Monday, October 8, 2012
"INDIAN INTELLIGENCE - THOUGHTS ON NEW APPROACH TO CHANGE"
Ajit Doval, Director Vivekananda International Foundation
In constant race against time and ever searching for new ideas to defeat ingenuity of their adversaries, for intelligence agencies to change is not an option but a compulsive necessity. Regrettably, those who change only when they have to, pay an un-affordably high price. Worse, it is often preceded by a nation bruised if not bled. Imaginative changes, innovation in tools of intelligence generation and analysis and constant up-gradation of capacities only can keep them a step ahead of their adversaries. The paper analyses the dynamics of change in the Indian context and some of the new realities that Indian intelligence need to factor in for designing its strategy for change.
Intelligence agencies, consciously or otherwise, pursue three discernable patterns of change. First is the evolutionary pattern. Accounting for most of the changes, these are slow, routine and continuing in nature. They are mostly triggered by contemporaneous developments leading to resetting of priorities, leadership changes in organizational hierarchies and evolving pressures within the organizations to address professional, structural or administrative problems. Though mostly going un-noticed, these changes are vital as they keep intelligence agencies progressive, time consistent and forward looking through constant course correction and problem solving. Most of these changes are effected within the organization and do not impact on working arrangements with other organs of the government or involve change in law or government’s Rules of Business. Though known to few, the score board of Indian Intelligence, particularly the Intelligence Bureau, on this count has been outstanding. Even in the absence of additional resources, new empowerments and living with security insensitive, if not illiterate, culture of governance, it has been able to bring about changes in real time to face new problems of insurgencies, terrorism, espionage, border intrusions, socio-political conflicts etc. even in remotest parts of the country. Decisional autonomy enjoyed by the Director Intelligence Bureau (DIB), his proximity to political leadership, a strong culture of loyalty and esprit de corps within the organization besides quality leadership at various levels have made this possible. However, the great contribution of evolutionary changes notwithstanding, it needs to be underlined that the phenomenon operates within a limited band-width and cannot address fundamental infirmities. It is unfit to bring about changes that have a long gestation period, involve high expenditure, require major technological or structural changes or have legal implications. It also cannot alter basic approaches towards security management of which intelligence is only one component, particularly in a ruckus democracy like India. One down side of such in-house innovations and improvisations is that it makes the governments complacent mistaking the success of fire fighting efforts as a solution to the cause of fire. Quite often, the fore warnings and ignored pleas for action to offset the impending threats in India go unaccounted and unpunished, making systemic failures revisit with vengeance.
The second set of changes may be called ‘reformist’. They are triggered by some major reverses or failures forcing the governments, either on their own volition or under pressure of public opinion, to bring about fundamental changes. Changes following the attack on Pearl Harbor and post war emergence of Communist threat to the US, India’s 1962 Chinese debacle, post 9/11 threat of jehadi terrorism etc. fall in this category. Often the governments appoint inquiry commissions or experts committees to study the failures, analyze the causes and recommend reforms. Warren Commission on the assassination of President Kennedy, Senate Committee on the Watergate Scandal, Shah Commission on the role of intelligence during emergency in India etc. are illustrative. They examine not only the internal workings of the organization but also functional relativity with organizations and systems outside the intelligence community. Public committees serve a very useful purpose as they are able to examine and evaluate the functioning of intelligence agencies in the broader context of political environment, systems of governance and legalo-constitutional framework. However, at times, meant only to serve political purpose or silence mounting public criticism, these committees are less than objective and swayed by extra-professional considerations. They also often get over influenced by populist perceptions of the causes and remedies which are not always correct. Consequently, their findings and recommendations do not always lead to improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of intelligence agencies. The Shah Commission’s findings and recommendations are a case in point. On the contrary, committees on reforms that are led by the professionals are able to come out with more specific, incisive and doable recommendations. The Shankar Nair Committee report, despite its limited mandate on intelligence reforms, came out with some highly commendable recommendations.
The third category comprise of changes that are brought about by intelligence agencies on their own or in conjunction with the larger security set up of the country envisioning futuristic threats and challenges. Transformational in character, they involve constructing future scenarios, assessing the environment in which intelligence agencies will have to operate and calculating gaps between existing capacities and these required to meet emerging threats. This exercise necessitates intensive study of futuristic trends, their implications for national security, analyzing policy options and formulating strategy for change. Forecasting intelligence needs of the country, it should attempt to architect new doctrines, suggest structural changes, aim at optimization of resources and examine administrative and legislative changes required for empowerment of intelligence agencies. While intelligence agencies in developed countries frequently attempt this exercise, the Indian intelligence has rarely made a conscious effort in this direction. One such exercise was carried out in the late eighties in the Intelligence Bureau on the initiative of Shri M. K. Narayanan, just before he was tipped to take over as the chief.
At national level, the Report of the Group of Ministers on National Security in 2001, was the first macro level attempt in this direction. Though it came as an aftermath of Subramaniam Committee report on Kargil, it was an integrated futuristic attempt to restructure national security under four categories namely, defence, intelligence, internal security and border management. It came with some outstanding recommendations but unfortunately with the change in regime the momentum of change could not be sustained. One of the major recommendations, that was lost sight of, pertained to the review of the national security by a high powered Groups of Ministers every five years. If implemented, there would have been perspective action plans for intelligence and other reforms in 2006 and 2011. For this category of changes to be really effective, a political will is necessary, that requires serious and enthusiastic involvement of the senior political leadership of the country. Unfortunately, in India, national security is a low agenda item for the politicians except when the nation finds itself in the midst of a serious security crisis. Unfortunately, that is the most ineffective setting for change. In an ideal situation, the government should develop a long term bi-partisan consensus for these transformational changes.
It needs to be emphasized that both the evolutionary and reformist approaches to change though important by themselves are inadequate to meet threats of the future. These approaches to change are premised on the assumption that if shortcomings of the past were redressed the future would be safe. They allow us to analyse the causes of failure, examine existing systems and processes, and suggest their readjustment to prevent their recurrence. The broader legal, administrative and security frameworks are taken for granted; presuming that intelligence would be able to deliver the moon only through changes within – every time everywhere. Unfortunately, this is an erroneous premise. At best, they equip the country to win the war that is already over.
Reforms exclusively based on experience of the past suffer from another infirmity. It fails to factor in the innovations and transformations that the adversaries keep on bringing about in their capacities, resources, strategies, collaborative network, technology, equipment, targets, modus operandi etc. As former US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, reflecting on the 21st century threats observed that the changes will have to be fast and constant to “defend against the unknown, the uncertain, the unseen and the unexpected”. These sets of changes though more valid in operational areas of intelligence generation like trade craft, surveillance, penetration, technology improvisation etc. also have relevance in tools of analysis.
Indian intelligence in next ten years should press into action an integrated strategy for change incorporating a judicious mix of all the three sets of changes namely evolutionary, reformist and transformational. In working out this strategy for change, in addition to its long conventional experience it may be necessary to factor in some new emerging realities. Following are few such factors that may impact intelligence work in years ahead.
Indian Intelligence in times ahead will have to operate under greater public gaze, media scrutiny and accountability regimen. It will have to develop capability to operate in a translucent, if not transparent environment. One of the conventional strengths of the intelligence organizations have been their ability to operate in a relatively opaque and insulated environment. It was an accepted norm that in the larger security interests of the state and safety of its people, intelligence agencies be allowed to operate outside the public gaze. Even outside the government, there was a tacit acceptance of this reality and the media, courts, scholars and analysts etc. implicitly respected this privilege and were careful not to draw them into public controversies or expose their activities that might undermine national or public interest. Criticism was mostly confined to intelligence production when it was felt that intelligence agencies failed to alert or forewarn the governments. Except the interested political groups who occasionally leveled charges of use of intelligence for political purposes, the intelligence processes by and large remained under a veil of secrecy. This provided the requisite deniability to the intelligence professionals even when they had no legal cover to carry out their secretive functions.
The voluntary restraint exercised was not so much to protect the intelligence agencies or the governments but more to deny undue advantage to the enemies of the state, who stood to gain by such exposures. Today, one of the main sources of intelligence for the terrorists, spies and saboteurs is media reports. They learn about the thinking and policies of the government, movements and plans of the security agencies, details about arrests of their gang members and disclosures made by them, the people and places on the radar of intelligence agencies etc. through open sources. In addition, media provides wide and prominent coverage to violent groups and their depredations which enables them to get wide publicity and achieve the objective of terrorizing the people. It also enables them to discredit and demoralize the governments in power - the political objective of perpetrating terrorist actions. The live coverage of Mumbai 26/11 terrorist attack that was being monitored by mentors of the terrorist group in Karachi, and who in turn were directing tactical movements of the terrorists, is a case in point.
In times ahead, this problem is going to get further deepened and accentuated. Soft states with open democracies, like India, will find themselves particularly vulnerable. For political reasons, legal restraints or advisories to the media will neither be enforceable nor advisable. Frequency and intensity of front organizations supporting the cause of anti-national forces, masquerading as human right groups, to put pressure on the intelligence and security agencies will show a marked increase. Even, demands for inclusion of intelligence agencies, or at least part of their activities, covered under Right to Information Act may find political support.
Unlike in the past when it was not a tabooed subject, intelligence has entered the arena of public discourse. We have to accept the reality as it is and not as we wish it to be. Not only the intelligence production -- which can be a legitimate matter of public concern -- but even the processes, structures and systems will increasingly come under public scrutiny. Demands for parliamentary oversight, intervention in internal administrative matters, resistance to legal empowerment, like in the case of National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), etc. are indicative of the changing environment. It will be desirable for the Indian intelligence agencies to start revisiting their systems and making preparations for change compatible to the future realities without undermining vital national interest.
The Intelligence agencies should start deliberating on a public interface mechanism which, in the long run, may even include a media and public relation exercise. In the way Indian democracy is evolving, it will be in the national interest to educate the media and have working relation with it rather than allow it to go haywire for want of knowledge and authentic information. A well thought out action plan on this count may take two to three years before it is made operational.
Secondly, it will be desirable to have a group of experienced officers examine the entire working of the IB and R&AW and re-visit its security needs through VED-analysis. Through a calibrated strategy it can secure vital secrets that may impinge on national security while allowing controlled oversight by parliamentary or other bodies where it will not hurt the vitals. Besides changes in tradecraft doctrines and practices, the changes will involve whole new regimen of security re-classification, change in documentation and filing systems, communications, maintenance of records, weeding out of files etc. Intelligence agencies should be able to bring about this change in next three to four years.
Technology will have to be another focus area for transformational change. This has two distinct dimensions in intelligence. First is neutralizing efforts of the adversaries to acquire and operationalise technologies to undermine our national security. The second, pertains to up-gradation and integration of state of art technologies by us to enhance our own defensive and offensive capacities.
The rate at which terrorists, spies, saboteurs and hostile intelligence agencies are acquiring new technologies pose a serious threat. These include a whole ambit of weapon systems, explosives, communication equipments, defeat systems against conventional intelligence tradecraft etc. Recently, the use of social media for creating lawlessness and inciting people to violence has underlined scope of technology driven threats. Incessant efforts being made by the jehadi terrorists to acquire radioactive explosive devices (dirty bombs) is a matter of serious concern. With the conditions of instability in Af-Pak region getting accentuated after 2014 drawdown, ideologically motivated Islamists taking charge of senior positions in Pakistan Army and intelligence setups, deepening collaborative linkages of ISI with home grown radical groups like Indian Mujahedeen in India the intelligence challenges will get compounded manifold. Terrorist groups are also fast acquiring capabilities of safe communication which will render the task of interception quite difficult. In the area of defence, fast technological up-gradation through heavy investments being made by hostile intelligence agencies like ISI of Pakistan, MSS of China etc. in electronic warfare, offensive cyber capabilities, space surveillance, maritime encirclement of India etc. will have to be factored in for developing counter capabilities.
Another aspect of technology in intelligence work relates to acquisition, improvisation and integration of new technologies. Though its necessity is disputed by none, the intricacies are understood by few. India’s strategic partnership with the US and greater security cooperation with the West notwithstanding, no developed country will share real state of the art intelligence technologies with India, particularly as a total system. Even where the second rung technologies are made available they are fraught with danger as the suppliers will insist on not transferring the codes or allowing us to change them without their involvement. Secrecy of our systems in this dispensation is seriously undermined. India will do well to take advantage of the offset clause in acquisition of defence equipment and use part of it for indigenous production of intelligence equipment. With India purchasing over $100 billion worth of defence equipments in the next seven to eight years, 30% of it under the offset clause provides us a huge investment opportunity for this. Development of internal Research and Development capabilities are extremely expensive and time consuming. Unfortunately, even in areas where such initiatives were viable, we were not able to exploit them due to paucity of funds and lack of futuristic vision in organizational leadership. Coming up of the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) is a welcome move but its functioning so far does not inspire confidence. Its focus should be more on developing intelligence technological capabilities rather than getting involved in intelligence production for which it is least qualified.
Revolution in informatics and emerging cyber threats will constitute another area of challenge for security agencies. The task of handling massive open data emanating from diverse sources, both secret and classified, will make the task of analysis quite difficult. Deliberate efforts to use the information highways for disinformation, propaganda and subversion will compound the problem. Of late many youth in different parts of the world are being sucked into the vortex of radicalism without any physical contact. Concurrently, terrorist and other anti-national forces are acquiring capabilities to wage cyber wars targeting critical infrastructure, intrusion in classified domains, damaging vital national data etc. The challenge is compounded by the fact that the perpetrators are able to operate from unknown destinations using inaccessible platforms, thousands of miles away from Indian soil.
Another futuristic challenge against which Indian intelligence will have to brace itself will be the capacity and resilience to cope with challenges of Covert Action (CA) and the Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW). The traditional use of military power to further a nation’s strategic, political or economic interests has been undergoing a change since the late eighties. This trend is going to further consolidate in times ahead.
With wars increasingly becoming cost-ineffective ventures of unpredictable consequences, Covert Action will increasingly be used as a new variant of ‘war through other means’ to achieve strategic and political objectives. Covert Action, is a deliberate state policy directed against the target state manifesting itself in various forms like engineering political instability, causing social disruption, retarding economic progress, accentuating disaffection and unrest in civil society and manipulating media. In violent forms, it includes promoting terrorism and insurgencies, political assassinations, social disruption, sabotage, subversion etc. It is a low cost sustainable offensive with high deniability aimed to bleed the enemy to submission. Moral pretensions, and international laws notwithstanding, this option has been equally used by developed countries, like USA in Afghanistan against the Soviets and poor countries like Pakistan against India in Kashmir, Punjab etc. Unfortunately, the doctrine of ‘protecting supreme national interests through all means’ has bypassed India; though it has been its worst victim with nearly 75,000 civilians and 10,000 security personnel killed as its consequence.
Conventionally, the causes, instrumentalities, resources and consequences of internal threats are domestic as against the external threats in which they are of external origin. However, in the new dispensation, internal security has become highly vulnerable to external manipulations. Hostile powers target it to achieve their politico-strategic objectives by internally bleeding the adversary, exploiting its internal faultlines. In Covert Action (CA) the planning, motivation, finances and often manpower is of the sponsoring country and so is the strategic objective it is aimed to achieve. Today, in India, while conventional internal threats involving violence are steadily on the decline, threats from externally sponsored covert action has gone up several notches. Though beleaguered for nearly two decades, India has failed to develop capabilities and a viable national response to the CA threats, both at the strategic and tactical levels. Response has been episodal with short memories, often with time consistency not lasting beyond the next election. CA is a threat against which Indian intelligence will have to develop capabilities both in defensive and offensive-defense modes. Their role will assume added importance since in this war intelligence agencies would be primary, if not the sole, players. Besides collection of intelligence, the new role will necessitate proactive and interventionist operational actions requiring adequate legal empowerment. Seen in this perspective, opposition to the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) in India was ill-advised.
Thus both the internal and external adversaries will try to achieve their political objectives by coercing the government through internal violence and destabilisation. This will increasingly take the world to what is known as Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW), conflicts in which the civil society will play primordial role. The subversive and violent groups disguise themselves as crusaders of disaffected or alienated sections of the society and indulge in violence and other unlawful activities. This will be a war against the invisible enemy hiding within the civil society, stunning to silence the majority through violence, fear and terror and making the governance impossible for its inability to protect them. Inability of the governments to protect their civil societies and redress their genuine grievances make them highly vulnerable to the mechanizations of hostile intelligence agencies.
The future pattern of conflicts would increasingly be more civil society centric. This fight against an invisible enemy, conceptualised as Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW), will aim at collapsing the enemy internally rather than physically destroying him through military might. As observed by William Lind, “Distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point.” In this nonlinear war against the invisible enemy there will no defined battle fields and the difference between civil and military targets would get obliterated. The disaffected and alienated sections of the society will be targeted by the enemies, both within and outside, to provide cause and the cover for subversive and violent actions. State security apparatus with high fire power, mobility, technology and logistic base will find themselves at a loss to fight this battle where there is no defined territory to be dominated and visible enemy to be destroyed. Propaganda, skillful use of media and information intervention may be extensively used by the adversaries to discredit and delegitimise lawfully established governments. Actions taken by the government to protect law abiding citizens or to enforce rule of law will be portrayed as persecution and oppression further eroding government’s legitimacy. American war in Vietnam and Soviet Union’s fight in Afghanistan are illustrative. Intelligence will be the primary instrumentality through which these wars would be fought. To fight these futuristic conflicts, the intelligence agencies will have to build an extensive network of agents of information and influence among potentially vulnerable sections of the society. Psy-war capabilities integrating modern state-of-art technologies will have to be adopted. A US study paper on ‘The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation’ has rightly asserted that “Fourth generation adversaries will be adept at manipulating the media to alter domestic and world opinion to the point where skillful use of psychological operations will sometimes preclude the commitment of combat forces. Television news may become a more powerful operational weapon than armored divisions.” India with its social fault lines, economic inequalities and fragmented polity is highly vulnerable to civil society conflicts that can lead to instability. The external factor in the form of activities of hostile intelligence agencies, foreign NGOs with a political agenda, trans-border ideological influence of some radical or extremist groups etc. can exploit alienated groups to their advantage. Though these threats have existed for quite some time but with revolution in informatics, accessibility to new technologies and collaborative networking among anti-national forces these may become more extensive and acute in future. Indian intelligence will have to develop new capabilities to meet these threats.
The challenges that Indian intelligence is going to face in years ahead will be much more serious and complex. India’s emergence as a major power centre provides it an opportunity as also adds to its vulnerability. There is a need to work out a long term strategy for transformational changes on one hand and internal reforms on the other. Under a time bound programme a plan of action should be prepared and pressed into action with full earnestness.
Posted by RV at 4:42 AM