Peering into the criminal mind

A revolution in investigative affairs?

The use of brain mapping in investigation, and most recently the acceptance of brain mapping reports as evidence by Indian courts has raised many eyebrows. Today’s New York Times has a report by Anand Giridharadas on this:

The Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature test, or BEOS, was developed by Champadi Raman Mukundan, a neuroscientist who formerly ran the clinical psychology department of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences in Bangalore. His system builds on methods developed at American universities by other scientists, including Emanuel Donchin, Lawrence A. Farwell and J. Peter Rosenfeld.

Despite the technology’s promise—some believe it could transform investigations as much as DNA evidence has—many experts in psychology and neuroscience were troubled that it was used to win a criminal conviction before being validated by any independent study and reported in a respected scientific journal. Publication of data from testing of the scans would allow other scientists to judge its merits—and the validity of the studies—during peer reviews.

“Technologies which are neither seriously peer-reviewed nor independently replicated are not, in my opinion, credible,” said Dr. Rosenfeld, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Northwestern University and one of the early developers of electroencephalogram-based lie detection. “The fact that an advanced and sophisticated democratic society such as India would actually convict persons based on an unproven technology is even more incredible.” [NYT]

The use of this technology for investigation should be of relatively lesser concern, especially when the alternatives are of the unpleasant sort. But Dr Rosenfeld does have a point, especially when it comes to admissibility of these reports for securing convictions.

It is difficult to understand why Mr Giridharadas’s report does not quote any Indian scientist on the subject. It leaves out an important point: on September 6th, The Hindu reported that “an expert committee studying the efficacy of brain mapping criminal suspects has concluded that it is unscientific and should be discontinued as an investigative tool and as evidence in courts.” Rakesh Maria, Mumbai police crime branch chief, has been quoted as saying ‘that while BEOS was a useful technique of examination, it couldn’t achieve conviction all by itself. “The technique needs to be corroborated with other evidence.”‘

Towards a new national anti-terrorism policy

A seven-point programme for your favourite party’s manifesto

Start fighting the war of minds
1. Project the war for what it is—that the New Jihadis are against everything that India stands for: freedom, openness, democracy and a tolerant way of life.

2. Assure the nation that we will fight—and win—this war. This will bring fence-sitters onto the side they think that will win. But the assurance must be credible.

Dominate the battle on the ground
3. Connect every thana, every chowki (and in future every policeman) to a national database and network. Neither POTA nor a new anti-terrorism agency is crucial: connect existing intelligence and law-enforcement agencies through a common network.

4. Empower police by implementing police reforms. Use the Supreme Court of India’s judgement in Prakash Singh & Others vs Union of India & Others to generate momentum. Strengthen police-public partnerships.

5. Move internal security to the PMO. The Prime Minister should chair a Cabinet Committee on Internal Security; a dedicated internal security advisor (rank of secretary or higher) should be appointed to act as the point man covering all aspects of internal security.

Engage the nation (don’t merely ‘secure their approval’)
6. Mobilise the nation through a national satyagraha against terrorism. Get the grassroots to be uncompromising and unrelenting in the battle against terrorism. Pay special attention to reconciliation and form national integration committees in sensitive areas.

7. Liberalise the economy. Terrorism and dissatisfaction are a direct result of the polices of “communal socialism”, a form of social “license-raj” that stifles socio-economic mobility. Economic freedom will lead to economic growth that will undermine the jihadi base.

Why terrorists are called “militants” in India

Owing to the Panthic Codes

It is not uncommon for the Indian media to call the terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir, or Assam or elsewhere “militants”. In India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The covert war in Kashmir, 1947-2004, Praveen Swami tells us why:

Indian journalists who reported on the struggle for the creation of a separate Sikh state, Khalistan, had traditionally used the terms “extremists” or “terrorists” to describe the character of the groups engaged in this enterprise. Khalistan groups subsequently imposed a set of codes on civil society in general, and on the media in particular, which among other things deemed the use of these terms impermissible. Known as the Panthic Codes, these rules of reportage were imposed upon the media at gunpoint. The term “militant”, now widely used in the Indian press to describe armed opponents of the State, was the product of this coercion. As a journalist who worked through that period, and because the term “militant” conflates non-violent political radicalism with specific forms of armed activity, I find its use unacceptable. [India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad]

Police-public partnership in Surat

How a city beat the terrorists

No less than 18 bombs were discovered and defused in Surat. That’s nothing short of an amazing achievement. It happened because citizens and the police force enjoyed a relationship that made it possible for the city to react quickly (linkthanks Swami Iyer). Now there is something that needs to be investigated further.

The chief of the city’s police force, R.M.S. Brar, lauded residents for taking the lead in providing information to investigators that resulted in the recovery of 18 live bombs from 10 locations, most of them around the diamond hub of Varachha.

The people in turn believe the police should be given credit for succeeding, so far, in averting a tragedy and saving innocent lives, unlike in Ahmedabad where a series of 16 explosions on Saturday killed dozens.
[Calcutta Telegraph]

Reading the Arthashastra: On internal security

Conciliation, dissension and coercion

What prescriptions does Kautilya offer for internal security? He starts the chapter on “internal and external dangers” by noting that these dangers arise due to wrongly concluded “treaties and other settlements”.

He places threats into four categories. The most serious one arises from internal originators and internal abettors and is like the “fear from a lurking snake”. Second to this is the purely external threat, both originated and abetted by foreigners. Third comes the internally originated but externally abetted threat, followed by the externally originated, internally abetted threat.

So how should the king deal with these? For the purely internal threat—when originators and abettors are locals—he advises a policy of conciliation and coercion.

He may employ the policy of conciliation with regard to those who keep the appearance of contentment, or who are naturally discontented or otherwise. Gifts may be given under the pretext of having been satisfied with a favoured man’s steadfastness… or under the plea of anxious care about his weal or woe. [Arthashastra IX:5]

In addition, he advocates the use of spies split the ranks of the conspirators and their sympathisers. Kautilya is ruthless when it comes to coercive tactics against leaders of the conspiracy–the punishment is usually death, including what might today be termed “extra judicial killings”.
Continue reading “Reading the Arthashastra: On internal security”

Lotus Message

Taken by surprise

Vijay Vikram writes in to inform that the June 2008 issue of Kamal Sandesh, the BJP’s house magazine has reprinted the op-ed that I wrote for Mail Today (based on this post).

While it is good to know that Kamal Sandesh‘s editors found the article worthy of dissemination, it must be put on record that this was done without asking for or receiving my consent. (Content on this blog is published under Creative Commons Attribution license, so prior permission is not required. Also, they might have an arrangement with Mail Today.)

Strange stories on the LoC

Pakistani soldiers get killed…by jihadis

Last week Pakistani soldiers were killed in an air-strike by US forces in the Mohmand Agency, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

And yesterday, four Pakistani soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire along the Line of Control in Kashmir…by jihadis, who, it is suspected, failed to cross over to the Indian side.

Allies are killing Pakistani soldiers on both sides.

Sack Shivraj

Incompetence is perhaps his lesser crime

In one of his famous annual reports, General Electric’s Jack Welch classified managers into four types, according to their performance and their values. The first were those who delivered results and lived by the values espoused by the organisation. For them, the “sky is the limit”. The second were those who missed their targets, but lived by their values—these, according to Mr Welch, deserved a second chance. For Mr Welch the “the toughest call of all was the manager who doesn’t share the values, but delivers the numbers”. This type of manager had to sacked “because they have the power, by themselves, to destroy the…culture we need to win.” He didn’t have to say it, but the easiest call of all was the manager who “doesn’t share the values; doesn’t make the numbers”. That person had to be shown the door.

Now, that Shivraj Patil has been an “unmitigated disaster” at the home ministry has been clear for some time. The charitable explanation for his brazen denial of his ministry’s decision to intern illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in camps is cluelessness—that he didn’t quite know what policies his ministry was coming up with. Considering that the question of illegal immigration is among the more important ones for his ministry, his cluelessness further confirms the allegations of incompetence against him.

If competence were the only criteria—as it ought to be in a country were a significant fraction of the population is poor, and hence can least afford the luxury of incompetent leaders—Mr Patil should have been sacked a long time ago. In fact, voters had already sacked him in the Lok Sabha elections of 2004. It was the Congress Party that inserted him—like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself—into the Cabinet.

Mr Patil’s failings though are not merely in the area of competence. His greater failing, arguably, is in the domain of values. Now it is acceptable—though highly objectionable—for someone to see moral equivalence between the death sentence of an Indian citizen guilty of terrorism in India by the Supreme Court of India and the death sentence handed out to an Indian citizen pronounced guilty of espionage and terrorism in Pakistan by the Pakistani judiciary. But that someone cannot be a member of the Cabinet. There are such things as values: constitutionalism, due process, transparency, independence of institutions and rule of law. If Mr Patil can’t see the difference in the processes that led to the similar result—the death sentence—he reveals a lack of basic values that disqualify him from any position of constitutional office. [via Rational Fool]

In fact, Mr Patil’s comparison of the two cases reveals a deeper flaw in his understanding. If Sarabjit Singh was indeed a spy, then the UPA government should not have succumbed to the pressure to ask for the waiver of his death sentence. In this scenario, official intervention on Mr Singh’s behalf was a foreign policy mistake. On the other hand, if the UPA government knows that Mr Singh is innocent, then surely, hanging him is injustice. So how is Pakistan’s hanging of an innocent man similar to India’s hanging of a man declared guilty by the Supreme Court? The only explanation is that Mr Patil is implying that Mr Mohd Afzal is innocent. He has no authority to do that—the task before the President, and the Cabinet which will advise her, is whether or not Mr Mohd Afzal deserves clemency, not whether he’s innocent or guilty. [See an earlier post on death sentence dilemma].

India must be the only country in the world where the government finds ever more dubious reasons to prevent a convicted terrorist—guilty of planning an attack on the national parliament—from being punished according to the law.

Just how shameful is Mr Patil’s statement? Compare his views with those of Sukhpreet Kaur, Mr Singh’s wife. “Myself and my daughters would never like Sarabjit freed in exchange for any hardcore Pakistani terrorist lodged in Indian jails” she said, “nothing is above the nation and we can’t go against the interests of our motherland.”

Neutron Jack would have no qualms in sacking Mr Patil. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, though, is quite unlikely to do so. Neither performance nor values matter to this government. It has already robbed from India’s material future. It is also robbing India’s national dignity. Yet it is important for us, the shareholders, to demand his sacking.

A version of this post appears in Saturday’s Mail Today, in an op-ed titled “It’s high time Shivraj Patil was shown the door”

The Paradox of the New Jihadi

The local manifestation of a global pattern

It is hard to say, but it may well be that the Indian media prevented the Indian Mujahideen from setting off their tenth bomb. The earliest reports of the contents of their email made them appear merely dangerously confused. But as we learn more about what exactly they said in their email, it is clear that their message was not merely incendiary. It is, as Praveen Swami puts it, a manifesto for the “Indian Mujahideen’s Declaration of Open War Against India. Declaration of Open War Against India.” [via Sandeep]

Because that document has profound implications for India’s psychological preparation for the long war ahead, it is incumbent on the media and the government to make the entire document public.

Mr Swami’s article makes it abundantly clear that pattern of contemporary global ‘jihad’ has manifested itself in India. Now, terrorist attacks by Islamic groups are nothing new for India—but in the past these were linked to the secessionist movement and later, the proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir; or any number of Pakistan’s extended jihadi apparatus, including the Dawood Ibrahim’s organised crime network. The difference between those attacks and the more recent ones is that whereas the former involved either foreigners or “hardcore” locals, the latter involve individuals and cells from a broader section of the India’s Muslim population.

Paradoxically, while many of the New Jihadis are home-grown, the reason for their energetic mobilisation is global. As the Indian Mujahideen say in their email, they are motivated by the belief that “we Muslims are one across the globe.” India, therefore, in the minds of the New Jihadis is but one front, their front, in the global jihad. While they cite the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Godhra riots as the reasons for their attacks—which their apologists are quick to ingest—the fact that their violence is directed against the Indian people and the Indian state, including Muslims who disagree with their ideology, suggests that these grievances are either excuses or propaganda slogans for their primary agenda.

At this point, it is common for the Indian debate to be hung up on whether injustice leads to terrorism or the other way around, but because the New Jihadis see themselves as part of a global religious war, it is reasonable to conclude that no amount of ‘justice’—short of the impossible goal of reordering Indian society along their demands—will convince them to halt their struggle. Such implacability makes it extremely easy for foreign interests to use the New Jihadis to pursue their strategic objectives. The old jihadis, for instance, could be controlled strategically by squeezing Pakistan. This approach won’t work too well against the New Jihadis.

What this means is that the only course open to India is to fight the New Jihadis to the finish. They have already declared war on India. Now, it is not that the Indian government is not fighting—it is, and it has notched some notable gains against SIMI in recent years. But because the entire debate of counter-terrorism has been coloured in the tired old colours of “communalism”, “secularism” and “minorities”, the Indian government, and the political establishment, has failed to mobilise the nation for this war.

A lesson in statecraft, for Mr Varadarajan

Nepal is Nepal, and India is, well, India

“If the Indian Maoists have something to learn from their Nepali comrades,” Siddharth Varadarajan argues, “the same is true of the Indian establishment as well. While Nepal’s erstwhile ruling parties are building peace with their Maoists, India is stuck with the disastrous Salwa Judum.”

Now the use of Salwa Judum by Chattisgarh is wrong, and is the most obvious indicator of the UPA government’s failure to develop a cohesive strategy towards subduing the Naxalite movement. But it is also important to remember that Salwa Judum is a relatively new phenomenon (India’s Naxalites have been around for almost four decades) and is restricted to just one state. So to equate India’s long war against the Naxalite movement is more misinformation than analysis. Mr Varadarajan ignores the anti-Naxalite strategies adopted in other states and at other times. For instance, under Chandrababu Naidu’s chief-ministership, the Andhra Pradesh police almost broke the Naxalites’ back. That advantage was lost not because the use of force by state authorities didn’t work. It was lost because the Congress Party decided to lower the heat and attempt negotiations. The Maoists used the opportunity to regroup and before long, returned to their armed struggle.

But what of Mr Varadarajan’s lesson in statecraft, from Nepal to India? Well, he argues

“If the Indian establishment wants the Maoists to give up their armed struggle and take part in elections like their Nepali comrades, it will have to rely on more than political osmosis. For the Nepali ‘model’ is not just about the Maoists adapting creatively to changes in the national and international arena; it is equally about the ‘bourgeois’ parties there demonstrating a degree of statesmanship that has so far been completely absent in their counterparts south of the border.

Indeed, so backward is our political culture in relation to Nepal’s that instead of seeking ways of peacefully ending the naxalite insurgency, the Government of India has actually fuelled a new civil war.

In Nepal, the political parties and the Maoist rebels realised that the civil war in their country would not be resolved militarily. The king was the only one who failed to recognise this reality and paid the price for his folly. In India, however, despite the military stalemate which prevails, both the establishment and the Maoists continue to believe in the supremacy of arms.” [The Hindu]

Mr Varadarajan, like some other people who write in the opinion pages of the Hindu betrays a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the Indian state. He fails to understand the fundamental difference between legitimacy of a democratic republic and that of a sometimes-absolute, sometimes-constitutional monarchy. Even if one were to ignore the immense differences in the state’s hard capacity—in the ability to muster up economic and military resources—the government of India enjoys a moral strength (of course, the Naxalites and their apologists will deny this) that no government of Nepal ever had. [See There are alternatives to Naxalism]

In other words, unlike Nepal, the Indian state won’t simply lie down and surrender. Here Mr Varadarajan would do well to learn some lessons from Indian history: in the end, it is the insurgents who cry Momma. The second lesson for Mr Varadarajan is that the democratic nature of the Indian state allows these militarily defeated insurgents to honourably enter mainstream politics.

Indeed, Mr Varadarajan might discover the ultimate lesson of statecraft were he to examine how Nepal’s Maoists came to power. Narratives of Indian pusillanimity apart, does he really believe that Pushpa Kumar Dahal would be so close to political power, and legitimacy, if the ‘Indian establishment’ hadn’t allowed it?

It is not as if negotiations haven’t been tried in India. They have. That they have not led to the Naxalites dropping dogmatic armed struggle and entering mainstream politics tells you where the problem lies. It is understandable that Mr Varadarajan is heady with vicarious triumphalism due to the success of Nepal’s Maoists. He should restrict himself to savouring the moment. As for lessons in statecraft, there’s a lot that Maoists—on either side of the India-Nepal border—have to learn.