The Dismal State Of India’s Intelligence Agencies

Posted on November 16, 2012 in Specials

By Dishank Purohit:

In the year 1962 IB failed completely to anticipate Chinese aggression and outcome was a bitter and humiliating defeat in Himalayan Valley. Three years later, in 1965 Indian intelligence agencies were caught unaware of Pakistan’s operation Gibraltar. These two repeated incidents in less than five years, forced Indian political establishment to brood over a crucial question, whether Indian intelligence framework immediately needs a paradigm shift?

IB (Intelligence bureau) was a mammoth organization, which until 1967 was solely responsible for Intelligence collection- both in and outside of India. One of the elite members of this bureau was an upright officer called Rameshwar Nath Kao, or simply called “ KAO”. So when in year 1968 India needed its own “company” (referred to the CIA), Indira Gandhi handed over this painstaking task to Mr. R.N Kao, who, like herself was a Kashmiri Pandit, a Gandhi family loyalist he was personally responsible for Nehru’s security.

R.N. Kao along with his deputy, successfully bifurcated the IB into two different organizations, after 1968 I.B remained a bureau- tasked with surveillance, wiretapping & intelligence inputs within India,whereas Research and analysis wing R&AW ( a name which Kao himself detested) became an “agency” responsible for external intelligence collection and covert operations. Writing in The Hindu veteran journalist Mr Inder Malhotra wrote “Kao built up RAW from scratch and nurtured it for nine years. The organisation bore the stamp of his suave, self-effacing and superbly dedicated personality to a degree that RAW’s eager beavers soon began to be called “Kaoboys”.

Just three years after its formation, the newly born intelligence agency was asked to assist all three services then engaged in Bangladesh liberation war, soon Kao dispatched his best “Research officers” to eastern frontier operations. According to Mr Malhotra “RAW’s intelligence was so thorough that the Indian Air Force could do precision-bombing of the room in which the East Pakistan Cabinet was in session. Naval commandos were able to blow every single Pakistani ship in the Chittagong harbour

No doubt, over the years Intelligence agencies helped India fulfilling its high rising strategic aspirations, and it proved its worth time and again .But there are some serious questions being raised over the Intelligence network of India, it’s capacity to generate timely and actionable information ,and hence avert the fatal and tragic loss of Indian lives . The series of bomb blasts carried out in different cities during 2008 rocked the whole of the nation, it tarnished India’s international image with the statics like India being the second only country after Iraq to have lost human lives in terrorist attacks in that year.

On 26 July 1999, four brilliant Journalists Ranjit Bhushan , Murali Krishnan , Nitin Gokhale , and Ajith Pillai did a cover story for The Outlook titled “Kargil , Post mortem” . While it encapsulated the myriads of other blunders committed prior and during the operation, one most startling revelation was about the state of intelligence. According to the article “Intelligence officials claim that the raw desk in Islamabad did not even read the local Urdu newspapers, which had been printing details of Pakistani ‘victories’ in the Kargil sector since this March. ‘All they had to do was to just sit in their room and follow the newspapers. Their job would have been done,’ says an official.”

If the above information went unheard and unseen, equally troublesome was the state of  ‘field officers’ (agents) posted abroad. Article pointed out one particular case of utter recklessness in Brussels , according to it “a Pakistani defence team was on a visit to Brussels, a traditional arms market for dealers and buyers. Their purpose: a snap purchase of 50,000 snow boots. By the time the raw man woke up, the boots had disappeared. One basic raw charter had been ignored, according to which a man posted in his station had to look out for any Pakistani delegation ,never mind if it’s a sports delegation and make inquiries through sources. ‘Either the raw man did not have sources or was not alert enough,’ says a source.

Only if these mistakes were rotted out in time, 413 valuable lives of young boys commissioned in Indian army could have been saved, the Indian army no doubt gave its best responses to the crisis even if it had to pay a heavy price for glorious victory. Although Intel agencies did intercept a long and uninterrupted conversation between Gen. Musharraf and his deputy , hence robbing of Pakistan any reasonable defence regarding Pak’s involvement in Kargil ,and that in the cloak of Mujahideen were actually Pakistani army’s regular soldiers.

In the year 2008 sleeping cells were reactive again, small outfits wreck havoc in Jaipur, Delhi, Ahmadabad, Bangalore , but worst of all was Mumbai attack where a few fidayeens paddle a boat through Arabian Sea and invade the maximum city, Mumbai police did put a courageous resistance, even if it was outnumbered in weapons and tactics.

Post Mumbai scrutiny made IB and RAW international laughing stock, according to the Newsweek “The external-oriented Research and Analysis Wing and the domestic-focused Intelligence Bureau (IB), have long been at odds. As a result, critical information on various terrorist groups has not been shared in a routine, seamless and timely fashion” the fact that there exists an inter departmental rivalry between different agencies for maximum credit seeking is well known , Mumbai attack merely reinforced this fatal flaws in intelligence sharing and gathering .To substantiate this, Rand organization, a US based think tank of great repute particularly lambasted the RAW , the voluminous report accentuates that “Although the Raw known to have intercepted “chatter” about a possible LeT seaborne attack on Mumbai, it is not clear whether the Mumbai police (or the Indian coast guard) received the information. At any rate, they did not act upon it.” That means that even if R&AW had a prior Intel on attack, it did not go further into the information.

The rivalry that exists among different agencies is very wide , reason is typical Indian “babu bureaucracy” that is to say, who would takes the maximum credit. In an interview with Tehlka magazine former deputy chief of RAW’s Technical services Maj Gen V.K Singh gives a gist of how much these organizations trust each other. Maj. Gen Singh told magazine, “The rivalry is to the extent that once on a Srinagar hilltop, I counted almost a dozen antennae, each belonging to a different agency or paramilitary forces. And all of them were intercepting the same radio transmissions from across the border or from militant groups. In most cases, the intercepts were finally going to the same consumer,”

The decades of neglect , almost zero accountability , short and under-trained staff, poor recruiting and low morale amongst officers that exist in IB and RAW has shrinked the organizations and their capacities. According to Ajai Sahni , the foremost security expert, I-B has less than 5,000 of field agents to gather sufficient ground information from the population of 1.2 billion.

Things at RAW are much more ironic. According to a report published in The Hindu, RAW’s own CIS (Counter intelligence Services) has found that “officers with known records of alcohol abuse, dubious financial dealings and sexual misconduct had been sent on sensitive assignments.” Praveen Swami a senior journalist with the Hindu and the Frontline , points out that “RAW’s presence in West and Central Asia, as well as in Afghanistan, has been severely restricted by the lack of officers with language skills and regional knowledge. Its deficiencies in Pakistani languages such as Pashto were brutally exposed during the Kargil war. Similar problems have beset its China and East Asia operations. Poor planning and administration have also worked to ensure that RAW lags behind covert services elsewhere in the world.”

If this is not a reason enough to lament , there has been several penetrations from CIA and other agencies, there has been inside traitors or the double agents, most famous perhaps, Rabinder Singh who after surveillance set up by RAW’s bosses turned out to be a CIA mole and was photocopying secret document, even with all this -he successfully fled to US via Nepal.

Unlike Mossad , CIA or MI6 , R&AW has a pathetic hiring policy ,officers from Indian police service , and Indian army constitutes the large part of the Agency’s staff, they undergo a training period after which they are posted to different operations, they can return to their parental services whenever they wish to; hence making it an “Aya ram gaya ram” like cadre.

Even with all these miseries RAW still remains a capable organization, but with some reforms it can become a brilliant , cutting edge intelligence agency , it has accomplished some of the most difficult tasks assigned to it , and internationally it has built a reputation of itself for being an agency which keeps itself low profile, off the radar and yet successfully pursues its covert operations. Bob Woodward in his bestseller book “Bush at War” refers to a conversation which shows the strength of agency’s surveillance – “We’ve got another threat on the White House,” the chief of staff said. We’re taking it seriously.The CIA had just sent over a warning from the Indian intelligence service saying that Pakistani jihadists were planning an imminent attack on the White House.”

In past it successfully punctured Khalistan ISI nexus by carrying out low intensity bombings in Karachi and Lahore, which in turn forced ISI chief to meet his Indian counterpart in Jordan -RAW agreed not to further create any mayhem in Pakistan -only if ISI ceases its assistance to Khalistan movement.

A robust and credible Intelligence services is prerequisite , not only in counter-terrorism, but to also understand neighbourhood better, and further one’s own interest in a hostile region like ours. India needs to keep itself with changing realities of world. And to do all that , initiative can only be taken up by the political leadership, alas for the time being there is no such revamp plans afoot.