How 26/11 Completely Dismantled and Rebuilt the way India handled National Security

Terrorists that attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008, arrived by sea, exploiting holes in India’s national security ecosystem. India’s officials have been heeding the lessons of 26/11 for over ten years, and ongoing reforms are being made to bolster the country’s security mechanisms. At the same time, though, terrorism’s forms have changed. Terrorist organisations are employing technology, social media, and other novel strategies not only to avoid capture and prosecution but also to disseminate propaganda and recruit foot troops. Terrorists are attempting to make a spectacle in recognition of the impossibility of militarily overpowering state forces.

As a result, the challenge for India’s security forces is to confront an adversary whose goal is not merely to kill but also to win hearts and minds. Cities, by virtue of their ostensibly cosmopolitan and open nature, provide a stage for terrorists to gain a global audience.

Any effective counter-terrorism system relies on credible and actionable intelligence. Following the 26/11 Mumbai assaults, it was determined that there had been an intelligence failure as well as an incapability to disseminate information to the appropriate parties. There are three major flaws in India’s intelligence system. The first is when no intellect exists at all. Second, the intelligence that is accessible is too broad, ambiguous, and ineffective. The lack of actionable intelligence is cited by law enforcement agencies all around the world as a major impediment to the prevention of terrorist strikes. The third issue is that many agencies fail to adequately relay the details of intelligence they obtain to the appropriate law enforcement agency. The government of India has taken significant steps to improve the state’s information collection process and enhance inter-agency cooperation among the various security agencies in the decade since the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. 

Terrorism has progressed from the physical to the digital realm. In this setting, intelligence gathering must also become more multidimensional. The dispute over whether human intelligence or technical intelligence is superior is no longer feasible. It would be a more useful tactic for India to supplement its information-gathering operations with human intelligence in order to improve the state’s capabilities in dealing with the increasing threats presented by terror groups.

Maritime and coastal security provide unique issues. Many of the flaws in India’s marine security architecture were exposed by the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and the 1993 serial bomb bombings in Mumbai. To begin with, policing is difficult due to the porous character of the oceans. As many agencies attempt to enter the realm of coastal security, it is necessary to ensure that their responsibilities are clearly defined and that a clear sense of command, control, accountability, and coordination exists.

Following the events of September 11, one key improvement was the unambiguous assignment of coastal security responsibility to several authorities. The Indian Navy, with the help of the Coast Guard, would be in charge of guaranteeing the security of territories beyond 12 nautical miles. The Coast Guard would be in charge of coastal security from five to twelve nautical miles out, while the maritime police would be in charge of security from the baseline to five nautical miles out. The Indian Navy has been tasked with overseeing all areas of maritime security on an organisational level. The level of coordination between various agencies has improved, and joint exercises to familiarise with the standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been held on a regular basis. This effort also necessitates joint training.

Another issue with coastal security is that coastal states’ perceptions of their own security differ. Many of the port or maritime-based infrastructure projects that are being built in India’s coastal cities are heavily reliant on technology. This significantly increases their vulnerability to cyber-attacks. To provide heightened coastal security, the Coast Guard’s fleet strength (ship and air elements) has been boosted. To improve maritime monitoring, the Coast Guard is using electronic techniques. They’ve also expanded combined exercises with state marine police units and appropriate agencies.

Following the events of September 11th, countries in the Indian Ocean region have indicated a desire to collaborate with India on maritime and coastal security issues. This trend should be bolstered by giving bilateral and multinational scenario-building exercises more thought. Civil officials stationed in coastal districts should be more maritime-aware, and retired specialists should participate in maritime community empowerment.

In recent years, India’s foes have turned their attention to the digital sphere. To combat these risks, India should develop solid systems to ensure the country’s digital infrastructure runs smoothly and safely. Many other countries are employing technology-driven information warfare to combat threats posed by both state and non-state actors. Manipulation in elections through the use of propaganda on social media, fake news that causes fear, and digital disruption of energy assets and transportation networks are just a few of the many difficulties posed by the cyber domain. Taking on these cyber threats will necessitate a concerted effort from multiple agencies as well as novel techniques. To begin with, it is critical to address the country’s cyber security apparatus’ structural and organisational flaws. The obstacles are immense, and more financial resources are required. India needs to make use of its vast human resources in the fields of information technology, data science, and cyber security.

Some countries have already taken steps to improve their cyber operations. In addition to enacting cyber legislation, the government has taken organisational measures such as establishing new cyber security centres such as the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre and the National Cyber Coordination Centre; creating a division within the Ministry of Home Affairs dedicated to cyber and information security; and improving institutional capacity building through personnel training and awareness.

There has been a noticeable improvement in India’s counterterrorism systems in over ten years since the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. India, on the other hand, continues to face complex issues. Inter-agency cooperation is lacking, and decision-making is unproductive. State forces in charge of India’s counterterrorism response will have to adapt to these transformations and strengthen the security ecosystem’s resilience as terrorism’s manifestations evolve swiftly and become increasingly technology-centric.

Faria Choudhry, a student of Architecture and Political Science, strives to uncover hidden dynamics through her writing.

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