Manan Kumar & Saikat Datta.
A few years ago, two senior Indian intelligence officials posted in the Indian embassy in Berlin were locked in a furious turf war.
One officer belonged to the Intelligence Bureau (IB) while the other was sent by the external intelligence agency RAW. The fracas got so ugly that Meera Shankar, the Indian ambassador, had to step in. The RAW officer was sent back to New Delhi.
Interestingly, both the officers belonged to the Indian Police Service and had built a career in intelligence. The difference of opinion started when the IB official sent a secret controversial report stating that some Sikh families based in Germany were helping raise funds to renew militancy in Punjab and also helping Pakistan in their covert nuclear weapons programme. The furious RAW officer countered with a detailed report calling the IB official’s assessment fiction and stated that no evidence exists to substantiate the intelligence inputs.
This is but an example of the daily internecine turf wars that are being fought between India’s multiple intelligence agencies in New Delhi and abroad. Part of the problem is the proliferation of intelligence agencies with overlapping charters. While RAW was created out of the IB in 1968 to gather external intelligence, the internal intelligence agency has managed to claw its way into creating stations abroad.
The last decade has seen the IB create stations and post officers in Washington, London, Berlin, Islamabad, the Middle East and a host of other nations. At the same time, following the creation of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) after the Kargil war, the gathering of intelligence abroad has seen new players emerge. With three parallel channels for gathering human intelligence with little or no coordination this is a recipe for disaster.
Matters got complicated with the ministry of external affairs (MEA) also stepping in to try and conduct covert activities on its own. The last five years saw Indian ambassadors in Afghanistan and Nepal stepping into the domain usually preserved for intelligence activities. This led the RAW chief to write several letters to the government protesting against this “interference” by the MEA. At times, this led to embarrassing situations when RAW officers posted in the Indian embassy in Kathmandu were “ousted” by the local press due to this turf war.
Following the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai, after P Chidambaram moved into the Union ministry of home affairs, he started holding daily meetings with the IB and RAW chiefs. However, the chairman of NTRO, the technical intelligence agency, was deliberately kept out. This led to further confusion in the ranks about the roles each agency would play. So while the IB would take a lead role in monitoring the Internet, the NTRO, which was created to do this kind of technical intelligence gathering, was kept out of the loop. Matters were further complicated when RAW’s secret technical wing, the Aviation Research Centre (ARC), began to delve into internet monitoring and other kinds of technical intelligence gathering operations that should have been the NTRO’s exclusive charter.
The command and control of the intelligence agencies also led to a lot of confusion. The IB chief reports to the Union home minister while the RAW chief reports to the cabinet secretary for all practical purposes. The NTRO chairman reports to the National Security Adviser and the DIA chief reports to the Union defence minister. The other bodies created to achieve some kind of coordination and assessments – the National Security Council Secretariat, the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Multi Agency Centre – are all busy working in isolation. With multiple channels working under multiple commands, Indian intelligence continues to flounder in the dark.