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NCTC: A good idea handled badly

February 23, 2012 10:44 IST

The proposed agency to counter terrorism will be preoccupied defending its arrests before the courts and against allegations of human rights violations, points out B Raman

Before 9/11, the assessment in the US was that terrorist threats from abroad would be more serious than home-based threats. The responsibility for coordinating preventive action was therefore vested in the Central Intelligence Agency, which handles external intelligence.

The CIA had a Counter-terrorism Centre to perform tasks of coordination and follow-up action on the intelligence collected by the various agencies. The CTC had officers taken on deputation from different agencies. They worked under a CIA officer.

The National Democratic Alliance government set up in May 2000 a task force for the Revamping of the Intelligence Apparatus headed by G C Saxena, former head of the Research and Analysis Wing and the then governor of Jammu and Kashmir. Among its members were M K Narayanan, former director of the Intelligence Bureau, K Raghunath, former foreign secretary, P P Shrivatsava, former special secretary of home affairs, and myself.

Its report recommended, inter alia, the setting-up of a CTC on the US model with officers on deputation from different agencies to improve coordination and follow-up action in counter-terrorism. Since the IB had the overall responsibility for counter-terrorism and liaison with the state police, it suggested that the CTC should be part of the IB and should work under the DIB.

It looked upon the CTC as a clandestine wing of the IB, which itself is a clandestine intelligence collection organisation. It, therefore, did not recommend any legal powers for the CTC so that the clandestine nature of its operations was not affected.

The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government set up the CTC, under an executive order, as part of the IB but, for reasons not clear to me, it named it the Multi-Agency Centre and not the CTC.

The 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US brought out serious gaps in the functioning of the CTC of the CIA. It was, therefore, decided by the Bush administration in 2004 to set up a National Counter-Terrorism Centre as an independent institution, which was not under the control of any of the existing agencies. It was placed under the director, National Intelligence, who is a member of the personal staff of the US President.

Whereas the US model of the CTC was given up after 9/11 due to inadequacies in its functioning, the Indian model of the MAC, patterned after the US CTC model, has continued functioning. Neither the Vajpayee government nor the Manmohan Singh government revisited the recommendations of the Saxena Task Force in the light of the 9/11 lessons.

The 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai brought out gaps in the functioning of the MAC. Flow of preventive intelligence and follow-up action on even the limited intelligence that was available was unsatisfactory. In a statement in the Lok Sabha after taking over as the home minister, P Chidambaram admitted that the responsibility for follow-up-action on the available intelligence was diffused.

He decided to set up the NCTC after a visit to the US. His model of the Indian NCTC differed from the US model in two respects. The US NCTC is an independent institution that does not come under the control of any of the existing agencies. In India, it is proposed to be made a wing of the IB and will work under the DIB.

In the US, the NCTC is a legal institution set up under a Congressional legislation after bipartisan consultations, but it does not have any legal powers to act on its own in matters such as arrest, detention, interrogation, searches etc.

The Indian model has been set up under an executive notification under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967. This has obviated the need for fresh legislation for its creation and for fresh political consultations at the Centre and with the states.

More seriously, the Indian NCTC is sought to be given powers of arrest and searches as part of its preventive operations.

The granting of these powers to the IB through the NCTC mechanism could have two undesirable consequences. Firstly, allegations of misuse of the IB for harassing political opponents could arise. Secondly, it will affect the role of the IB as a clandestine intelligence collection organisation. It will be preoccupied defending its arrests before the courts and against allegations of human rights violations.

Presently, the IB enjoys protection from the Right to Information Act. If it has these powers and starts functioning as an intelligence collection agency cum central police, it may no longer be able to enjoy this protection.

The home minister had two options: He could have made the NCTC an independent institution if he felt that it must have the powers of arrest and searches. Or, if he felt that it must work under the IB, make it a division of the bureau without giving it these powers.

His unwise action in making it part of the IB with these powers could prove counterproductive. He should not stand on false prestige. He should re-visit the proposed NCTC architecture in consultation with political parties and the states.

It needs to be underlined that there is no opposition in the country to the concept of the NCTC, which is necessary. The opposition is to the manner in which it has been set up without adequate consultations and to some of its features.

B Raman