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Too many spies spoil the intelligence broth

LiveMint logoLiveMint 16-05-2017 Vinay Kaura

Following the deadly Maoist attack in Sukma last month, India’s various intelligence agencies have come under scathing criticism. The parliamentary standing committee on home affairs, in its report submitted in April, noted the increasing incidence of terror attacks which “exposed the deficiencies of our intelligence agencies” and lamented the lack of analysis of the “failure of the intelligence agencies to provide credible and actionable inputs regarding the attacks at Pathankot, Uri, Pampore, Baramulla and Nagrota”. Clearly, intelligence strategy continues to be India’s Achilles’ heel and there is an urgent need for its re-articulation.

Deficiencies in the intelligence framework have often led to the growth of India’s intelligence ‘community’.

The Kargil intrusion in 1999 convinced the government that India’s national security mechanism stood in need of comprehensive overhaul. Subsequently, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) was designated as the premier counter-terrorism agency and authorized to create a multi-agency centre (MAC) which was to be an intelligence-sharing ‘fusion centre’ in New Delhi.

The Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), created in 2002, was mandated to collect, collate and evaluate intelligence from other service agencies. However, DIA resources continue to be under-utilized in the absence of a chief of defence staff (CDS).

The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) was set up in 2004 but fuelled controversy as its mandated task was already being performed by other intelligence agencies.

After the Pakistan-sponsored Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, the security and intelligence architecture was revamped again. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) was established to investigate terror cases while the National Security Guard set up regional commando hubs. Coastal security was beefed up and the MAC strengthened to improve coordination among various Central and state security agencies.

Today, the national MAC coordinates with 25 representatives from agencies in the Union home affairs, finance and defence ministries. Much of the intelligence sharing between the Centre and states is made possible through the state offices of the IB, the newly created subsidiary MACs (Smacs) and the linkages between Smacs and state police special branches.

However, the MAC receives most of its intelligence inputs from Central agencies and a handful of states. This points to the fundamental weakness of many of India’s state police forces. As noted in the parliamentary committee report, the major contributors of inputs to the MAC in 2016 were the DIA (24.05%) and the Research and Analysis Wing (20.75%). But the contribution from state special branches was low, at around 11%. Remember, state police forces have their own intelligence and counter-terrorism units but these are often weak and work in an isolated manner.

The sweeping internal security reforms initiated by the Centre after 26/11 were followed by plans to create a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and the National Intelligence Grid (NatGrid), a national, computerized, information-sharing network. However, the NCTC got embroiled in the quagmire of Centre-state relations while NatGrid is struggling to get off the ground. The parliamentary committee has noted that “while there are agencies like NIA, IB, MAC and NSG and some in the pipeline like NatGrid that are cumulatively capable of addressing these menaces, there is no single unified authority to coordinate the operations of these agencies and ensure a quick response in times of crisis like the 26/11 attack”. This, in turn, has rekindled the debate on creating a new intelligence structure.

From an appendage to the country’s diplomatic, military and internal security agencies to a multi-agency ‘community’ in itself, Indian intelligence has been growing. However, there is no overarching strategy for this growth, and most agencies still function in an ad hoc manner.

The Indian intelligence system, which emerged as an extension of the British police system, has struggled to let go of its colonial legacy. The lack of a dedicated intelligence cadre and the continuing practice of staffing intelligence agencies with police officers have resulted in these agencies disregarding language experts, scientists, information technology professionals and cyber specialists. This often results in substandard intelligence making its way through the system up to the highest level of decision making.

The government needs to bring all intelligence agencies under some form of parliamentary oversight. Currently, intelligence management is the national security adviser’s (NSA) responsibility but there is far too much on his plate already for him to be able to effectively monitor the functioning of India’s 14 intelligence agencies, with different and sometimes overlapping mandates. India needs an exclusive intelligence chief who can provide integrated intelligence assessments to the government through the NSA. In addition, intelligence assessments need to be integrated into the other information feeds that decision makers are receiving. Integration between all the organs of government dealing with intelligence, as well as seamless acquisition, processing and dissemination of tactical, operational and strategic intelligence, is the need of the hour.

Vinay Kaura is assistant professor, department of international affairs and security studies, Sardar Patel Police University, Rajasthan.-

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