I want to bring your attention to a terrific article, “New Media’s Moment In Mumbai” in Foreign Policy Journal, written by a friend of this blog, Chris Battle. Chris edits the excellent Security Debrief blog and is a partner in the Adfero Group.
In the article, Battle points out the use of social media by the terrorists in organizing the Mumbai attacks as well as civilians and the media in responding to them. He argues that government officials need to embrace the new technological tools and outlines three areas where social media can be very helpful: emergency response, open-source intelligence gathering, and the ideological struggle for hearts and minds. As Battle writes in the article:
“Talk to some in the national and homeland security environment, and they will tell you — perhaps a bit defensively but usually with a false sense of authority — that they cannot leverage the powerful tools of New Media because to do so might threaten their internal security. Others simply give you a puzzled look, as if you are asking them whether they go online and share pictures of their families with anonymous college kids. Meanwhile, the world of communications and intelligence — not to mention history’s most deadly generation of terrorists — is passing them by.”
“…The terrorists…had better preparation, better coordination, better communication and more effective, albeit lower budget, technology. Foreign to the city of Mumbai, the terrorists navigated through the city and coordinated their actions with one another , as if they had trained there for years. How? By using technology available to anybody with even a meager budget. They could map out their routes via satellite imagery available on Google Maps, and a host of other such mapping sites. They could communicate via satellite and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) to avoid giving away their locations. They could text message on their Blackberries, allowing for real-time coordination. And who knows what other applications were installed on the Blackberries that would allow them to monitor the deluge of information pouring forth on the Internet via sites like Twitter, Flickr and online media.”
“…Some of the first communications out of Mumbai, came via sources like Twitter, an online social networking site that allows people to share short bursts of information about what they are doing. These one to two line ‘tweets’ of information alerted the world that that the terrorists were singling out Americans and Britons. This information was shared in real time, even as the terrorists were seeking passports to confirm a hostage’s nationality. Any American in Mumbai with a Blackberry, I-Phone or even cell phone who had downloaded Twitter could have been made aware of this potentially life-saving information.”
“….The real value New Media offers in the homeland and national security environment, however, will lie less in the reporting and eye-witness accounts that overwhelm the Internet in the short-term chaos of a crisis such as Mumbai. (It should be noted that Mumbai was unusual in the very duration of the attack, which lasted days rather than the momentary and intense destruction of a car bomb.) Its real value will fall into three broad categories: emergency response, open-source intelligence gathering, and the ideological struggle for hearts and minds.”