For any modern State, the complexity of the problem requires an equally complex response by the government
Manohar Thyagaraj Delhi

India and the US are two peas in the same pod, a pod of nations that is threatened by the spectre of trans-national terrorism. Both countries suffer threats from the same sources. To maintain civil liberties in multi-ethnic societies and to secure their populations, they are faced with similar challenges. Are there lessons for India from the US experience post-9/11?

After terrorists attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008, the carnage generated moves toward reform in India's internal security set-up. Chief among them were the creation of the National Investigative Agency (NIA) and the mooting of a national coastal command, which would assume overall responsibility for coastal security in India. The cabinet secretary has been given co-ordination responsibility for policy related to coastal security.

Before going into any of the more specific arguments about India, it's important to draw a generalised distinction between planning and procurement in the defence space and that in the space broadly termed homeland security.

In a military sense, the battle-space between combatants is generally well-known. Moves, counter-moves, grand strategy and doctrine are all programmed for and well understood. In homeland security, the problem is more complex as the battle-space is diffused among local populations, creating 'noise'. On this 'noise' is superimposed the rapidly changing tactics and methods of terrorists.

For any modern, democratic State, the complexity of the problem thus requires an equally complex response by the government which stresses on variables as diverse as bureaucratic re-organisation, change management, process design and technology incorporation.

The place of technology in this 'response spectrum' is worth noting. A very easy response for any State to make is to throw money into procurements. These procurements can be claimed
as immediate responses to satisfy political pressures.

However, the long-term effectiveness of such procurements can legitimately
be questioned. Incorporation of technology without creating a defined CONOPS (Concept of Operations) can be counter-productive.

  • § Nominally, the process of arriving at CONOPS, from which a technology roadmap should flow, would go through the following stages:
  • § Strategy development: High level consensus to be built on policy, including analysis of the limitations of current legislation and procedures
  • § Enterprise architecture and CONOPS development to follow this strategy consensus
  • § Modelling and simulation to validate the CONOPS

The US embarked on such a response after the tragedy of 9/11. One of the first examples of the results came in September 2002 when the FBI arrested five of the 'Lackawanna Six' outside Buffalo, New York, based on intelligence suggesting that they could be involved in planning of a terrorist attack on US soil.

As India seeks to learn some lessons from the US post 9/11 experience, one critical comparison with the Lackawanna arrests and subsequent apprehension of terror suspects in the US bears notice: India lacks a federal agency with arrest powers.

Till date, none of the suggested reforms in India addresses this question. Without it, the time lag between sharing of intelligence with state agencies and their response to move into position to apprehend suspects could prove to be operationally decisive.

This point is used here only to illustrate that organisational creation or change without addressing larger underlying issues would render any reform incomplete. Thus, the procurement of technology before institutional analysis, reorganisation and CONOPS definition would be inadequate.

Before looking at the value of certain types of technology in homeland security, there are bigger points that could also be made in taking from the US experience post 9/11.

First, organisational change to meet the goal of security is a moving target, not a fixed one. For instance, in May this year, the Homeland Security Council, a parallel organisation to the National Security Council (NSC), was folded into the NSC.

Second, homeland security involves more than just the obvious agencies involved in physical security. The Homeland Security Council included representatives from the department of agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the department of energy and the department of labour.

Third, the task of melding so many disparate agencies into a single functioning unit, with real-time data exchange, is essentially the creation of a new enterprise.

As with any such enterprise creation, modelling of all the variables including issues such as local traffic and infrastructure constraints becomes critical. Such modelling would help reveal where money would be best spent to create 'value' within the enterprise.

For instance, take Mumbai. A Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team in Mumbai equipped with the latest in Through The Wall (TTW) sensing radar would be less effective if it had to wend its way through Mumbai traffic to get to an engagement zone. Modelling would not just be able to pinpoint where additional SWAT team locations should be, but predict what sensing technologies should be used to increase the detection 'perimeter' of the local police, coast guard and navy, giving such SWAT teams time to engage within their limitations. This would then give decision makers the option to decide where best to spend their money.

Fourth, technology incorporation is also a fluid phenomenon as threats and government organisations change. The technology that is procured should thus be part of a road map that is continuously evaluated. 

After 26/11, money has become available for state police forces in India to procure equipment for urban and coastal security. Some procurement programmes have been spawned to procure specific pieces of equipment such as X-band radars, shallow-water sonars and urban surveillance camera systems. Military agencies will likely be pursuing COMINT and SIGINT programmes.

Sensing technologies such as these, deployed on various types of platforms or as shore-based sensors, are variables that allow a homeland security system to extend its detection perimeter given 'fixed' constraints such as existing laws.

But, in the conventional way that sensors are used, the data they generate is 'stove-piped', that is, shared only with a dedicated information user. Any single user would have a limited view of the total information domain generated by all available sensors. And, within a specific information domain, information access is typically hierarchical.

In this hierarchical model of data gathering, information is usually not accessible outside the stove-pipe, and is 'filtered' so that smaller amounts of information are available at higher levels. Consumers of information at higher decision making levels may have no idea what is available.

Thus, in real-time, it would be hard to correlate one kind of information on a contact with another. For instance, a target picked up on sonar could not be correlated with its EM characteristics unless the two sensors were co-existent on the same platform. On the other hand, a user with access would instantly direct alternate sensors onto a contact if they had real-time access.

The alternative architecture for information sharing would be to use Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) to fuse data from multiple sensors into a COP (Common Operating Picture) where all users and sensors sit on the same network and data is available to any user who seeks it, with permission. This would enable real-time re-training of assets to investigate contacts or possible threats. COPS could be created at both local and national levels, and could be utilised in creating a terrorism response centre to collate technical and human sources of intelligence. The US has adopted this type of architecture in building COPS.

As with the previous arguments about technology and homeland security, a comprehensive modelling and simulation exercise is necessary to ensure that the technology that is purchased is exactly what the 'enterprise' needs at any given point in the chain. In the provision of homeland security, technology is ultimately an important part of this chain, but is meaningless without being mated with a comprehensive process evaluation and re-design. 

The writer is director of Alliance for US-India Business and a strategic affairs analyst

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JULY 2009