Electronic Surveillance Failures Leading up to the 2008 Mumbai Terrorist Attacks
Long New York Times article based on “former American and Indian officials and classified documents disclosed by Edward J. Snowden” outlining the intelligence failures leading up to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks:
Although electronic eavesdropping often yields valuable data, even tantalizing clues can be missed if the technology is not closely monitored, the intelligence gleaned from it is not linked with other information, or analysis does not sift incriminating activity from the ocean of digital data.
This seems to be the moral:
Although the United States computer arsenal plays a vital role against targets ranging from North Korea’s suspected assault on Sony to Russian cyberthieves and Chinese military hacking units, counterterrorism requires a complex mix of human and technical resources. Some former counterterrorism officials warn against promoting billion-dollar surveillance programs with the narrow argument that they stop attacks.
That monitoring collects valuable information, but large amounts of it are “never meaningfully reviewed or analyzed,” said Charles (Sam) Faddis, a retired C.I.A. counterterrorism chief. “I cannot remember a single instance in my career when we ever stopped a plot based purely on signals intelligence.”
Intelligence officials say that terror plots are often discernible only in hindsight, when a pattern suddenly emerges from what had been just bits of information. Whatever the reason, no one fully grasped the developing Mumbai conspiracy.
“They either weren’t looking or didn’t understand what it all meant,” said one former American official who had access to the intelligence and would speak only on the condition of anonymity. “There was a lot more noise than signal. There usually is.”