Photographs: Uttam Ghosh Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru
Last week, there were two back-to-back warnings from intelligence agencies regarding a possible terror threat to the nation. While the first spoke about a possible hijack, the second dealt with the Lashkar-e-Tayiba procuring paragliders in order to carry out a strike.
There are times when inputs from the intelligence or security agencies go horribly wrong and at the end of it, it starts reading a comic book.
However, our Indian agencies are not the only ones to issue such bizarre alerts. Spy agencies around the world too have, at times, issued some really hilarious warnings.
Let's take a look at some of the bizarre alerts that have been issued and also try to understand why such bloopers occur in the first place. ...
The Deadly Postcard
Anthrax in a postcard
This threat emerged just after the 9/11 attacks in United States. People went berserk when the CIA issued this alert.
As the alert started doing the rounds, people began to believe that the deadly powder would be delivered in postcards. Thought the issue did create a flutter, it eventually died a natural death.
The FBI was never able to prove that this threat was part of a terrorist attack. For several days, several theories were floated. Some believed Al Qaeda was behind the attacks, some doubted Saddam Hussein while few others saw a major Jewish conspiracy behind it.
Some Americans had other doubts. It could be the Bush administration, the CIA, a cranky scientist, the next-door guy or even some writer out to boost his book's sales, they thought.
Security experts say that this was more of a prank act and that the Al-Qaeda did not have the capabilities to produce anthrax. And even if they had the capability, the outfit would have used it on a larger scale.
Terror through a smoke detector
Security agencies in the United States issued this alert a couple of years ago.
According to the alert, terrorists had obtained the capabilities to prepare a chemical substance and rig smoke detectors to use them. The idea was to infect people with radiation sickness.
The alert further stated that a terrorist outfit was planning to use a chemical called Americium-241 in a bomb and plant it inside smoke detectors.
This theory turned out to be pretty bizarre since the quantity of Americium required to carry out such a strike would have been large. Moreover, the investment would have been huge and terror groups would have needed to place such a bomb in 1,00,000 smoke detectors in order to get 1000 people affected.
Watch What You Eat
Terror through Botox
This alert was quite a hilarious one issued by the Russian security agencies.
They believed that some terror groups had managed to lay their hands on a nerve agent called botulinum. The alert suggested that terror groups had planned on poisoning the country's food supply.
One again, the fact that botulinum would have been difficult to convert into a biological weapon makes the threat redundant. Any plan to inject it through water would have failed, as the substance would have been rendered inactive within a couple of days after coming in contact with water.
As far as contaminating the food supply is concerned, it would have been a difficult task since developed countries maintain strict food testing standards.
Terror Will Glide Down
According to Indian security agencies, terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Tayiba had obtained 50 paragliders, which it would use to drop down on specific targets and carry out a strike.
However, the possibility of such an attack is pretty remote, as the terrorists would first have to take off from a higher point. The alert was, however, issued for India's cosmopolitan cities.
Secondly, the chance of them being air dropped from an airplane is also remote, as it would be difficult for terror groups to operate an aircraft in the midst of a crowded city unnoticed.
That Buzzing Feling
The most bizarre alert ever to be sounded was about infected insects being sent in to kill millions of people. The Americans issued the alert -- known as an entomological strike -- post the 9/11 attacks.
There are practical difficulties involving such an attack. First and foremost, terror groups would have to collect a large number of insects and then infect them with a biological agent. This is highly risky since the person infecting the insect runs the danger of infecting himself.
Even if all this were to be possible, the big question would be on how to direct these insects to a particular target. Terror groups would definitely prefer a full-fledged fidayeen (suicide attacker) to an insect.
Not all humour
Although the above-mentioned threats are very laughable in nature, our intelligence agencies would continue to issue such threats in the future. Some officials say they ought to be aware of every possible type of threat. There are times when intercepts of terrorists actually planning such an attack are recorded. It could be just discussed and never put to test, but there is no harm in staying alert.
Terror groups are constantly looking to innovate. Although, at times, we too feel that it is pretty laughable, we do need to be prepared and alert. After all, who expected a 9/11 or a 26/11?