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Why does Indian intelligence fail?

By Maloy Krishna Dhar
Last updated on: May 21, 2012 16:22 IST
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In August 2006, Maloy Krishna Dhar, a former Joint Director, Intelligence Bureau, revealed the reasons for India's intelligence failures, a still-very-relevant assessment, which we republish today in his memory.

Mr Dhar passed away in New Delhi on Sunday.

  • Earlier column: Pakistan: Geopolitical epicentre of Islamist jihad
  • Each time there is a terrorist and jihadi strike in India, we blame the intelligence agencies of failing to anticipate and prevent the attack.

    Why do we fail?

    We fail because the central Intelligence Bureau, the government's cutting edge internal security tool, is ill-prepared to combat aggressive operations of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency, Bangladesh's Directorate General of Forces Intelligence and Islamist tanzeems.

    The Bureau has well-trained, motivated and dedicated operators to gather intelligence and operate along areas of national fault lines. The IB operates through its Central Operations Units and Subsidiary Units in states. From the Northeast to Gujarat, Kashmir to Kanyakumari, it has a vast geographical area and extremely complex problems to grapple with. And with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan factors thrown in, the Bureau finds it nose drowned under the flood of events that threaten the nation. The IB is simply not equipped to handle the enormous canvas, which is getting murkier by the day.

    Among other things, it suffers from:

    • Lack of trained manpower at the operative level;
    • Inadequacy of modern training to combat acts of terrorism and insurgency;
    • Lack of electronic and technical intelligence equipments for combating the vast and expanding fields of information and communication technology;
    • Near inability to generate Human Assets in target areas where the indigenous and foreign jihadists establish nests, modules, cells and chains of secondary support system. The IB has not yet opted for certain 'unorthodox' tradecraft that can enable it to penetrate the target areas. It relies more on limited electronic and technical intelligence to cover trans-border movements, induction of arms, explosives and trained jihadists from Pakistan and Bangladesh;
    • The IB has very little support from sister agencies like the R&AW about location, preparation and planning of the jihadist tanzeems in Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries-the UK, USA, Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal and certain European destinations.
    • Support system from other friendly countries are not threat and issue specific. India can urge the friendly nations to reorient their tools to cover the jihadist thrust in the subcontinent, as it has emerged as the neuronal epicentre of East-Far East-West journey of jihadist impulses.
    • The information and operations sharing mechanism between the Centre and the states is in rudimentary stage. It should be augmented under the auspices of the National Security Council. The Electronic, Technical and Image Intelligence data collation and monitoring system at the central and state levels require integration under the auspices of the NSC. The same facility should be able to integrate with the existing agencies that are engaged in handling suspected line, air and electronic cipher traffic and the www menace.
    • The Intelligence Bureau require immediate geographic, operational and resources expansion. The Union government, as indicated by the prime minister, should pay immediate attention to these burning needs. This exercise should be completed within next five years after speedy determination of National Intelligence Estimate (revised periodically). Otherwise, the IB will continue to lag behind the cancer of jihadist thrust. The authorities should not forget that besides carrying out serial bombings the jihadists under the protective umbrella of the ISI, Bangladesh's DGFI and the Al Qaeda Inc are capable of importing and indigenously manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction. The CIA does not rule out the possibility of Al Qaeda Inc developing crude and dirty nuclear bombs.
    • People have the right to know the threat quantum they face from inimical forces and should also be assured that the government, besides scanning the sensex graph and the GNP/GDP arithmetic is duty bound to protect lives and properties of the citizen. People are threatened by a new kind of war, which is known to the people of the Northeast, Punjab and Kashmir. But for the heartland and peninsular India, it is a new experience. They have to live with it and compel their politicians to look beyond the ballot boxes and 'secular fences.' The state and central governments must prove that they are capable of governing. They should be able to protect or prepare to perish.
    • The Intelligence Bureau is not equipped to monitor the web sites of the Islamist jihadist groups. They do not have superfast computers, nationwide networking and surveillance capability on the servers of the ISP providers. Only prolonged studies and research can decipher the coding pattern and transmission trademark of each terror group. These require regular logging and liasing with western agencies who have made forward strides, especially after the 9/11 Al Qaeda attack. Other nodal points in the government should embark upon the task of monitoring the virtual www world and share their inputs online with the central and state intelligence agencies.
    • The IB is also required to develop a focussed, dedicated and self-contained research and operations group to work at ground and desk levels to assess, anticipate, follow and pre-empt conspiracies and execution plans of the ISI, DGFI, Islamist tanzeems across the subcontinent.

      The IB should be empowered to act and neutralise such enemies of the country, wherever possible, in concerted operations with the State agencies. The question of empowering the IB with limited 'retaliatory forward operations' capability should be seriously examined with a view to paying back the responsible tanzeems in their own coin.

    We fail because the IB is not allowed by the government to expose its wares to the larger audience of any parliamentary watchdog body. The country is not entitled to know why they fail and why they cannot be made failproof. The agency is out of bounds for the RTI Act of 2005. It should at least be made accountable to Parliament, so that people can know how their money is being spent and how the political masters manipulate the agencies.

    The people have a right to know. Failures cannot be covered up behind the veil of departmental security rules.

    We fail because our coastal policing and intelligence gathering mechanism is appallingly poor. Besides the Coast Guard, which normally patrol the deeper shallow waters and the Border Security Force, which covers certain eastern riverine borders with Bangladesh, the state governments do not take coastal policing seriously. The existing police forces are not adequate, trained and equipped to police the vast western coastal area from Kot Lakhpat to Wapi in Gujarat and Daman near Maharashtra to Bhatkal in Karnataka and beyond in Kerala.

    Besides over a dozen major ports, the western coast has nearly 150 minor ports, over 200 landing sites and over 500 shallow landing creeks. The police and Customs presence in the major ports aside, there is skeletal or no Customs or police presence in minor ports and nothing at all in the landing sites and shallow creeks. The police departments have a few slow moving dhows and negligible fast boats without GPS technology. Pakistan and other jihadist forces can land any amount of arms and explosives through the vast unmanned western coastal area. India has no blueprint to tackle this menace.

    A nation under attack still thinks 'people's resilience' is the only weapon to fight the jihadist forces. When shall we wake up to the needs for a special coastal policing and intelligence system?

    We fail because our disaster management mechanism is appallingly neglected. There exists a high sounding body in Delhi, fat at the top minus vital limbs. The state governments are not concerned about managing disasters beyond paying ex-gratia grants to the dead and injured. The Central Disaster Management outfit should be integrated with the state outfits and a unified command structure is required to be in position with adequate resources. Response time should be minimised to 10 minutes at proximate locations and not more than 20 minutes at difficult locations.

    We fail because Pakistan, Bangladesh and other Islamist forces are rapidly salvaging the 'communal debris' left by the scars of Partition. Politicians are aiding these forces by mimicking the British 'divide and rule' policy. They are fuelling the ruffled sentiments that arise out of poverty, lack of education and opportunities. Our system has failed to address these crying needs.

    The political class has failed to bridge the gaps left by Partition. They have widened the gaps through vote catching slogans and are doing precious little for them. The poor among the Muslims are as poor as the poor in any other community. They live, because they happen to be born. Nothing beyond!

    We fail because we suspect each other. We fail because even the Hindus are fragmented. We fail because we do not behave as a united people. Our unity, our ability to rebuff dubious politicians and our resolve to rise above the ghost of history can act as sure deterrence against the war imposed on us.

    This is not a war by Muslims against Hindus. It is a war against India by the foreign-based jihadist forces headed by Pakistan, Bangladesh and International Islamist Inc. Every Indian is required to unitedly fight these enemies.

    The foreign forces should not succeed in subverting our own people by taking advantage of lapses committed by the political caricatures. We must remember that Indian Muslims did not fight in Afghan jihad and Pakistan's Kashmir jihad. They are one of us and we shall triumph together.

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