Home Minister P. Chidambaram appropriately chose the occasion of the Intelligence Bureau’s Centenary Endowment Lecture to map out his plan for creating a new architecture for India’s security. Adding to the credibility of his ability to think big on the security front are proposals that rest on sound precepts, addressing concerns specific to India.
The proposed architecture is built on the fulcrum provided by the home ministry, which looks after internal security. It will revolve around the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC), the national apex body dealing with the two most serious threats to national security — cross-border terrorism and Naxalism.The Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) provided by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) would be at the core of the NCTC.
Security is all about tackling the ‘invisible plans and moves of the hidden enemy’, which can be pre-empted only on the basis of prior information. Thus, intelligence is the chief instrument of security. The total intelligence on a particular threat to national security in the possession of different agencies must reach the point from which a nationally coordinated response can be set off. The technology-enabled system must ensure an instant communication of intelligence to the action-taking authorities. Security failures are known to have occurred not only because of failure of ‘information’ but also due to failure of ‘communication’ or ‘action’. Moreover, even as the success of security lies in prevention, it is equally important to have strong post-event response mechanisms such as the National Security Guard, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the NIA.
The proposals take note of the reality that both intelligence agencies and action-taking organisations are spread across several ministries and government wings. The NCTC has to provide a forum where all agencies — civil and military — can place their information relating to a defined threat on the table, to better steer a response. The follow-up may be in the form of mobilisation of the strike forces where the target has been identified but further development of the information for a counter-intelligence operation is required. There’s often an operational gap between intelligence and the strike force that sometimes leads to avoidable collateral damage or police casualties. Thus, Chidambaram has attached much importance to the operational role of the NCTC through the MAC.
It is not clear if Chidambaram envisages a professional of the status of a National Intelligence Adviser (NIA) to preside over the NCTC. At the national level, an NCTC Board or National Intelligence Board may need to be created, where all the intelligence agencies can pool their information on a given threat for a meaningful response. The NCTC provides an arrangement for functional coordination among the agencies and does not necessarily signify any organisational integration, with the Intelligence agencies remaining fully autonomous. The professional who chairs this coordination platform is more of a facilitator than a boss, being required to take the final decision after due deliberations. The NIA will have to have a direct reporting channel to the home minister, the Cabinet Committee on Security and the National Security Adviser.
The NCTC would provide a point of convergence for a much wider orbit of information available in the public domain (through NATGRID), docketed in police records (through the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System), and flowing directly from the citizens, apart from all the intelligence from confidential channels. Today, organised crime is in collaboration with terrorism, and databases with police and information systems pertaining to foreign remittances, immigration and narcotics are all relevant to national security. The NCTC will have to have an analysis division, an operations centre and a state-of-the-art control room to disseminate information to the action-taking nodal points and quick response teams.
In India’s federal system, it is extremely important that local intelligence units and police forces of the states are put to good use in generating ‘intelligence from below’. The NCTC, in the scheme of things defined by the Home Minister, will be supplemented by the subsidiary-MAC in each state capital. This is obviously the backbone of Centre-state coordination on national security.
A beginning, based on Chidambaram’s plan, has to be made quickly but in a manner that allows for a natural evolution from the basic initial framework. Much will depend on the leadership that those put in charge of the new architecture will bring to bear upon their mission and obligations.
D.G. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed by the author are personal.