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Hyderabad blasts: Investigators' 'leaks' don't inspire confidence

You have to say one thing for our intelligence and security agencies. They may have been asleep at the wheel in the lead-up to  the Hyderabad bomb blasts, even if there had been credible alerts and tip-offs. That lapse in intelligence, and their wholesale failure to provide pre-emptive security, may have cost the lives of ordinary folks. But within days of the blasts, they claim to have wrapped it all up, and have even reconstructed the entire crime sequence.

In fact, so sure are they of the facts of the case that they have already begun preening in front of a gullible media claiming that they will have cracked the case "within three to four weeks" - and are putting out information that could seriously jeopardise the investigation or the effort to nab the real suspects in the case.

Thus, for instance, this report claims, citing unidentified "investigators" as saying that they had established Yasin Bhatkal, the operational commander of the Indian Mujahideen, personally planted one of the two bombs in Hyderabad on Thursday. In fact, the report adds, the investigators believe he could still be in Hyderabad or in neighbouring Cyberabad.

The investigators' premature leaks don't inspire confidence. AP

The investigators' premature leaks don't inspire confidence. AP

If there is even an iota of truth in that claim, that's precisely the sort of information that investigators shouldn't be leaking out to the media. If Yasin Bhatkal did in fact plant the bomb in Hyderabad, and is still in hiding in the city or in the neighbourhood, how does it help the cause of the investigation for the probe teams to reveal their hand and let it be known publicly that they were on to him? It will only have the effect of alerting him and his partners in crime about the state of the investigation and help him to cover his tracks and go deeper into hiding.

In the same manner in which live and unfiltered media coverage of the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai actually helped the terrorists and their handlers to learn that NSG commandoes were being air-dropped onto the roof of the Taj Mahal hotel, or that there were survivors in some sections of the hotel (which put the lives of those survivors at risk), the running commentary being offered by the investigators on the state of their investigations only serves to tip off the terrorist cells.

Much of such pre-emptive preening in front of the media has in the past proved to be spectacularly off the mark - or a manifest attempt to claim ex-post facto credit for findings that, if they had been proffered earlier, would have averted the crime in the first place. As Firstpost had noted here, there is a history of investigators in India shooting off their mouths and weaving fanciful theories that eventually don't stand in a court of law.

Indicatively, within days of the David Headly-Tawahhur Rana story breaking in 2009, Indian sleuths put out an avalanche of stories in the media about how Headley had cased the joint ahead of the November 2008 attacks, stayed at Osho communes and so on. The irony of it was that if these accounts were true, they had happened under the very nose of the same investigating agencies, without them having the faintest clue about it. Yet, within the space of a few days, they had pieced together everything about Headley and what he had done.

The fact of it is that intelligence and security agencies are today facing flak for having failed to pre-empt and avert the Hyderabad blasts - even though it didn't take much to know that in the wake of the hanging of Afzal Guru, there would be an escalation in terrorist activity. They themselves received tip-offs, but they made nothing of it owing to a prevailing bureaucratic mindset within the Home Ministry that sees intelligence-gathering as a file-pushing exercise in a post office.

In fact, as this report makes clear, the dark reality of counter-terrorism operations in India is that they are characterised by "lack of coordination (among the various agencies), ego clashes, personal dislike for a particular officer spilling over to a professional domain" and secrecy born of paranoia that ensures that information isn't shared across agencies.

As if all this wasn't bad enough, the Home Ministry, as the report notes, picks and chooses which of the investigations into specific terrorist attacks it will hand over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) - and which it will choose to keep away.  Which is why, it adds, every time an attack takes place, the NIA is looking over its shoulders at the Home Ministry - trying to read the minds of the mandarins and their ministerial incumbents.

When Ministries play ducks and drakes with terrorist attacks, what faith can be placed in these leaks from investigators that they are close to cracking the case or that they have fully reconstructed the crime sequence and have identified the real perpetrators?

The only true test of an investigation's success is the diligent harnessing of forensic evidence and the silent unravelling of the conspiracy that underlies, which leads to arrests of those involved and, over time, their conviction in a court of a law. Far from reinforcing faith in the investigators' capabilities, such premature preening in front of media - even before the investigations are complete - only gives room for lively apprehension, born of well-merited cynicisim, that  something is not quite right about the investigations.

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