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    Posted on 12 September 2011

    The unintelligence of India’s intelligence system

    Rivalry between the agencies has done incalculable damage not only to them but also to the nation

    Iftikhar Gilani
    New Delhi

    Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem

    On the chilly evening of 25 January in 1995 Governor General (rtd) KV Krishna Rao was reviewing the Republic Day preparations with top security and intelligence officers at the Jammu Raj Bhawan. Rao had also invited then chiefs of Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) to prepare a plan for border infrastructure and development. On his last trip to Krishnaghati border areas, Rao was left impressed by the development and easy accessibility to the other side of LoC. After scribbling down suggestions in a scrapbook, Rao turned to then RAW chief CD Sahay for suggestions.

    Sahay, who seemed to be in a pensive mood, apologised that he did not have many suggestions on border development, but he could tell what would happen the day after (January 26) when the Governor would preside the flag hoisting ceremony at the Maulana Azad stadium in Jammu. A bomb literally exploded at Rao’s feet next day. He escaped only because the handlers had pressed wrong buttons on the remote and erred in the timing. A bomb ripped the stage and another one exploded near the gate and a third one destroyed the parking lot.

    A combing operation had been launched at Sahay’s behest, but the Japanese plastic timers could not be found, till they exploded.

    Former intelligence sleuths say that information had been culled just by sheer accident. Sahay, before going to the meeting, had consulted his colleagues and asked if there was something to discuss with the Governor. “Nothing new Sir, just routine,” they had all replied. Sahay had then asked for some recent files consigned to the record room, since his last meeting with Rao. There were 13 files and to his horror, six of them had explicitly mentioned the impending attack on Republic Day in great detail. Nobody had read the intelligence sent by deep-penetration agents, nor had it been analysed or assessed. There was nobody to blame. The files had been consigned to cupboards with the signatures of Sahay himself. The lone deviation from the plan was that unnerved militants had detonated the bomb in the parking lot first instead of the one beneath the stage.

    The recent terror attack in Delhi has again highlighted that more than the lack of intelligence, the lack of coordination, assessment and turf-war between various security agencies has taken its the toll on the security arrangement. Former deputy Chief of RAW’s technical wing Major General VK Singh writes that the rivalry between the three major intelligence agencies—RAW, IB and MI—has done incalculable damage not only to the agencies themselves but also to the nation. “The rivalry is to the extent that once on a Srinagar hilltop, I counted almost a dozen antennae, each belonging to a different agency or paramilitary forces. And all of them were intercepting the same radio transmissions from across the border or from militant groups. In most cases, the intercepts were finally going to the same consumer,” he said.

    There is a fear within agencies that setting up of the NCTC would make them subservient to the home ministry

    In terms of coordination, in the aftermath of the Kargil war, there were lots of changes. The National Security Council, National Technical Resources Organisation (NTRO), Defence Intelligence Agency were all set up. But the problems of coordination persisted. Senior spy masters believe that Home Minister P Chidambaram’s idea of a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and NATGRID would also join the same league.

    “We are still trying to find solutions and have not been able to identify causes and issues involving intelligence and what is required. There is sheer volume of intelligence coming up on desk every day. Eighty five per cent information is from open sources. Rest of the 15 per cent is also enormous, mind boggling. Processing, evaluation and dissemination is a big task. It is an exercise that demands mental ability,” a former intelligence officer told TEHELKA.

    While Chidambaram’s initiative to interact with all agencies is laudable, it runs the risk of not being professional enough. Besides, setting up of NCTC would make other agencies subservient to the home ministry. Officials fear that the NCTC would grow too big for its boots and it may even lead to the authority of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) getting compromised.

    The system in place for Military Intelligence (MI) has also deteriorated over the past few years. A former chief of the MI refers to the new post of a Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) that was created. “But in absence of a CDS (chief of defence services), this post hardly means anything. He has no powers, works merely on the basis of friendship and personal clout and contacts,” he said.

    There is also strong opposition to Chidambaram’s idea of making intelligence subordinate to anti-terror measures only. A former special director of IB, DC Nath told a seminar last year that there was need for a clinically professional intelligence system and not one that suits the government. Top sleuths wonder why the government cannot make up its mind to designate a nodal agency.

    At present, with agencies relying more on technical intelligence system such as intercepting telephones, internet, e-mails etc, human assets are depleting gradually. The China desk at the RAW has just few hands to monitor mandarin language newspapers. Increasingly, a similar scenario is emerging with the number of officials well-versed in Urdu, Dari and Pashtu dwindling. Such is the focus on technical intelligence, that Major General (retd) V K Singh disclosed a few years ago how Indian agencies had been mishandling the SEA-ME-WE submarine cable set up in 2000 connecting Western Europe, Middle East and South East Asia. This cable is the main source of connectivity not only for telephones but also for new technologies such as broadband services, Internet, video services and the ATM.

    In its bid to emulate the CIA, the General says the RAW has been unnecessarily tapping telephone traffic and wasting resources say between Germany and Japan and other countries in violation of international laws.

    A race for quick results
    Another aspect that resulted in damaging the intelligence system was the urge to show quick results. The trend, however, has stopped since Chidambaram took over as the Home Minister. It had been a routine affair to declare conclusion of a terror incident within few hours of booking innocents or those remotely linked with the act. Not only it allowed the terrorists to enjoy the last laugh, it also created social tensions and led to further insecurity in the country.

    Few years ago two former informers of Delhi Police's Special Cell and the IB Irshad Ali and Nawab Moarif Qamar spilled the beans, when they were implicated in a false case for refusing to swallow IB's bait. Their lawyer Sufiyan Siddique claims that the intelligence officers had directed them to join Lashkar-e-Toiba and were forcing them to join a training camp across the border. "Fearing for their lives, the duo refused, which infuriated the agencies, and the duo was booked and implicated in a false case," he added.

    Irshad Ali's case has now been well documented by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the directions of Delhi High Court. The CBI corroborated the fact that the duo was kidnapped by an IB officer Mohamamd Khalid alias Majid in league with the Special Cell officials Lalit, Bhushan, Rajinder and Devdutt.

    Talking about the working of the sleuths in the IB, Irshad alleges that they just concoct stories to keep the government on its toes about the imaginary terrorist threats. To back their claims, Irshad reveals that they also ‘create’ terrorists. "A Moulvi type agent sporting a long beard and well-versed with Islamic tenants is introduced to some Muslim locality, where he lodges himself near a mosque and, in some cases, inside a mosque itself."

    Irshad further reveals that targeting mostly educated Muslim youth, the ‘pious-looking’ Moulvi laments the condition of Muslims and prescribes “jihad" as the only solution. After winning their confidence, the Moulvi then introduces himself as LeT commander and recruits the youth. "They are partially trained in small arms operation. In the meantime, the agent keeps sleuths informed about his operation," says Irshad.

    "Finally, when the Commander identifies a place and calls for an operation, the stage is set for their entrapment. The IB informs the Special Cell, and these youth fall prey to the plan. While the innocent youth remain clueless, the commander is never found. He is back with the IB to explore newer pastures," alleges the former informer.

    These revelations were enough to explain what must have happened behind Batla House encounter. Police is yet to explain that how one accused despite heavy police bandobast gave them a slip.

    Both the Special Cell and the IB have procured huge farm hourses in the vicinity of Delhi to undertake unlawful activities. Those destined to be killed in fake encounters are not kept in police stations or at known facilities, but are lodged in these farm houses. They are detained for months and years there before being killed at an "appropriate time".

    A question of accountability
    Prominent strategic affairs expert Manoj Joshi wrote recently that India was perhaps the only democracy where no oversight is exercised on our all-powerful intelligence services. Our politicians’ are only interested in the IB for providing them with political intelligence on their adversaries. The IB’s goals is two-fold. First, they want to short-circuit the process of dealing with terrorists. But to allow an instrument of state to illegally arrogate such a key function is to invite trouble. Second, the IB uses fake encounters to send messages to Pakistan. The executioners of the mainly Pakistani terrorists are the special cells of state police forces. But over time these executioners, glorified as “encounter specialists”, end up as criminals and resort to killing innocents for personal gains.

    One of the major causes behind the rise of terrorism lies a sense of injustice. Fake encounters and extra-judicial killings only help terrorist recruiting agents. Upholding the law, and insisting that the police do so most rigorously, should not be a matter of morality and legality, but the pragmatic means of combating terrorism. Extra-judicial executions may work as a quick fix, but make for a recipe for disaster in the long run. If you sow the wind, the saying goes, you will reap the whirlwind.

    A group of prominent intellectuals and peace activists, comprising Asghar Ali Engineer, Ram Puniyani and several others, have demanded that a National Commission be set up to monitor the progress of investigations into terror attack cases. This might help speed up the process of investigations, find valuable clues to nail culprits, provide justice to victims, and prevent future attacks.

    Iftikhar Gilani is Special Correspondent with Tehelka.com
    [email protected]

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    Posted on 12 September 2011



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