Intel agencies need strengthening (Column: Spy’s Eye)
By D.C. PathakIt is a matter of deep satisfaction for the people of India that our Intelligence agencies moulded in a non-political work ethos and practising the dictum of ‘working with urgency even when there was no emergency’ enabled the first Modi regime to successfully deal with the threats to national security — particularly in Kashmir where they helped the security forces to pursue Intelligence-based operations that guaranteed minimal collateral damage in counter-terror work. Terrorists would always have a lead in springing up surprises — it has to be appreciated, therefore, that the agencies using both human and technical means have produced information to preempt them in most cases.
The Pulwama attack on a CRPF convoy, in February last, by a suicide bomber of Jaish-e-Mohammad, was a case more of inadequate response than Intelligence failure. In security, failure of ‘action’ not of ‘information’ does happen often enough to remind us of the need to improve coordinated responses to Intelligence alerts and to never be dismissive about information. No Intelligence is ‘non-actionable’ as it should rightly be presumed to be the tip of the iceberg warranting all possible preventive measures, howsoever tedious these might seem to be for the action takers.
Most of the serious threats to national security have external and internal dimensions and the Multi Agency Centres at Delhi and in the state capitals with years of functioning now, make sure that the available actionable information is passed on to the concerned functionaries without delay and that further lines of pursuit to dig out more intelligence were specified as an ongoing task. Our Inteligence agencies — inheriting a British tradition — exercise the sovereign power of identifying the emerging threats to national security and initiating the effort to ‘cover’ them to ensure a constant flow of information on them without waiting for a clearance from the political executive. They have to keep the latter fully informed at the same time. This is what enables the agencies to go on without change of pace even when a new government assumes charge at the Centre after a General Election.
The system in India has upheld the position that national security was above politics and this principle was in play for most times since India became a democratic republic in 1950 — except for spells when the Intelligence chief of the day himself fell short of the highest levels of objectivity and independence. The natural changes brought about by the country’s democratic process enabled me to serve as Director Intelligence Bureau with three Prime Ministers of different political backgrounds — Congress, BJP and the United Front. Since the institution of National Security Advisor did not exist then, that function was also built into the DIB’s working in my time. I can say with emphasis that all the three valued IB’s information on national security even when they chose to run their politics in their own ways – by and large without involving Intelligence agencies in their political agenda.
Because of the ever enlarging threat scenario, Intelligence agencies were in need of more manpower, funds and logistical support. As a historical legacy Intelligence Bureau was manned and led by officers of IPS — this made for the agency’s close cooperation with and a much-needed mentoring role in regard to the state police organisations. The Bureau was regarded as a Central Police Organisation for cadre management but was not otherwise bracketed with the investigation outfits or the para military organisations of the government. Intelligence agencies have a bulk of operators directly recruited from amongst the best through a rigorous examination and thoroughly trained in the trade craft.
The IPS officers leading them are on a turf of anonymity, covert operations and delicate information gathering — entirely different from the sphere of visible legal action handled by men in uniform including investigators. The Intelligence set-up, therefore, ought to have its own performance and promotion parameters. This is what gave Director IB the status and pay grade as the most senior police officer in the country in keeping with his function as the Chairman of the DGPs Conference even when IPS officers with longer years of service headed the state police or other police organisations at the Centre.
Intelligence agencies in Indian conditions handle only ‘information’ accessed through trade craft techniques and the responsibility of taking ‘action’ against a suspect in a legally empowered way would fall on the state police or a central investigation body like the NIA. The Intelligence agencies act as the eyes and ears of the sovereign power ruling the democratic state and could be scanning any other functionary — high or low — in the national interest under the express authorisation of the highest political executive exercising that power. Since Intelligence agency does not dictate ‘action’ or ‘policy’ it cannot be blamed for any legally untenable response of the police. The Centre needs to define the special placement of the function of Intelligence in the interest of national security.
The internal security situation in the country and the developing threat scenario around the world justify a quantum jump being made in the manpower and resources provided to the Intelligence set-up in general and Intelligence Bureau — the mother agency for counter intelligence work — in particular. IB watches every nook and corner of the country where terror agents and other anti-national elements might be harbouring taking advantage of the free society offered by Indian democracy. Kashmir, typically, illustrated the challenge to national security created by the paucity of ‘Intelligence from below’. Now that the J& K has been fully integrated with the rest of the country the Centre must raise enough trained professionals of the state to cover every Panchayat circle and town from the angle of counter terror watch. Failure to quickly identify the local masterminds behind the organised stone pelting was a major reason why the J&K government could not effectively handle the civic disturbances occurring in Srinagar and elsewhere in recent months. The collusion of the Valley parties ruling the state with the pro-Pak Hurriyat was the principal reason why the state administration remained infested with separatists and failed to work for the development and uplift of the average Kashmiri.
A hard-pressed organisation like IB should have no ‘vacancies’ caused by procedural delays arising out of the issue of equivalence of batch positions of IPS officers serving elsewhere. An officer is inducted and kept in IB purely on a special evaluation of merit and suitability and a faster career graph for him or her during the stay with the agency should be a part of the deal. IB, in any case, was expected to be ahead of the state cadres in matters of promotion. National security is the joint preserve of the Centre and the states. Cadre management complexities should not, therefore, be allowed to come in the way of central Intelligence agencies getting the best of the available manpower at any point of time. The new global terror targeting the Indian subcontinent adds urgency to this requirement.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed are personal)