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Last updated: 09 Apr, 2023  

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D.C.Pathak | 09 Apr, 2023
In the emerging geo-political security scenario and India's internal security situation - marked by the rise of 'covert' attacks of the adversary not so much the fear of an open military offensive - we need Intelligence that embraced a much wider ground not confined to just reporting on the specifics of any one particular threat to national security. Intelligence is now expected to indicate what would be the best possible response to the security spectrum as a whole.

Correspondingly, the outreach of Intelligence agencies also had to extend to areas hitherto not in the reckoning such as the use of the instrumentalities of social media and cyberspace by the adversary to launch an 'information warfare', efforts to induct civil society forums to build anti-India narratives, plans of the enemy to inflict damage to the economy, newer ways invented by the enemy for recruitment of terrorists and clandestine transfer of arms and narcotics to the targeted country.

India's Intelligence set-up has rapidly risen to meet the new challenges but its organisational expansion, manpower deployment strategy and above all the assimilation by the Agencies of what was earlier called Technical Intelligence in a generic sense, have now received new-found importance. This transformation should be considered a work in progress. In essence, Intelligence is going to be involved far more than before, in the government's search for solutions and policy responses in any given situation.

Foreign policy is a product of national security and economic concerns and international relations being caught in a web of open and secretive bilateral or multilateral bonds, determination of friends and adversaries itself has to rest on comprehensive Intelligence.

Diplomacy now is more of an effective implementor of intelligence-based decisions though it still remained a major source of inputs for the framing of foreign policy itself. Liaison at the level of National Security Advisors is at present the most authentic substratum for bilateral and even multi-lateral friendships because security concerns often override other matters like economic development and trade and cooperation on the environment.

In the post-Cold War era, the world has evidently switched over to proxy wars and covert trans-border operations - India happens to be a prime example of a country that was at the receiving end of both.

Incidentally, Russia started a military operation in eastern parts of Ukraine in February last year - without declaring 'war' - and significantly the US-led West also intervened by way of supporting Ukraine with arms and ammunition in a proxy mode.

The result is a war of attrition in which no side is a winner at the end of a year of armed conflict. This has produced global repercussions and the most serious of these is the likelihood of the revival of a new Cold War between the US on one hand and the Russia-China axis, on the other.

India has the distinction of having emerged as possibly the only acceptable mediator - thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's unbiased approach to this conflict and the call he made upfront for cessation of hostilities - but this is also the moment for India to have a comprehensive Intelligence assessment of the thinking of other major powers on the Ukraine-Russia conflict and a host of other international problems.

The Ukraine-Russia military confrontation had a local setting - ongoing grievances between the two neighbours erupted after a period of unresolved bilateral problems- and the world should have called for peaceful coexistence between them untainted by whatever had happened during the Cold War.

India caught global attention precisely because it raised a sane voice. China has tried to strengthen its geopolitical standing by offering to take up the question of the Ukraine-Russia conflict with the warring sides. Intelligence is needed to track international opinion and monitor the domestic politics on India's stand on Russia's handling of the conflict with Ukraine.

It so happens that in the Indian context, the proxy war dimensions of the operations of adversaries particularly the Pak-China combination have assumed serious dimensions requiring a far greater Intelligence generation across many new areas of security concern.

Pakistan is trying to accentuate the communal divide in India by announcing that it had a right to take interest in the Muslim minority here since the latter was part of Ummah spread across the world and alleging that Muslims were feeling unprotected in the Modi regime.

Both Pakistan and China were instigating anti-India lobbies working within the country and outside, particularly in Kashmir and alleging that human rights and freedom of expression were being curbed under the 'authoritarian' rule of Prime Minister Modi.

Pak ISI's hand in the current campaign to revive the Khalistan movement in Punjab is quite clear. The sources behind the propaganda offensive against India have to be unearthed by Intelligence so that they could be countered through operational, diplomatic and legal means.

The ascendancy of the phenomenon of civil society and intellectual forums indulging in 'politics by proxy' is a new development requiring newer methods of Intelligence gathering but with a stricter demand for the reliability of the information.

The proxy offensives of the adversaries make it important that Intelligence agencies had very close coordination with the Narcotics Control Bureau, NIA and investigators of economic offences - since these latter entities could run into information that might have a direct bearing on national security.

The role of Intelligence in helping the government to formulate comprehensive action, embracing more than one area of governance, has become far more pronounced because of the diffused nature of threats owing to the clandestine working of the adversary in various spheres. There is a demand for the gap between information and action to be further reduced and it is therefore expected that Intelligence would be as comprehensive as possible to enable the government to decipher where all it had to show a quick response to deal with the problem.

It may be mentioned that the hallmark of good Intelligence always was that the course of action suggested itself to the authority receiving it.

The exchange of information between friendly countries is today as important as the production of Intelligence by our own agencies. At one level the rise of global terror and radicalisation is a threat to the entire democratic world - the geopolitical scene on the other hand is encouraging countries to seek their own interests regardless of the different systems of governance followed by them.

The all-weather friendship of China with Pakistan, the tussle between the Saudi-led fundamentalist regimes and the protagonists of radical Islam and the advocacy of Brexit by Donald Trump, the then-Republican President of the US, illustrate this.

India rightly favours multi-polarity in the world to minimise among other things, the prospect of another Cold War cramping the economic development of countries that chose to remain non-aligned towards either block. We have to be well-informed about the moves of both adversaries and friends to adopt the correct strategy of national security and this has to happen in an ongoing manner since world players might not be sticking to a policy at all times.

National interests are permanent not the policies and in a situation of change - geopolitical and world economy related - course correction determined by Intelligence would not be infrequent. This adds to the demand on Intelligence agencies. The latter would also need to use an organisational perch that could be secured beyond the agencies.

It is said that after Warren Christopher, President Bill Clinton's Secretary of State, propounded in 1993 that ' national security was inseparable from economic security' corporate America was given the benefit of access to the 'country reports' drawn up for the administration by CIA, for enhancing the former's knowledge of various geographies.

In turn, the American corporate entities reportedly helped the Agency to extend its outreach outside of the US. The quantum of information of interest required by a nation has multiplied and so has the importance of competent analysis of all the available facts for garnering Intelligence out of the same.

Today's Intelligence Officer is a professional of many parts- he can track international relations, make good use of open interactions and perform equally well on the desk as well as in operations.

If the Intelligence agencies are facing a new situation it is also clear that the recruitment, staffing pattern and placement policy would also have to be innovative and dynamic. Subject and area expertise, technology professionalism and the trait of being information savvy are the basic requirements of an Intelligence organisation.

The old scheme of a special selection of IPS officers for long-term deputation needs to be revived and so should the practise of inter-agency exchange of experienced officers between IB and R&AW, particularly because in the Indian context external and internal threats to security often have a 'cause and effect' link.

The traditional tradecraft of recruiting human sources will always be important but the research and analysis function is becoming increasingly important to track the ways and modus operandi of the unseen adversary.

A determined follow-up by an agency that first noticed signs of suspicion about an individual or activity is necessary even after it had passed on the information to another organisation directly concerned with that matter.

This new discipline of the pursuit of information by an agency originally receiving it was crucial to the overall success of Intelligence. There have been cases of an agency which received information that pertained to another agency subject-wise, merely passing that on to the latter without following it up with the original source and in the process failing to collect fuller details on its own to the detriment of larger national interest.

Finally, it is important that all members of an Intelligence agency must be willing to choose anonymity of working, must be imbued with the pride of devotion to a national cause and must remember that 'information does not find you, you have to find information'. The training regimen has to be expanded to include knowledge of what real operations produced for learning so that the new officers remained updated on tradecraft. In-house discussions on the security scenario within the bounds of 'need to know', will help since two heads are better than one.

Similarly, on top of the shelf, today is the threat of cyber attacks and the Intelligence set up therefore has to deploy all its resources - including a combination of human analysis and technological expertise - to deal with the same. Hacking is something detected only after the event but the Intelligence effort certainly can zero - in on possible points of vulnerability and work out technological solutions for strengthening cyber security.

The National Cyber Security Policy of India rightly emphasises the importance of Public Private Partnerships for cyber research through Centres of Excellence. This signifies the universal trend that Intelligence set up was having to explore newer channels for enhancing its outreach.

(The writer is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Views expressed are personal)
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