June 26, 2009

INDIA: Intelligence Reforms

By A. K. Verma

(This paper was prepared and published by G-files)

More than 50 years after gaining independence from the British, Indian Intelligence continues to operate within the same framework left by the British. The system was created to deal with problems and requirements of a different age. Since then we have moved into a new era where the national security architecture of the world keeps changing in a kaleidoscopic pattern, creating new axess of conflicts and conciliations. Times have changed enormously and the world has become far more complex. Unfortunately, Indian Intelligence has not kept pace with the changes.

It is high time that an Indian Intelligence Reforms Commission is appointed on the lines of the Administrative Reforms Commission to overhaul the old system. There are a whole lot of new paradigms requiring to be considered. If in today’s world intelligence has become the first line of defense, there is not a moment to be lost.

The very first reform should be to give Indian Intelligence the backing of legislative enactments. The laws should provide a degree of autonomy which frees intelligence from all bureaucratic restraints and controls relating to financial management, administrative functions, pay scales, recruitment, postings and promotions, hire and fire policies and enforcement of discipline. The laws should spell out the charters and authorize the Central Government to fix broad targets within the charter. This will prevent the misuse of the institutions by those in authority. The laws should hold intelligence accountable to the Cabinet or its Committee for national Security but also create a parliamentary committee for oversight. Detailed rules can be worked out to determine the parameters of oversight and areas of intelligence work over which it will be exercised in consultation with the Parliament.

Absence of legislative cover is a serious lacuna for Intelligence. All intelligence work is carried out under executive instructions but foreign intelligence operations would involve breaking of local laws of the country concerned. Neither those who give instructions for such operations nor those who carry them out are protected legally under the Indian laws. Institutions like the CIA of US are created by laws of the US Congress. All activities which CIA may be required to carry out are directly or indirectly identified in the charter legally given. Their operations are thus safe under US laws but no such protection is available to Indian operatives, carrying out intelligence tasks in a foreign country.

Autonomy is essential for non-conventional organisations to do their jobs. They should be free to hire the best talent available which will be possible only if a very superior compensation package is on offer to the recruit. Today’s intelligence needs require Engineers, Management Specialists, Economists, Scholars, Scientist, Sociologists among others, of supreme quality but only the inferior type wants to make a career in intelligence because the better type finds the existing compensation packages totally unattractive. Intelligence services of other countries are usually the best paid organizations in those countries. This is the reason why CIA serves as a magnet drawing in large numbers of PhDs from the best schools in the US.

In recent years the threats from International terror has grown exponentially. There are threats of mass destruction of population and property through use of weapons of mass destruction, mass disruption of communications through manipulation of cyberspace and of mass doctrinal madness through clever selective religious indoctrination. Such a range of offensive tactics cannot be countered by keeping intelligence on the defensive. Intelligence has to be provided teeth to bite with. It should therefore develop its own cadre of offensive operators or learn to do so in the company of select uniformed services. While the major countries of the world have for long practiced the offensive mode of Intelligence work, we have lagged behind in India. Intelligence reforms should open up the possibilities of covert actions. Use of non state actors by state actors effectively takes away India’s options to stay neutral to covert operations. A redefinition of nation’s security interest will shout loudly for India to give up its self created soft image and to move out to meet challenges boldly as they should be.

Intelligence has to acknowledge appearance of new perspectives following globalization. Fast moving technologies have made borders meaningless. There is a new competition for economic penetration. Sovereignties of nations are at a discount because of these trends. In the times ahead India will face acute competition from the other two rising powers of the Asia, China and Japan. Issues of land, water and climatic changes, all of which singly or together, lead to mass migrations, creating demographic imbalances. Who else should study such phenomenon holistically if not intelligence? Their database and sharp analysis can contribute to keep the nations interests secure.

The rising complexity calls for another reform – the operations and analysis cadres in the intelligence should be made distinct and separate. When intelligence needs were few, there may have been a justification for the two streams to flow as one, but not any longer. Indian Intelligence has to grow much larger than what it is today. The value of an analyst lies in the depth of his studies of his field. The longer he specializes, greater is the intuitive insight he acquires. Such knowledge will go waste if he moves to operations.

Naxalism has been identified as the nation’s most serious problem in the field of national security. Starting from a single village, Naxalbari, in West Bengal in 1965, Naxalism is now present in 16 states, affecting 160 districts. In the context of intelligence reforms, one must examine why such a growth has taken place. It would seem that our constitutional scheme by dividing powers between states and centre has prevented the latter from formulating and executing a cohesive policy for the country to battle this problem. If this situation is not rectified, mere reforms in intelligence will not take us anywhere.

(The author can be reached at e-mail: verma_anandkumar@yahoo.com)

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