The sight of the Twin Towers crashing down brought home to the Americans that even their awesome intelligence apparatus could fail disastrously.
Eight years later, the US has been able to ward off another attack on its soil. But alarmingly, we in India do not seem to have learnt how crucial intelligence is to guard against the sort of threats to which we have time and again been victims.
Which makes the situation in India’s external intelligence-gathering agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), all the more alarming. All seven of its additional secretaries, who function as operational heads of crucial departments, have gone on protest leave over supersession issues. What the unprecedented act means is that the men who handle sensitive intelligence are sitting at home because the authorities who deal with top level personnel matters did not anticipate the fallout of bringing in an outsider to oversee their functioning.
The agency, which has its own R&AW Allied Services (RAS) cadre, with separate service rules, to which it draws personnel and professionals from the Indian Police Service and other agencies, including the armed forces, has been troubled by personnel problems for some years, culminating in this stand-off.
The subsequent demoralisation of its senior-level personnel will further undermine the agency and can only add to chances of it slipping up on crucial intelligence that could hold the difference between life and death for many of our citizens. We know the price we paid for the intelligence failure in Kargil, the humiliation of the Kandahar episode, the brazen attack on Parliament, the coordinated attacks on suburban trains and, the horrific 26/11 carnage in Mumbai.
While Home Minister P Chidambaram is in the United States to discuss best practices in intelligence-sharing and to sensitise the administration there on Pakistan’s failure to deliver on its commitments particularly post-26/11, the government would do well to begin setting its own house in order.
In the end, it’s clear that we will primarily have to rely on ourselves to protect the country. For this, we need our intelligence outfits up and running effectively.