How robust is our intelligence sharing mechanism? Do our intelligence agencies share information freely?
I understand this problem perhaps much better than many others. Between the major intelligence agencies today our information sharing is excellent. I am not talking only at the level of the chiefs. It exists right down to the operation level. IB (the Intelligence Bureau) and R&AW (the Research and Analysis Wing) and some of the state intelligence agencies actually work cheek by jowl, almost on a day to day basis. It works better in some areas where there is a more established intelligence system in the state.
Intelligence sharing with countries outside has been one of my major tasks. Getting the counter intelligence/counter terrorism agencies in the UK, the USA, other countries, including Saudi Arabia, to help us. With some countries, it has been working very well. The British are almost online. The Americans are also almost there. We have not had the same success with other countries.
The problem is we need to do this on a regular basis, to separate the chaff from the grain.
You spoke of intelligence cooperation with other countries. The investigators in the Mumbai blasts claim Faisal Sheikh, who they allege is the main accused, traveled to a terror camp in Pakistan via Iran. Do the Iranians tip us off to such activity?
In many countries, where there is a specific reference made to India, that information is by and large shared. What we are looking for is if there is some kind of suspicious information even if there is no reference to country A or country B we should be able to share it. Sometimes, there may not be a reference to India. As you said, Faisal went to Iran. If the Iranians or the UAE had some suspicions and made it available, maybe we could have fitted it in. That is the point. It is difficult to know what to share and what not to share.
We are aware, for instance, that people are going to Africa, to South Africa, to East Africa to the Maghreb region of Northern Africa. Whenever we have this information we are trying to pass it on to agencies there, (telling them) be careful of people coming to these areas. We would like the same information on people coming in. From the generic to the specific is the challenge.
Photograph: A horrific image from the July 11, 2006 serial blasts in Mumbai that killed 186 people and injured more than 800 people. Photograph: Sebastian D'Souza/AFP/Getty Images
Also read: Blasts accused show no regret