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Opinion

February 28, 2015

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The intelligence disconnect

It happens every time. There is a terror incident somewhere in the country, and shortly afterwards we find out that there was intelligence available of an imminent attack. And one can only wonder why, if there was intelligence available, the security agencies were unable to nip it in the bud.
There are various reasons for this. First and foremost is the fact that most of these reports are rather vague. Four suicide bombers have entered the city. A car filled with explosives is roaming around on the streets. If this is what the intelligence reports suggest, they aren’t specific enough for the law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) to take action on. And since these reports are usually about urban areas, the attackers could be anywhere – it’s like searching for a needle in a haystack.
And secondly, as someone who has been in this line of work for two decades told me, some of these reports aren’t authentic and are more of a retrospective cover-up rather than anything concrete.
But let’s go with the former. The intelligence agencies float a warning. Something is up in the city. What happens next?
At the grassroots level, the local police station is your one-stop shop for everything that is happening in the area. The SHO of the police station is the person who generally knows of all the happenings in his jurisdiction: the petty criminals, the drug peddlers, the gangs, the car-jackers, the pimps and the working girls, he’s usually in the know. He usually even knows what the good imam is up to at the mosque.
So, perhaps the question to ask is this: do these intelligence reports go all the way down to the local police stations or not?
Back in the day every police station used to have a detective foot constable – a person whose only job was to collect chatter. He would build relationships with all the good people mentioned above, and find out what was going down in his area. And at the end of his shift he would present the SHO with a report.

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Slowly, as with everything else in this country, this grassroots intelligence gathering mechanism died away.
Now, if all the local police stations were actively picking up chatter from their areas, and there was a top-down mechanism of intelligence sharing, they could possibly connect the dots to the bigger picture. But being a good cop does not necessarily equal being a good analyst.
Intelligence analysis is a very specialised field. Much like bomb defusal. Proper analysts, with the right kind of background and experience need to be brought in to join the counterterrorism departments in the province, and upwardly connected to Nacta.
Second, there needs to be an online intelligence repository to back up the analysts. Pakistan used to have the Pakistan Automated Fingerprint System (PAFIS), which was an updateable, searchable, centralised mechanism for collecting, categorising and cross analysing fingerprints of all criminals. Three years ago, this tool ran out of system. Why? Because nobody in the government was willing to pick up the internet bill. So, to go with the detective foot constable and the intelligence analysts, this major source of intelligence needs to be brought back online, and all the entries missed in the last three years be updated.
Here’s an eye-opening statistic. More than 50 percent of cases in Punjab in the last two years have been dismissed by the courts because of faulty investigation. The fault being that the name of the accused was not mentioned in the First Information Report (FIR). The question to ask is: how can you write the name of the accused when you don’t know who he or she is?
Usually, investigation teams visit the site of an incident and pick up clues such as cell phones, SIMs, explosive materials, body parts, CCTV footage and then, using all this circumstantial evidence, piece together a theory of what happened and who may be responsible.
Can any of this evidence be used in a court of law?
The evidence act needs a comprehensive overhaul. We don’t live in the 16th century anymore.
Last but not the least is securing the magistrate and the witness alike. A very large number of cases are dismissed because nobody is willing to be a witness, fearing reprisal. And the magistrate will most likely find a loophole to dismiss the case for the same reasons. The world has moved on to faceless witnesses and judges to overcome this very real hurdle. It’s high time we did too.
And just another word on the SHO again. In many cases, he is personally able to convince the witness to testify because of his relationships in his area. In many other cases, he is able to produce a witness.
Pakistan’s challenges in securing the state are of epic proportions, demanding institutional overhaul in nearly every little sector. Obviously, all this takes time. And will. We have neither. At the very least, we can re-deploy tools already existing within the system.
Otherwise, we’ll keep having attacks after attacks, later hearing of prior intelligence reports predicting them.
Email: aasimzk@gmail.com
Twitter: @aasimzkhan

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