Home must get its house in order

Home Secretary R K Singh could not help but give in to that irresistible urge to reveal specifics on the departure of the NIA and NSG teams to Hyderabad Thursday night. "9-30 by special flight they will take off," he said before cameras, bringing back memories of a more costly mistake by Shivraj Patil during the 26/11 attacks when he gave away the expected departure and arrival time of NSG commandos being rushed to Mumbai.

This lapse was not that serious after all, they were just investigation and bomb detection teams. But it again flagged off the temptation within the Home Ministry to lose sight of the basic security protocol of not revealing movement details until they have happened. An hour later, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde was on camera talking about some "information" that had been shared earlier. It was a teaser that led nowhere because there was only a countrywide general alert sounded after Afzal Guru's hanging a fact that forced Shinde to backtrack in Hyderabad Friday. Even when Shinde had made the Hindu terror remark, Singh had brought out a list of cases to shore up his minister, least realising he was accentuating the political damage.

While serious questions of competence can be raised here, the more immediate security problem is that of communication. A mere appearance before cameras with no proper preparation is as damaging as not speaking at all. Communication is serious business, particularly after a terror attack, and must be handled professionally. The basic requirement is to at least have a communication set-up, which organises information and sends out the right message.

There also has to be an identified face, a spokesperson with access and a full-fledged office. The MEA has an External Publicity division and to head it is a prize job which usually goes to an upwardly mobile IFS officer. The Home Ministry has no senior officer applying his/her mind to communication, forget about understanding its value and harnessing the opportunity.

What else can explain the repeated urge to get on camera without assessing information or its impact as evident after the Afzal hanging? Sadly, it also shows that one of the most important lessons from 26/11 has not been assimilated.

Pranab is a deputy editor based in Delhi


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