Seeing behind the wall

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The best of superstructures will be rendered ineffective if the intelligence inputs are below par and the response mechanism flawed

Vikram Sood

IT TOOK the US less than three years after the Twin Tower attacks in September 2001 to get its National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) up and running. It took us 17 years to set up a similar centre after our first major internationally organised terror attack in Mumbai in March 1993. During this time, we suffered a number of highprofile terror attacks. We established another agency as we always do after every crisis. After Kargil we established a Multi Agency Centre as recommended by the GC Saxena Intelligence Task Force. This failed to deliver because like all things Indian, the concept was wonderful but the implementation was flawed. It ended up merely as another office of the Intelligence Bureau.

The urgency to do something was apparent after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Like the 2001 US attacks, Mumbai 26/11 was about “us”. We hurriedly established the National Investigation Agency in order perhaps to be seen to be doing something although this organisation was in no way going to stop terrorist attacks. Now that there is talk that an Indian version of the counter terrorism centre is on the anvil, many wonder what shape it would take.

There are two aspects that it must not attempt. One, aspire to become a super-intelligence organisation and following from this, take over the operational aspects of intelligence organisations. Intelligence agencies have far wider briefs than only ensuring national security arising from terrorist threats. What it must, however, do is to coordinate, evaluate and analyse all intelligence reports that relate to terrorism. The National Counter Terrorism Centre must then decide on a course of action and then task the intelligence agency or any special forces that are available for whatever action is necessary to abort the terrorist mission. Intelligence agencies must not become a part or even subordinate to the counter terrorism centre. They would function best in their existing role with greater coordination (not the easiest of tasks, admittedly) at the counter terrorism centre.

Issues of coordination, ego battles and turf wars will always remain

The US NCTC, for instance, integrates all foreign and domestic analysis to produce detailed assessments designed to support senior policymakers and other members of the policy, intelligence (signals, technical and electronic intelligence), law enforcement, defence, homeland security and foreign affairs communities. These include items for the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) and the daily National Terrorism Bulletin (NTB). Besides this, the US counter terrorism centre is required to conduct strategic operational planning for counter-terrorism activities, integrate all instruments of national power, including diplomatic, financial, military, intelligence, and law enforcement to ensure unity of effort. This is a tough task and sounds difficult even in theory.

Despite the best of regulations, problems of coordination, managing ego battles and struggles for turf will always remain. It would thus be left to the genius of leadership to handle these. The best of superstructures will be rendered ineffective if the intelligence inputs are below par and the response mechanism from detection, pre-emption, prevention and destruction are flawed. Sound intelligence is a powerful tool in the hands of decision makers but they must also understand that there are limitations. It cannot predict the future with certainty but can, with experience and understanding of the subject, provide the ability to see behind the wall. In the case of terrorism, where the enemy is invisible and unpredictable, this is the most difficult task.

The NCTC should be located institutionally in the system independent of personalities involved. In India we may think of a Ministry of Internal Security with both the Coordinator of Intelligence and Intelligence Chiefs reporting to the Prime Minister with sections of their organisations coordinating with this new ministry.

(Sood is a former RAW chief)

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