Indo–US workshop on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism in 2014 and Beyond

Indo–US workshop on
Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism in 2014 and Beyond
February 3-5, 2014 | National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore
Executive Summary

The United States and India have long been victims of terrorist attacks. These attacks have affected the moral fabric of both the countries. This workshop aimed at bringing scientists and technical experts in contact with the agencies combating terrorism in the field so that there will be greater exchange of knowledge and experience. Through this the workshop aspired to identify specific areas of joint collaboration.

This workshop built upon a highly successful joint NIAS-NAS workshop on technical aspects of nuclear materials security, which was held in 2012. It was a follow-on to a similar event held in 2004, which involved then current and future leaders in science, security, and policy.

During the planning stage of the workshop, the planning committee members of both the countries felt that it will be useful to approach the issues related to counter terrorism by a “systems approach”. It was also emphasized that presenting a few case studies during the workshop will make it more worthwhile; which will highlight the lessons learnt by the respective countries.

Since both the countries have been affected by natural disasters, it was also felt that there is a lot to be learnt from the efforts made towards mitigation and rescue operations. Technologies used for this purpose may well be useful in combating a terrorist attack. A session on “Emergency Management and Response” thus was included.

Venue and Participants

The Workshop was inaugurated on February 3, 2014 and concluded on February 5, 2014. All the sessions were held in the Lecture Hall, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.

The participants included researchers from the U.S. institutes such as Brookings, Sandia National laboratory, Los Alamos National laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, Committee for International Security and Arms Control (CISAC), New Mexico Tech, and the University of Hawaii.

The participants from India included representatives from the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Home, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Atomic Energy, National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), Vels University, Indian Institute of Science, Prism Consultants, Cyber Security Works Pvt. Ltd., and the members of the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme of the National Institute of Advanced Studies.

Workshop themes

The workshop held 12 sessions covering:

Conceptual Approaches to terrorism, Chemical Security, Agricultural and Food Security, Technical Aspects of Civilian Nuclear Material Security, Global Health Security, Emergency Management and Response, Critical Infrastructure Security, Cyber Security, Forensic Capabilities and Needs for Attribution and Perpetrator Prosecution and Technologies to Combat Terrorism.

Two documentary films were screened during the workshop –

  1. Terror in Mumbai by Dan Reed
  2. Manhunt Boston Bombers by NOVA

The documentary “Terror in Mumbai” reconstructs the Mumbai 26/11 attack, which targeted the Mumbai city’s main railway station (Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus), a cafeteria, two major hotels, and a Jewish Centre. It shows how ill-prepared the security forces were for such a multi-location nearly simultaneous urban terrorist attack. It also shows the footage of the terrorists in action with audio excerpts of cell phone conversations between the handlers in Pakistan and the terrorist action in Mumbai.

The documentary “Manhunt Boston Bombers” documents how technologies were used to nab the perpetrator of the Boston Attack. It examines the role that technology played in the search for the perpetrators while highlighting the limitations and problems of some of the technological innovations. It details how forensics played a significant role in determining the bomb material used in the blast and in reconstructing how the blast itself could have taken place.

Salient Points

  • There has been limited interaction between the practitioners of counter-terrorism and scientists. This is a lacunae that needs to be addressed. In areas where we see gaps in counter-terrorism, the scientific community would be able to help in providing technological solutions. The National Knowledge Network (NKN) platform could be used for the purpose of posing the problems faced by the Security agencies that could be addressed by the S & T community in India.
  • Groups on the internet, chat-rooms etc have been successful in recruiting potential terrorists. A major challenge in this regard is the ability of law enforcement to track activities on the internet with the primary objective of recruiting for terrorist activities.
  • Other areas of communication that may have to be checked for similar activities include GSM, CDMA, satellite phones, RF spectrum, GSM networks sent to our country. Chat-rooms are password-protected and short lived and hence it is tough to track them. The area of encryption in fact poses the biggest challenge.
  • Systems approach to combat terrorism in India is being attempted specifically to formulate response strategies. The biggest challenge however is the coordination of multiple agencies.
  • General perception of terrorist attack on chemical facilities is low in India. A need for securing chemical facilities through legislation, and involving the academia and the industrialists particularly the board of directors was emphasized.
  • Different types of threats to chemical sites and facilities were discussed which involved theft, physical harm, cyber attacks on computer networks of the facilities. The cycle of development of chemicals, production, processing and its distribution as well as areas vulnerable to possible harm by non-state actors were highlighted.
  • On the issue of insider threat in chemical industries it was noted that the Department of Homeland Security, USA does acknowledge this source of threat.
  • The threat perception in India on the issue of invasive insects and its impact on plant and species in India is very low although such incidents can have a huge impact on the economy and on food security. The prevention methods for such contingencies are pretty weak and mostly unplanned. The intervening capability of the concerned agencies in dealing in the post crisis scenario is however, good.
  • The movement of food products from different parts of the world into India is not stringently monitored. There is a need for better regulation and greater coordination between the government and academia and general public for strengthening safety of plant species. For example, in North-East India, the partnership between the scientific establishments and the people have resulted in mitigating the threat posed by invasive insects from the neighbouring countries into India. Such partnership and awareness among the concerned public needs to be enhanced for better safety and security of plants and species in India.
  • The concerns of the U.S are mainly on threats to food processing industries through deliberate or accidental contamination. A number of online tools have been developed by US industries and government agencies to conduct vulnerability assessments of the food supply chain network. Various regulations and laws have been introduced by the US government to enhance food safety and exporting countries and entities have to comply with standard food safety measures in order to export their goods.
  • The importance of forensic capabilities in the post incident investigations and its ability to trace the perpetrators of the crime was highlighted and it was noted that forensic capability in India has improved significantly. Capacity however, still remains a problem. The need to familiarize the judiciary on the latest forensic techniques and their use to establish evidence was emphasized. The need for a systems approach in investigations and above all the importance of human element was emphasised.
  • Technologies developed by DRDO suitable for countering terrorism were described.
  • Some aspects of security of a critical infrastructure facility was discussed through a case study which dealt with the security of Los Angeles port in the U.S. The description of the vulnerabilities in this case apply to many other facilities.
  • Cyber Security is the most common threat and applicable to chemical, biological and nuclear facilities. Current systems are increasingly susceptible to cyber threats owing to expanding connectedness. Apart from thefts, malware, hacking, cases of wrong people being attributed to cyber crimes are increasing as hackers are able to manipulate the location coordinates.
  • The need for a comprehensive training for explosive experts was discussed. Terrorist tactics and targets are continually evolving leading to additional challenges. It was suggested to put together a year long programme on the following topics :- Sensor and security equipment evaluation and testing, Ballistic protection of critical infrastructure components, Systems effectiveness Analysis (SEA), Maritime Security, Response force deployment and equipment, Performance testing and security system inspections and evaluations, Cyber/DCS/SCADA security evaluations and protection and Traffic safety emergency preparedness and industrial security management.


Photos of the Indo-US Workshop

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