Separate intelligence gathering from policymaking: M.K. Narayanan

Published : October 19, 2019 12:54 IST

M.K. Narayanan, former NSA. A file picture. Photo: K. Pichumani

Just over two decades after the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) was created in India, former top intelligence officers assessed the efficacy of the office and concluded that there was a need to look again at the system in view of the current challenges and the security environment.

“Merely because India has a system like a national security council, a national security adviser, the process of better intelligence or better informing the political leadership has not happened. And therefore is it relevant to look at the system again. We have the Director of Intelligence Bureau (DIB) providing intelligence. It is communicated in various ways to the leadership. We now have several channels of communication,” said former DIB M.K. Narayanan, who later served as NSA to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “When I was DIB, there was no NSA and we had direct access to the Prime Minister. Subsequently, many intervening channels were added. Has the assessment of intelligence improved as a result of this? Has the political leadership understood this better or not?” he asked, chairing a session on “reimagining intelligence”, at the Synergia Conclave – 2019 on “The Future of Security: Beyond the Curve”, organized by the Bengaluru-based Synergia Foundation.

Answering his question, another former DIB, Rajiv Jain, said the intelligence that the I.B. had on the ground no one else had. “The kind of direct touch that we have with reality, no one else has. All the other layers [of intelligence-related organisations in India] are based on the inputs that we give. We are closer to the ground. To that extent, our turf is not lost,” he said.

On the question of the presence of an NSA and the subsequent gains to the system, he was of the opinion that there was improvement in many areas: “It has improved. In the earlier system, I.B. was the premier domestic intelligence agency, it no longer is. Now, there are other agencies also. The NSA’s office helps in the coordination on that. Also, as opposed to the past, there is far more international cooperation. There is far more interaction with policy-makers. The NSA’s office is a crucial instrument which helps us coordinate,” he said.

The former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external intelligence agency, Hormis Tharakan, was of the opinion that there was clear need for one intelligence head for India. “We need an institution like the original DIB before the bifurcation [to RAW and I.B.], who had access to all sources of intelligence producers and analysts. I think the NSA, especially in our country, has many roles,” he said.

Recalling the days when Narayanan was the NSA, Hormis Tharakan pointed out that a good deal of his time was devoted to the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal. “That is natural. But what I am saying is that the country needs someone like the old DIB who focussed entirely on intelligence and who had access to the entire intelligence community and who did not have to bother about too many others things,” he added.

Uzi Arad, former NSA of Israel, emphasised the need for institutions such as the national intelligence officer, a national security council and an intelligence organisation and community at large. “The NSC is assuring the integration of policy and decision-making…. The NSC does integrate policy but it is the duty of the NSC in Israel to make sure that the voice of intelligence be heard,” said Arad, who headed Mossad before his time as the NSA.

Narayanan, who had written six of the original papers ahead of the setting up of the NSA and the NSC, said the job of the current DIB was much more complex than during the time he had handled it because of the newer challenges. “Unfortunately, when the final version of the NSA/NSC paper came out, they integrated the NSA with [the office of] the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister. Policy and intelligence became integrated,” he said.

As a result of this, the NSA assumed a tremendous role. “From an intelligence point of view this reduces the interaction which, I think, the political leadership needs directly from the DIB, the Secretary to RAW and the heads of some of the other agencies…. I was the NSA. So, I can say that sometimes you end up taking your views to the Prime Minister overriding the views of the heads of intelligence. We need to separate intelligence gathering from policymaking,” he added.

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