MUMBAI, India – When the attackers arrived on the shores of Mumbai last month, they had studied satellite images of the city, were carrying handheld GPS sets and were communicating with their handlers via the Internet and satellite phone.
Many of the Indian police they encountered did not even have walkie-talkies.
The Mumbai gunmen overwhelmed security forces not only with their weaponry and willingness to die, but also with their sophisticated use of technology, security experts said.
“These (terrorists) are well aware of the technology available and also know that the police are several steps behind. And a lot of this technology is extremely easy to use and to learn,” said Pavan Duggal, a technology expert and New Delhi-based lawyer.
India’s underfunded and poorly trained police force is simply unable to compete, experts said.
“Crimes that involve technology usually make the police very nervous,” Duggal said.
To prepare for their Nov. 26 assault, militants examined the layout and landscape of the city using images from Google Earth, which provides satellite photos for much of the planet over the Internet, said Mumbai’s chief police investigator, Rakesh Maria.
The 10 gunmen also studied detailed photographs of their targets on laptop computers, Maria said.
When the assailants traveled by boat from Karachi, Pakistan, to Mumbai they used four GPS systems to navigate, Maria said. The sets could also be used as walkie-talkies.
The attackers were equipped with a satellite phone and nine cell phones. Throughout the attack, they called their handlers in Pakistan, who had eschewed conventional phones for voice-over-Internet telephone services, Maria said.
Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a Pakistani accused of plotting the attacks, spoke from two Internet phone numbers to six different Indian mobile numbers, India’s Hindu newspaper reported. The Internet numbers were paid for by wire transfer by someone using fake ID, the newspaper said.
By contrast, many Indian police do not have cell phones or even walkie-talkies to communicate with each other. The commando unit flown in from New Delhi to take on the attackers had neither night-vision goggles nor thermal sensors, which would have allowed them to pinpoint the locations of attackers and hostages during the siege, security experts said.
“The communication expertise that the gunmen employed was clearly a few steps if not a generation ahead of what the police had,” said C. Uday Bhaskar, a former naval commander and retired director of India’s Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses.
Bhaskar said the security forces in India, a country renowned for its huge supply of world class computer programmers, are especially weak in cybersecurity.
The Mumbai attacks also raised concerns about how easily accessible and cheap civilian technology can aid criminals.
India has expressed concerns in recent years that Google Earth could be used by terrorists to examine targets in preparation for an attack.
Google said in a statement it condemns terrorism but believes that Google Earth’s benefits outweigh its risks for criminal use, noting that the computer tool had been used for flood relief in India’s western state of Gujarat, tsunami relief in southern India and earthquake relief in Kashmir.