Wednesday, February 21, 2024

India to sharpen intelligence set-up

Embarrassed by a string of terror attacks, the Indian government has set up a task force to shore up gaps in its intelligence agencies and address critical manpower and resource shortages.
Headed by S.D. Pradhan, who retired a few months ago as chief of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), the panel has its task clearly cut out.
Its mandate is to come up with ideas that will ensure greater and more meaningful coordination among the country’s intelligence outfits including the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA).
All police, paramilitary forces and defence services in the country also have their own intelligence wings. The number of spies the intelligence agencies employ totals thousands.
India’s intelligence establishment has many successes to its credit. But those in the business of spying admit that human talent is not what it used to be in earlier times. Rivalries within the agencies is also a bane.
Security experts and former intelligence chiefs believe that the foremost task now is to fill up vacancies in the intelligence agencies if they need to meet their potential.
“Look, let us get real. The IB has barely 3,500-3,800 field personnel engaged in hard-nosed snooping and information gathering out of a total strength of 28,000 in a country of 1.2 billion,” argues Ajay Sahni, who heads the Institute for Conflict Management, a New Delhi thinktank.
In 2001, the government had approved recruitment of an additional 3,000 personnel in the IB, India’s oldest and domestic intelligence agency. Till date only 1,400 additional posts have been sanctioned.
Sources in the intelligence agencies add that a lot of energy is spent trying to find out what is going on in political parties – information the dominant ruling party is always eager to know.
This sentiment was echoed by former national security advisor Brajesh Mishra, who candidly admitted that the success rate of Indian intelligence agencies had dipped.
“The effectiveness of intelligence agencies has come down. Some of the intelligence agencies are more active spying on political parties than doing their work,” Mishra told IANS recently. “However, only intelligence agencies cannot be blamed. Bad policing is also one of the reasons which has led to failures in preventing terrorist attacks,” he added.
Former IB chief D.C. Pathak admitted that intelligence structures in districts and states were not geared to feeding information to a national grid. “Policing is a state subject but security is a national issue. Whether it is new age terror or Maoist violence that one has to deal with, structures at the bottom have to be strengthened,” Pathak told IANS.
“Senior personnel must get involved to enlarge the scope of these formations so that intelligence production is substantial. We are dealing with an invisible enemy. That’s why the task is all that more urgent.”
In most states there are gaping shortages in police forces. Recruitment in many states has been frozen for years. Some state police forces are functioning with deficits of up to 40 percent.
With such shortages, it becomes near impossible to set up specialised police forces and effective intelligence mechanisms besides going for cutting-edge technology.
“The composition and operational philosophy of state police and intelligence units has not really changed much all these years. They are mostly structured as agencies to protect law and order and spy on (political) rivals rather than act as investigative and intelligence units,” said a senior intelligence functionary.
Former RAW official, Maj. Gen. V.K. Singh (Retd), argues that the only way forward is to make intelligence agencies answerable for their failures.
“Why are intelligence chiefs not held accountable? There is no dearth of resources as increasingly agencies are depending on technical intelligence and not human intelligence. And we buy the best equipment,” said Singh.
“The problem with this country is that there is neither a performance nor a financial audit. If we can sack an army chief after the 1962 war (against China), why can’t we fire an intelligence head for incompetence?”
Seven years back, a committee headed by former RAW chief Girish Saxena recommended a multi-agency centre and a joint task force on intelligence under the aegis of the IB.
“Till date, these remain shell organisations. The government has failed to provide even basic infrastructure and manpower for these organisations to get off the ground. This is despite the fact that they are crucial to the acquisition and dissemination of terrorism-related intelligence and for effective counter-terrorism responses,” said Sahni. The prayer is that the newly set up S.D. Pradhan committee should not go that way.

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