While trying to overcome the resistance from the intelligence community, the Government should set up a Cabinet Committee on Intelligence----separate from the Cabinet Committee on Security--- to go into such matters in a regular and systematic manner. It should be chaired by the Prime Minister with the National Security Adviser as the member-secretary and should consist of the Home Minister and the Defence Minister. The very fact that such a high-level committee has been monitoring the use of the TECHINT capabilities to prevent misuse would act as a deterrent against tempted misuse.
Since the Indo-Pakistan conflict in the Kargil heights in 1999, there has been a major increase in the Technical Intelligence (TECHINT) capabilities of the Indian security community, which comprises the intelligence agencies of the Government of India and the intelligence divisions of the State Police.
2. A new organization---initially called the National Technical Facilities Organisation (NTFO) and subsequently renamed the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) – has come up to focus exclusively on the collection of TECHINT. It is somewhat---but not totally-- similar to the National Security Agency (NSA) of the
3. However, whereas the NSA comes under the control of the US Defence Secretary and is headed by a serving military officer of the rank of Lt.Gen, whose appointment by the President is subject to confirmation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the head of the NTRO, called Chairman, is taken on rotation from the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
4.Whereas the head of the NSA is a serving officer, the Chairmen of the NTRO have come from a hotch-potch background --- not found fit to head the organization to which they originally belonged, but sought to be placated by being made the chief of the NTRO with a fixed tenure. The selection process is not subject to review or scrutiny by any external mechanism---either of the Parliament or outside it.
5. There is a greater possibility of the political misuse of a technical intelligence organization than of a human intelligence organization. They ,therefore, have to be subject to even more strict external controls than HUMINT organizations. The dangers of misuse have increased due to the easy availability of modern snooper technology and gadgets. When one was totally dependent on landline telephones for internal communications, the scope for misuse was limited, but mobile technology has placed in the hands of not only the State, but also non-state actors---terrorists, insurgents, organized crime groups, narcotics smugglers, corporate and political rivals--- immense possibilities of snooping on the State, on each other and among themselves.
6. The creation of the NTRO has been accompanied by the strengthening of the TECHINT capabilities of not only the IB, the R&AW and the military intelligence agencies, but also of the police and a number of other departments of the Government of India which have no business to indulge in their own snooping for their own purpose. The Radia Tapes affair brought out that the Income Tax Department has probably acquired its own snooping capability which was sought to be misused by unidentified elements----either in the Department itself or outside--- to besmirch the personal reputation and damage the professional career of innocent personalities like Barkha Dutt, the well-known TV journo, and Ratan Tata, the highly reputed corporate leader.
7. Action to prevent the misuse of the vastly expanding TECHINT capabilities now available at the Centre and in the States demands a centralized and strictly implemented control over the entire snooping process----starting from the procurement of equipment, the recruitment and training of snoopers, the utilization of the funds placed at their disposal, the procedure followed for snooping to ensure that snooping is done strictly in accordance with law for meeting clearly-defined national security objectives etc.
8. In the
9.The Radia Tapes affair showed that there has probably been a total dilution of the procedure and controls with the result that anybody who wants to snoop has been doing so in reckless disregard of the requirements of the need and obligation to protect the privacy of the citizens and to observe the requirements of the law. Snooping has become the name of the game in many Government departments and State Police.
10. Another worrisome development has been the evident resort to random snooping. There are two kinds of snooping ----targeted snooping of suspects against whom there is suspicion of wrong-doing and random snooping in order to monitor what has been going on in cyber space and mobile frequencies. In the
11. In India, the absence of effective external controls over organizations having the capability for snooping facilitates the misuse of the capabilities for purposes not connected with national security and for besmirching the well-earned reputation of innocent citizens, who find themselves without any defence because they do not know and understand what the hell has been going on.
12. It is important for the Government to go into this matter and establish an architecture of legal and procedural safeguards to ensure that our TECHINT capabilities are used only against suspected wrong-doers and not against innocent citizens---either consciously or unconsciously.
13.Ideally, as in many democracies such as the
14. While trying to overcome the resistance from the intelligence community, the Government should set up a Cabinet Committee on Intelligence----separate from the Cabinet Committee on Security--- to go into such matters in a regular and systematic manner. It should be chaired by the Prime Minister with the National Security Adviser as the member-secretary and should consist of the Home Minister and the Defence Minister. The very fact that such a high-level committee has been monitoring the use of the TECHINT capabilities to prevent misuse would act as a deterrent against tempted misuse. (5-12-11)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org . Twitter: @SORBONNE75)