(Part 2) Mumbai terror attack: Time for action

 

Lack of accountability of Intelligence agencies:

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was readying for a trip to China in January this year when he asked the chief of the external intelligence agency (RAW) for a briefing about his assessment on the current Chinese leadership. The RAW chief prepared a report which talked about Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji. Interestingly both these leaders,  former president and the premier of China respectively, retired in 2003.

The incident was luckily reported in a foreign media publication. Had it not been reported, we would not have known the true state of the mess the external intelligence agency is in. Imagine the head of India’s premier intelligence agency not having the most basic information on a country like China, with which we are involved in border disputes and also fought a war in 1962. The decision to test nuclear weapons in 1998 was also attributed to the rising prominence of China. And this is not just one isolated incident.

As the country’s premier foreign intelligence agency, it is expected that the person who heads it is competent enough to handle the post. The repeated failures (Kargil, sexual harassment allegations, poor intelligence on terror, corruption, penetration by foreign agencies) of the country’s top intelligence agency in past few years demand a complete overhauling of the agency. The agency is plagued by over bureaucratisation of the appointment system and allegations of favoritism in promotions.

In the recent times, the agency has been in news for all the wrong reasons since the current chief took over. Some of the incidents which were reported in the media are:

  • It was found that the current RAW chief did not know who he was meeting on a number of important meetings. One of them (in August 2007) was with the Commander of the US Pacific Command, Timothy Keating, who the RAW chief kept on referring as John Negroponte. Negroponte is the United State deputy Secretary of State.
  • Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai complained to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the way the RAW chief spoke with him, a media report said. The report, quoting Afghan sources, stated that the he ill-treated Karzai and spoke to him while chewing and spitting out tobacco.
  • Allegations have also been made against the RAW chief for trying to influence the former Nepalese PM G P Koirala to award a contract of hydropower project to an Indian firm floated by his friend.

The agency suffered a huge setback when one of its senior official turned out to be a mole of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the US. Rabinder Singh fled to the US via Nepal and there are already allegations of the involvement of other officials in his disappearance.

According to sources, the agency was one of the best in the world in the past. But infighting between different lobbies (RAS and IPS) in the agency and weak political leadership has brought it to this level.

Politics over national interest – Politicisation of Intelligence agencies:

Security analysts have time and again warned against the use of intelligence agencies for political purposes. But our history suggests that our short-sighted politicians have repeatedly ignored these warnings and use agencies like the Intelligence Bureau for spying on opposition leaders and politicians of other parties.

Questions have also been raised about the appointments of the heads of RAW and IB, which are political. Unlike countries like the United States and Britain, the RAW chief is appointed directly by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). As in the US, we too need a system wherein the head of the agency as important as RAW is appointed after a rigorous assessment procedure. In simple words, we too need a system wherein once the PMO selects a candidate for the top post, he has to be confirmed by a Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence (which has members from all the top political parties). But what is strange here is that RAW is not accountable to the Parliament of India and hence to the people of the country. The agency is not subject to parliamentary review and is also out of reach of the Right to Information Act.

In the US, both the Congress and the Executive Branch oversee the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) activities. According to the CIA website, “In the Executive Branch, the National Security Council – including the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Defense – provides guidance and direction for national foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities.”

“In Congress, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as well as other committees, closely monitor the Agency’s reporting and programs,” the website  notes.

Apart from the lack of information on some very covert operations ordered by the US President, a huge amount of information on CIA activities is available in public domain. The agency even has a post of Director  of Public Affairs, who advises the CIA chief on all media, public policy and employee communications issues. The Director of Public Affairs also serves as the spokesperson for the CIA.

This has not been the case in India. Despite huge blunders made by the head of the premier intelligence agency, he is still being retained. Reason: The Opposition parties might blame the government for his blunders and score brownie points if he is removed.

Click here for (Part 1) Mumbai terror attack: Time for action

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