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After the bombs, jolt of jargon

New Delhi, Feb. 22: Before the bombing case is cracked, the country will have to pick its way through a minefield called intelligence jargon.

The national air was thick today with the static of crackling phrases such as “general alerts”, “specific inputs” and “actionable intelligence”.

The Centre said it had issued “specific inputs” to Hyderabad, four other cities and two states on Thursday morning itself — the very day the twin bombs were detonated in the southern city. The Andhra government said there was no “clarity” in the alert.

Veteran intelligence officers were of the opinion that most alerts appear prophetic in the glow of morning-after wisdom but few are useful unless they are “actionable”. “Mostly, the alerts help protect the backs of officialdom,” a veteran said.

Another veteran illustrated the point through three imaginary examples, served with an alphabet soup.

General alert: “As during previous years, the CPI(Maoist) may resort to TCOC (tactical counter-offensive campaign) during the ensuing months. The police may form companies and secure culverts, highways and revise SOPs (standard operating procedures) to prevent IED (improvised explosive device) attacks.”

Specific input: “Inputs suggest that the DKSZC (Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee) has communicated to its area commander to engage with the CRPF in South Bastar in the first two weeks of this month.”

Actionable intelligence: “A heavily armed military company of the CPI(Maoist) has been reported sighted near Barsur (in Dantewada) with 23 locals, two of whom are known to be experts at laying IEDs. The purpose is to engage with the 3BN (battalion) of the CRPF on Thursday.”

General alerts are usually sent to all states — such as the ones sent on February 16, 17 and 20 after Afzal Guru was hanged on February 9. But Thursday’s inputs could be said to be “specific” as they were sent to particular cities and states, home ministry sources said.

The sources claimed that the advisories were prompted by a development in Pakistan: a meeting of the United Jihad Council (UJC) on February 13. The council, whose members include the Jaish-e-Mohammed and al Badr, apparently discussed action against India for hanging Afzal.

After the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, all inputs converge at the Multi Agency Centre (MAC), a co-ordination mechanism under the Intelligence Bureau, where these are categorised. The advisories may be lengthy and may run into several pages, marked “Secret”, “Top Secret”, “Immediate” and “Most Immediate”.

The specific input on Thursday presumably carried the “Most Immediate” label. But unless the local intelligence network is fleet-footed, a “specific input” is of little help in a large city like Hyderabad with a population of 8.5 million.

Here, a three-letter acronym called “Liu” comes into play. Liu stands for local intelligence unit, which is supposed to keep its ear to the ground and act as the eyes and ears of the security establishment. When a specific input comes, it falls upon Liu to come up with precise details that can activate pre-emptive measures.

But the ideal objective is to gather “actionable intelligence”. “It is actionable intelligence that makes the difference. It would say these are the guys involved; the bombs would be in Dilsukhnagar and on bicycles. That is actionable input,” said a former secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

The debate on alerts also made some civilians wonder how they are sent, especially against the backdrop of the controversy over informing Afzal’s family of his execution over speed post.

The veterans clarified that intelligence inputs and advisories were usually sent through secure emails of the National Informatics Centre (NIC)-run system on which governments run daily electronic communication.

Such communication was earlier sent by fax. In remote locations, fax messages and wireless are frequently used even now. Within close quarters, the home ministry’s “despatch riders” hand-deliver communication.

Since few government communication can be said to be complete unless copies are made, most papers are usually marked to several intelligence agencies apart from the official or the department concerned.

A warning on the possibility of attacks on Hyderabad will, therefore, go to the city police commissioner and the state director-general of police. Copies will be marked to specific desk officials in the RAW, Intelligence Bureau, Prime Minister’s Office, Director-General of Military Intelligence and the Joint Intelligence Committee. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), the lead agency in terror investigation, is also expected to be kept in the loop.