Last Updated: Mon Jul 18, 2011 23:12 pm (KSA) 20:12 pm (GMT)

Ravi Shankar: The Sudoku of Terrorism: Does the end justify the meanness?

A television van and camera lens are reflected in the window of a car carrying News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch. (REUTERS Photo)
A television van and camera lens are reflected in the window of a car carrying News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch. (REUTERS Photo)

The reason Murdoch’s media empire is facing the termite attack of public opinion lies in a version of a prevailing riddle of our times—what is black and white and read all over? Newspapers, of course. To be read all over is the challenge—so, newspapers are forced to adopt the motto that “the end justifies the meanness.”

Except the expressions of superior “intellect” that appear on the editorial and opinion pages, there is very little to challenge intelligence except comics and Sudoku.

Something Indian intelligence agencies, like many of their cousins worldwide seem stuck with—the Sudoku of terrorism.

Now, there is much in common between intelligence agencies and journalists. Both seek clues, cultivate sources, chase information—now it seems newspapers even tap phones and plant bugs—and are generally supposed to discover the facts behind the events. The only difference is that newspapers report what they find to the public and intelligence agencies keep it private, meant only for the ears of their spymasters.

The word “intellectus,” born from Latin—”intelligre” which means to discern—was the medieval lexeme for “understanding.” If that is the case, Indian intelligence is definitely in a medieval phase.

The Mumbai blasts that happened on 13 July are a classic example that what fish you catch is not what you fry— Indian intelligence agencies were unable to connect the dots and dot the “i’s” to prevent the Mumbai bomb blasts. Sun Tzu terms intelligence as “foreknowledge,” a rather pithy past perfect in the War on Terror. This time Pakistan is quiet; after being discredited over Osama, the ISI, perhaps doesn’t want to take credit for anything happening in the Subcontinent.

Which is why Indian newspapers are rather puzzled—why haven’t the big cheeses of terror living in Karachi and Islamabad not toasted the bombers? How does one employ intellect to diagnose the symptoms of sub-continental deconstruction? Indian intelligence agencies are stymied, their spymasters left to steeple their fingers and reflect on what went wrong, who went wrong and who did wrong?

Sometime between early June and July, anti-terrorism squads in many states—Maharashtra (which incidentally has Mumbai as its state capital), Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat et al—had arrested around 18 terrorists who were planning attacks on India. These belonged to two banned terrorist organizations—SIMI (Student Islamic Movement of India) and IM (Indian Mujahedeen). Their terror modules have claimed responsibility for many bombings in the past: in Benares, Ahmedabad and Delhi. As usual, when terrorists are arrested, the cops invite newspapers to the party.

To disappoint Sun Tzu, post-knowledge may also work. In retrospect, the reason behind the blasts could be something simple. Our spooks do not read the papers. They seem to have had no idea that terrorists have been arrested are in jail. The newspapers had, in bold type, published a terror honcho’s confession that around 80 new recruits had gone underground the moment he was arrested.

Were they chased? No. Why not? Newspapers are now arguing that if only the intelligence agents had interrogated the arrested terrorists they would’ve been aware of the plans to bomb Mumbai by those who had disappeared into whatever mist terrorists disappear into. That’s a neat crossword puzzle solved.

There have been many big-time intelligence failures—from the Bay of Pigs to 9/11 to the Shoebomber and the Mumbai massacre by Pakistani terrorists on 26/11/2008—but the newspapers have no idea why spymasters messed up, do they? The information is lost in the bureaucratic maze of cryptic clues, intellectual fodder for the Minotaurs of Intelligence.

The English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes coined an interesting conundrum in his trilogy De Corpore—intellecrus intelligit— “the understanding understandeth.” In the reductionist spirit of the intelligence game, does it? Scary.

(Ravi Shankar is Executive Editor of New Indian Express in Delhi. He can be reached at: ravi@newindianexpress.com)

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