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Revamping the internal security machinery

February 08, 2010 15:45 IST

India needs to evolve a comprehensive security machinery with clearly laid down concepts, carefully defined leadership roles and a workable co-ordination drill, writes B Raman.

In a detailed interview to Vir Sanghvi, telecast by the CNBC-TV 18 channel, Home Minister P Chidambaram has spoken, inter alia, of how in his view the counter-terrorism machinery of the government of India should work.

Two important points emerge from the interview -- the exclusive responsibility of the home minister to exercise political oversight over the internal security machinery and the limited executive role of the national security adviser in internal security management.

The principle of the exclusive responsibility of the home minister for internal security management had been observed right from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru as the prime minister. The prime minister of the day depended on the home minister for ensuring that internal security was effectively maintained. For this purpose, the home minister had under his administrative and operational control the Intelligence Bureau and the various central police organizations or para-military forces. He also had the responsibility for guiding and coordinating the work of the state police forces.

The line of responsibility for political oversight was very clear with no room for doubt till the assassination of Indira Gandhi in October, 1984. After her assassination, this clear line of responsibility got increasingly diluted or blurred due to various reasons such as the following:

The creation of new agencies for security-related duties such as the Special Protection Group for the security of the incumbent and past prime ministers and their families and the National Security Guards as a special intervention force against terrorism. Rajiv Gandhi, the then prime minister, decided that the SPG and the NSG should work under the political oversight of the prime minister and the operational oversight of the cabinet secretary.

Terrorism assuming international dimensions necessitating co-operation with the counter-terrorism and homeland security agencies of other countries. Diplomacy assumed an important role in counter-terrorism particularly against state sponsors of terrorism. The US created a counter-terrorism division in the State Department to deal with these international and diplomatic dimensions. It continues to function even after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2004. Some other countries followed the US model.

Under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, this international and diplomatic dimension was given greater importance than under the predecessor governments. A number of joint counter-terrorism working groups with different countries came into existence and joint counter-terrorism exercises were organised with interested countries, including the US and China. While the responsibility for the co-ordination of the international and diplomatic dimensions was given to the ministry of external affairs, the ministry of defence exercised the co-ordination responsibilities in respect of joint counter-terrorism exercises.

With terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda and its associates acquiring or attempting to acquire specialised capabilities for what came to be known as catastrophic terrorism such as terrorism involving the use of weapons of mass destruction material, terrorism in the cyber space to disrupt or destroy critical infrastructure, aviation terrorism, maritime terrorism etc, the need for the state acquiring specialised counter-capabilities was realised.

For meeting these needs, the role of the ministry of defence, the armed forces and the various science and technology institutions naturally got enhanced.

The problems we face in India arise from the fact that whereas terrorism has increasingly assumed new dimensions and new frontiers, no attempt has been made to work out a comprehensive approach to deal with terrorism in its classical form, terrorism in its post-9/11 form and likely forms of terrorism of the future as well as with state-sponsors of terrorism such as Pakistan and other states failing to act against terrorism such as Bangladesh.

While the threat posed by terrorism of different hues continues to evolve, our concepts to deal with it has not been keeping pace with the threat.

In working out a comprehensive approach to internal security management in general and counter-terrorism in particular, the NSA has to play an important role as an ideas man, who looks beyond the day-to-day nuts and bolts aspect of counter-terrorism.

Chidambaram is right when he says that the NSA should have little executive role in internal security management. The executive role has to be that of the home minister. However, the NSA has to play an active role in evolving concepts which take into account the international and specialised dimensions of the new terrorism of today. He would also be the right person for coordinating and supervising the evolving machinery to facilitate India taking advantage of the growing international co-operation against terrorism.

The concept of intelligence co-ordination has also been evolving. The role of intelligence in internal security management has many components:

  • Intelligence collection within our frontiers.
  • Trans-border intelligence collection.
  • Intelligence collection in foreign countries.
  • Use of technical gadgets for the collection of intelligence specifically required for internal security management.
  • Use of technical gadgets for the collection of intelligence of relevance to internal as well as external security.

Presently, there is no single ministry or department capable of coordinating all these roles. Is it necessary to create a single nodal point in the Prime Minister's Office to co-ordinate these roles in the form of a NSA? This question has been posed by different analysts from time to time since the Kargil conflict of 1999, but has not been addressed seriously. It is time to address it as part of an exercise to revamp our security machinery -- internal as well as external.

In India, the concept of an intelligence community has not evolved. Similarly, the concept of leadership roles in security-related matters has not received attention. In the US, under the Intelligence Community Act, all agencies are required to function as an organic whole.

There is a consolidated intelligence budget for the community as a whole, which is prepared and got approved by the Congress by the director, national intelligence. After the congressional approval, he makes the individual allocations to different agencies. The leadership role in respect of counter-intelligence is with the FBI, in respect of counter-terrorism with the National Counter-Terrorism Centre, in respect of Homeland Security with the Department of Homeland Security and in respect of covert actions with the CIA. The designated leaders coordinate the follow-up action.

In Israel, the leadership role in respect of internal security is that of Shin Bet, the security agency, in respect of external security that of Mossad, the external intelligence agency, and in respect of trans-border security that of the military intelligence agency. We do not have such clearly-defined leadership roles.

From a perusal of Chidambaram's address of December 23, 2009, to the Intelligence Bureau, and his latest interview, it is apparent that he has been approaching the exercise for the revamping of our security machinery essentially from the point of view of the home ministry.

This is a very important aspect, but it is equally important to give the exercise a larger dimension in order to evolve a comprehensive security machinery with clearly laid down concepts, carefully defined leadership roles and a workable co-ordination drill. In such a larger exercise, the NSA has to play an active role not only as an adviser to the prime minister, but also to the cabinet as a whole in matters relating to national security.

B Raman