The reforms, as and when the discourse reaches the stage of finality, should also focus on the role of the National Security Adviser (NSA) about which there is much confusion today. Is he an intelligence czar or the master co-coordinator or the principal analyst for the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS), the highest policy making body in the country?
A discourse is on in the country on the need for intelligence reforms and its future contours. Think-tanks are busy on the subject. The Vice President spoke about it publicly during a talk at the RAW Hqrs in January last year. An MP is proposing to introduce a private bill in the Lok Sabha on the subject in the near future.
There can be no disagreement anywhere that the quality of intelligence mechanisms and their products need urgently to be upgraded. History establishes that intelligence can be a game changer. As challenges in a rapidly changing geostrategic environment around India keep mounting, the inevitability of having to make difficult choices must be recognized.
The intelligence organisations should be made totally autonomous with regards to operations and internal administration. These organisations have to function unconventionally”¦
The magnitude of the tasks ahead can be best illustrated by a small analogy. We have an aeroplane, engineered decades earlier, to fly at a height of 5000 feet. Now aeroplanes are needed to fly at 20000 feet and more. No amount of technological tinkering with this plane will enable it to reach the requisite heights. An invention of an entirely new machine alone can be the answer. The intelligence organisations of today largely resemble the aeroplane in this example. To fulfill the requirements of a modern day intelligence set-up fundamental changes are called for.
Two major factors stand in obstruction. One is the reigning political and bureaucratic culture. The other is the structure of the intelligence. Both must alter radically if intelligence has to keep its tryst with destiny.
Culture is a phenomenon which takes decades and centuries to evolve and change. It took the French many years after reformation and renaissance in Europe to develop the culture of composite nationalism and agree among themselves to the frontiers of the French nation which today remain the same as established two hundred years ago. France became the first country to become a nation from several states of French people. Therefore to expect that the political and bureaucratic culture will change in the country within a reasonable time will remain a futile dream.
The Foreign Secretary and the Indian Ambassador at Kabul before returning, advised the R&AW to get their team also back to Delhi. But, this team stayed on and kept the Indian flag flying over the Embassy while the MEA staff went home.
However what is within the realm of possibility is to change the structure of intelligence. The CIA provides a good model and its achievements in the field of intelligence are quite inspiring, though it has had its share of failures. Quite often the failures were the result of lack of co-ordination and improper assessments, not production of intelligence.
Without a shot being fired and foreign troops invading, the Soviet Union disintegrated largely because of uncompromising psy-war and other operations of the CIA. In Afghanistan the Talibans were ousted by use of US air power, operating from ships, Diego Garcia and other bases including those in USA, and just 3000 or so number of people from the CIA and special operation groups. No military boots from the West stepped into Afghanistan till after the Taliban had been ousted.
Indian intelligence needs to be established on the same basis, insulating it from political and bureaucratic controls except where policy and objectives are concerned. The intelligence organisations should be made totally autonomous with regards to operations and internal administration. These organisations have to function unconventionally the nature of which the politicians and bureaucrats fail to understand, creating hurdles.
The foundations of the organisations rest on the recruitment and training of the correct individual. They must have total freedom to recruit from wherever they deem necessary on terms which will attract the best talent in the country from the universities, industry, media, specialists in engineering etc. There will always be a huge requirement of R&D within and the cutting edge can be achieved by recruiting the very best. This is how the CIA functions. Internal mechanisms can be developed to root out nepotism and cronyism in recruitment. Apart from the freedom to hire they should also have the liberty to fire. Such a system has produced for the CIA the best band of operational officers in the world.