June 20, 2021
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Setting The House In Order

Mr Chidambaram has approached the exercise of revamping of our security machinery essentially from the point of view of the home ministry. But let's not forget the NSA's larger role

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Setting The House In Order

In a detailed interview to Shri Vir Sanghvi, telecast by the CNBC-TV 18 channel, home minister P.Chidambaram has spoken, inter alia, of how in his view the counter-terrorism machinery of the government of India should work. Relevant extracts from the interview are annexed.

Two important points emerge from the interview-- the exclusive responsibility of the home minister to exercise political oversight over the internal security machinery and the limited executive role of the National Security Adviser (NSA) in internal security management.

The principle of the exclusive responsibility of the home minister for internal security management had been observed right from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru as the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister of the day depended on the home minister for ensuring that internal security was effectively maintained. For this purpose, the home minister had under his administrative and operational control the Intelligence Bureau and the various central police organizations or para-military forces. He also had the responsibility for guiding and co-ordinating the work of the State Police forces.

The line of responsibility for political oversight was very clear with no room for doubt till the assassination of Indira Gandhi in October,1984. After her assassination, this clear line of responsibility got increasingly diluted or blurred due to various reasons such as the following:

  • The creation of new agencies for security-related duties such as the Special Protection Group (SPG) for the security of the incumbent and past Prime Ministers and their families and the National Security Guards (NSGs) as a special intervention force against terrorism. Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, decided that the SPG and the NSG should work under the political oversight of the Prime Minister and the operational oversight of the Cabinet Secretary.
  • Terrorism assuming international dimensions necessitating co-operation with the counter-terrorism and homeland security agencies of other countries. Diplomacy assumed an important role in counter-terrorism particularly against State sponsors of terrorism. The US created a counter-terrorism division in the State Department to deal with these international and diplomatic dimensions . It continues to function even after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2004. Some other countries followed the US model. Under Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, this international and diplomatic dimension was given greater importance than under the predecessor Governments. A number of Joint Counter-Terrorism Working Groups with different countries came into existence and joint counter-terrorism exercises were organized with interested countries, including the US and China. While the responsibility for the co-ordination of the international and diplomatic dimensions was given to the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Defence exercised the co-ordination responsibilities in respect of joint counter-terrorism exercises.
  • With terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and its associates acquiring or attempting to acquire specialized capabilities for what came to be known as catastrophic terrorism such as terrorism involving the use of weapons of mass destruction material, terrorism in the cyber space to disrupt or destroy critical infrastructure, aviation terrorism, maritime terrorism etc, the need for the State acquiring specialized counter-capabilities was realized. For meeting these needs, the role of the Ministry of Defence, the Armed Forces and the various science and technology institutions naturally got enhanced.

The problems we face in India arise from the fact that whereas terrorism has increasingly assumed new dimensions and new frontiers, no attempt has been made to work out a comprehensive approach to deal with terrorism in its classical form, terrorism in its post-9/11 form and likely forms of terrorism of the future as well as with State-sponsors of terrorism such as Pakistan and other States failing to act against terrorism such as Bangladesh. While the threat posed by terrorism of different hues continues to evolve, our concepts to deal with it has not been keeping pace with the threat.

In working out a comprehensive approach to internal security management in general and counter-terrorism in particular, the National Security Adviser (NSA) has to play an important role as an ideas man, who looks beyond the day-to-day nuts and bolts aspect of counter-terrorism. Shri Chidambaram is right when he says that the NSA should have little executive role in internal security management. The executive role has to be that of the home minister. However, the NSA has to play an active role in evolving concepts which take into account the international and specialized dimensions of the new terrorism of today. He would also be the right person for co-ordinating and supervising the evolving machinery to facilitate India taking advantage of the growing international co-operation against terrorism.

The concept of intelligence co-ordination has also been evolving. The role of intelligence in internal security management has many components:

  • Intelligence collection within our frontiers.
  • Trans-border intelligence collection.
  • Intelligence collection in foreign countries.
  • Use of technical gadgets for the collection of intelligence specifically required for internal security management.
  • Use of technical gadgets for the collection of intelligence of relevance to internal as well as external security.

Presently, there is no single ministry or department capable of co-ordinating all these roles. Is it necessary to create a single nodal point in the Prime Minister’s office to co-ordinate these roles in the form of a National Intelligence Adviser? This question has been posed by different analysts from time to time since the Kargil conflict of 1999, but has not been addressed seriously. It is time to address it as part of an exercise to revamp our security machinery--internal as well as external.

In India, the concept of an intelligence community has not evolved. Similarly, the concept of leadership roles in security-related matters has not received attention. In the US, under the Intelligence Community Act, all agencies are required to function as an organic whole. There is a consolidated intelligence budget for the community as a whole, which is prepared and got approved by the Congress by the Director, National Intelligence. After the Congressional approval, he makes the individual allocations to different agencies. The leadership role in respect of counter-intelligence is with the FBI, in respect of counter-terrorism with the National Counter-Terrorism Centre, in respect of Homeland Security with the Department of Homeland Security and in respect of covert actions with the CIA. The designated leaders coordinate the follow-up action.

In Israel, the leadership role in respect of internal security is that of Shin Bet, the security agency, in respect of external security that of Mossad, the external intelligence Agency, and in respect of trans-border security that of the military intelligence agency. We dot not have such clearly-defined leadership roles.

From a perusal of Shri Chidambaram’s address of December 23, 2009, in the Intelligence Bureau, and his latest interview to Shri Vir Sanghvi, it is apparent that he has been approaching the exercise for the revamping of our security machinery essentially from the point of view of the home ministry. This is a very important aspect, but it is equally important to give the exercise a larger dimension in order to evolve a comprehensive security machinery with clearly laid down concepts, carefully defined leadership roles and a workable co-ordination drill. In such a larger exercise, the NSA has to play an active role not only as an adviser to the Prime Minister, but also to the Cabinet as a whole in matters relating to national security. 

B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. 


Extracts from the interview of home minister Shri P. Chidambaram by Shri Vir Sanghvi for the CNBC TV-18 channel

Vir Sanghvi: The other thing that is said is that the first thing you did apparently when you took over as home minister is you instituted a meeting at apparently noon every day at which the chiefs of intelligence agencies came and you had a look at what the situation on the ground was and that the National Security Advisor also started coming to these meetings. There is a suggestion that you were given as part of your brief the job of bringing the security agencies within the ambit of the home ministry, is this accurate?

P Chidambaram: No that is a job I wrote for myself.

Vir Sanghvi: It was completely your own job description?

P Chidambaram: Yes but then when I took over, the Prime Minister graciously said, you will have a free hand because time is very limited, and if there is any problem, come back to me. When I thought about my job that weekend, I said, the first thing is we must bring everybody together, because I had to learn and act and change and deliver all in five months.

Vir Sanghvi: You know the background which is it is being posited by many people that you took away a lot of jobs that Narayanan use to do – your answer is always been look you people are making too much of this we have been friends for years – but let us leave friendship out of this. On purely functional terms you did take over a lot of the job didn’t you?

P Chidambaram: No. I did not take away any of his responsibilities. I did not take over any of his responsibilities. All I said was that whoever is doing whatever, it must be under political oversight. I happened to be the person providing the political oversight and therefore everybody accepted it.

Vir Sanghvi: Which is a departure from what had happened before? In Mr Advani’s time it did not happen, Mr Shivraj Patil’s time it didn’t happen. So in that sense the home ministry did assert itself over the national security advisor.

P Chidambaram: That is how it should be isn’t it.

Vir Sanghvi: I personally agree that is how it should be but it wasn’t how it was?

P Chidambaram: It wasn’t for whatever reason I do not know. But if I was going to be responsible as I was made responsible on that day then I was going to make sure that I knew it was going on. The only way that I could know what was going on what happen and what did not happen was to exercise political oversight over every agency that was concerned with security.

Vir Sanghvi: My question to you therefore is what is the role of national security advisor should he be an intelligence overload to whom the chief of intelligence’s report should he be an advisor to the Prime Minister?

P Chidambaram: Essentially I think he is an advisor to the Prime Minister, advisor to the National Security Council. He heads a very important body, the NSES, the Secretariat, which combines not only intelligence from internal security matters but a number of other things - Diplomatic intelligence, external intelligence, nuclear command authority etc.

So he brings all the strands together and then advises the Prime Minister. Surely he must be in the loop as far as internal security is concerned, who can he not be in the loop, he has to be in the loop. But whether he should have executive responsibility given the pressures of work and time I think is an open question.

My personal view is that he should have very few executive responsibilities as far as internal security is concerned. That should be given to other professionals.

Vir Sanghvi: That leads me to the question of where Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) reports because R&AW cannot report to the home ministry by definition because it is an external agency, of course you have said that when it comes to terrorism the R&AW chief must be involved because there has to be a nodal point on terrorism. But what happens to R&AW, it is a bit fatherless, isn’t it in the current system?

P Chidambaram: R&AW reports to the Prime Minister now. But I think there is broad agreement that so far as counter terrorism is concerned, I don't think anybody has a serious objection that R&AW would have to report to the home minister.

Vir Sanghvi: Let me now go back to 26/11, do you think one of the reasons we were so ill-prepared for what happened was because mechanisms like these were not in place?

P Chidambaram: Yes, of course. There should have been one point where everything converged, all information converged. Today it converges in a group of about six-seven people who meet everyday. That is how it should be which is what the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) will be.

It will be an institutional mechanism rather than an individual-headed mechanism. And the response will be an institutional response rather than an individual driven response.

Vir Sanghvi: You have seen the evidence that there was a fair amount of intelligence pointing to 26/11 which was ignored. Do you think it was inevitable that would have been ignored or if there had been a system like this in place we would have acted on it?

P Chidambaram: The system in this place would have surely connected the dots. There were three separate pieces of information, they were not connected.

Vir Sanghvi: So there was a failure?

P Chidambaram: I said so.

Vir Sanghvi: There were two aspect to 26/11, one was that 26/11 happened without us knowing because we didn’t connect the dots as you said. The second was our response which was surely inadequate and took too long to put together, so would that happen again?

P Chidambaram: I don’t think so. If god forbids anything like 26/11 happens, we will respond in a much swifter passion. We have a much better command and control system here and our people will respond very quickly.

Vir Sanghvi: What about state police forces, one of the problems of 26/11 was that they now know were the problems within the Bombay Police, and it’s the same?

P Chidambaram: That’s not correct, they are getting better every day, the capacity is better, response time is quicker. We have set out SOPs now and when we sent the NSG or the Central Paramilitary force what will be the command and control structure. They can command any plane, why their own plane.

Vir Sanghvi: Which they were allowed to under the NSG act any how?

P Chidambaram: Because no body had been authorized to do that.

Vir Sanghvi: It was as simple as that?

P Chidambaram: I think so. I am not going into the past I didn’t decide that I will issue but I issued authority and they can take over any plane now.


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