Pay them their price to betray

Pay them their price to betray
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First Published: Sun, Feb 18 2007. 11 56 PM IST
Updated: Sun, Feb 18 2007. 11 56 PM IST
India needs to introduce a profit motive in its war against terrorists. The strategy will be cost-effective.
Our terrorists have killed five times more people in India than terrorists have killed in Western Europe, North America, plus East and Southeast Asia put together. India’s terrorists can be caught by tapping human greed. Their whereabouts are sometimes known to their associates. The associates could betray them for huge cash rewards. But the betrayers will snitch only if two conditions are met. One, if their rewards are quickly given, and two, if they are promised lifelong immunity from prosecution for their own criminal acts. Money erodes loyalties. Saddam was given away by a “trusted” attendant. His sons were betrayed by the very landlord who sheltered them. Their reward: $30 million (Rs139 crore). A brother betrayed America’s infamous Unabomber, whose letter-bombs separately killed three people and terrorized the US for 17 years. Greed for the $1 million reward overcame the sibling’s brotherly love.
India should emulate the US, which routinely exploits human greed to catch wanted men. When the American state looks for a terrorist or a criminal, it makes informants an offer they cannot refuse. It not only pays them a huge cash reward large enough to retire on, it gives them a new identity and re-locates them to a safe place. This generosity provokes a scramble among members of criminal, drug-trafficking, or terrorist groups to betray their bosses. Once they do so, a special US Marshals Service looks after the betrayers’ well-being and safety all their lives. The US has more than 17,000 such protectees in hiding, whose information and testimony led to the capture and conviction of big-time law-breakers.
But in India, three factors deter informants from stepping forward. One, the rewards aren’t large enough—just Rs15 lakh for information on the bombers who blew up two trains in Mumbai. Two, the informants aren’t sure of getting the reward money without queuing up at 20 government counters. Three, they fear prosecution. Because India has no law that rewards informants for tips that lead to wanted law-breakers. The US pampers important informants. The men who betrayed Saddam and his sons not only received $60 million from the US state, they were flown to the US and settled down in hiding.
This is done under the US’ 26-year-old Witness Protection Programme (WPP), which has been adopted by Australia, Canada and even Jamaica. Britain has no formal WPP, but in extreme cases, it gets even face-changing plastic surgery done on informants so that they aren’t recognized and liquidated by their vengeful associates. India’s need for a WPP is urgent. True globalization means a globalization of ideas. If cash works in fighting terrorism, use it to sow treachery in terrorist gangs. Money lures out hidden, dispersed information. Money is irresistible. It prompted an associate to betray Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, one of the men who bombed New York’s World Trade Centre in 1993, the biggest terrorist attack on US soil before 9/11.
The US’ faith in human greed is limitless. It uses cash awards routinely to catch wanted men of every hue. An anti-abortion activist kills a gynaecologist and disappears. The US state announces a $650,000 reward for a tip on his whereabouts. Sure enough, the killer’s found sheltering in Paris, thanks to an informant. A US diplomat is killed by a roadside bomb in Gaza. The US announces a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of the assassins. The US has used its money power to keep all its enemies on the run. These range from top Al Qaeda men in Afghanistan, Saddam’s lieutenants in Iraq, to the Indonesian bombers who wrecked Bali. The US money arm reaches worldwide.
The US is so innovative in its fight against terrorism that the Pentagon even cleared the idea of a terrorist futures exchange, where investors could have betted on the likelihood of terrorist attacks and assassinations. Though the idea was killed, it stemmed from an American belief that the combined wisdom of millions of investors exceeds the wisdom of a government.
If implemented right, a cash-for-information strategy will crack terrorism in India. The scores of prowling terrorists spawned by Kashmir, Assam, or Andhra Pradesh are always vulnerable to capture. They are hunters, but they are also the hunted. Apart from associates, their identity is sometimes known or suspected by a sibling, a friend, a neighbour, or even an alert passer-by.
Why would these people tip off the police unless they gain from doing so? Since they don’t, not sufficiently anyway, India’s law-enforcement agencies miss out on priceless intelligence on terrorists that can lie with ordinary people. By offering cash bounties, the Indian state will out-source its search for terrorists.
The strategy invites everybody to search for a wanted fugitive, but only that person is paid whose information leads to the fugitive’s capture.
Arvind Kala is a a freelance journalist, which he says is a euphemism for being unemployed. Your comments are welcome at theirview@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Feb 18 2007. 11 56 PM IST
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