Homeland Security

Intelligence Reform
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Issue Vol 24.1 Jan-Mar2009 | Date : 17 Dec , 2011

There are other things that are wrong today within the agencies. The first aspect is to consider whether the present system of recruitment and manning the intelligence organisations is the best that is possible given the present nature and level of threats. National threats have changed. There are other transnational threats that no single agency or a single country can handle. Besides, there is no knowing how the new threats will evolve. The rapidly changing technological applications bring their own threats. Catastrophic terrorism, cyber terrorism, remote control missile attacks and virtual wars are the other new threats. International trade and commercial transactions have become faster and more intricate; banking transactions move at the speed of lightning.

IT-driven globalisation also covers the criminal world. Interaction between narcotics smugglers, arms merchants, human traffickers and terrorists is that much easier, faster and safer. They all have access to sophisticated denial and deception techniques. Add to this, radical religious terrorists who are affecting India most dramatically and are supported by Pakistan in every way. The normal civil servant however bright just does not have these skills or the aptitude.

Within organisations there has been an increasingly greater reliance on techint in preference to humint capabilities. No amount of techint is a substitute for an intelligence operative or an astute and experienced analyst. Techint will give facts but not intentions

Within organisations there has been an increasingly greater reliance on techint in preference to humint capabilities. No amount of techint is a substitute for an intelligence operative or an astute and experienced analyst. The best techint is of little use if this is not preceded or accompanied by effective and sound humint capacities. Techint will give facts but not intentions and particularly in the case of counter terrorism, humint is an absolute must.

Intelligence collection and operations are increasingly highly specialised skills. This is not something that can be handled by men and women who seek to join an intelligence agency as a temporary haven or as an opportunity to treat the organisation as a secondary foreign office with no commitment to the profession. These are jobs meant for lifetime committed professionals who acquire their skills in tradecraft, languages, areas and issues over a long period of time.

Besides relatively small organisations like the R&AW cannot have a revolving door where officers come and go every few years. The R&AW is the only major external intelligence organisation in the world that has a fixed quota for seconded officers to man its clandestine and analysis desks. In an era of specialisation this means that these very skills are lacking; so is the commitment. This means a loss of talent every few years apart from other drawbacks that an officer has walked away with many operational secrets and can be vulnerable once he leaves.

The R&AW was not conceived as a Central Police Organisation. It was Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the organisation’s founding fathers, Rameshwar Nath Kao and Sankaran Nair, who repeatedly stressed that the R&AW should not become just another police organisation, and should have talent from wherever they could find, including other services of the Government of India. Recruitment to what would be a new service began in 1971 and many other lateral entrants later got absorbed in a service that became their new life.

Since personnel of intelligence agencies seek promotion within their own agencies there is need to change the nomenclature of their ranks, to break free from the system of equivalence with the hierarchy, and strike out on ones own.

It was during the watch of Garry Saxena that the service rules were formalised and later other lateral entries were possible. The underlying principle of this was intelligence collection and operations were not assumed to be the preserve of any particular service but unfortunately the IPS still assumes it should have primacy in the R&AW and the result has been a constant and a debilitating battle between the in-house service and the IPS.

The result has been that apart from calamities like Morarji Desai that befell R&AW in the ninth year of its existence, the organisation has been subjected to periodic attempts at reforms which have been a little better than merely reorganising quotas among various services or creating more promotional avenues. These reviews and committees have attempted to exercise external control and succeeded in creating only road blocks. This has only meant increasing bureaucratisation of a profession which by nature has to be unconventional, and needs imaginative and flexible handling far away from stodgy bureaucrats who feel at home only in carefully structured and rigid systems. For this mindset, the process and not the result, is an end in itself.

Drawing the right talent has been an increasing challenge in the government. It is more so in the R&AW. The UPSC route may have been the more transparent, but now seems increasingly unimaginative and irrelevant to the needs. This is not to overlook that the IPS has contributed some truly outstanding intelligence officers but these officers would have been outstanding anywhere. It is just that the requirements have changed today. Besides that an exam passed five, ten or twenty years ago does not qualify a man or a woman as an intelligence officer.

The former Naval Chief Admiral Arun Prakash highlighted the kind of problem that exists in his recent article “The clear and present danger from 6th CPC”. He pointed out the difficulties R&AW had in accommodating Naval officers on secondment because of the equivalences laid down by “the Kafkaesque Department of Personnel.”

It is estimated that today outsourcing is a 50 billion dollar business annually and consumes about 70 percent of the budget of the US intelligence community and this includes those working on covert operations.

This comment underscores the problem of manning that afflicts both the intelligence agencies and the armed forces because as with the Navy, so with the Army and Air Force. There are other problems in a world where the threat perceptions are changing rapidly and where the terrorist is invariably a step or two ahead of the counter terrorist. There is a need to break out of the hierarchical system introduced in intelligence agencies where promotions within the organisations must lag behind the superior service, the IAS. Since personnel of intelligence agencies seek promotion within their own agencies there is need to change the nomenclature of their ranks, to break free from the system of equivalence with the hierarchy, and strike out on one’s own. The same principle could apply to the Armed Forces who do not have to be bound down by archaic principles of equivalence. They can still be answerable to the civil authority of the government.

The regular UPSC recruit, however bright, will not suffice. The brightest no longer join the civil service. And an intelligence agency needs language skills, in depth knowledge about the target country and its cultural mores, computer whizz kids, technology experts, military men, financial experts and bankers who can help trace the financial trails of the terrorist, the ability to link the terrorist with the arms and drug smuggler. It needs economists, scientists, area experts, political analysts, university dons, journalists and those with the skills like those of Connie Sachs in John le Carre’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” Ideally, therefore, an external intelligence agency should be able to pay its personnel well but be able to hire and fire for non-performance.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Vikram Sood

Former Chief of R&AW.

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