India has struggled to create an organizational structure for effective counterterrorism capability. So far the effort has meant a number of parallel set ups that have not just coordinated well among themselves but have fought turf wars for dominance within the intelligence establishment. Now, an all-new NCTC, established to overcome those shortcomings runs into rough weather with some states. A Kashmir Life Bureau report.
The National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC) will be a reality soon despite many other organisations existent within the intelligence establishment for the same purpose. The underlying rationale behind creating yet another counterterrorism outfit, is closer coordination between all intelligence gathering and counter action assets for evolving a more robust capability at the national level.
A story gleaned from highly placed intelligence sources allows a peep into the need for India to have the NCTC. On the evening of 25 January 1995,the then Governor of Jammu and Kashmir General (rtd) KV Krishna Rao was reviewing the Republic Day preparations with top security and intelligence officers at the Jammu Raj Bhawan. The then chiefs of Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Research andAnalysis Wing (RAW) were also there to prepare a plan for border infrastructure and development. On his last trip to Krishnaghati border areas, Rao was impressed by the development on the other side of LoC and asked RAW Commissioner in Kashmir CD Sahay for suggestions.
Sahay did not have many suggestions on border development, but ‘knew’ what was to happen the next day (January 26) while Rao would preside over the flag hoisting ceremony at the Maulana Azad stadium in Jammu. A bomb literally exploded under Rao’s feet that day. He escaped safe only because the handlers had erred. A bomb ripped the stage and another one exploded near the gate and a third one destroyed the parking lot.
A combing operation had been launched at Sahay’s behest, but the Japanese plastic timers could not be found, till they exploded.
Former intelligence sleuths say that information about the planned explosions had been culled just by sheer accident. Sahay, before going to the meeting with Rao, had consulted his colleagues and asked if there was something to discuss with the Governor. “Nothing new Sir, just routine,” they had all replied. Sahay had then asked for some recent files consigned to the record room, since his last meeting with Rao. There were 13 files and to his horror, six of them had explicitly mentioned the impending attack on the Republic Day in great detail. Nobody had read the intelligence sent by‘deep-penetration agents’, nor had it been analysed or assessed. There was nobody to blame. The files had been consigned to cupboards with the signatures of Sahay himself. The lone deviation from the established intelligence was that the militants detonated the bomb in the parking lot first instead of the one beneath the stage.
Not only the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, but earlier also it has been highlighted that more than the lack of intelligence, the lack of coordination, assessment and turf-war between various security agencies has taken its toll on the security arrangement. Former deputy Chief of RAW’s technical wing Major General VK Singh writes that the rivalry between the three major intelligence agencies—RAW, IB and MI (Military Intelligence) —has done incalculable damage not only to the agencies themselves but also to the nation. “The rivalry is to the extent that once on a Srinagar hilltop, I counted almost adozen antennae, each belonging to a different agency or paramilitary forces. And all of them were intercepting the same radio transmissions from across the border or from militant groups. In most cases, the intercepts were finally going to the same consumer,” he said.
In the aftermath of the Kargil war changes were brought about in terms of coordination between different intelligence agencies and new organisations were also set up. The National Security Council, National Technical Resources Organisation (NTRO), Defence Intelligence Agency came into existence. But the problems of coordination persisted driving the Home Ministry to push for setting up National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and NATGRID. But, both these organisations add to the incongruous pile.
Moreover, all over world, democratic societies have drawn a clear line between intelligence and investigating agencies. While the role of intelligence agencies is limited to gathering information, investigating authorities like Police and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have the powers of search, seizure and arrest. But, now with just a stroke of the pen, the central government has conferred the IB, powers for the first time to make arrests, seize terror-related properties and summon records from the terror suspects and all government agencies.
So far it worked in secrecy, but it had to pass on information to and depend on the police and other security and enforcement agencies for nabbing suspects and taking them to courts, through the NCTC as its operational arm for tackling terrorism.
The NCTC, which will come into force formally from March 1, is the second major organisation launched by the government after the formation ofthe National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the aftermath of the Mumbai attack of 2008.
It will be headed by an additional director general of police rank IPS official reporting to the IB chief and functioning through three divisions headed by a joint director each of the IB, tasked with intelligence gathering, intelligence analysis and carrying out operations.
The core staff of the centre would be drawn from the IB or those directly recruited for it by the IB. Sources said the top officials of the centre would come on deputation from various agencies to have a multi-talent pool of experts in each line. These include RAW, the external intelligence agency, MI, NIA, Narcotics Control Bureau and the Central Board of Direct Taxes.
In fact, the order issued puts all agencies under the NCTC umbrella,so far as the terror matters are concerned. The order says the NCTC would “itself pursue or mandate other agencies to pursue different leads (on terror) and coordinate with the existing agencies.”
It further says: “The NCTC shall also have powers to seek information, including documents, reports, transcripts, cyber information and information of every other kind, from any agency….All civil authorities in the territory of India and all authorities of theGovernment of India located outside India shall act in aid of theNCTC.”
The NCTC, whose tasks include maintaining a comprehensive database of the terrorists and their associates, friends, families and supporters,shall also have powers to requisition the services of the National Security Guard (NSG) or any other special forces when it is required to go into action.
The wide-ranging power of the NCTC has been perceived by many states as unconstitutional. Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal took the lead in firingthe first shot with a strong protest letter to the Prime Minister and six others followed suit after ringing him up and getting the details of the basic objections he raised. They included chief ministers J Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu, Nitish Kumar of Bihar, Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal, Narendra Modi of Gujarat and Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh, who have already dispatched protest letters.
Mamata Banerjee agreed with Patnaik’s contention that the Centre has been authoritarian in passing orders without consulting the state governments and pointed out that she has the grouse that even the allies of the government are not taken into confidence time and again.
The Home Ministry sources, however, insisted that the upcoming centre’s idea was floated two years ago and since then it has been regularly discussed in meetings with the states’ directors general of police and chief secretaries on the need to have an apex body that cancoordinate and quickly act to deal with terrorism.
Within the intelligence community, there is also strong opposition to Chidambaram’s idea of making intelligence subordinate to anti-terror measures only. A former special director of IB, DC Nath told a seminar last year that there was need for a clinically professional intelligence system and not one that suits the government. Top sleuths wonder why the government cannot make up its mind to designate a nodal agency.
At present, with agencies relying more on technical intelligence systems such as intercepting telephones, Internet and e-mails etc, human assets are depleting gradually. The China desk at the RAW has just few hands to monitor the mandarin language newspapers. A similar scenario is emerging with the number of officials well-versed in Urdu, Dari and Pashtu dwindling. Such is the focus on technical intelligence, that Major General (retd) V K Singh disclosed a fewyears ago how Indian agencies had been mishandling the SEA-ME-WE submarine cable set up in year 2000 connecting Western Europe, Middle East and South East Asia. This cable is the main source of connectivity not only for telephones but also for new technologies such as broadband services, Internet, video services and the ATMs.
In its bid to emulate the CIA, the General says the RAW has been unnecessarily tapping telephone traffic and wasting resources say between Germany and Japan and other countries in violation of international laws.
Race for quick results
Another aspect that resulted in damaging the intelligence system was the urge to show quick results. Till very recently, it had been a routine affair to declare conclusion of a ‘terror incident’ within a few hours of booking innocents or those remotely linked with the act.
A few years ago two former informers of Delhi Police’s Special Cell and the IB Irshad Ali and Nawab Moarif Qamar spilled the beans when they were implicated in a false case for refusing to swallow IB’s bait. Their lawyer Sufiyan Siddique claims that the intelligence officers had directed them to join Lashkar-e-Toiba and were forcing them to join a training camp across the border. “Fearing for their lives, the duo refused, which infuriated the agencies, and the duo was booked and implicated in a false case,” he said.
Irshad Ali’s case has now been well documented by the CBI on the directions of Delhi High Court. The investigating agency corroborated the fact that the duo was kidnapped by an IB officer Mohamamd Khalid alias Majid in league with the Special Cell officials Lalit, Bhushan, Rajinder and Devdutt.
Talking about the working of the sleuths in the IB, Irshad alleges that they just concoct stories to keep the government on its toes about the imaginary terrorist threats. To back their claims, Irshad reveals that they also ‘create’ terrorists.
“A Moulvi type agent sporting a long beard and well-versed with Islamic tenants is introduced to some Muslim locality, where he lodges himself near a mosque and, in some cases, inside a mosque itself.”
Irshad further reveals that targeting mostly educated Muslim youth, the ‘pious-looking’ Moulvi laments the condition of Muslims and prescribes “jihad” as the only solution. After winning their confidence, the Moulvi then introduces himself as LeT commander and recruits the youth. “They are partially trained in small arms operation. In the meantime, the agent keeps sleuths informed about his operation,” says Irshad.
“Finally, when the Commander identifies a place and calls for anoperation, the stage is set for their entrapment. The IB informs the Special Cell, and these youth fall prey to the plan. While the innocent youth remain clueless, the commander is never found. He is back with the IB to explore newer pastures,” alleges the former informer.
Both the Special Cell and the IB have procured huge farmhouses in the vicinity of Delhi to undertake unlawful activities. Those plannedto be killed in fake encounters are not kept in police stations or at known facilities, but are lodged in these farmhouses. They are detained for months and years there before being killed at an”appropriate time”.
A question of accountability
Strategic affairs experts have said that India was perhaps the only democracy where no oversight is exercised on our all-powerful intelligence services. Politicians are only interested in the IB for providing them with political intelligence on their adversaries. So, in the end it may be more a question of accountability than creating more organisations for the same purposes yet more powers.