Delivering the 22nd Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture at New Delhi on December 23,2009, P.Chidambaram, the Minister for Home Affairs, who inter alia is responsible for dealing with indigenous as well as externally-sponsored threats to internal security, outlined a series of measures for revamping our internal security architecture. These measures, if implemented as outlined by him, would make the Home Minister the internal security Czar of the country.
2.The concerns nursed by Indira Gandhi and other senior members of her Cabinet such as Jagjivan Ram over the inadvisability of an over-powerful Home Ministry led to a series of actions by Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao to create a decentralised structure for internal security. Indira Gandhi used the criticism from the defence forces regarding the inadequate performance of the IB during the 1965 Indo-Pak war and the 1966 revolt in Mizoram to set in motion a series of measures to decentralise the architecture and strengthen the primacy of the Prime Minister in supervising and co-ordinating the functioning of different wings of this architecture through the mechanism of the Cabinet Secretariat headed by the Cabinet Secretary functioning directly under the Prime Minister.
3. Among the various decentralised wings, which came into being since 1968 and were placed under the Cabinet Secretariat were the newly-formed (in 1968) Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), the Directorate-General of Security (DGS) and the Aviation Research Centre simultaneously removed from the control of the IB, and the newly-created National Security Guards (NSGs) and the Special Protection Group (SPG), which is responsible for the protection of the incumbent and past Prime Ministers and their families. Even before 1968, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) was under the over-all control of the Prime Minister who exercised his or her supervision over it through the Cabinet Secretary.
4. The tenure of the National Democratic Alliance Government under A.B.Vajpayee (1998-2004) saw new additions to this architecture in the form of the revived post of National Security Adviser (NSA), the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) and the National Technical Research Organisation. The NSCS was made part of the Prime Minister’s office and placed directly under the NSA.
5. In pursuance of the recommendations made by the various Task Forces set up by the NDA Government for revamping the national security capabilities after the Kargil conflict of 1999, the NSA was entrusted with the over-all responsibility for operational supervision of national security management and intelligence co-ordination, with the Cabinet Secretary’s responsibility confined to administrative co-ordination and management. The fact that both the NSA and the CS functioned directly under the Prime Minister facilitated the two working in close co-ordination with each other and there were no conflicts of jurisdiction and responsibilities between the NSA and the CS.
6. The country’s national security architecture---whether relating to internal or external security--- cannot remain static. It has to constantly evolve in keeping with the evolving threats to national security. All past changes in the national security architecture since 1968 were preceded by a detailed study of the changes required and their discussion in the Cabinet Committee on Security as well as in public to the extent possible in order to evolve an administrative, political and national consensus on the proposed changes.
7. The leadership and initiative for policy decisions to introduce the changes came from the Prime Minister of the day, who also articulated the need for and the importance of the proposed changes. The latest changes proposed by Chidambaram were not preceded by a similar detailed examination. The role and views of the Prime Minister and other senior Ministers of the Cabinet in respect of the proposed changes remain obscure. These changes, if and when implemented, could lead to a strengthening of the role and the status of the Home Minister in respect of internal security management and a corresponding dilution of the role of the Prime Minister, his NSA, the PM’s Office and the Cabinet Secretariat. Is this desirable?
8. The three major changes proposed by the Home Minister relate to making the Home Ministry exclusively responsible for the professional management of internal security similar to the Department of Homeland Security in the US, the creation in the Home Ministry by 2010-end of a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) similar to the NCTC of the US and the revamping of the immigration control apparatus whose inefficiency was exploited by David Coleman Headley alias Daood Gilani and Tahawwur Hussain Rana of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) for frequent clandestine visits to India to prepare the ground for the 26/11 terrorist strikes. These changes have been advocated by many security experts of the country, including this writer, since 2004 when the US homeland security architecture was revamped in pursuance of the recommendations of the National Commission which enquired into the failures that facilitated the 9/11 terrorist strikes and the discussions on its report in the Congress.
9. These changes are welcome, but the ideas behind them are not new. What is new is the political will shown by Chidambaram to accept the desirability of these changes and the need to introduce them. Chidambaram needs to be complimented for this.
10 However, what should be of concern is the manner in which he proposes to introduce these changes. After reading the reports on his address as published in the media, one cannot but nurse an apprehension that the manner in which he intends to implement them could result in an over-centralised and over-powerful Home Ministry with the role of the Minister in charge strengthened at the expense of that of the Prime Minister.
11. References have been made to the post-9/11 changes in the US, but attention has not been drawn to the fact that in introducing the changes in the US over-centralisation has been avoided. The NCTC in the US functions under the Director National Intelligence, who reports directly to the President and takes orders from him and not from the Secretary for Homeland Security. The independence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as the leading investigation agency in terrorism-related cases has been maintained. The Secretary for Homeland Security has no control over it. The responsibilities of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency relating to counter-terrorism outside the homeland and covert operations against terrorists in foreign territory have been maintained. He reports to the Director National Intelligence, who, in turn, reports to the President and not to the Secretary for Homeland Security. The National Security Agency and other technical intelligence agencies, in the exercise of their functions relating to counter terrorism, continue to report to the Defence Secretary and the Director National Intelligence and not to the Secretary for Homeland Security.
12. While the Secretary For Homeland Security is the overlord of physical security measures and follow-up action on intelligence reports, his powers have not been expanded at the expense of other agencies of the Government, which play an important role in respect of counter-terrorism.
13. What Chidambaram seems to want is that all agencies of the Government of India, except the SPG, which have counter-terrorism capabilities, should function directly under the Home Minister and take orders from him. Is this desirable? Will it improve counter-terrorism?
14. Another worrisome aspect of Chidambaram’s address is that it makes no distinction between terrorism as a threat and terrorism as a phenomenon, between indigenous terrorism by our nationals and externally-sponsored terrorism by foreign nationals, between operational and political management of terrorism and between the use of hard and soft power in dealing with terrorism. It tends to treat all terrorists as one and the same though he does talk of a nuanced approach.
15. While the changes proposed by Chidambaram in the internal security set-up should be welcomed, the questions as to how to implement them, how to avoid over-centralisation and how to ensure that while strengthening the counter-terrorism capabilities of the intelligence agencies, we do not weaken their capabilities relating to China and Pakistan should be examined by a group consisting of the Finance, Home, Defence and External Affairs Ministers and its recommendations discussed in the Parliament. ( 24-12-09)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )
( Extracts from my article of December 1,2008, titled “After Mumbai: Points For Action” available at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers30/paper2949.html )
POINT 17: Set up a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) under the National Security Adviser (NSA) to ensure joint operational action in all terrorism-related matters. It can be patterned after a similar institution set up in the US under Director, National Intelligence after 9/11. The National Commission set up by the US Congress to enquire into the 9/11 terrorist strikes had expressed the view that better co-ordination among the various agencies will not be enough and that what was required was a joint action command similar to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Armed Forces. Its tasks should be to monitor intelligence collection by various agencies, avoid duplication of efforts and resources, integrate the intelligence flowing from different agencies and foreign agencies, analyse and assess the integrated intelligence and monitor follow-up action by the Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other concerned agencies. Every agency is equally and jointly involved and responsible for the entire counter-terrorism process starting from collection to action on the intelligence collected. If such a system had existed, post-Mumbai complaints such as those of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) that the advisories issued by them on the possibility of a sea-borne attack by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) on Mumbai were not acted upon by the Mumbai Police would not have arisen because the IB and the R&AW would have been as responsible for follow-up action as the Mumbai Police.
POINT 18: The practice of the privileged direct access to the Prime Minister by the chiefs of the IB and the R&AW, which came into force under Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, should be vigorously enforced. This privileged direct access is utilised by the intelligence chiefs to bring their concerns over national security and over inaction by the agencies responsible for follow-up on their reports to the personal notice of the Prime Minister and seek his intervention. If the intelligence chiefs had brought to the notice of the Prime Minister the alleged inaction of the Mumbai Police on their reports, he might have intervened and issued the required political directive to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra.
POINT 19: Either create a separate Ministry of Internal Security or strengthen the role of the existing Department of Internal Security in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and make it responsible for dealing with internal security operationally under the over-all supervision of the Minister for Home Affairs.
(Extracts from Chidambaram’s address as reported by “The Hindu” online on December 23,2009)
Proposing a "bold, thorough and radical restructuring" of the security architecture at the national level, Union Minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday suggested bifurcation of the Home Ministry, saying subjects not directly related to internal security should be dealt with by a separate Ministry or should be brought under a separate department in the Home Ministry itself and dealt with by a Minister independently.
"The Home Minister should devote the whole of his/her time and energy to matters relating to security," Mr. Chidambaram said. In his view, given the imperatives and the challenges of the times, a division of the current functions of the Ministry of Home Affairs "is unavoidable".
In order to counter, prevent, contain and also respond to a terrorist attack should one take place, India must set up the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) by the end of 2010, he said while delivering the 22nd Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment lecture here.
In his 40-minute address, he touched upon the situation post 26/11 terror strikes, the state of India’s police and outlined the tasks that lay ahead to ward off crisis like the hijack of IC-814 or another catastrophe like Mumbai terror attacks.
Referring to the proposed NCTC, Mr. Chidambaram said: "Such an organisation does not exist today and it has to be created from the scratch. I am told that the United States was able to do it within 36 months of September 11, 2001. India cannot afford to wait for 36 months. India must decide now to go forward and India must succeed in setting up the NCTC by the end of 2010."
He said that the NCTC must have a broad mandate to deal with all kinds of terrorist violence directed against the country and the people.
"While the nature of the response to different kinds of terror would indeed be different and nuanced, NCTC's mandate should be to respond to violence unleashed by any group – be it an insurgent group in the North East or the CPI (Maoist) in the heartland of India or any group of religious fanatics anywhere in India acting on their own or in concert with terrorists outside India."
He said: "NCTC would, therefore, have to perform functions relating to intelligence, investigation and operations. All intelligence agencies would therefore have to be represented in the NCTC. But I am clear in my mind that, without 'operations', NCTC and the security architecture that is needed will be incomplete. It is the proposed 'operations' wing of the NCTC that will give an edge - now absent - to our plans to counter terrorism."
Turning to the functions of the MHA, Mr. Chidambaram said the Ministry now performed a number of functions that have no direct relation to internal security which include a division dealing with freedom fighters though it does not have even a desk for dealing exclusively with forensic science.
"There are other divisions or desks that deal with Centre-State relations, State Legislation, Human Rights, Union Territories, Disaster Management, Census etc. These are undoubtedly important functions and deserve close attention. However, internal security is an equally, if not more, important function that deserves the highest attention," he said.
Venturing after a year in office to outline the new architecture for India’s security, Mr. Chidambaram identified two enemies of change. "The first is 'routine'. Routine is the enemy of innovation. Because we are immersed in routine tasks, we neglect the need for change and innovation. The second enemy is 'complacency'," he told top police and intelligence officials that included National Security Advisor M. K. Narayanan, Home Secretary G.K. Pillai, Director IB Rajiv Mathur and others.
Striking a note of caution, Mr. Chidambaram said there was no time to be lost in making a thorough and radical departure from the present structure. "If, as a nation, we must defend ourselves in the present day and prepare for the future, it is imperative that we put in place a new architecture for India’s security," he said.
He also announced commencement of two more projects early next year: business porcess re-engineering of the Foreigners Division at a cost of Rs. 20 crore and the more ambitious Mission Mode Project on Immigration, Visa and Foreigners' Registration and Tracking with the objective of creating a secure and integrated service delivery framework for facilitating legitimate travellers and strengthening security.
Mr. Chidambaram said that the positioning of Research and Analysis Wing, Aviation Research centre and the CBI would have to be re-examined and a way would have to be found to place them under the oversight of NCTC to the extent that they deal with terrorism.
The Home Minister said the new organisation could be led by a police officer or a military officer who must be one who has impeccable professional credentials and the capacity to oversee intelligence, investigation and operations.
While the head of the NCTC will be the single person accountable to the country on all matters relating to internal security, the organisation would be at the command and control of Ministry of Home Affairs, he said.