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A new intelligence organisation

Print edition : Mar 16, 2002 T+T-

The country's intelligence apparatus has a new offshoot in the Defence Intelligence Agency, with Lt.Gen. Kamal Davar as its chief.

INDIA'S elephant-like intelligence apparatus has finally stood up and shaken off the dust it had gathered over the decades. Just how long it will take actually to get moving, however, is another question altogether.

On March 5, the Army announced the appointment of Lieutenant-General Kamal Davar as the first Director-General of the new Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), which will collect, interpret and disseminate all defence-related information, whosoever may have first generated it, and also coordinate the directorates of military, air force and naval intelligence. An armoured corps officer who commanded a corps in Jalandhar and then took over as Director-General of Mechanised Forces in mid-2001, Davar saw action in the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971. He has also served in counter-terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir.

In theory, General Davar will head a formidable organisation. While the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) will retain primacy in matters of external intelligence, the DIA will, on the basis of a secret authorisation granted by Prime Minister V.P. Singh in 1990-1991, be able to conduct operations for tactical intelligence coverage in all of Pakistan. It will also be allowed to execute independently what intelligence operatives call "port-to-port" and "airport-to-airport" operations, movement of agents across national borders. The Director-General of Military Intelligence is authorised only to execute intelligence gathering for 5 km across India's borders or from the Line of Control (LoC). Davar will have more power than any military intelligence chief of the past, since he will be the principal military adviser to the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Defence Minister.

The influence of DIA will be felt at the cutting edge of counter-terrorist operations in northeastern India and Jammu and Kashmir, where it will participate in the work of intelligence support groups. These groups will be run jointly with the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) and RAW, to provide coordinated information to Army Corps Commanders in areas where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is imposed. In addition, the DIA will have control over some of the Army's prized technical intelligence assets - the Directorate of Signals Intelligence and the Defence Image Processing and Analysis Centre (DIPAC). While the Signals directorate is responsible for acquiring and decrypting enemy communications, the DIPAC controls India's satellite-based image acquisition capabilities.

Just how important the DIA will be within the military establishment can be gauged by the intense competition that preceded Davar's appointment. Lieutenant-General Arjun Ray, General Officer Commanding of the 14 Corps, the Leh-based formation set up after the Kargil War, was among the aspirants. Davar's appointment led him to put in his papers and announce that he intended to work in the private sector. A high-profile officer who played a key role in managing the Army's media relations during the Kargil War, Ray had threatened to resign last year as well, when it seemed he would lose the race for one of the Army Commanders post. Ministry of Defence officials, however, told Frontline that Ray was "simply too junior" in rank to lead the DIA.

RUSTLING noises can be heard from elsewhere too in the dense undergrowth that houses Indian intelligence agencies. Last month, the I.B. started work towards setting up the top-secret Multi Agency Centre (MAC), which will be in charge of collating and analysing all internal security-related intelligence. The computing capabilities of the MAC would allow it to store not only the vast amount of information that flows in from the I.B's Subsidiary Intelligence Bureaus at the State level, but also inputs from State police forces. The MAC database now being planned would be capable of not just executing simple search operations, but also carrying out complex analytical operations. First a New Delhi-based station will be set up for the MAC, and then four regional stations, which would be able to communicate in real time.

In addition to the MAC, the I.B. is setting up State-level Joint Intelligence Task Forces (JITF). Like the MAC, the JITF infrastructure is the outcome of recommendations made by the Girish Chandra Saxena-led task force on intelligence. The JITF is intended to upgrade the counter-terrorist capabilities of the State police forces and ensure that information available with the I.B. is first disseminated and then acted upon. One particular issue confronting the Bureau was that the State forces often stonewalled politically controversial requests for action. With the JITF structure in place, such evasion should become difficult.

Late in February, the Institute for Advanced Studies put out advertisements calling for the supply of high-power computer hardware. Some analysts believe this equipment is to be used at the MAC when the construction of its central Delhi-based offices is complete. There are, however, key problems with the MAC concept. For one, the Home Ministry has made financial commitments only in principle. Secondly, there is no clear idea of just how the long-term financial needs of the MAC and the JITF would be met. Unless the Home Ministry is actually able to put up cash to upgrade police capabilities in the States, and ensure that State governments use these funds wisely, no amount of intelligence will serve any useful purpose.

Officials in the I.B. face another key technical problem. Unlike the Indian Army, which recruits technical experts directly into its service and also liaises with the private sector for specific needs, the Bureau depends wholly on its internal cadre. Officers often complain that the Bureau's internal technical cadre is simply unable to cope with the new challenges before them. So far the organisation has not even been able to set up a basic in - house database system. Fears of penetration have even led the organisation to forbid Internet connections for staff at its offices. Although the Bureau has a functional communications and telephone interception capability, the next big step forward is certain to be painful unless an organisational culture that is less rigidly hierarchical is allowed to come into being.

BUT the most important problem with these new initiatives is that they come up although the paradigm shifts envisaged by the task forces that conceived them are yet to come into being. Consider the case of the DIA. In one key sense, the organisation that now exists bears little resemblance to that envisaged by the Arun Singh-led task force appointed in May 2000 to review the structure of India's military. The Arun Singh Committee thought that the head of the DIA would report directly to the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). But the whole CDS issue remains bogged down in internecine warfare between Army and Air Force bureaucrats. Instead, Davar will report to Lieutenant-General Pankaj Joshi, the former head of the Central Command, who runs what might be best described as a 'watered down CDS'. Joshi's joint command has responsibility for the still nascent strategic command, which would control India's nuclear arsenal, the sole joint military command at Port Blair, and now the DIA.

Without clear reform in the command structure, the mere existence of the DIA will make little difference. The Group of Ministers Report of March 2001, which accepted the recommendations of the task forces, also revealed a startling unwillingness to take on the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defence. On page 101, the GoM Report called for the CDS to act as the "principal military adviser" to the Defence Minister. Just two pages later, it mandated that the Defence Secretary shall be the "principal defence advisor" to the Defence Minister. What subtle difference is there between "defence" and "military" is left unclear. If the intent of creating the post of the CDS was to cut through the Defence Ministry's legendary bureaucracy or end civil-military wrangling, merely juggling designations is unlikely to address the problem.

In the I.B., the need to ensure professional and independent operational functioning is even greater. The Saxena report had demanded that the organisation be given a charter, of which there is still no sign. Just as important, it had recommended that the Director of the I.B. be freed from having to report to the Union Home Secretary. This, it said, was essential if the Union Ministry of Home Affairs was to stop treating the organisation as an "appendage or subsidiary unit". So far nothing of the kind has happened. Although the I.B. Director does enjoy great independence of action, he simply does not have the authority to compel his Ministry to take the kind of action necessary for upgrading the State police forces which the Saxena report had called for.

Fiddling designations and departments will do nothing to address the real issues facing India's intelligence establishment. Much of the power given to the DIA, for example, already exists with Military Intelligence. Experts say that its communications intelligence capabilities help it to look far deeper into Pakistan than its formal charter mandates. The organisation's budget, according to some experts, exceeds that of RAW and the Bureau put together. But here, as in the case of both RAW and the Bureau, the problem has been that there is no systematic user audit of it. Experts such as former Additional Secretary of RAW B. Raman have for years been calling for meaningful parliamentary oversight. Unless something of the kind does come about, the intelligence elephant's movement forward is likely to resemble closely that of the proverbial tortoise.