In the wake of the terrorist attack in Mumbai out goes the top federal official, Minister for Home Affairs Shivraj Patil. He says he should have done better. Popular indignation ratifies his judgment. Since Mumbai is in the state of Maharashtra, the chief minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, has offered his resignation and his number two, R.R. Patil, has quit. Deshmukh says he “accepts moral responsibility.” Remember that Maharashtra, at 100 million, has a third the population of the United States, so we’re talking about very powerful officials.
Given the ratios of destruction, it’s as though New York Mayor Giuliani, Governor Pataki, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and the heads of the CIA, NSA and FBI had all tendered their resignations on September 12, 2001, which of course none of them did. Like the tribe of Ephraim in the Book of Judges (12:5-6), who couldn’t pronounce the word “shibboleth,” the tongue and palate of American politicians and bureaucrats simply cannot handle the phrase “moral responsibility,” at least as a condition applying to themselves. Remember that the tribe of Gilead made everyone trying to cross the Jordan after the battle say the word “shibboleth,” and those who couldn’t were put to the sword. The best the Ephraimites could do was “s-s-siboleth.” A good lesson here. Line up the high-ups and make them say it. “I accept mowal wes-, wes-, wes-” and down comes the ax.
It’s the usual story. There were plenty of warnings. As papers like the London Sunday Times detailed, in contrast to very poor real-time coverage here in the United States, months ago the Mumbai police had information elicited from Fahim Ansari, a captive member of the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba, that a raid on the city was being planned and that he himself had reconnoitered the Taj and Oberoi hotels. The Indian authorities intercepted a telephone call made from a boat in the Arabian Sea less than two weeks before the attack, in which a terrorist suspect said, “We’re coming to Mumbai.” The Indian coast guard was alerted. But Ajmal Aamer Kasav, the surviving gunman, has apparently told the Mumbai police that he and his fellow gunmen switched ships. Presumably the US National Security Agency had a pile of overheard cellphone calls from the terrorists, calling their families and sponsors in Pakistan and Punjab. Soon we’ll be reading about self-aggrandizing leaks from US intelligence officials claiming they tried to warn the Indian authorities. The 9/11 conspiracists will claim it was an inside job.
The brain initially translates the unexpected as a minor aberration of normalcy. Look at what happened in February 2003 in Key West the day Attorney General Ashcroft and Homeland Security czar Ridge announced we’re One Nation Under Orange Alert. Four uniformed fugitives from Cuba’s navy patrol made landfall on the Homeland, passing undetected by vast flotillas of US Coast Guard and Navy vessels. Clad in their Cuban army fatigues (one had a Chinese-made handgun strapped to his hip), they wandered about, looking for a police station where they could turn themselves in. If of malign intent, the Cubans could have wiped out half the authors on the New York Times‘s bestseller list with a single salvo.