Mumbai Attack Was Tip of the Iceberg

Specialized knowledge requires expanding an attack network to include people who know that information - in this case, the staff at five-star hotels, railway terminals, and top restaurants. It only takes one individual, misidentified as a possible asset, going to the police to blow apart a month's long operation. This is likely how the original plan was prematurely aborted. To avoid this same fate, the terrorists even went so far as to kill the navigator of the boat hijacked to carry them into the bay to prevent any information from being leaked.  Once inside the city, they hijacked vehicles, rather relying on a local asset stealing vehicles, and relied on GPS technology to navigate the city.

Instead of depending on local assets to expand the assault team, the terrorists made use of command and control hubs, located inside the two hotels, to out maneuver the Indian security apparatus. Each phase of the operation, every tactical movement, every step was coordinated via Blackberry, computer, and satellite phone in real time. This served as a force multiplier: by acting in concert, they manipulated security force and media estimates of their capabilities, allowing them more time and space within to maneuver. When their ability to travel around the city was cutoff by police forces, these rooms also provided a ready location to fortify and sustain a siege.

So based on this analysis, what could a possible and likely third attack look like? The original attempt was designed to be a high intensity, high impact attack that consumed the lives of scores, including the terrorists themselves. The second attempt was successful in this regard, but, from the terrorist perspective, there are some areas of improvement.

To achieve greater speed and inflict exponentially more damage, terrorists will likely cut out command and control hubs entirely, instead opting for greater operational flexibility and peer-to-peer communication. They may use small, cheap, aerial drones or networks of strategically placed webcams or even elaborate disinformation campaigns to misdirect first responders and police forces.

It is likely that each two-man unit will act independently with instructions to direct others only as needed. Their primary common objective will be the creation of chaos, followed by an imperative to stay alive, for the longer they are alive and free, the greater the success that can be achieved. The sole captured member of this assault team has told police that his team was expecting to survive.  It seems the tactics are already evolving.

As evidenced by the rapid turnaround in mounting a second attempt, terrorists are deeply motivated by the potential payoff of urban overruns. The economic damage alone from this attack is estimated at $10 billion. The next generation of terrorists will be working around the clock to plan not just one, but a whole series of overruns, perhaps while using only one assault team in an effort to overwhelm the Indian state.

It is extremely unlikely their efforts will be limited to that country.