Implications of Mumbai

J.B. Longley
2 December 2008
Republished with permission

[Jim Longley is Executive Director of the Advanced Technical Intelligence Association, formerly the MASINT Association.]

From time to time, events occur that compel us to pause and seriously reflect on their potential significance to the technical intelligence community. The Mumbai attack may present one of those rare moments.

John Robb, an Air Force veteran of the special operations community has summarized the ability of the Mumbai terrorists to use readily available, off-the-shelf technology to mount their vicious attack. Blackberrys were used in real time to, apparently, hack into and monitor the police response to the carnage; cell phones were used to coordinate tactics. Notably, after cable television lines into the building were cut, the attackers accessed local and worldwide media coverage, including the forces mounted against them, over the internet. E-mail was sent to taunt the local media (and the public).

In one of the articles referenced by Robb, Noah Shactman of reminds us of former U.S. Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid’s complaint that, “with their Radio Shack stockpile of communications gear, ‘this enemy is better networked than we are’.”

As John writes, “…these guerrillas were better connected to both the tactical and strategic environment than any US and other developed nation military personnel have ever been (the opposition believes in the strategic corporal, why don’t we?)”.  John’s book, Brave New War, and his blog,, provide commentary on the modern phenomenon of, what he refers to as, ‘open source’ warfare. The reference to the “strategic corporal” refers to Marine Gen. Chuck Krulak’s prescient article, “The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War”; written in 1999; also cited below.

The urgency of the cyber threat and the extent to which readily available technology is being used against us to heinous effect presents serious challenges to the nation and to our community. Not to mention, the difficulties we face in countering these tactics by providing useful information quickly and down to the lowest levels of the chain of command.

(Note: tomorrow is the last day to register for next week’s technical intelligence conference, especially the classified sessions on the cyber challenges we face; cf.

While there’s still far more to this than might be readily evident, John’s blog, along with the several links, provided below, raise highly provocative questions about the nature of the threat — and the challenges we face in seeking to confront it — that bear very careful thought.


References in John’s blog:

How Gadgets Helped Mumbai Attackers
Noah Shachtman,, December 01, 2008, 9:39:23 AM

Terrorists turn technology into weapon of war in Mumbai
Their battle fatigues are jeans, T-shirts and trainers. They are the new breed of
terrorist – using everyday technology as a weapon of war.
Courier Sunday Mail (Australia), November 29, 2008 11:00pm,23739,24726093-954,00.html

The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War
Gen. Charles C. Krulak, Marines Magazine, January 1999

John Robb’s blog:

Another reference not cited by John but informative, nonetheless (despite the
embarrasing security breach and the “CYA” tenor of the story):

U.S. Warned India in October of Potential Terror Attack
NSA Now Tracking Captured Phones, U.S. Connections
Richard Espositon, Brian Ross and Pierre Thomas, ABC News, December 1, 2008

[DNI editor’s note:  To which I would add Pat Lang’s recent column, “Calm down Over Mumbai, Please.”]

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