Author : Wilson John

Issue BriefsPublished on Aug 23, 2023 PDF Download
ballistic missiles,Defense,Doctrine,North Korea,Nuclear,PLA,SLBM,Submarines

Intelligence Agencies in India: Need for a public interface

Today's intelligence agencies operate in highly complex environments. Cold War definitions and understanding of threats have long become redundant. Threats are multiple, layered, networked, diffused and transcend social and spatial boundaries.

Today’s intelligence agencies operate in highly Tcomplex environments. Cold War definitions and understanding of threats have long become redundant. Threats are multiple, layered, networked, diffused and transcend social and spatial boundaries. Traditional distinctions between domestic and global threats have greatly blurred, especially in the case of terrorism. In this sphere, most pressing challenges for any intelligence agency is to counter, contain and interdict stateless violent actors and state-supported violent actors. This has introduced some fundamental changes in the manner in which intelligence is collected, analysed and disseminated, how intelligence agencies operate, collaborate and at the same time protect their strategic and tactical instruments and objectives from any influence and compromise, accidental or otherwise.

Although intelligence agencies in India have been slow to transform, primarily because of bureaucratic inertia, poor leadership and lack of political direction, significant changes have been witnessed in the intelligence community, particularly after the Kargil conflict of 1999, and more recently after the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. In comparison to the past, the intelligence agencies are today much more tech savvy, better staffed, well coordinated and have benefited from cooperation with other international agencies in training, orientation and sharing of intelligence.

But the agencies, particularly the Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysis Wing, have shied away from one of the best practices followed in most of the democratic world’s intelligence community. That is to institutionalise a robust interface between the agencies and the Indian citizen.

This paper argues that intelligence agencies need to interact with the citizens at multiple levels in the overall national interest and there are compelling reasons for doing so, in terms of seeking a public mandate for the activities of intelligence agencies in a democratic system and for introducing transparency in the functioning of the agencies for better accountability, and performance.

At this stage, it is important to define terms like ‘intelligence agencies’ and ‘public’ with more clarity. ‘Intelligence agencies’ here means the Intelligence Bureau (IB) reporting to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) working under the overarching jurisdiction of Cabinet Secretariat. The heads of both the agencies, however, have the right to report directly to the Prime Minister. Both can also be asked to report to the National Security Advisor. The term ‘public’ is more broader in its meaning and includes the people’s representatives, Parliament, academics, business and industry leaders, journalists and other citizens.

A brief look at the overall security/intelligence architecture in India as it exists today could also be relevant to our enquiry. The intelligence architecture rests on four organisational pillars—political, administrative, intelligence and enforcement. The Cabinet Committee on Security headed by the Prime Minister with External Affairs Minister, Home Minister, Finance Minister and Defence Minister as members constitutes the political arch of the system. The National Security Adviser acts as the ex-officio member of the committee. The administrative part comprises the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Cabinet Secretariat. The intelligence wing constitutes of Intelligence Bureau (reporting to the Home Ministry), Research and Analysis Wing (reporting to the Cabinet Secretariat which means to the Prime Minister), Joint Intelligence Committee, National Technical Research Organisation and Aviation Research Centre (reporting to the National Security Advisor) and the National Security Council Secretariat (under the National Security Advisor). The military has its own intelligence units and an overarching body called the Defence Intelligence Agency. Besides, there are several financial intelligence units working under the Finance Ministry. The enforcement is the responsibility of a host of police and para-military organisations.
This paper’s scope, however, is confined to the intelligence agencies and the manner in which they interact with the public, and explore possible ways to enhance this relationship in the overall interest of national security.

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