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Friday, 12 July 2013

Intelligence Gathering in India: A Long Road.

“Intelligence people bluff a lot. They will say this will happen…that will happen…like August 15, the independence day is nearing so they will say that terrorist attack is likely at Gateway of India, Crawford market or at Bandra…they will target anywhere & every where. Government should insist from these intelligence agencies to deliver actionable intelligence. If you say that a terrorist attack is going to happen then tell us who are going to do it & where are they? Every time some attack happens, these agencies absolve themselves by saying- see we had already warned you.”
These harsh words critical of Indian intelligence agencies are of Mr.Joginder Singh, ex chief of CBI which is India’s premier investigating agency. It was a “Meet the Press” program arranged by Press Club of Mumbai post triple blast in Mumbai in July. The words of this experienced old man point out the sorry state of intelligence gathering sphere which has facilitated terrorist elements to succeed every time in their sinister designs. At the same event Mr.Singh highlighted that one the gravest reasons for intelligence failure in India is the lack of co-ordination amongst various intelligence agencies. Singh remarks- “In our system Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) reports to PM, Intelligence Bureau (IB) reports to Home Minister, Revenue Intelligence reports to Finance Minister & Army Intelligence reports to Defence minister. I say disband all these agencies & make them one with various wings.”

As Joginder Singh left CBI in 1997 almost 13 years before he made the above I statement I wanted to confirm the relevance of his words in present scenario. I took an appointment with Dr.Satyapal Singh presently Mumbai Police commissioner, who was then Additional Director General of Police in Maharashtra state and asked whether he concurs with the view of Mr.Joginder Singh. Dr.Satyapal who was responsible for the maintenance of law and order in the state partly agreed with Singh- “It is true that a strong co-ordination between various intelligence agencies is lacking. Every agency wants to work on its own. However, efforts are being made to harmonize them.  National Technical Research Organization (NTRO), Multi Agency Centre (MAC) and proposed Subsidiary Multi Agency Centre (SMAC) in every state of India are positive steps towards this end. Directorate of National Security keeps on chalking out strategies for effective intelligence gathering.”

The MAC to which Dr.Satyapal referred is an initiative taken by the Home Ministry of Indian government post 26 November 2008 Mumbai attacks for exchanging intelligence inputs among all intelligence agencies including that of states. It is supposed to be nodal centre of all terror related intelligence.

To dig more on intelligence gathering sphere in India I met D.Sivanandhan. After retiring as Director General of Police for the state of Maharashtra, Sivanandhan has been appointed as a member of the Special Task Force (STF) set up by the government of India to revamp internal security. He also holds experience of working as the chief of State Intelligence Department (Maharashtra) and Joint Director of Central Bureau of Investigations (C.B.I). When I asked his take on Joginder Singh’s statement, he said-“I don’t agree with Joginder Singh. Although, after 26 November attacks, intelligence is pouring in like Mumbai monsoons, it is not possible for any agency to provide actionable intelligence. This I am saying considering the fact that most of the terrorist conspiracies are hatched on foreign soils hostile to India. Hence, we just get general alerts.”

Sivanandhan said that several strategies are being adopted in India following the American lines. “Setting up of National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid) and proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) will enrich India’s intelligence gathering system. It will take time for them to become effective, but they will have a positive impact in the long run.”

The proposed NCTC which has become a politically contentious issue will deal as an umbrella body for terror threats in India. Based on the American model the home ministry has prepared a blue print of NCTC and has send it to the Prime Minister’s office for consideration. As per the proposal NCTC will replace  MAC as the nodal agency for terror related intelligence. In fact MAC will then report to NCTC. As per the proposal all agencies responsible for preventing terrorist attacks or respond to terrorist attack when they happen will report to NCTC which will also include National Investigations Agency (NIA), National Security Guards (NSG),  Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF) and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) The NCTC will also have the power to seek information from external intelligence agencies like Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).It will be also supported by Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS) which aims at linking all 14000 police stations across India with a computerized network. The server for CCTNS will be in New Delhi.

Just a week before I met Dr.Satyapal Singh and D.Sivanandhan, an incident happened at Juhu beach of Mumbai’s western coast. A ship MT Pavit which was abandoned by its owner after an accident near Oman on June 29, 2010 kept on floating in Arabian Sea and entered Indian waters around 20 days later. However, the security and intelligence set up which was expected to keep a more strict vigil on sea after 2 major terrorist attacks (12 March 1993 and 26 November 2008) failed to notice the intruding ship in Indian territorial waters. It was only on 31 July, 2011 that coastal authorities were informed of the ship which got stuck at Juhu beach.

The ship not only posed an environmental threat but also exposed the triple layer of coastal security in India. The outermost layer of Indian coastal security is maintained by Indian Navy, the middle level by Coast Guard and the inner most level by state police which is responsible to keep a vigil on the coastline through its coastal police stations and patrol boats. Shockingly, none of these 3 layers detected the unauthorized entry of MT Pavit into their jurisdiction. Fortunately, there were no terrorist on the ship this time, but if such is the level of alertness, then the sea route is still the best bet for terrorist to sneak in India. A large amount of money was spent for coastal security after 26 November 2008 attacks, much discussions and deliberations took place, state of art weapons and motor boats were purchased, fresh strategies were made but a single ship rendered them futile.

Dr. Satyapal Singh, who was also once incharge of 750 kilometers long coastal area of Maharashtra state admitted- “There is no concrete co-ordination between the agencies responsible for coastal security and that is why such incidents happen. After such incidents all the concerned agencies pinpoint each other and nobody takes up the responsibility for the goof up. There is a dire need for a unified body for coastal security which should include personnel from Navy, Coast Guard, Police, Fisheries Department, Shipping Corporation and Maritime Board.”

Another disaster which occurred due to lack of co-ordination between intelligence and investigating agencies dates back to 11 July 2005. A team of Mumbai Police headed by Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Dhananjay Kamlakar arrested a gangster in New Delhi named Vicky Malhotra who was affiliated to Chota Rajan gang. Chota Rajan is a rival and enemy of Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, who is India’s most wanted terrorist and criminal gang leader. Vicky Malhotra was an important henchman of Chota Rajan and had number of cases of extortion and murders registered against him. Mumbai Police patted its back on Vicky’s arrest. However, this “big catch” of Mumbai police turned out to be a disaster for intelligence agencies that were fetching inputs on Dawood so that he could be eliminated at the place where he was hiding. Vicky Malhotra’s arrest sabotaged “Operation Dawood” of the agencies. Very soon it was revealed that at the time of his arrest by Mumbai Police at Panchsheel Marg in New Delhi, Vicky Malhotra was with a former chief of Intelligence Bureau (IB) who although officially retired from the service was playing an active role in pursuit of Dawood. Vicky Malhotra being from the rival gang had enough dope for Intelligence Bureau against Dawood so that he could be traced and eliminated in Pakistan. Mumbai Police team which arrested Vicky Malhotra neither informed their New Delhi counterparts nor the Intelligence Bureau before picking up Malhotra. Intelligence Bureau which was attempting to gain advantage from Dawood Ibrahim-Chota Rajan enmity got a major setback due to this lack of co-ordination.
Now let us see what system of co-ordination US intelligence gathering agencies have adopted to create a strong umbrella of intelligence sharing on terrorism & compare them with Indian ones.

Joint Terror Task Forces (JTTF) & Anti Terrorist Squads (ATS).
In recent years most states in India have come up with Anti Terrorist Squads (ATS), who are primarily responsible to investigate cases of terror attacks in their respective jurisdiction. Most of the staffers of ATS are armed police man acquired from various other units of state police. Most of the middle rank & lower rank members of ATS have little training & experience of dealing with terror attack cases. Before joining ATS majority of staffers were involved in street policing either doing patrolling duties, over seeing public gatherings, escorting politicians, verifying passport applications, or investigating general crime cases. Like ATS in India, similar anti terror teams have been set up across US also and have been named as Joint Terror Task Force (JTTF). However, unlike Indian ATS, the JTTF is not staffed just with policemen. A JTTF comprises of officials from FBI, the state police, Customs & Border Patrol, Transport Security Administration (TSA) & other federal and state agencies. JTTFs were set up basically on the new intelligence policy of US which shifted from “Need to know” to “Need to share.”  It means any intelligence input received on a terrorist conspiracy is shared by all the law enforcement, intelligence and investigating agencies. FBI has set up JTTF with all 50 states of USA.

During the reception at American Consulate in Mumbai to welcome DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, I had an elaborate discussion with Mr.V.Balachandran, who was part of the enquiry committee set up by Maharashtra state government post 26-11 attacks and has been special secretary to the cabinet. He noticed “India is vulnerable to terrorist attacks as our interior security arrangements are dysfunctional. The union government is not empowered by law to play a strategic role in internal security. All it can do is to provide additional forces, while the inefficient, understaffed state police forces have to deal with all the challenges of internal security ranging from maintenance of law and order to terrorism. This is happening because India is following Government of India Act, 1935, a law made by British rulers which lists public order and police as the responsibility of the states.”

As per Balachandran the US systems of JTTF is a remarkable formula of sharing intelligence & translate the intelligence inputs received into action swiftly when required. He observed, “After 9-11 attacks it was realized by the US that co-ordination amongst its various agencies was lacking & most of the intelligence agencies were collecting intelligence in parallel manner. Hence, it multiplied the system of JTTF which already existed with New York Police & FBI. At present there are around 100 JTTFs staffed with personnel from various intelligence & investigating agencies & local police forces.”  

Comaparing JTTF with Indian system of ATS, I asked D.Sivanandhan whether it will be prudent to continue with such squads. Sivanandhan emphasized, “ATS as a specialized unit is a must, but it should be a thin lean machine. By this I mean that it should be technology oriented organization with superior talent. While recruiting staff for ATS we should think out of the box and have flexible policy and non-governmental approach. Not only the best officers from state police should be brought in to ATS, but also academicians, journalists, cyber experts, hackers and any professional who could play effective role in counter terrorism should be also recruited. We should accept outsourced talent.”

A comparison of F.B.I with CBI and NIA.
The mission statement of F.B.I reads-“As a threat based and intelligence driven national security organization, the mission of F.B.I is to protect and defend the United States against terrorism and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and to provide leadership and criminal justice to federal, state and municipal, and international agencies and partners.”

These words enunciate the priorities of FBI making it responsible for protecting the country against terrorist attacks and also from various other crimes. This federal law enforcement agency which was established in 1908 is now staffed with more than 35000 employees. FBI has around 14000 special agents and more than 21000 support professionals like intelligence analysts, linguistic experts, information technology experts, scientists and others. Headquartered in Washington, DC FBI has 56 field offices throughout US and 400 secondary offices know as resident agencies in various towns and cities. It has 60 international offices known as “Legal Attaches” in US consulates throughout the globe. The total budget it received from the government treasury was $ 7.9 billion for the year 2011. Today FBI is having jurisdiction over violations of 200 categories of federal laws.

Apart from heavy strength of quality staff, national and international presence and adequate funds what makes FBI an effective instrument for countering terrorism is its inbuilt intelligence gathering mechanism. In December 2001 an Office of Intelligence (OI) was created within FBI’s counter terrorism division. Setting up of OI significantly enhanced FBI’s counter terrorism operations. Later in 2005 Directorate of Intelligence (DOI) was set up. DOI handles all FBI’s intelligence activities and works with all bureau offices, ensuring that intelligence is set in every investigative program and field office.

FBI has learnt a lot since its investigation PENTTBOM of 2001.”PENTTBOM” stands for Pentagon, Twin Towers Bombings. The PENTTBOM investigation was not only the biggest professional challenge for FBI but also it led to numerous counter terrorism initiatives and strengthening of FBI.

Just like the US modified and strengthened FBI post 9-11, India too came up with a new investigative agency after 26/11 Mumbai attacks which has few features common to FBI. The new Indian agency has been named as National Investigation Agency (NIA). After Mumbai attacks a need for centralized investigative agency was felt. NIA has a parallel jurisdiction of investigating cases of terrorist attacks, hijacking of planes and ships, attacks on the sovereignty and integrity of India and so on. Although, administration of law and order are the subject of state governments, legal arrangement have been made so that they assist NIA in the investigations of terror related cases. Existence of NIA will not hamper power of states to conduct their investigations and prosecute suspects in terror related offences. Staff for NIA is acquired from existing central government organizations and officers deputed from state police forces.

Before setting up of NIA, Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) held the responsibilities now assigned to NIA. CBI is the premier investigative agency of India which reports to the Prime Minister’s Office through a Union state minister. CBI investigated terror related cases under its Special Crimes Division with other two divisions being anti corruption and economic crimes. Those cases having international or interstate ramifications are investigated by CBI. It also investigates high profile cases on the requests by state governments. CBI is also India’s nodal agency for Interpol.

CBI’s role in terror investigations was widely publicized in serial bombing’s case of Mumbai on 12 March 1993. After taking over the initial investigations from Mumbai Police, CBI pursued the case. Arrest of Yakoob Memon’s family and arrest of gangster Abu Salem after a legal battle in Portugal were some of the significant events after CBI took over the case.

With CBI holding such powers, experience and jurisdiction to investigate terror related cases, it is being questioned whether there was any need to establish NIA? If we compare NIA with FBI as a counter terror agency, the former appears to be frail.
  • NIA does not have a strong network of field offices in major cities and towns like FBI.
  • NIA has no independent intelligence gathering set up. It can only investigate a case of terrorist attack, but cannot prevent a terrorist attack.
  • CBI is the nodal agency for Interpol and not NIA. In a scenario when most of the terrorist attacks on India are planned, funded and manned on foreign soils, NIA should have been designated as the agency to interact with international law enforcement agencies.
  • Some of the basic roles of CBI and NIA seem to be overlapping. Instead of strengthening an understaffed CBI, the decision to launch a new agency seems to be a knee jerk decision of the government after Mumbai attacks.
  • Since its formation NIA has failed to establish its presence. After NIA was formed German Bakery blast of Pune, Varanasi blast and Mumbai triple blasts have happened, but NIA has not played any noteworthy role in their investigations.

D.Sivanandhan who has spent several years of his career in CBI says-“NIA is in a nascent stage and will take time to become fully active. It should have an intelligence gathering wing and field offices like FBI in cities like Mumbai. NIA in its present form cannot be compared with FBI.”

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