Tuesday, November 27, 2007


(Talk delivered at a Seminar on “National Security and Armed Forces Command Structure” organized by the Forum For Strategic and Security Studies, New Delhi, at the India International Centre, New Delhi on October 16,2007)

The evolution of the Indian intelligence community since 1947 has been on the basis of periodic reviews of or enquiries into perceived intelligence failures. After the Sino-Indian war of 1962, a review of the performance of the IB led to the creation of the Directorate-General of Security (DGS).

2. After the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965 and the Mizo revolt of 1966, a review of the performance of the IB led to the decision to divest the IB of the responsibility for the collection of external intelligence and to create the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) by bifurcating the IB for this purpose. The DGS, which was previously under the charge of the Director, Intelligence Bureau (DIB), was transferred to the charge of Secretary (R ), as the head of the R&AW is known.

3. A review of the performance of the intelligence community before and during the 1999 Kargil conflict by a Special Task Force, headed by Shri G.C.Saxena, former head of the R&AW, led to the creation of the Defence Intelligence Agency as a nodal point for the analysis of all military intelligence, whether collected by the civilian or military intelligence agencies. The idea was that it would work under the supervision of the proposed Chief of the Defence Staff. Since the recommendation by another Task Force for the creation of this post has not yet been implemented, one understands that the DIA now functions under the Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff.

4. The review by the Task Force headed by Shri Saxena also led to the creation of the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), to focus on the collection of technical intelligence (TECHINT). The Task Force was of the view that the NTRO should handle all future investments in manpower and equipment and future collection efforts and that the existing capabilities of the IB, the R&AW, the DGS and the military intelligence agencies should not be affected, since their existing capabilities played an important role in counter-terrorism. The Task Force was also of the view that the new agency should focus on cyber intelligence and cyber counter-intelligence for which at that time (in 2000), there was no significant capability in the existing intelligence agencies.

5. One understands that this recommendation was modified during implementation. Instead of letting the R&AW and the DGS maintain their existing capabilities, there was a bifurcation of these capabilities in order to transfer some of them to the NTRO. Instead of undertaking a crash programme for the development of a capability for cyber intelligence and cyber counter-intelligence, it started performing some of the tasks, which were already being performed by the R&AW and the DGS. The obvious result: An emaciated DGS and a weakening of our capabilities for the collection of TECHINT regarding China and terrorism. Instead of creating capabilities, which did not exist before 2000, there was a highly disputed partition of the existing intelligence assets.

6. These were crisis-driven reviews undertaken after perceived intelligence failures in order to identify deficiencies and act to remove them. Since 1947, India has never had a need-driven review of our intelligence assets and capabilities. A crisis-driven review is retrospective in nature. It looks into the past--- what went wrong, why and how to prevent its recurrence? A need-driven review is prospective in nature. It looks into the likely needs of the future and creates assets and capabilities to be able to meet those needs as and when they arise.

7. In other countries such as the US, one has crisis-driven reviews as well as need-driven reviews. A need-driven review is undertaken every time a new President or Prime Minister takes office. Unless one has a clear idea of the likely future intelligence needs in the short, medium and long-terms, one cannot build up human and other resources, which would be in a position to meet those needs. It is high time we have a need-based review of our intelligence assets and capabilities and make such reviews a regular feature whenever a new Prime Minister takes over. Reviews of performance and capabilities should not wait for disasters and crises before they are undertaken.

8. Intelligence priorities have undergone considerable changes during the last decade. In the past, the highest priority was to the collection of intelligence about State actors, particularly about State adversaries. Now, enhanced priority is given to the collection of intelligence about non-State adversaries such as terrorist organizations, trans-national crime mafias, narcotics smugglers, money-launderers etc. Intelligence agencies all over the world have been facing difficulty in upgrading their capabilities for the collection of intelligence about non-State adversaries.

9. The ability to collect intelligence----whether about a State or a non-State adversary----depends on one’s ability to penetrate. It is easier to penetrate a State than a non-State actor. The conventional tradecraft and techniques of intelligence collection, which served us well for penetrating a State actor, are not adequate for the penetration of a non-State actor. The state of our intelligence agencies and the way they have evolved over the years have not paid attention to the requirements of this transition. As the non-State actors become more and more unconventional in their reflexes and responses, the intelligence agencies responsible for monitoring and countering them cannot continue to be conventional in their reflexes and responses.

10. The IB has evolved into a hotch-potch agency handling collection of intelligence relating to law and order and internal security, performance of physical security and immigration control tasks, counter-intelligence and networking with the police and intelligence set-ups of different States.

11. The R&AW too has evolved into a hotch-potch agency handling collection of external intelligence relating to State as well as non-State adversaries and networking with foreign intelligence agencies. At a time when terrorism has become global in dimension and reach, the R&AW’s counter-terrorism capabilities are hardly global. At a time when the global terrorists are fast mastering the use of the Internet, mobile telephones and other scientific gadgets, the R&AW is yet to acquire a similar mastery of net-centric counter-terrorism and the use of advances in science and technology in counter-terrorism.

12. The dangers of conventional wars with State adversaries have not disappeared. The Indian State is better prepared and better endowed today than it was in the past to counter State adversaries, but its ability to counter non-State adversaries and their unconventional wars is inadequate as seen from the spread of ideological terrorism across the tribal belt in Central India and the unextinguished prairie fire of jihadi terrorism across India as a whole. Successes we have had in our fight against pan-Islamic jihadi terrorism with trans-national linkages, but the successes have not yet been significant enough to dent their strength and motivation.

13. The threats to our internal security from non-State actors will keep us preoccupied in the short and medium terms. These threats have acquired new dimensions in the form of threats to maritime trade and coastal establishments, energy security and critical infrastructure and terrorism involving the likely use of weapons of mass destruction material. If the intelligence agencies have to play their due role in effectively preventing these threats from materializing, they have to develop new tradecraft and new techniques for the penetration of non-State actors through human and technical moles for the collection of intelligence. This is a specialized and full-time task which neither the IB nor the R&AW, as they are constituted today, would be able to perform adequately. We have to set up a new agency focusing on the collection of intelligence about non-State actors through human and technical penetration. It should have the powers to operate everywhere----inside India or in the neighbouring countries or elsewhere---from where threats to our internal security from non-State actors could arise. It has to have a mix of civilian and military experts, and scientific and technical personnel. Since collection of cyber intelligence to facilitate net-centric counter-terrorism would be one of its essential tasks, it should also tap the private IT sector for assistance and co-operation.

14. So long as our disputes and differences with Pakistan and China remain, we have to maintain a strong intelligence capability ----human as well as technical--- with regard to likely threats from them. How to maintain and further develop the existing capabilities with regard to State adversaries, while creating new capabilities with regard to non-State actors? That should be the question before our national security managers. The R&AW and the military intelligence Directorates-General would continue to be the driving force for this purpose. The time has come to have a second look at the present policy of the R&AW claiming a monopoly in the field of external intelligence and discouraging any enhanced role for the military-intelligence Directorates-General in this regard. The days of the intelligence Empire have to go. The intelligence empire has to be replaced by the intelligence community working jointly in the national interest.

15. Our capability with regard to Pakistan is good, but not good enough as one saw in 1999. Our capability with regard to China is better than it was in 1962, but is not as good as China’s capability with regard to India. In promoting a policy of renewed friendship and d├ętente with India, China has not downsized the India-centric capabilities, which it had built up in the days of its confrontation with India. On the contrary, it has continued to strengthen them. India, on the other hand, has allowed the good vibrations with regard to the improving relations with China to induce once again a feeling of complacency and somnolence. Nothing illustrates this more dramatically than the way we have allowed, since 2000, a gradual attrition of the China-dedicated capabilities of the DGS.

16. Counter-intelligence continues to be a weak point in our intelligence set-up. The regularity with which penetrations take place in sensitive departments and intelligence agencies is a disturbing testimony to this. A review and revamping of our counter-intelligence capabilities is an urgent need of the hour.

17. Concepts regarding intelligence management have been changing rapidly across the world just as concepts regarding national security management, defence management, economic management and business management have been changing. These concepts relate to factors such as open vs secret intelligence, operations vs analysis, secrecy in operational matters vs transparency in administrative matters, accountability to the parliament and the public vs safeguarding the needs of operational secrecy.

18. Unfortunately, the winds of change sweeping across the intelligence communities of other countries have left us untouched so far. Indian intelligence agencies continue to lead the life of a frog in the well. Many questions, which should have been posed years ago, still remain to be posed: Should it be made clear to the intelligence agencies and their officers that their performance would be judged by the quantum and value of the secret intelligence provided by them and that they need not report open information? Should the annual audit reports of the accounts of the intelligence agencies by the officers of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India with their objections and actions taken thereon be made available to the Estimates and Public Accounts Committees of the Parliament? Should there be a dedicated intelligence oversight committee of the parliament to look into aspects such as the quality of the human resources in our intelligence community, the methods of their recruitment and training, promotion policies, the value of the produce from the consumers’ point of view and its cost effectiveness? How to meet the need for a constant weeding-out of unsuitable officers ? We should show the courage and readiness to pose these questions and find answers suited to our needs instead of aping the rest of the world.

19. In India, there is hardly any understanding outside the intelligence community of the way the intelligence agencies ought to function and the way they actually function. The intelligence agencies prefer it that way. The agencies try to create an impression as if intelligence is a highly esoteric profession, which non-professionals would not be able to understand. They should, therefore, keep out of it. This attitude has to change.

20. What our policy-makers have been doing till now is not revamping our intelligence capabilities, but fiddling with them. The fiddling has to stop and genuine revamping has to start. (16-10-07)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )