Wed, 25 Sep 2002

Intelligence shortcomings

For some of us, the series of failed bombing attempts in Jakarta, including the one on Monday with the explosion of a grenade in the hands of one attacker, reminds us of the coyote character in the classic cartoon series The Roadrunner. The coyote consistently fails in his attempts to demolish the ostrich-like bird, not only because the target is way too fast for him, but also because he is plain stupid.

It is tempting to dismiss Monday's attackers as a bunch of stupid amateurs like the coyote. But admittedly, there have been several other failed attacks in the past, including occasions when the bombs exploded in their houses or in their vehicles on their way to carry out their misdeeds.

Any similarity between the amateurish bombers and the coyote in Roadrunner ends here however. The cartoon series is fun to watch, but there is nothing humorous about the failed attacks.

In real life, an attack that plans to use any type of explosives is disturbing, irrespective of whether it has successfully been executed or not. Some of the attacks that reached fruition were devastating or even fatal, like the one at the Jakarta Stock Exchange building or the one that maimed the Philippine ambassador to Indonesia.

What is disconcerting about these attacks is shortcomings in the intelligence capability of the security apparatus of this country. Not only have they consistently failed to anticipate these attacks, they have, in most cases, failed to solve the mysteries even after the attacks took place. At times, we're left wondering who is the real coyote here.

The public has yet to be given any credible explanation by the authorities about the perpetrators of these attacks, and about their motives. We are not sure whether they were conducted by the same people, or by different groups for different motives.

The few cases that have already reached the courts have signally failed to provide satisfactory answers to these most basic questions.

Monday's incident, coming at a time when this nation, with the rest of the world, is fighting against the threat of terrorism, will be seen as a test of our intelligence capability.

While we can count our blessings that there were no casualties apart from one of the attackers, the police must come up quickly with credible answers about the planned attack on Monday: Who are they, who was the target, and, most importantly, why?

Most of the attacks that have taken place -- both failed and successful, in Jakarta and elsewhere in Indonesia -- have left few clues for the public to be able to detect any discernible pattern. The targets, timing and type of explosives used all seem to have been randomly selected. The motives too were unclear: Whether they were intended to kill, destroy property, or simply scare people off.

There is no doubt, however, about the impact that these bombings or attempted attacks, random though they may be, has had on the lives of the public: They are terrorizing us.

As long as the police and their intelligence cannot come up with credible explanations for these attacks and arrest the real perpetrators, the public will be left to fend for itself.

We are left guessing about when and where the next attack will take place. But for most of us, life must go on, even with the threat of terror attacks haunting us. The only thing we can do is hope we won't be anywhere near when the next attack occurs. That, or hope that our intelligence services will crack the mysteries fast enough to foil them.