All over the Western world, till the Second World War, intelligence agencies were viewed and grudgingly accepted as a necessary and unavoidable evil. Nothing more. It was their performance during the Second World War and their contribution to the victory of the Allies against Germany and Japan that brought them recognition as valuable and essential tools to national security management and policy-making. In India, this recognition is yet to come fully despite the noteworthy contribution of the Intelligence Community to the victory over Pakistan in 1971, to the restoration of peace in Mizoram and to the control of terrorism in Punjab.
In the past, national intelligence management was considered a component of national security management. It was believed that any good national security manager could be a good national intelligence manager too and that one did not, therefore, require any special skills and expertise to be a national intelligence manager. National intelligence management studies were treated as part of strategic and defence studies in academic institutions.
However, in recent years, the emerging trend the world over has been to treat national intelligence management studies as a distinct discipline deserving full-time attention. It is understood that the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University has started a Department of Intelligence Studies, openly funded by the CIA, in order to promote a focussed study of this important subject and greater interactions between analysts of intelligence agencies and those from the non-governmental world.
When this writer joined the profession in 1967, intelligence training meant essentially training in tradecraft – techniques of surveillance, means of clandestine communication, raising, handling and debriefing of agents, etc – and area, military and language studies. It continues to be more or less the same in India, the only important additions since then being computer studies and the use of modern technical aids during the training. The training was and even today is meant to make one a good source operator and a copybook style analyst.
Subjects such as techniques of analysis and assessment, retrospective evaluation, reverse analysis (from the perspective of the adversary), anticipative thinking, creative thinking, futuristic projections, scenario-building, the evolution of the principles of national intelligence management in other countries etc. were not taught and are not taught even today. Some taught them to themselves through extra-reading, observations and discussions during opportunities for foreign travel or postings. Many never showed any interest in them and managed to survive, prosper and rise in the profession without the least idea of the winds of change in the profession. Even where the new techniques were known, there was a mental resistance to discard the tried techniques, however archaic they might have become, and adopt innovative ones, however promising they might be. As pointed out by the Hart-Rudman Commission of the US in the second part of its report on National Security During the 21st Century, released in 2000, caution/precaution is an essential component of national security, but the importance of and preoccupation with caution tend to inhibit innovative thinking. This is so in the world of intelligence too.
It took the intelligence professionals of the world decades to accept that:–
- The profession can no longer function from an island of its own creation, totally cut off from the rest of the government and the thinking world;
- Special powers without independent oversight tend to breed irregularities, inefficiency and incompetence;
- The agencies exist for their consumers and that intelligence production has to be related to changing consumer demands and satisfaction;
- Threats don’t remain static and that, consequently, techniques of anticipating and evaluating those threats have to constantly evolve;
- Techniques valid for application against adversary states may not be so against the growing number of non-state actors;
- In their thinking and planning for the future, the professionals have to be constantly many steps ahead of the adversaries, state and non-state;
- To be effective, the professionals have to be not only forward-thinking in order to be able to anticipate what could happen in the future in the short, medium and long-term, but also retrospective-thinking in order to be able to lucidly analyse and understand why the agencies went wrong in their anticipative thinking whenever they do go wrong;
- There is a wealth of knowledge, ideas and analytical power available outside the profession, which needs to be constantly tapped; and
- The agencies have an obligation to convince the public and the tax-payers that the money voted secretly for the intelligence agencies is being used economically and correctly for the national security purpose for which it was voted and that secrecy is not misused to cover up profligacy.
The period since the Second World War has seen the adoption by many intelligence agencies of the world, of new concepts to improve the efficiency, competence, usefulness and credibility of the profession. Deserving mention amongst them are:
- The importance of different agencies, civilian and military, internal and external, working together as an Intelligence Community for a common national purpose.
- The multi-agency approach to deal with issues such as counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, counter-intelligence, etc.
- Identification of agencies which have developed special expertise in any domain and giving them the leadership role in further developing that expertise and using it for national security purposes.
- The usefulness of a national intelligence budget, which gives the policy and law-makers an over-all view of the money being spent for the intelligence domain and enables one and all to eliminate wastages instead of each agency having its own budget without relating it to the budgets of others.
- The need not to lose sight of the continued importance of HUMINT in our enthusiasm for TECHINT.
- The importance of a National Intelligence Adviser to co-ordinate the functioning of all agencies, civilian as well as military, and to ensure that in the preoccupation with day-to-day pressures, long-term thinking and requirements are not neglected.
- The consumers have to be the ultimate judges of the performance of the agencies and, where there are differing perceptions between the producers and the consumers, there is a need for an independent third party evaluation.
- The need for a constant study of changing intelligence requirements and the infrastructure and capabilities required to meet them and to entrust the responsibility for such a task to a National Intelligence Advisory Board, consisting of retired professionals and non-professionals of eminence, discretion and objectivity.
- The need for external oversight and accountability, which could promote efficiency and competence without damaging operational secrecy.
- The importance of intuitive and perceptive analytical capabilities – in-house as well as outside.
It is time our political leadership examines the relevance of these concepts from the Indian perspective and takes action for adopting those considered useful for India. The agencies should have a say in determining what could be useful and workable, but they should not have a veto power in the name of operational secrecy. Nonchalance, smugness and a supercilious attitude that it knows best what is good for the profession and the country used to be the defining characteristics of the profession in all countries. Many of them have in recent years broken themselves free of this negative and unhealthy mindset, either at their own initiative or on constant external prodding. In India too, this mindset has been changing, but slowly.
It is hoped that this book, which is neither a memoir, nor an expose´ nor an exercise in self-projection and sermonising from the safe sanctuary of retirement, would contribute to a better appreciation of the need for new thinking about the profession.