Intelligence deficit and terrorism
Extraordinary times require stringent laws. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the civil war, Wilson jailed dissenters during World War I and Roosevelt interned the Japanese during World War II. Thus we do have a need for legal sanction to enforce some unpleasant restrictions on the perpetrators to protect the country from terrorists.
RECENTLY THE Deputy Prime Minister, L. K. Advani, stated that the `security situation' in India was `extremely grave' and it was like war. Previously also he spoke of `pre-emptive intelligence,' the necessity of which was keenly felt. Even those involved in the chase and grab operations against Veerappan lamented the lack of credible information. `The role of intelligence' in all security concerns is well understood and often alluded to its failure as cause for some serious incident though now many view it as a safety valve to protect an administration against exploding public resentment.
The incident on September 11, 2001 in the U.S. resulted in grumbles galore about the failure of the CIA. Preliminary enquiries brought to light that there were indications of a catastrophic action but the deficits were responsible for the incident. Intelligence is the product of finding answers to the query `who, why, when, where and how.' The agencies had failed to know the answers for where, when and how. This, according to experts, was the result of intelligence deficit.
The CIA had been put through the microscope from 1949 to 2001 at least six times. The various committees formed came out with disclosures of deficit and recommended remedial measures. In addition, the Senate Committee on Intelligence had its own task force to go into the working of the intelligence community and come out with appraisals of performance and suitable remedial measures based on the perception of existing and emerging security threats.
In India intelligence has been treated as a `sacred cow' and not much is revealed and there is very little informed criticism about its functioning. Very often there were calculated leaks to protect the administration and all the deficits were put under the carpet the Official Secrets Act. The recommendations of the L. P. Singh Committee and Shankaran Nair Committee and a few in-house recommendations are mentioned in generic terms and nothing specific has been the outcome. With the enacting of the Right to Information Act, one may now hope there will be some access to the functioning of these agencies.
Causes of failure
What are the causes of failure? Experts have identified a few. They are: (1) policy failures either in the definition of the problem or the rejection of the formulation, (2) oversight and supervision of the sources, methods and analytical process, (3) excessive dependence on technical intelligence at the cost of human intelligence, (4) lack of coordination and duplication of efforts and wastage of resources, (5) mental or mind block of the powers connected with the agencies and failure in tasking the community, (6) lack of accountability, especially in evaluation, enforcing and effectiveness in `nurturing' the `foot soldiers' of the agency and (7) the analytical acumen.
In India, unlike in the U.S., security concerns are manifold. In addition to external threat from neighbours, we have the problems of religious fundamentalism, insurgency inspired by ethnic and linguistic chauvinism and terrorist acts indulged in by mafia, narcotic and other smugglers. In addition, a spillover of Sri Lankan conflict. All these have a vast and crushing impact on the security of the country. To deal with them, we have the IB, RAW, DMI, ARC and departmental intelligence groups in the institutions of the Ministries of Finance and Home. We have State Intelligence branches to support and be supported by the above. The CBI deals with the crime with inputs from the above agencies. But we see turf battles between the agencies, lack of cooperation and coordination and even downright obstruction, resulting in the `unsatisfactory security situation.' Added to the above are the loopholes in law which enable a terrorist of today to become a chief negotiator after a couple of years. Hence it is time a broad, all-inclusive and in-depth study of the functioning and performance of the community was undertaken and cohesive security set-up instituted to meet the existing and emerging threats, both conventional and non-conventional.
Some suggestions are attempted: (1) There should be a clear cut and well thought out National Security Policy, instead of the piece-meal chasing of the ghosts of the past. (2) A mechanism to task the agencies in this regard with proper powers of oversight. It may be an individual or a committee directly under the Prime Minister. (3) A single individual to oversee the functioning of the intelligence community, both uniformed and ununiformed, with authority to demand the cooperation and services of the State units, despite the colour of the State Governments. (4) Procedures to avoid duplication and waste of resources. (The writer had the misfortune to task the local police chief on a few `wild goose chase' missions because a plethora of agencies came with the same information; later on it was discovered that it was a devilish plan of source, who converted this into a lucrative business).
Another aspect to be looked into is the analysis aspect. It plays the most important role. It should not be a cut and paste job. There should be greater interaction between the desk officer and field officer. The written word may not capture the nuances and inflections of the spoken word. Hence field officers, especially in insurgent areas, have to have adequate knowledge of the language, customs and habits. The vernacular press and local party papers carry sometimes `behind the scene' reports, especially oblique insurgent activities and unfortunately they are not covered for want of language skills and access. The movement of the Revolutionary Government of Manipur (an insurgent outfit) was found from an innocuous publication "a lot of young men are missing from their houses" in 1968 in Imphal. The agencies may have to enlist non-bureaucratic regional experts to cooperate with the analysts. My experience in the field with an academic who was also a leading media personality gave me valuable insight into the society, its norms, how insurgency took shape and later tactical and operational inputs also. "Educated and well informed public is the greatest defence of a country." The people of the U.S. when properly informed of the threat and security concerns became what one security advisor called "the minute man of intelligence," and kept an eye on the scene.
It is heartening to note that the highest court in the country appreciated the problem faced by the investigating officers when it stated, "it is not always possible to obtain corroborative evidence in insurgency cases." Referring to the trade-off between security and liberty, a Federal Appellate Court of the U.S. stated, "the police had acted responsibly when they tortured a kidnapper and got from him the information about the location of the kidnapped." Extraordinary times require stringent laws. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the civil war, Wilson jailed dissenters during World War I and Roosevelt interned the Japanese during World War II. The Bush Administration is opting for a Secret Military Tribunal. Thus we do have a need for legal sanction to enforce some unpleasant restrictions on the perpetrators to protect the country from terrorists.
A vertical and horizontal integration of the community's capabilities and resources is required to make them optimise their resources and enhance efficiency. There should be greater emphasis on human intelligence, at the same time taking measures to prevent `doubles' or `play backs' taking them for a ride. The Heads should have greater freedom and authority to recruit, and allocate men and resources for the allotted tasks unfettered by rules and unshackled from obsessive turf battles. They should also employ private/public sources in collecting intelligence. It is said, "it will be waste to send an agent to collect an information which a school boy could" (open sources). The L. P. Singh Committee's representation that there should be greater movement of people from the State Intelligence branches to Centre and vice versa requires to be given a serious thought. This will be beneficial to both. Only then, they can open the sluice gate of intelligence flow. Mass casualty of terrorism is of serious concern and those who are expected to provide pre-emptive intelligence should have adequate powers to restructure, get enough resources and man power and access to the policy makers so that they could provide in time, in precise manner and with proper emphasis, unimpeded by rules and turf battles, the intelligence that is required.
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