Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Special Lecture: Information Control and Terrorism

A special Lecture on “Information Control and Terrorism: Tracking the Mumbai Terrorist Attack through Twitter” by Dr. H. Raghav Rao Professor of Management Science and Systems, University at Buffalo, was organized by ISiM on January 19,2010 at 12.30 PM.

Prof. Rao’s talk about information warfare, situational awareness and decision making by terrorists in the context of Mumbai terror attacks, began with a very brief account of his personal interviews with the Mumbai police during August 2009, as part of his research. Revisiting the events that led to killing of least 173 people and wounded another 308 people on 26th of Nov 2008, he pointed out that data shows that live media feeds provided the terrorists with vital information about the situation and helped them in getting an upper hand. As soon as the unfortunate event began unfolding, social networking sites such as Orkut, Facebook and Twitter were flooded with situational information that described in detail the events happening at CST, Leopold CafĂ©, Taj Mahal Hotel and Oberoi Trident. These vital pieces of information poured in by the common users were mostly the details of the latest developments at the hot spots. Soon, the media also sprung into action and started competing with Twitter in beaming the whole show live to the world.

Twitter - a free social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read messages (tweets) of up to 140 characters and can be forwarded to other people just like SMS’es, were critical sources both for the terrorist and others. Prof. Rao opined that though intentions may be to share information about the developments, they do end up as a source of sensitive information about the situation and the rescue operations to the terrorist also.

Drawing excerpts from, “Mumbai Terrorist Attack: Dossier of Evidence (2009)” and “26/11 Mumbai Attacked", Edited by Harinder Baweja, Roli, 2009, Prof. Rao evidenced that the terrorists , through synchronous monitoring of Twitter and other live media established the situational awareness (SA). SA is being citied as one of the facts that enabled terrorists to hold their grounds for three days. Citing another example from the book, 26/11 Mumbai Attacked, wherein, a certain Pakistani handler monitoring the media alerts and commands the on-spot terrorists that the media were aware that they were hiding in room number 360 and 361. He further instructs them to relocate to another holding position and also to destroy any cameras in the building.

The audience - a mix of students, academics, journalists and persons from the police and army participated in the lively discussions that followed the talk. Some among the audience also opined that the media should be banned from telecasting the proceeding Live, to which Prof. Rao responded saying that it might be difficult to have a blanket ban; however it could be a good idea to delay the broadcast. He suggested that ‘information control’ could be employed as a means to maintain information superiority such that it prevents the terrorists from making informed decisions. Prof. Rao concluded that it is important to understand the dangerous implications of uncontrolled and ad hoc dissemination of situational information.

"Click Here" to see the photographs taken during the event.