Saturday, November 29, 2008


The situation in Mumbai appears to be over. Several things have already come out concerning the nature of the attacks that will have significant implications for counter-terrorism and homeland security policies in the future.

First, the attackers did not use any kind of weapon of mass destruction. No bombs, chemical weapons, biological agents or radiological materials were used. No car bombs or aircraft were used. The attackers did not rely on suicide bombers instead a small army went deep into a densely populated city. The attackers used rifles and military tactics to kill nearly 200 people.

Second, although initial reports made it seem like Westerners were the targets in actuality the attackers killed as many people as they could regardless of nationality or ethnicity. The nature of the attacks would suggest a regional agenda rather than national or theological.

Third, the fact a small army was able to assemble and launch an attack without alerting intelligence networks suggests an over-reliance of technology. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) took a bashing for 9-11 for allowing their human intelligence network to deteriorate to the point that hijackers were able to train and carry out preparations without causing the agency to notice (that assessment is overly simplistic but the fact human intelligence has been forsaken in favor of high-tech sensors is very much a concern).

Preventing attacks on unprotected targets such as cities or college campuses is challenging. There is only so much that can be hardened before you end-up with a fort. A fort is not conducive to commerce and tourism. If one city becomes a fort, then attackers merely target the next city that isn’t a fortress. I’ve written before about the error of fighting the last war. Homeland security (which is essentially preventing terrorist attacks) has focused almost exclusively on airports and maritime ports. The attack in Mumbai shows what can happen when a well executed plan uses the simplest of weapons (infantrymen and rifles).

I suspect the new Secretary of Homeland Secretary, Governor Napolitano of Arizona, will tend to focus her efforts on preventing terrorist attacks through immigration laws. The lack of human intelligence networks first recognized in 9-11 have yet to be properly addressed. The purchase of even more sophisticated sensors and overhead imagery is important but still does not address what is going on in the minds of potential terrorists.

Wendell Phillips quote still remains relevant almost 200 years later, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”


Mark Miller said...

Excellent analysis. Particularly on their motivation.

Some on the right have already started to finger India's draconian gun laws as a contributing factor. But I think that oversimplifies the problem. Dense urban areas thoughout the world tend to be gun-free zones, favoring this style of attack anywhere. And within that low-resistance population, the militants were careful to target out-of-towners and a religious center, I suspect to maximize their body count even further.

I tried to imagine how it would have unfolded in a high CCW population like Parkersburg, WV or Salt Lake City. The final body count might have been lower, and attacker casualties higher, but it still would have been a horrific event, and thus "successful" from the terrorist's point of view.

An armed citizen can repel an individual attack, forcing a terrorist to move on to a more vulnerable victim, but that merely delays the attacking force in fulfilling its mission. There's no way a group of independant actors, no matter how large, could overwhelm 10 focused guys who are fighting in concert without taking heavy losses.

Tactics proved to be the decisive factor in this engagement.

Bob Baylor said...

Thanks Mark! LAPD faced the same challenges when gangs started to send their members into the military. The gang members would volunteer for units with an urban warfare mission. Upon getting out, these gang members would train other members on urban tactics. The police weren't accustomed to seeing shooters rapidly advanced towards them while firing. The change in psychology placed the police at a serious disadvantage.

Mumbai shows the effects of small unit tactics coupled with dedicated operators. Forget WMDs which are expensive and leave tell tale signs. We may be seeing more of these attacks.

Armed citizens are effective against a single attacker or multiple attackers who lack training and discipline. Going against a small, highly trained unit with assault rifles the armed citizen isn't much of a deterrence. As you point out, the attackers either would have killed the citizen or moved on to another area.

Quim said...

Just due to the concentration of people, I would think a lot of unintended casualties might result if everybody started shooting.
As far as a strategy of dealing with terrorists in general - these guys have been doing the same thing for a thousand years.