The OODA loop war our security forces are losing

The technology battle that our intelligence agencies are engaged to win against the terrorists & lawbreakers is not incremental, but a continuous one

According to a report by renowned consultancy company Frost and Sullivan, lawful interception is a legally grounded process by which an Internet Service Provider(ISP) or a Telecom Service Provider(TSP) gives authorised officials access to communications of a user. Going by the latest reports available, the Indian intelligence agencies are one step behind the lawbreakers, at least in terms of use of technology. In terms of strategy, this is called a classical observe, orient, decide and act(OODA) loop which means that between two competing forces, one has be ahead in the OODA cycle to win. John Boyd, a US Air Force officer is credited with this concept of combat, which is now widely used both in business as well as warfare. A terrorist will think and act like a guerrilla, which is what keeps him ahead of the security agencies. This is where the use of technology by the agencies becomes important.

The Lawful Interception System(LIS) being used by the Indian security & intelligence agencies is severely hampered because the service providers have not yet rolled out a Location Based System(LBS). This has been ongoing for the last two years. The LBS identifies the location from where the mobile phone calls are made by giving exact coordinates in latitude and longitude. It is a part of the Call Data Records(CDR). This does not seem to be happening at the present. The regulatory environment in India is quite strict with TRAI calling the shots on what the service providers should mandatorily provide. A Central Monitoring System(CMS) was envisioned by the government of India in the aftermath of 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Whether the CMS is draconian or not in the scope of this article. The core argument is that they are losing the plot in spite of humungous amount of taxpayers’ money invested in the project. The CMS gives India’s security agencies and tax officials centralised access to the country’s telecommunication network.

In a recent report to the central government, Maharashtra police has pointed out the glaring lacuna in getting pinpoint location of the calls details shared by service providers. In densely populated urban centres, this can be a huge disadvantage for the security agencies. Intelligence is like a huge jigsaw puzzle and is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. The challenge here is twofold: (1) All the TSPs & ISPs need to get on a common platform to support on CDR (2) Every security agency must be on a common grid which the CMS aims to achieve.

More than eight years after 26/11 and the recent Pathankot attacks have again reinforced the urgency of getting our act together. The success of intelligence agencies cannot be publicised. What does get magnified is the misses that get attributed to them. And misses for inadequate technology or streamlined processes just cannot be condoned.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Maze Puzzle(Blunder), licensed from creativecommons.org