Technology Plays Key Role in Mumbai Attacks, Both for Terrorists and Civilians

By Melissa Lafsky | December 3, 2008 1:32 pm

It looks like the U.S. military’s fears about Twitter being a tool for terrorists may not be so far off base. The Washington Post reports that the attackers who wreaked havoc in Mumbai last week used Blackberries, GPS navigators, CDs full of high-res satellite images, and “multiple cellphones with switchable SIM cards that would be hard to track” to carry out their siege. They also spoke to each other using satellite phones and kept tabs on their fellow terrorists by watching live TV reports in the hotel rooms they occupied.

The use of technology was so sophisticated and extensive that one security expert in New Delhi told the Post,

“The terrorists would not have been able to carry out these attacks had it not been for technology. They were not sailors, but they were able to use sophisticated GPS navigation tools and detailed maps to sail from Karachi [in Pakistan] to Mumbai.”

Meanwhile, civilians were making full use of available resources as well. Throughout the attack, the blogosphere, and particularly sites like Flickr and Twitter, was packed with extensive realtime coverage and updates from onlookers, residents, and potential victims trapped in hotels. And of course, afterwards, those affected were able to use the Web to share stories and vent emotions about what had happened.

But while civilians were able to put their communications devices to good use and reach each other, the Indian Security Forces were technologically outmatched. When an elite special forces unit arrived at the two hotels where hostages were located, it was unequipped with night-vision goggles or thermal-imaging capability, and the soldiers lacked even floor layouts of the hotel.

One question is whether Google may get some flack in the wake of this display of “terrorism in the digital age.” Officials in numerous countries (including ours) have expressed concern over the detail Google Earth images reveal about military sites. While the site is open to anyone in the world with an Internet connection, it can’t be denied that it presents a useful tool for those looking to plan an attack like this.

Related:
RB: Could Twitter Be a Tool for Terrorists?
RB: Caught in a National Disaster? Twitter May Save Your Life.
RB: Want to Send Your Representative a Message? Use Twitter!

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