO TRUE:L "terrorism is not a novel phenomenon, it's a standard manifestation of socio-political unrest." Why are we so *shocked* at terrorism these days? Are we not quite educated yet on the status of the world? Even i need to learn more and say less these days.

(thanks fallstaff for the post)

anil said...

LK Advani and media are acting like as if they've just got the lottery.

As usual, they cling to making news chatpata.

Anonymous said...

Notes :

I find myself wondering whether anyone's considered that at least some of that information might be helping the attackers.

Good that you are intelligent enough to ask questions. Now that you have asked it, could you think a little further and hazard an educated guess as to how ( it might be helping the attackers )?

I mean I am prepared enough too go about doing what these fellows have been doing for the past 36 hours and yet I am too dumb - needing to rely on local media to figure out what is happening around me.

What we can, and should, do is be better prepared for the next time it happens, so we can respond to it intelligently

Well spoken, like a true politician anywhere in the world.

The key takeaway from the events of the last 24 hours for me is the desperate need to have better, more comprehensive plans, procedures and protocols to invoke in emergencies like this.

Ditto as above. Good - could we have a pointer from you as to where we might be going wrong? ( If we are ).

The real question - to me, at least - is: if the government needed to clamp down on the media and cut communication channels in an emergency, could it do so quickly, efficiently and comprehensively? The answer, based on what we're currently seeing, is a frightening no.

This has to be a real stroke of genius. Did it cross your belaboured and overwrought mind that maybe disinformation could actually be meaningful in a situation such as this? And then, prior to your coming to the brilliant deduction above, did it occur to you that maybe we can ( clamp down / black out, etc ) if we choose to - just that in the instant case the option has not been exercised, for reasons best known to the security agencies themselves.

Ever heard of the phrase - the "fog of war"?

In particular, we should draw the lesson that we must be suspicious of any and all claims that ascribe these attacks to foreign influence, that we must demand strong evidence for every alleged link to an outside terrorist group, that we must not allow ourselves to be fobbed off with poorly specified conspiracy theories, or be blinded to government incompetence by the bluster of their subsequent response.

Does it ever strike your dear befuddled cerebrum that these are matters not necessarily dealt with in the manner that you espouse. If I were in the administration, I would love to have my dear political overlords shout themselves hoarse on the media hinting at foreign hands / internal squabbles / etc - i.e. ANYTHING that detracts attention from what I might actually be doing against "terrorism / natural calamities / accidents / etc"?

can someone please explain to me where all this talk about these attacks being so sophisticated and well-coordinated is coming from? Arms sourcing aside, what's so hard about today's attack? You recruit a bunch of raw youths, give them, say, a week of basic training, hand them their weapons, tell them what building to hit and at roughly what time. What's the big deal?

Priceless! I mean I am a frustrated and sensitive young man ( unemployed too ) and here I go off on a whim / sudden impulse to get myself killed in full glory without preparing for effective and maximal damage in the bargain?

Does IWE necessarily translate to Idiots Writing in English?
Going through this blog - it seems so.

Anonymous said...

Falstaff: Ah, capital letters. Very convincing. Why is the logistical planning "rather detailed and quite carefully calculated"? I see no reason why it needs to be. If you have a logical argument to make, make it. Don't waste my time with unsubstantiated assertions...."

It is interesting to note your ignorance of, among other things, MOOTW or, for you, the uninitiated, Military Operations Other Than War. You see no reason for the operation to be planned because you have no clue what kind of logistical details are necessary to plan such operations. Or, is it because you want to underplay the intensity of what has just unfolded in Mumbai? Sitting pretty behind your computer and being the proverbial 'armchair commentator' is one thing. Why don't you, instead of insisting on displaying your obvious ignorance of such matters, do a little bit of research. If you are interested, I could help you out with references and sources that will enable you to work this thing out for yourself. As for wasting time, well perhaps you are deluding yourself - this is a waste of my time

Anonymous said...

I think parts of this post are spectacularly silly. Eg.:

"In particular, we should draw the lesson that we must be suspicious of any and all claims that ascribe these attacks to foreign influence, that we must demand strong evidence for every alleged link to an outside terrorist group, that we must not allow ourselves to be fobbed off with poorly specified conspiracy theories, or be blinded to government incompetence by the bluster of their subsequent response."

Why? Should we instead believe the idiots in foreign media and countries, who peddle nonsense to serve their own purposes? Or should we believe that every piece of evidence presented is a piece of fiction? And what poorly specified conspiracy theories are you referring to?

"But most of all, that we must not allow ourselves to be taken over by the lethal combination of outrage and ignorance, must not allow our terror over today's events (and we should be afraid, very afraid) to translate into self-righteousness, prejudice, violence and the surrender of our principles and freedoms."

With due respect, this is a pompous piece of prose. Who precisely do you include in the group "We"? And how much more condescending can you get? Most of us can make our own judgements and determine the degree of outrage required ourselve, thankyouverymuch. I personally can do with less of this sort of hypocritical cant. When you implicitly accuse the govt of bluster and "poorly specified conspiracy theories" and warn us poor souls about the evils of blaming foreign agencies, you are doing exactly what you just wrote so pompously about avoiding.

I also agree with one of the many anonymous individuals on this comments section regarding the degree of sophistication behind this attack. A bunch of attackers with poor or no planning would be unable to hold out for so long. It is fairly clear that the targets were chosen with the aim of inflicting maximal casualties. This implies that they have actually studied and analysed information regarding the locations and the flow of people in these target locations. Also, a random bunch of poorly trained people cannot kill 11 senior counterterrorism officials. It is also clear that the way they have embedded themselves in their target buildings implies considerable planning has gone into the execution of this operation.

Anonymous said...

CNN should hang. Turn off your TV. Stop letting terrorist control youi with fear.

??! said...

Anons:
Ok, first, if you disagree, have the guts to name yourself and disagree. You obviously have strong views, so why are you hiding eh? Come on out, we won't throw too many virtual stones in return.

Falsie:
someone please explain to me where all this talk about these attacks being so sophisticated and well-coordinated
Some points -
1) The selection of targets. Half-foreign tilted and half-local tilted. It wasn't just about spreading chaos, it was about getting international headlines, casting doubt on the economic prospects of the country, and killing people.

2) The timing. Coming via boat under the cover of darkness means not only would they escape the coast guard, but it was easier for them to blend in and/or run from one location to another unnoticed. It also meant the forces took longer to get organised than they might have (I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt) if it had happened during the day.

3) The manner of the skirmishes. At VT, they walked in, shot randomly, and then ran off. The same at Leo's. It caused a few deaths, but much more chaos.

4) Their getup. Dressed in jeans and with haversacks, who'd think they weren't just more kids from a Churchgate college?

5) Knowing the exact targets and layouts. As some of the questions here note, it's more than likely that they had recce'd the area and the targets before, and perhaps, also laid down supplies beforehand.

6) The 'fake' accented calls to news channels.

7) Using grenades (your handy and flexible choice, martyrs) to cause damage.

So yeh, I think it was well co-ordinated, and planned. At least more than any other attack in India ever has been. And sure, it wasn't as well planned as it could have been - but I'm quite thankful for that.

Anonymous said...

??! :

Oh Me! How is a moniker such as "Falstaff" any different from "Anonymous"? Such geniuses we are ...

To the point, though, some of us could not bee bothered to go through the rigmarole of logging in etc. ANONYMOUS is as good an alias as any other, as long as the views are "strong". Eh?

??! said...

Anon:
You don't have to log in, just select a bloody moniker from the Name/URL option that Blogger provides. It avoids confusion, at the very least.

And you should give your URLs. Then we can also come and make fun of your blogposts. It's a thing we do. You no want to share in fun? Come onnnn, we'll only be a little nasty. Pretty please with purple shoes on it?

Swaratmika said...

Yes I agree, it is ridiculous to call this India's 9/11. Hell, our people die like cattle and our government sees to that, and metaphorically, it wasn't as devastating as 9/11 was. And our government will never rise up to the challenge of terrorism and will never foil a threat before it becomes a full-fledged attack.

And the Indian media has done more harm than good. They also fuelled that fake firing at CST false alarm. And they have been using words and phrases so callously and whimsically, such as 'the terrorists have saved the best for the last' (WTF?). And in his interview with CNN IBN, Alyque Padamsee has gone so far as to say that Muslim terrorists are 'secular'. Give me a break.

Alex Gibbon said...

Why is LK Advani loitering around there like a roadside romeo? Someone ship him off to Gitmo along with Modi, Bush, Chidambaram and Udayan Mukherjee.

See Above (or below, I guess) said...

??!
Writing as one of the anons, I don't have a blog. There is little point in putting my name (I am the anon who called part of Falstaff's post "silly"). I am quite sick of hearing people buy into the whole "Pakistani sponsored terror is a conspiracy theory and the real problem is that of the big bad and incompetent government lying about domestic terrorism" shtick.

Kim or Arkady [(:)]or Boris or Nkumbe.

??! said...

SA(BIG):
Well, that's your fight with Falsie. Go for it. There's nothing he likes more than somebody to antagonise online. And we like watching the whole drama.

So go for it I say.

Anonymous said...

As it turns out..
http://news.in.msn.com/national/article.aspx?cp-documentid=1710347
I agree with Falstaff here, that the media needs to be (much) more responsible.

And also the last para here:
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Operation_Trident_Deja_vu_for_Navy/articleshow/3766745.cms


~N.

Anonymous said...

??!:

Ditto as SA(BIG).

What? The only idea behind blogs such as this is for idiots to make fun of each other.

Call me Notesy Anon, if you like.

This moron sitting here in his pink pyjamas wants to wax eloquent / "trenchant" about matters and situations he can make little sense of? - that's what gets me going. He ought to get back to his books and leave the serious business of "thought" to the rest of us.

??! said...

Call me Notesy Anon, if you like
Nuh-uh. You call yourself what you like. What we call you depends*.

Also, disagree all you want. But throwing words like 'moron' or 'idiot' is pointless, because name-calling is not a valid substitute for facts, or rational arguments. So, if you've got a rebuttal (like I did), give it. Just drop the tag confetti.


* We'll let you know the criteria. Maybe.

Anonymous said...

??! said...

Call me Notesy Anon, if you like
Nuh-uh. You call yourself what you like. What we call you depends*.

Also, disagree all you want. But throwing words like 'moron' or 'idiot' is pointless, because name-calling is not a valid substitute for facts, or rational arguments. So, if you've got a rebuttal (like I did), give it. Just drop the tag confetti.


* We'll let you know the criteria. Maybe.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Oh...so what you are implying is that if someone diagrees with you and proves you to be an idiot and/ or a moron, you remain arrogant enough not to learn?

Oh well...that's why you remain the moron and the idiot!

BTW, Falstaff has not been able, thus far, to (1) establish that the terrorist operation in Mumbai was not and need not have been well planned.

Maybe Falstaff should first do that before spouting off harebrained nonsense.

Notesy_Anon said...

??!

Could you kindly go over the Anonymous Notes comment and kindly examine what has been indicated in light of the necessity of rational arguments / rebuttals?

Thank You.

*If* you are able to suss out what has been implied, then, *maybe* you may be spared the tag confetti that you seem to get so hassled in.

Falstaff said...

??!: The anonymice are really coming out of the woodwork, aren't they? I think we should let them scuttle about, whiskers twitching, and not bother.

To your points: notice I didn't say the attack wasn't planned, just that I didn't see what was so sophisticated or complicated about it (a distinction I don't see the anonymice being capable of getting their heads around, but I would expect better from you). Sure they probably recce'd the locations (though I find the idea that figuring out what targets to hit took research laughable - get into a cab in Mumbai and ask the driver what are the top hotels for foreigners and you've got your targets), but that doesn't exactly take experience or expertise, does it? I also think we should be careful about attributing everything that actually happened to a deliberate plan. Did they use grenades because they strategically picked them as weapon of choice, or because that's what they had available and it was the easiest thing to train the attackers to use? Did they plan to skirmish and move on, or did they just panic, realize they couldn't possibly hold Leo's from an attacking force, and run?

I'm not suggesting that the attack wasn't planned - obviously it was. I'm saying I don't see any reason why the planning (and execution) involved couldn't have been done by a bunch of moderately smart amateurs. And by extension why we need to assume foreign collaboration.

It's possible, of course, that foreign collaboration was involved. It's possible that as more evidence comes to light, the attacks will turn out to be particularly sophisticated and complex. All I'm saying is that I don't see enough evidence at this point to support that assertion and that I, for one, refuse to accept so serious a claim based on mere speculation or historical precedent. And that we'd be better off waiting for more evidence, and questioning it thoroughly and objectively when it comes to light, than leaping to conclusions based on stray fact and the 'superior' understanding of self-proclaimed experts.

That point is true more generally, btw. One of the more pernicious pathologies of the 24/7 news cycle is that totally unfounded speculations and rumors regularly get enshrined as articles of faith in the public mind. It's a pathology that we need to resist because it makes us collectively easier to manipulate and more gullible.

varali said...

Bloomberg has a report saying the ATS officials were killed so easily precisely because of the excellent on-ground, potentially award-winning reporting -- the gunmen knew exactly where the police were thanks to Barkha, et al.

Notesy_Anon said...

otice I didn't say the attack wasn't planned, just that I didn't see what was so sophisticated or complicated about it

Maybe you need to specify what exactly would be the level of planning / recce / logistics to satisfy you enough so as to accord the labels of sophistication / complexity. No?

Five six sites taken on by five / six groups of two to five each near simultaneously. Estimated strength of a dozen to two dozens leading to each team possessing two to five members. Think coordination. Think communication. Think plans / alternate plans / failure response. Think catering to security response ( best case scenario )- I certainly would not like to get shot dead by the first cop I encounter at the first site I strike. No? Think targets. Think attention and media response. I would certainly like the entire world to be sitting up and taking notice when I get myself killed - No? Think communication with home base. Think situation reports. Think receipt of changes of plans / alternate targets. Think alternate ways of extracting mileage out of a possible hostage situation.

Think sustenance. Think possible weaponry. This is not the US of A that I can walk into the nearest weapon store and grab hold of AKs / SMGs / IEDs / Grenades.

though I find the idea that figuring out what targets to hit took research laughable - get into a cab in Mumbai and ask the driver what are the top hotels for foreigners and you've got your targets

Indeed - I'm about to create a ruckus that is going to reverberate around the globe and you think I would go about doing it this way? I do not belong to the strata that is habitue at these hotels and therefore, I do not know the level of security and scrutiny, especially post prior terror attacks. Ergo - I recce and/or get it done. I observe movements in/out especially at the times that I intend to target these places. I rehearse.

Are these the only hotels in Mumbai that are frequented by firangs or are these the ones where security is the least stringent. Think Gateway of India. What a place to set up the whole shebang! No?

Did they use grenades because they strategically picked them as weapon of choice, or because that's what they had available and it was the easiest thing to train the attackers to use?
Indeed. Can you think of any other weapon that is easily ported / concealed and maximises "shock and awe"? What would you have me carry - A bloody Howitzer in a backpack? Do you have any idea how grenades are used? For what purposes?

Did they plan to skirmish and move on, or did they just panic, realize they couldn't possibly hold Leo's from an attacking force, and run?
Skirmishes are part of any well-thought out plan of this sort. Engage / distract / divert attention, divide the security response i.e confuse the hell out of the media and authorities. Were you listening in on at about 2130h IST on Wednesday to the initial reports on TV? Do you know that gangwars / shootouts were reported? That is what I would want before I finally make my way to my ultimate targets.

And by extension why we need to assume foreign collaboration.
Because there is evidence. Because if it were an internal issue, the question of foreigners does not arise. I could just set up a few remote-controlled devices in crowded markets to extract the same kind of bodycount as done previously. No need to get suicidal too. This is big and has been set up by an agency that has to be bigger and more resourceful.

Think about the suicidal strategy. Think about the foreigners. Can you "think"?

All I'm saying is that I don't see enough evidence at this point to support that assertion and that I, for one, refuse to accept so serious a claim based on mere speculation or historical precedent.

I do not have to give you evidence. If it is as I have thought out above, I shall also make sure that most of the tail of evidence behind me is messed up. No?
Confuse the hell out of you. Cause the local populace to doubt / distrust their leaders / authorities. See, it has already happened - you provide convincing proof!

the 'superior' understanding of self-proclaimed experts.
By that yardstick, the guys who have spent their lives responding to such messes have no idea what they have been doing all their lives. No? Mr Falstaff knows best because he thinks that he thinks.

One of the more pernicious pathologies of the 24/7 news cycle is that totally unfounded speculations and rumors regularly get enshrined as articles of faith in the public mind. It's a pathology that we need to resist because it makes us collectively easier to manipulate and more gullible.

Are you a sucker to your own pathology as evidenced by this blog? That you start believing that you can "think"?

Cheshire Cat said...

"we must make sure that India's next seven years are not the US from 2001-2008"

They've kept their country safe. We should be so lucky.

Falstaff said...

cat: Have they? I know their country's been safe. I don't know that they've kept it safe. Or that any part of the 'war' on terror - the invasion, the torture, Homeland Security - have contributed to that safety.

??! said...

Ok, children, stop.

See, we're doing it again. We're fighting over angles we're not sure of, while in possession of dubious information.

And meanwhile, people are still dying.

So, let's just wait ok, before we speculate any further. We can all have a nice little fight once things are known.

And instead of fighting till then, either do or think up ways of doing something useful.

Falstaff said...

??!: I partially agree. I think it's important not to jump to conclusions before the facts can be fully investigated - which is the point I've been trying to make all along. I do think, however, that keeping an open mind requires us to speculate about potential 'alternate' scenarios and question the assumptions we start with - otherwise everything we 'know' by the end will simply reflect the unexamined beliefs we began with. Given all the things that we're never going to know about these attacks there's bound to be a strong confirmation bias - if you start with the null hypothesis that these were highly sophisticated attacks orchestrated by Pakistan, I have no doubt you'll end up finding 'evidence' that supports that theory. Which is why we need to argue over potential theories now, before the facts are known, before biased investigations confirm knee-jerk hypotheses.

Besides, since when has public opinion waited for a full investigation of the facts? As the blogosphere clearly demonstrates, thousands of people have already made up their minds about what the 'facts' of these attacks are, and by the end of the week many more will have done so. If we don't question the popular interpretation of these attacks now, it'll be too late to do it by the time the facts actually come out (assuming they ever do).

Notesy_Anon said...

Which is why we need to argue over potential theories now, before the facts are known, before biased investigations confirm knee-jerk hypotheses.
...
I do think, however, that keeping an open mind requires us to speculate about potential 'alternate' scenarios and question the assumptions we start with - otherwise everything we 'know' by the end will simply reflect the unexamined beliefs we began with.
...
If we don't question the popular interpretation of these attacks now, it'll be too late to do it by the time the facts actually come out (assuming they ever do).

Mr Falstaff seems to assume :-

1. That someone like the following gentleman is a "self-proclaimed" expert.

http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/nov/27-its-time-india-got-its-act-together.htm

2. That the entire chain of evidence ( preliminary and / or complete ) must be laid out in the popular media for him to consider, weigh and make a legal proceedings out of. If not, it would be evidence of "confirmation bias".

3. The fact that the PM of the country finally gone on public record stating that there is strong evidence that the attacks were borne out of alien territory means that he is (a) being jingoistic (b) blindly quoting historical precedent (c) fuelling conspiracy theories (d)responding from confirmation bias (e) that the state of the investigations ( and information provided to the PM ), as it stands, is knee-jerk.

4. That available evidence has not been produced and paraded before the media caught in a fog of misinformation and disinformation indicates that there is none such.

5. That in matters such as this, there is always a chain of evidence like in a robbery / rape / murder that forensic analysts can piece together to put up a compelling scientific case.

6. That behind seeming political media "bluster" there lies nothing else - the governments of the concerned countries sit and wait for the next round of politicians to appear on air so that they get some information and appear to talk at each other. There exist no other channels of communication and / or intelligence gathering.

7. That "intelligence" as it stands / available to the powers that be must necessarily be shared on public media or else it is all hogwash.

8. That "intelligence" ( in a security - governmental context ) must conform to the same standards of rigour as "evidence" in a court of law. ( The principle of "beyond reasonable doubt" makes sense for the courts and singularly accused individuals. Mr Falstaff would like the same yardstick to be applied here ( giving *him* the benefit of doubt ) without mulling over the reasons why said tenets are meaningless and counter-productive in case you want to be well-informed and better prepared to respond in scenarios such as this )

I could go on ...

What strikes me the most about the little quotes highlighted above is the following :-

1. Speculation about "alternate scenarios" prior to availability of information / facts / partial dissemination of facts *will necessarily* NOT reflect unexamined beliefs begun with.

2. That said *speculation* as above, without the equipment of information and or experience at placing it in perspective ( i.e. in pink pyjamas behind a computer screen in his / her little pigeon-hole ) is bound to eliminate confirmation bias and / or baseless speculation. ( Someone make sense of this for me - please ).

3. Arguing about potential theories and / or scenarios *prior* to facts being known ( if they ever will be, given a politically-polarised media with a history of selective information dissemination ) will negate *biased investigations* confirming *knee-jerk hypotheses*.

4. Questioning the "popular interpretation of these attacks before the facts come out" would lead to a balanced, mature and informed perspective.

I could have a field day with the manner in which dear Mr. Falstaff compulsively shoots himself in his foot with every step that he takes, bereft of logic, reason, intellect and experience. However I would like to just leave the following questions open to anyone who can satisfactorily respond :-

Was he born brain-dead or was it a subsequent happenstance?

ar-sh said...

29 september - bomb blast at modasa in gujarat

oct 2007 - bomb blasts in Ajmer Sharif dargah. 149 people killed.

may 2007 - bombing at mecca masjid in hyderabad

feb 2007 - bombings on the delhi-attari-lahore samjhauta express train

29 september 2006 - bomb blast at a mosque in malegaon, maharahstra - 6 people killed

nov 2003 - bomb blast at Parbhani in marathwada region, maharshtra

august 2004 - bomb blast at mosques at Jalna and Purna

orissa slaughter of christians.


All the above by the Hindutva groups, with serving officer of the Indian Army, Lt Col Purohit, party to such groups in their acts! And the government says that it is all because of "outside interference"!

See Above (or below, I guess) said...

ar-sh,
I know that Lt.Col Purohit is under arrest for the Malegaon attacks, but how does this extend to hindutva groups being responsible for the other terrorist attacks (I am not including the Orissa riots)?

Falstaff,
I think Notesy_Anon has the correct response to your line of argument. It appears to me that you are the one with preconceptions regarding the culprits and nature of attacks. A little more self awareness would be nice.

Mohammad Imran Nawaz said...

alex gibbon pls resort to showing some respect for great luminiaries like Chidambaram. He is the architect of modern financial system, a great man. Udayan Mukerjee is a great commentator on business news, a wonderful person too and very eruditte. and the two anonymous people you are idiots. U say u r speaking great wisdom but when someone criticizes great luminiaries like Chidambaram and Udayan Mukherjee, you keep quiet and pick holes in Falstaff. Shame on you.

tangled said...

Thank you for Update 2. I couldn't think of an intelligent way to say what I felt.

Falstaff said...

tangled: You're welcome.

Sriharsha Salagrama said...

Interesting comparison with 'smalltime dabbawallahs'. You do know that the dabbawallahs are part of an immense system that works like clockwork and has a much lower failure rate than pratically any other organized system, right? :) To compare the terrorists to the dabbawallah is to practically endorse the effectiveness, efficiency and edfficacy of the terrorist organization.
Great post dude! But you kinda messed up on the comparison. It achieves the opposite effect from what was intended. :)
Not that too many of your readers noticed or cared.
Thats the problem with the world, nowadays. Everyone is so eager to agree or disagree that no one really bothers to analyse what's written. What was that you were saying abt knee-jerk reactions again? :)