Saturday, February 25, 2012

National counter terrorism centre in the Indian context

The Indian NCTC should not aspire to become a super-intelligence organisation. Rather, it should aim at coordinating with other stake holders to ensure unity of effort.
Vikram Sood Delhi
It took the United States less than three years after the 9/11 attacks to get its National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) up and away. From our first major internationally organised terror attack in Mumbai in March 1993 it took us 17 years to think of setting up a similar centre. During these 17 years we went through a series of internationally organised high profile terror attacks. We did establish another agency as we always did 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 the wonderful concept could not be implemented properly.  It merely ended up being another office of the Intelligence Bureau.
The urgency to do something was apparent after the Mumbai massacre in November 2008. Like the WTC attack in the US, Mumbai 26/11 was about "us" because there was no such empathy after the several high profile serial attacks in the country. We hurriedly established the NIA in order perhaps to be seen to be doing something although this organization was in no way going to stop terrorist attacks. Now that there is talk that an Indian version of the NCTC 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 organization and following from this, take over the operational aspects of intelligence organizations. Intelligence agencies have far wider briefs than only ensuring national security arising from terrorist threats. What it must, however, do is to co-ordinate, evaluate and analyse all intelligence reports that relate to terrorism. The NCTC must then decide on a course of action and 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 NCTC. They would function best in their existing role with greater coordination (not the easiest of tasks, admittedly) at the NCTC.
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, SIGINT, ELINT, TECHINT, law enforcement, defense, 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 NCTC 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 ask and sounds difficult even in theory.
Despite the best of regulations, problems of coordination, ego battles and struggles for turf will always remain. It would thus be left to the genius of leadership to handle them. 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 also must be understood 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 co-ordinating with this new ministry.
The author was the head of RAW from 2001 to 2003

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