Sunday, September 6, 2009

Will the national terror outfit become just another agency?

Will the national terror outfit become just another agency?Times of India
Ajit Doval
12 January 2009, 04:43am IST

Establishing a national counter terrorism agency is a positive idea whose time had come quite some time back but got registered only when it came riding on the tragedy of Mumbai. It was heartening that the law makers seized the opportunity to constitute a national agency to counter terrorism. However, the way in which it is being conceived and designed, it may belie the high expectations.

Demand for an effective National Counter Terrorism Agency emanated from national dismay that when reasonably good intelligence was available, when the country had instrumentalities to counter the terrorists, when there was a coordination mechanism in place, why did Mumbai happen? And when it did, why was the response so flat-footed?

It required no great genius to discover that the fault lay in the system itself where multiplicity of agencies prevented any one agency to have the total picture; disabling any single agency or individual to be in total command to act decisively and leaving coordination to degenerate into a bureaucratic ritual. It was a case where every agency or individual had all the material to defend itself, but collectively little to defend the nation. The system was designed to fail as those with knowledge had no legal empowerment or fire power, while those with fire power were not in the knowledge loop and those with legal empowerment were tactically deficient and resource constrained.

On top of this, there was multiplicity of agencies even in each category without standardized operating procedures, governing rules and doctrines, training and equipment, and commonly shared objectives and priorities. This had to be corrected divergence substituted by convergence, turf wars replaced by synergy and concerted action taking over confusion. And, for this, they thought a unified national agency was the answer.

However, the envisaged NIA does not bring us anywhere closer to this objective. On the contrary, it adds one more standalone platform with no structural integration or operational unification. As a post-event investigation agency, at its best, it might marginally increase conviction rates or get enhanced punishment to few jihadis who, working at suicidal level of motivation, may only find it amusing.

Had this agency existed before Mumbai carnage, none of the shortcomings that came to light would have been minimized. It would not have ensured improved intelligence integration or action oriented dissemination, better pre-emptive or preventive response, etc. Rather than ending the turf war there would have been one more player playing it. They might be interrogating Ajmal Kasab little better but the real masterminds would have still remained beyond their reach and jurisdiction. Legal actions are important but, at the end of the day, war against terrorism would neither be won nor lost in the courts of law.

What India needed was a counter terrorism outfit that converges all-source intelligence collection and its dissemination, real time and decisive physical response to meet the threat both in defensive and offensive-defense modes and efficient investigations to punish the wrong doers. And, all this under a common umbrella with unambiguous responsibility, authority and accountability.

While the intelligence function should have aimed at collection, integration of all-source inputs and their refinement to operational grade intelligence, the physical action component should have focused on terrorist specific tactics, field craft, equipment and skills for speed, surprise and dominance.

Investigators as part of the composite Team, should have been selected for their special skills and attitude including knowledge of terrorist groups, modus operandi, collaborative linkages, channels of procuring funds and weapons, etc. Most importantly, highly knowledgeable and skilled interrogation teams should have been constituted.

To be effective, the new outfit should develop a secure E-network connecting the apex agency to all district headquarters and police stations. It should be linked to the agency's data mining centre where terrorist information from police station to the highest in the agency is inputed according to availability and retrieved according to needs; with appropriate security measures, firewalls and filters. The agency should have state of the art, technical infrastructure to collect technical and cyber intelligence, break the codes, analyze terrorist documents, carry out technical surveillance and jam terrorist communications during physical engagements.

Specialized counter terrorist force, like the NSG, should be brought under the control of the agency for undertaking intelligence driven operations and remaining in readiness with constantly rehearsed exercises for physical actions. They should be constantly updated of emerging trends, techniques, weapons, modus operandi targets etc. Commandos are not robots and their mental tuning is necessary for optimal results. The personnel carrying out intelligence, physical and investigation functions should carry out joint exercises and train themselves together to achieve total synergy.

The ideal arrangement would be to have a director general, counter terrorism who is ex-officio special director of the Intelligence Bureau with all counter-terrorist work, multi agency centre and joint task force on intelligence centralized under his control.

Being part of IB, the outfit will overnight acquire communication linkage, intelligence reach, logistic and technical support, connectivity with local police and administration not only in every district but remotest border areas. This will bring the whole country under a unified counter terrorist grid with no extra cost or time involved. No comprehensive counter terrorist data centre can be built to the exclusion of intelligence inputs and due to various sensitivities involved, no intelligence agency can transfer its entire data to a non-intelligence agency.

If the director general of Counter Terrorism is made part of IB, he can have total access to the intelligence data, will also be able to leverage vast technical capabilities of national intelligence agencies both for intelligence and to keep the counter terrorist force at its technical best. The director general of the new agency should, however, enjoy total autonomy and should be the only person empowered under laws to undertake counter terrorist actions.

To enable him to control, train, equip and motivate men for special counter terrorist actions, the NSG should be brought under his command. This will enable the NSG to be associated on a day-to-day basis with all the developments on the terrorist front and help upgrade their tactics and field craft in tune with the emerging demands. The DG should also be empowered to maintain liaison with friendly security and counter terrorist agencies, as when handled by those who know little about terrorism, the loss in content and time is unaffordable. They are also not able to seek right amplifications, raise the level of dialogue from generic to specific and fine tune the action plans by distinguishing between immediate and important.

This will also help the DG to keep abreast of latest techniques, technologies, equipment and weapons that have proved effective against the terrorists and take initiatives to keep his armed wing best trained and equipped. Fourth generation warfare needs people who can change fast, think fast and act fast in this battle, it's not the bravest but the smartest that takes the trophy.

None of the measures suggested above encroach on powers of the states any more than the NIA Act does. It also does not require any amendments to existing laws and can be achieved within executive powers of the union government. With what is happening in Pakistan, Afghanistan and within our own country we may be in for much greater shocks than Mumbai and we are not prepared for it. We think the latest was the last but the worst is probably yet to come. Today there is mood for change in the nation but it may have a short shelf life. The consensus on response to terrorism is an opportunity to be seized.

(The author is former head of IB)

1 comment:

Himalayan Development Society (HDS) said...

I am working on this subject from 3 years but i can discuss this offline. In 1970's in US concept multi agency contact center then multi agency communication center got developed but it was 9/11 which gave it the real shape as we know it as Fusion centers. My biggest difficulty to explain people about fusion center is that everyone things it all about technology but fact is that it is not about technology at all. you can have fusion center where you can write in black and white. Its all about streamlining operations and powers to decision makers which starts with national intelligence sharing plan and legal amendments. Rest i would love to speak when we meet in person