Homeland Security

NTRO: India’s Technical Intelligence Agency
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Issue Vol 23.1 Jan-Mar2008 | Date : 22 Sep , 2012

In the Indian Defence Review issue of Oct–Dec 2007, Shri B Raman, wrote an article on Indian Intelligence which I read with great interest—especially since the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) figured in it. At the very outset, let me state that Shri Raman is highly respected in the Intelligence community. I personally also hold him in great regard. It is not my intention to comment on the views expressed by him in the said article. However, I will take the liberty to comment on the issues that he has raised about the NTRO. I take this liberty because I was intimately involved in a number of discussions with the Kargil Review Committee and later the Task Force when the process of making recommendations for the restructuring of the Intelligence apparatus, was in progress. More importantly, I actually raised the NTRO from scratch.

While creating an organisation with multiple responsibilities and a complex charter from scratch, it made no recommendation, and gave no guidance whatsoever as to how such an organisation could be raised. No magic wand was either provided. Was it purposely left vague and ambiguous?

As the process of raising the Task Force got underway, a concerted disinformation campaign was launched by some civilian agencies that may have had reason to feel threatened. At times this campaign tended to become personal. But that is another story. Initially, the disinformation had little impact, but with the change of guard in 2005, it started to have the intended effect. Result: even such eminent people as Shri Raman have accepted most of what was said as the truth. To me this comes as a big disappointment—especially since Shri Raman was one of the authors of the report of the Task Force.

NTRO being a completely new organisation has so far had no voice  and no clout. It has plodded on in the face of intense hostility, getting no sympathy from existing structures. I feel it is time to speak out in an effort to remove the clutter in people’s minds, to put things in perspective, and to put to rest many myths, some of which have found a place in Shri Raman’s article under reference.

The said article has raised the following issues with regard to the NTRO:-

  • NTRO was to focus on the collection of TECHINT and handle all future investments in equipment and collection efforts and that the existing capabilities of IB, R&AW, DGS and MI agencies should not be affected
  • NTRO should focus on Cyber Intelligence and Cyber Counter Intelligence as existing agencies did not have significant capability in that field.
  • In implementation of Task Force re-commendations there were major modifications leading to “bifurcation” of the existing capabilities of the R&AW and DGS.
  • The “bifurcation” resulted in an “emaciated DGS” consequently weakening its TECHINT collection capabilities against China and in the case of RAW, against terrorism.

Before I tackle the issues enumerated above, we need to go back in time to understand why the Kargil Review Committee, and later the Task Force, recommended the raising of the NTRO. Both these bodies did a thorough study of the existing TECHINT capabilities, and concluded, that they needed to be considerably enhanced and restructured, and that reforms in this area should receive the highest priority. A glaring shortcoming noticed in the existing structures was that the agencies controlling TECHINT assets were loath to share information with other consumers in a timely manner— the product being available to only such agencies that owned the collection asset. Thus, timely and vital intelligence was lost to those that needed it the most. It was also observed that the existing TECIHINT capability, as recent events had revealed, was not only inadequate to meet present security concerns, but more importantly, was not in a position to address emerging security concerns, particularly in certain strategic areas such as CYBERINT and the missile environment developing in and beyond our neighbourhood.

Let me assure the reader that the deficiencies that the Task Force noted in the system existing at the time were not imaginary. I should know as I headed the Aviation Research Centre (ARC-DGS) for six years (1997-2003). The fact is that interpreted/finished intelligence products given to the R&AW by the DGS were delayed in transmission to consumers not by days but by months. Matters improved when I took steps to short circuit procedures and make important pieces of intelligence products available to the consumers directly. Efforts to formalise this system by transferring intelligence data directly from the DGS to consumers was scuttled by the R&AW. This is a matter of record.

When it came to implementation of the cabinet decisions taken on the functions of the NTRO, there was massive resistance from existing civilian intelligence agencies—most of it based on illogical reasoning, and not surprisingly, a lack of understanding of what modern technology was capable of achieving.

While on this subject, it is worth recounting that efforts to make available resources of the DGS to sister agencies for carrying out counter terrorism operations not only did not receive encouragement but were cut short. Reason? The credit for the success of a series of operations conducted by the sister agency with the support of the DGS was garnered by that agency with the RAW/DGS not getting a share in the credit—so was it perceived by the R&AW. This too is a matter of record.

Reverting to the subject—what were the recommendations made in the final report of the Task Force on the subject of TECHINT? Based on its discussions with various organisations, it made some significant observations. First, it was of the view that the agencies put too much emphasis on ownership of facilities and assets rather than prompt access to specific classes of information. Second, that all expensive and new facilities should be “owned” by a central organisation to be created for the purpose, and third, that there were distinct advantages of two lines of intelligence reporting, provided, duplication of collection assets was planned and co-ordinated. It then went on to recommend the creation of an agency where “imagery intelligence (IMINT) from all possible sources could be fused with all other forms of TECHINT to paint a more complete operational and strategic intelligence picture of our targets” and that “the NTRO should undertake this task”. Based on the above, the Task Force recommended the setting up of the NTRO with the following charter:

  • Plan, design set up and operate any major new TECHINT  facilities as approved by the Technology Co-ordination Group (TCG), keeping in view the rapid convergence now taking place among hitherto different technologies (as per the Task Force definition, TECHINT comprised COMINT, ELINT, TELINT, MINT and CYBERINT).
  • Examine and process plans for the acquisition of all new facilities/equipment by the intelligence agencies costing more than 3 crores (later 20 crores) for consideration by TCG.
  • Plan and establish modern, secure digital networks connecting the  intelligence agencies in Delhi as well as (where required) outside Delhi, guide and direct development of advanced techniques for CYBERINT,  Cryptanalysis and Cryptography within the country, and develop capabilities for defensive and offensive cyber operations. Create, support and maintain a common data base of requisite information as approved by the TCG so that intelligence can be rapidly disseminated among all concerned agencies according to authorised guidelines and protocols.
  • Explore and establish facilities required for monitoring missile launches, or preparation thereof , in any country of interest.
  • Carry out such other projects or programmes as TCG may direct.

The NTRO was to “acquire and operate” such assets as may be required to fulfill the above.

The charter approved by the CCS for the NTRO was paraphrased, but contained all the responsibilities as per the Task Force recommended charter. Various divisions were created in the NTRO in a way that it could address all aspects of the allotted charter. At no stage of its functioning did NTRO trespass into areas not dictated by the charter. Shri Raman’s accusation that NTRO “started performing some of the tasks which were already being performed by the R&AW and the DGS” is unjust. As a TECHINT agency at a national level, NTRO will setup and operate TECHINT facilities dictated by its charter and there is bound to be some overlap and duplication which as accepted by the Task Force, has its advantages. Moreover, NTRO products will be available real time to all consumers, whereas DGS products are for RAW’s consumption only.

It would be worth mentioning that it is the National Security Agency that provides the bulk of intelligence (through TECHINT) for all of USA’s strategic operations. It was heartening, therefore, that serious thought had been given to the future.

At this stage, let me digress a little. I need to take up cudgels with the Task Force. While creating an organisation with multiple responsibilities and a complex charter from scratch, it made no recommendation, and gave no guidance whatsoever as to how such an organisation could be raised. No magic wand was either provided. Was it purposely left vague and ambiguous? When I put this question to some of the authors of the Task Force report I got no answer except that there were “time constraints”. While recommending the creation of the NTRO, the Task Force did, however, state that “It is not proposed that all the equipment now available with the different agencies necessarily be centralised under the control of this new organisation”. Implication—that while all assets should not be transferred, if necessary some could be. In the entire report, this was the only hint/pointer towards how a beginning could be made.

It was in January 2003 that I was asked to take up the task of setting up the NTRO by the then NSA Shri Brajesh Mishra. His clear direction was to set up the organisation on the lines of the USA’s National Security Agency. It would be worth mentioning that it is the National Security Agency that provides the bulk of intelligence (through TECHINT) for all of USA’s strategic operations. It was heartening, therefore, that serious thought had been given to the future.

Easier said than done. When it came to implementation of the cabinet decisions taken on the functions of the NTRO, there was massive resistance from existing civilian intelligence agencies—most of it based on illogical reasoning, and not surprisingly, a lack of understanding of what modern technology was capable of achieving in terms of real time dissemination of information/ intelligence. The importance of the requirement of a national level agency, whose product could be shared on real time basis by all possible consumers, and not being restricted to the owner of the TECHINT collection assets, was lost on these agencies. Knowledge, information and intelligence is power and why should one want to share such power with others? The emphasis, therefore, was on exclusive ownership of assets for collection of TECHINT rather than the ability to access information/intelligence even in real time from such assets controlled by the central agency.

Coming back to the subject, much has been said about taking away existing assets from various organisations resulting in their “emaciation”. We need, therefore, to see what exactly the NTRO has taken in the form of assets, from where and why. Where the R&AW is concerned, no resource/asset was either sought or transferred. In fact, various requests, both verbal and in writing for officers to be deputed to the NTRO from the R&AW were not given the courtesy of even a response. Let me further add that all TECHINT projects of the R&AW proposed consequent to the establishment of the NTRO were approved by the TCG of which NTRO is a member. That, the NTRO is in some way responsible for impacting on the R&AW’s anti-terrorism capabilities is a figment of  imagination and nothing but a myth.

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About the Author

RS Bedi VrC

RS Bedi, Founding Chairman / Secretary NTRO and former Special Secretary ARC-DGS.

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