Can India become a superpower?

As India celebrates its 60th Republic Day, one thought that comes to the mind is that where do we stand on the world stage. Despite all the big talk about being a superpower, we still have a long way to go. I had written an article for in 2007 on the same theme and believe me, the situation hasn’t changed much.

“It (India) belongs to the class of countries that are always emerging but never quite arriving,” said a report which measured India’s power a few years back.

Read below the article that I had written.

Is India ready for the big league?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Indian Army - 1

The states, Cardinal Richelieu said, do not receive credit for doing what is right; they are only rewarded for being strong enough to do what is necessary. India, according to many critics, has never practiced this rule of international politics.

The country, in its 60th year of independence, is considered to be an emerging super power, both in economic and military terms. But is India ready for the big league yet?

According to a report that measures India’s world power, there is a sense of uncertainty with regard to India. “It belongs to the class of countries that are always emerging but never quite arriving,” the report states.

Experts state that for India to play a major role on the world stage, the leadership of the country has to evolve a long-term grand strategy that will guide the nation into the future. This is a big challenge given the hostile neighbourhood India has.

According to them, to a great extent the leadership in the county remains stuck in the daily political survival and the pressures of the impending challenges at hand.

There is a view that much emphasis is put on the limited economic success, which India has had till now, to project India as a great emerging power. Experts believe this success is permanently hostage to the large number of internal and external security challenges that confront India today.

Among the numerous viewpoints regarding India’s potential to make it to the big league, one of the most important opinions held by many analysts is that India has even failed to decisively counter the challenge of terrorism directed towards it from its neighbour, which is one-eighth its size.

Experts opine that the defeat and humiliation at the hands of the Chinese in 1962 has been largely overlooked in the planning of future strategies. According to them, there is a lot of hype about India’s emergence as a great power. But as we take credit for limited successes against a small adversary, there is little or no public knowledge of a well laid out doctrine regarding future engagement with a superior power like China.

Strategic encirclement

Analysts believe that the Chinese leadership has repeatedly reiterated that they have no ambitions in South Asia. But the manner in which it has acted – by passing crucial defence technology and weapons to Pakistan, increasing its strategic influence in the Indian Ocean – over the years clearly indicates that its long-term objective was, and continues to remain, the strategic encirclement of India.

The question now is that does India have an adequate level of conventional military capability vis-à-vis China in an event of future confrontation over border issues?

Answers can be found in exclusive news stories reported by NDTV. The Indian Air Force’s fleet is shrinking. Fighter planes are being phased out much faster than they are replaced. Even the first of the many new fighter jets that India proposes to buy will take at least eight years to enter service.

In a secret letter to then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Air Force Chief, Air Marshal S P Tyagi stated that if the Ministry of Defence delays acquisitions of more fighter jets, IAF will no longer be superior to Pakistan’s PAF.

The other chilling details of the letter, exclusively reported by NDTV states:

  • India needs 40 squadrons of fighters (there are 20 aircraft in each squadron), whereas the figure has come down to 34 squadrons.
  • As old planes like the MIG-21s are phased out, by 2012 there will be barely 31.5 squadrons and by 2018 India will have 26.5 squadrons, about the same as Pakistan’s 26 squadrons.

Defence analysts state that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is numerically and even qualitatively superior to most of the air forces in the region, and the airpower balance vis-à-vis India is gradually turning in China’s favor.

The 148-page Maritime doctrine released by the Indian Navy in April 2004 is concerned about the rapid resurgence of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), the only Asian navy with SLBM (Submarine-launched Ballistic Missile) capability.

The doctrine stressed a need for a submarine based credible Minimum Nuclear Deterrence (MND) capability that would enable India to pursue an independent foreign policy in a multi-polar world.

“If India is to exude the quiet confidence of a nation that seeks to be neither deferential nor belligerent, but is aware of its own role in the larger global scheme, it will need to recognise what constitutes strategic currency in a Clausewitzian sense,” the navy Maritime doctrine 148-page analysis asserts.

But according to security analysts, this assertion seems too ambitious for navy whose total strength will come down to just 135 vessels by 2012-15. At present the Indian Navy is around 150-ship force and the optimum level needed for future is 200 vessels.

Even the scenario in the army is no different. India Army is one of the world’s largest forces with over a million soldiers. But a majority of it is tied up in insurgency-infested areas like Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeastern states.

Jaswant Singh, in his book Defending India, has criticized this strategy of withdrawing troops from the border and deploying them on internal security duties.

Although the Indian Army has embarked on a major military modernization drive, there are number of challenges ahead. The army has been experiencing a major shortfall in officers for quite some time now. There is a problem of mid-level officers leaving the force because of low benefits and slow promotion rates.

To understand the seriousness of these issues one needs to refer to a 250-odd page internal assessment report prepared by the army to look into the successes and failures of Operation Vijay mounted during the Kargil conflict.

The points considered for the assessment were mostly taken from the top-secret operational notes with the military operations directorate. Some of the main eye opening details of this secret report, which appeared in the media, include:

  • The army was so involved in the counter-insurgency operations that when the first reports of an incursion came in, little attention was paid to the fact that Pakistan was gambling to “take possession of the strategic heights”.
  • The report also points out at the older profile of “commanders at the battalion and brigade level”. It was reported in the media that two commanding officers of infantry battalions were moved out because of their physical inability to deal with the rigours of the rugged and high altitude terrain.
  • There was also a lack of adequate troops in the region to tackle threat. Additionally, the troops were maintaining a “defensive posture” and it did not have “committed and trained force levels” to deal with Pakistan.
  • The assessment also points to the misuse of Special Forces, deployed along with regular infantry battalions to capture features, a task they are not equipped and tasked for.

Crisis in the security set-up

Apart from these, as reported by NDTV, Indian Defence Ministry documents have revealed that India’s airspace and critical targets, even nuclear installations, may not be as safe from an enemy air strike.

The reason; many of the air defence missiles that are supposed to protect these critical installations have outlived their lives. No new missiles have been brought because its import has been blocked by Indian scientists. They have promised Akash missile, which has failed a number of tests till now.

Till today not one Akash missile has hit a target in anything that even approaches combat conditions, an NDTV report said.

The most prestigious undertaking of India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), is an example of repeated failures and waste of public funds.

The organization announced the production of five missiles – Agni, Prithvi, Akash, Trishul, Nag – in July 1983 under IGMDP. Two ballistic missiles, Prithvi and Agni, have been inducted into the services but according to investigative reports appearing in the media their operational readiness is not up to the mark. The case of other three missiles is even worse.

Other major projects that are still not completed include the Light Combat Aircraft (christened ‘Tejas’), and Arjun Main Battle Tank (MBT). The fighter aircraft programme is delayed by 12.5 years and still counting. DRDO exceeded the Arjun tank deadline by 16 years, incurring a cost over-run by 20 times the original estimate.

Changing military doctrines

With these facts in minds, experts say, there is a lot that needs to be done before India becomes an influential player in global affairs.

In terms of military doctrine too, India’s strategy of focusing on a short, intense war can be disastrous. Security analysts point out that the military doctrines even in countries like Russia and the United States of America have failed to grasp the transformations in the fundamental nature of warfare that have occurred.

Iraq is a textbook case, where it was easy for the US to defeat the Iraqi army and take control of the country but the ensuing insurgency across the country has been difficult for them to handle. Similar scenario prevails in Afghanistan where the US and NATO forces are facing challenges in containing the resurgence of Taliban and al-Qaeda elements.

India, then, has to take its national and global security interests seriously and act accordingly. Experts state that the country has to be pro-active in dealing with emerging threats locally and globally.

And India can learn a great deal from its past too. As V S Naipaul stated, in his book India – A Wounded Civilisation: “No civilisation was so little equipped to cope with the outside world; no country was so easily raided and plundered, and learned so little from its disasters.”

It is time now for India to evolve and articulate India’s grand strategy, which would take its security interests into consideration. (With media inputs)

(The article was written for’s web special named “India at Crossroads”)

Karnataka Lok Ayukta Report on illegal mining

Karnataka is richly endowed with iron ore and large deposits are found in the districts of Hospet, Bellary, Tumkur and Sandur. Due to low prices of iron ore in both the domestic and international market, a decade back there was not much profit in mining the iron ore.

Mining licenses were given to State owned MML (Mysore Minerals Limited) and private players to mine the ore. MML in turn transferred its mining rights to private mining barons. However, the price of ore which was around Rs 300 per tonne in 2002-03, skyrocketed to over Rs 5000-7000 per tonne in 2005-2006 due to global shortage and  demand.  The entire benefit of higher price went to the private profiteers and not to the State.

The huge profitability in the mining of iron ore since last few years led to growth of a new class of entrepreneurs which indulged in illegal mining without license, mining in reserved forest area, mining far in excess of their licensed capacity.

Karnataka has lost around 10,598 hectares of land to mining and given the scale of depletion of forest cover, the Karnataka Lok Ayukta was given the task to investigate the large-scale illegal mining and transportation of iron ore from forest areas in March 2007. The inquiry was ordered during the coalition government of H D Kumaraswamy-led Janata Dal (Secular) and the BJP.

The Lok Ayukta Report made a comprehensive legal analysis of the illegalities committed and the financial loss incurred to the State. Karnataka Lok Ayukta Justice N Santosh Hegde (former Supreme Court judge) submitted his interim report (covering the period from 2000-2006) in December 2008 to the B S Yeddyurappa government. The second part of the report (covering the period from 2006-2008) is to be submitted soon.

The facts narrated in the report were so damning in nature that the government is reluctant to make the report public. Despite public lamentation by the Karnataka Governor and the Lok Ayukta, there is complete lack of action on the part of the state government. It is not even ready to share the report and the action-taken report (ATR) with the Central Bureau of Investigation team (CBI),  which is probing the illegal mining of iron ore in Andhra Pradesh. The UPA Government has ordered the probe on the request of the Andhra Pradesh Government.

Canary Trap, after speaking  with sources who have access to the report, brings you exclusive details of the report that the Karnataka Government is holding close to its heart.

1. The report uncovered various irregularities and connivance of the decision makers resulting in colossal loss to the State. One of its findings was that while the cost of mining, transportation and royalty was a maximum was Rs 427 per tonne, the sale price was around Rs 5000 to 7000 per tonne which showed the quantum of profits involved in the mining scam .

2. That according to the report, the private profiteers are earning Rs 5000 per tonne while the State is getting a petty royalty of Rs 27 (maximum royalty then, revised to 10% ad valorem recently) per tonne on the iron ore declared by the profiteers. A large amount of ore was illegally mined and transported and therefore not shown in the books and on these the State did not even get the token royalty.

3. The Lok Ayukta report reveals that even when the price of iron ore soared from Rs 300 to Rs 5000-7000, the royalty received by the State continued to be at a maximum of Rs 27.

4. The report is a strong indictment of the politico-bureaucrat decision makers in flouting the law in granting benefits to private interest at a heavy cost to the state. Chapter IX of the report deals with Mysore Mineral Ltd (MML), which had a state monopoly on the lucrative iron ore mines of the State. The report goes on to show:

  • How these mines were leased to the private sector without obtaining permission of the Central government as was required under under Rule 37 of the M.C Rules. The Lok Ayukta in para 7 on page 234 has observed, “The decision taken by the Ministers in the meetings held on 21-03-1994 and in the meeting with the Government of India held on 30-11-2000 to continue forest areas and strategic mineral bearing areas such as iron, manganese, chromite and lime stone (steel grade) as reserved has not been modified subsequently in any meeting.” It therefore appears that all allotment of iron ore to the private sector is illegal as the strategic mineral has never been dereserved.
  • How successive CMDs of the company – eleven in all for the period 2000-2006 – failed to protect the financial interest of MML by deliberately fixing abnormally low prices of iron ore (far below that of MMTC).
  • How the outsourcing was opposed to the object for which MML was established in violation of the Memorandum of Association.

5. The report clearly shows that successive decision makers have not protected the interest of the State in the exploitation of mine and the private profiteers have made unimaginable windfall gains at the expense of the State.

Canary Trap will bring you more details from the interim report in the next post on this issue.

Ansari wants parliamentary oversight for intel agencies

Vice President Hamid Ansari has pushed for a parliamentary oversight committee to monitor the activities of the intelligence agencies, something which previous Canary Trap posts have strongly advocated for.

While delivering the late R N Kao memorial lecture on January 19, Vice President Ansari highlighted the case of “faulty intelligence” on weapons of mass destruction before the Iraqi invasion in 2003 and asked “How shall a democracy insure its secret intelligence apparatus becomes neither a vehicle for conspiracy nor a suppressor of the traditional liberties of democratic self-government?”

He said that there are serious concerns with supervising intelligence activities but also said that countries like the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Norway, Germany, Argentina, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania have put in place mechanisms of public accountability.

The Vice President further argued that for any intelligence oversight committee to succeed, the scope of its mandate is crucial. He cited examples of the US and Germany (comprehensive mandate, includes both policy and operations of intelligence agencies), Britain (limited to matters of policy and finance), and Norway (focused on human rights and rule of law).

Vice President Ansari’s speech has already sparked the debate about the need for an oversight mechanism for intelligence agencies and the sooner we have something of this sort in India, the better for the security of the country.

The entire speech of the Vice President is pasted below.

Vice President Hamid Ansari’s speech at the Fourth R N Kao Memorial Lecture on January 19, 2010.

Intelligence for the World of Tomorrow

I am honoured to be invited today to deliver this lecture to commemorate an iconic personality who dedicated his life to the service of the Republic and created structures deemed essential for the security of the state and the promotion of its essential interests. In another age or another system of governance, he would be honoured suitably in a pantheon of Immortals. We as a people, however, are diffident in matters relating to some aspects of the functioning of the State and prefer a discreet veil to a public acclaim. It tantalises imagination but does not add to the compendium of knowledge for succeeding generations.

We remember Rameshwar Nath Kao today for his work and for his engaging personality. In regard to the former, I cannot help recalling a couplet by an Arab poet of the 10th century:

These are our works, these works our souls display
Behold our works when we have passed away.

I personally cannot claim to have known Kao saheb well but do recall an occasion, in early 1980, when I happened to sit next to him on a journey from Bombay to Delhi. He spoke in chaste Urdu, discussed the happening in Iran, and was candid enough to acknowledge that like most other people he had not anticipated the revolutionary changes.

Ramjee Kao created an organisation, negotiated rather than confronted inter-agency contentions and achieved a historic success. He could also be indulgent to a fault. Those who worked closely with him have described Kao as a complex mix of objectivity and subjectivity in matters concerning human relationships. A peer in a position to assess from a distance described him as a fascinating mix of physical and mental elegance, and one who was shy to talk about his accomplishments.

Kao’s business in life was intelligence, more specifically external intelligence. Its relevance is in no need of commentary. We can go as far back as Kautilya, or even earlier, to perceive its importance. In fact, the methodological sophistication exhibited in Kautilya’s chapters on the secret service and internal security can be read with benefit even today. The same holds good for Sun Tzu’s chapter on secret agents. He highlights the relevance of ‘foreknowledge’ and concludes with the interesting observation that ‘there is no place where espionage is not used.’ Over centuries the ambit of intelligence, and the craft itself, expanded and enriched itself in response to requirements. Techniques were refined and technology opened up qualitatively different vistas. In the 20th century individual agents on specific assignments gave way to regular agencies. Fascination with the unknown also brought forth a vast amount of literary output that combined fact and fiction, working powerfully on public imagination and even lending respectability to questionable acts. There is merit in C.P. Snow’s observation that “the euphoria of secrecy does go to the head.”

Intelligence, by definition, is primarily directed at anticipating happenings. Intelligence information, by its very nature, is a glimpse of reality. It is often inconclusive because the methods of acquisition are at times surreptitious. On the other hand, the probabilities of reality that can be established by intelligence information are necessary and sufficient to enable national decision-makers to make reasonable judgments about courses of action. While intelligence information is at times incomplete, good intelligence often has made the difference between victory and defeat, life and death. By the same token, faulty intelligence leads to failures of varying degrees. Over time, reasons for failure are analysed and classified. These range from overestimation to underestimation, lack of communication, unavailability of information, received opinion, mirror-imaging, over-confidence, complacency, failure to connect dots and subordination of intelligence to policy. Case studies on each of these abound; they are a sobering reminder of Karl Popper’s observation that “the more we learn about the world, and the deeper our learning, the more conscious, specific and articulate will be our knowledge of what we do not know.”

The qualities that go to make a good intelligence operative have been defined in all systems of governance. A medieval classic called it “delicate business involving some unpleasantness” to be “entrusted to the hands and tongues and pens of men who are completely above suspicion and without self-interest, for the weal or woe of the country depends on them.” In an interesting passage in his book, the formidable Mr. Allen Dulles observed that “a good intelligence officer must have an understanding of other points of view, other ways of thinking and behaving, even if they are quite foreign to his own.” Record shows that this is easier said than done even in normal times. The ability to assess what Troksky called “changes in mass consciousness in a revolutionary epoch” is rarely acquired by those who collect and analyze intelligence. The reason for this would seem to lie in insufficient comprehension of the nuances of a changing situation, inadequacy of coverage and inability to challenge working assumptions.

Other problems emerge as occupational hazards. Compulsive secrecy tends to become obsessive and impacts the personality of the individual. An intelligence organization, one observer has noted, tends to be a self-sufficient society to which “the outside world becomes more and more remote and its realities less and less important.” Rob Johnston, who conducted an ethnographic study of the U.S. intelligence community in 2005, observed that “within the intelligence community, more organizational emphasis is placed on secrecy than on effectiveness.” Making a judgment about open source versus secret information, a professional concluded that ninety percent information comes from the former and only ten percent from the latter. “The real intelligence hero”, he wrote, ‘is Sherlock Holmes, not James Bond.”

The need to strike a balance between secrecy, openness and efficacy on a continuous basis is thus essential. Much greater coordination is required to maximize results in complex situations. The time-honoured formula of “need to know” has to be modified by the requirement of the “need to share”. The point was driven home by an eminent leader very recently: “I’ll never fault anybody for not having full intelligence, what I will fault is when we have full intelligence that’s not shared.”


Beyond the confines of professional competence, the question of intelligence is intrinsically linked to the nature of challenge perceived by a society. It tends to be based on past experience and on assumptions that seem logical. This is essential but not sufficient and its relevance now is increasingly open to question. The resulting dilemma was aptly expressed a few years back by the historian and jurist Philip Bobbitt:

“Now it happens that we are living in one of those relatively rare periods in which the future is unlikely to be very much like the past. Indeed the three certainties …about national security – that it is national (not international), that it is public (not private), and that it seeks victory (not stalemate) – these three lessons of the past are all about to be turned upside down by the new age of indeterminancy into which we are plunging.”

Bobbitt went on to assert the need to appreciate “the essential ambiguity” of attacks to which societies may be subjected to and as a result of which strategies of retaliation and deterrence may become less useful. In such a world, he added:

“We must move our thinking from threat-based strategies that rely on knowing precisely who our enemy is and where he lives, to vulnerability-based strategies that try to make our infrastructure more slippery, more redundant, more versatile, more difficult to attack.”

This conceptual shift, from threat-based to vulnerability-based strategies, would necessitate a comprehensive reorientation of the work of the State and therefore of its intelligence apparatus, its objectives and its work methods. Some of this is already underway in the light of the experience of the first decade of the 21st century; this, however, have been pragmatic and halting since the requisite paradigm shift in thinking is yet to be put in place. The extent and speed with which it is done may well determine success or failure in the foreseeable future.

To develop the argument further, I would like to borrow the definition of the term vulnerability from the meaning given to it in the terminology of computer security. There it is referred to as a weakness which allows an attacker to reduce a system’s Information Assurance. This happens at the intersection of three elements: a system susceptibility or flaw, an attacker’s access to the flaw, and an attacker’s capability to exploit the flaw. In societal terms, this would read as (1) flaw or susceptibility (2) existence of an enemy or a threat (3) ability of the threat to exploit the flaw. Such a framework would necessitate going beyond the traditional approach to a comprehensive assessment of both the susceptibility of the target and the capability of the opposing force.
A complicating factor of increasing relevance is the changing nature of the actors on the global stage. In addition to nation-states, it now includes a mix of non-state entities, benign and malignant. In the absence of effective multilateralism, the relative power of these non-state actors has increased to reflect the fragmentation of interests.

The conclusion is inescapable that in the world of tomorrow, the nature of intelligence required for comprehensive security would be qualitatively different. This would have implications for the methodology of acquiring and analysing it. As a first step, it would necessitate a wider understanding of target areas. Much too often, governmental intelligence efforts have focused on politico-military and economic intelligence. While its relevance cannot be questioned, its sufficiency can be. The reason is obvious. Most often, the standard check list does not go beyond or behind the super-structure, does not look at societal realities, pays inadequate attention to other people’s ways of thinking and behaving. Intelligence services, as David Kay of the Iraq Survey Group put it, “don’t do a very good job of trying to understand the soft side of societies.”

Nor does the check list takes a good look at the national security implications of non-traditional threats including cyber-attacks, attacks on food and water security, bio-terrorism, pandemics or worst case apocalyptic visions of the future. It has, for instance, been assessed that in a post-pandemic world dangerous patterns of inter-state behaviour may emerge and seriously endanger security of states.

The ambit of intelligence, consequently, has to be comprehensive. It is to be assessed simultaneously on three planes: state-centric, society-centric and environment-centric. The dynamics of these may be different and may require different tools of analysis. The resulting conclusions may be fluid, complex and contradictory and thereby challenge the analytical skills of the operative to bring forth options that can be comprehended and acted upon. Access to these skills, if not available in-house, would necessitate review of security rules that generally govern the functioning of intelligence organisations.


A particularly serious problem relates to the misuse of intelligence. The classic instance in recent times is the process leading to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The July 2004 Report of the US Senate Select Committee on Pre-War Intelligence Assessment of Iraq revealed that “group think dynamics” led the intelligence community to interpret ambiguous evidence as conclusive and ignore in the process established mechanisms to challenge assumptions and group think. Closer to the mark was the secret Downing Street Memo of July 23, 2002 in which the head of British intelligence reported after discussions in Washington that “intelligence and facts were being fixed around policy” of regime change. The Iraq Enquiry now in progress in London is shedding more light on this.

These instances can be multiplied. They are not the monopoly of one nation or set of nations. They are revealed earlier in open societies and less so in closed ones. They have led to follies and catastrophes. Failures propel thinking in the direction of correctives and reforms. They focus analysis on the political or economic pressures at work in individual societies. These, together, propel thinking in the direction of accountability and necessitate oversight. Both are considered unwanted and bothersome by intelligence communities for reasons that range from secrecy and operational efficiency to downright contempt for any individual, body or arrangement that endeavours to assess their functioning. The problem nevertheless exists and was posed by an expert in precise terms:

How shall a democracy insure its secret intelligence apparatus becomes neither a vehicle for conspiracy nor a suppressor of the traditional liberties of democratic self-government?

It is hardly necessary to remind an Indian audience that ministerial responsibility to the legislature, and eventually to the electorate, is an essential element of democratic governance to which we are committed by the Constitution. The methodology of this is in place for most aspects of governmental activity; the exceptions to it pertain to the intelligence and security structure of the state.

How then is oversight and accountability ensured?

The traditional answer and prevailing practice, of oversight by the concerned minister and Prime Minister and general accountability of the latter to parliament, was accepted as adequate in an earlier period but is now considered amorphous and does not meet the requirements of good governance in an open society. Concerns in the matter have primarily arisen on two counts: (a) the nature and extent of supervision over intelligence services exercised by the political executive and (b) the possibility and scope of misuse of these services by the political executive. Both concerns emanate from the absence of specific accountability, on these matters, to the legislature.

The problem is not a new one and has been faced by other democratic societies. In late 1970s opinion in the United States reached the conclusion that “oversight of the Intelligence Community is essential because of the critical importance of ensuring the nation’s security, as well as checking the potential for abuse of power.” As a result, two congressional committees were established in 1976 and 1977. Despite this, the 9/11 Commission Report of 2004 found the congressional oversight of intelligence “dysfunctional” and recommended structural changes. A similar exercise was conducted in the United Kingdom through the Intelligence Services Act 1994 that established the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the intelligence services. Other countries like Canada, Australia, South Africa, Norway, Germany, Argentina, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania have also put in place similar mechanisms of public accountability.

It has been argued that the scope of the mandate of the parliamentary intelligence oversight committee is crucial for its success. Three models of the mandate can be identified: (a) comprehensive to include both policy and operations, as in the U.S. and Germany (b) limited to matters of policy and finance, as in UK (c) focused on human rights and rule of law, as in Norway. The basic purpose of all three is to ensure that government policy in a given field is carried out effectively within the boundaries of the law. For this reason, it is felt that without access to some operational detail, an oversight body can have or give no assurance about the efficacy or the legality of the intelligence services.

Given these models of calibrated openness to ensure oversight and accountability, there is no reason why a democratic system like ours should not have a Standing Committee of Parliament on intelligence that could function at least on the pattern of other Standing Committees. Since internal and external intelligence do not in our system report to the same minister, the possibility of entrusting this work to the Standing Committee on Home Affairs may not meet the requirement.

In the same spirit, and keeping with the practice of other democracies such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom, the concerned agencies should make public their mission statement outlining periodically their strategic intent, vision, mission, core values and their goals. Existing models range from periodic executive review of the mission statement to statutory definition of the function of these agencies. Furthermore, and in step with the globalised information architecture, there is a case for greater openness with regard to the history of intelligence institutions. We need to study initiatives taken elsewhere and determine the extent to which we can proceed in the matter.

The shortcomings of the traditional argument, of leaving intelligence to the oversight of the executive, became evident in the Report of the Kargil Review Committee and its sections on Intelligence in its Findings and Recommendations. It identified flaws, acknowledged the absence of coordination and of “checks and balances”, and noted the absence of governmental correctives. The Report referred to relevant systems in major countries but did not include in it their systems of oversight and accountability.

Some correctives were introduced pursuant to the establishment of the National Security System and the report of the Group of Ministers on the reform of the national security system in its entirety. These improvements enhanced internal accountability and coordination but did not go far enough and did not put in place a more open system of public accountability. In the discussions that followed the publication of the Kargil Review Committee Report, and apart from inter-agency spats and the blame game, one informed commentator described it as a “substantive contribution in educating our Parliament and public opinion” aimed at “introducing transparency in this sensitive sector.”

Arguments of this nature tend to be condescending. They ignore the time-honoured formula which is the bedrock of democracy: that “instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action.” They belittle the capacity of elected representatives to be responsible in matters of national security. Also overlooked is the fact that depending on the fall of the electoral dice, these same representatives are transformed into the political executive entrusted with the responsibility of supervising the work of intelligence agencies.

The contention that openness and public discussion would compromise the secrecy essential for intelligence needs to be examined carefully. Operational secrecy is one aspect of the matter and has to be maintained. The legislature, nevertheless, is the organ of the state that allocates funds and is therefore entitled to insist on financial and performance accountability. The practice of subsuming allocations is not conducive to transparency; it may even encourage misuse. The proposed Standing Committee could fill this void; it could also function as a surrogate for public opinion and thus facilitate wider acceptance of the imperatives of a situation. Given the nature of emerging threats to human security, a wider sampling of opinion would in fact facilitate better comprehension of the issues and of possible remedies to attain total national power and comprehensive defence.


Let me conclude by saying that in a fast changing world, the challenges facing intelligence practitioners are enormous. Can they adapt their organizations, policies and practices to a world in which there is a qualitative change in the notion of security and in the nature of threats? Both compel a paradigm shift in procedures and objectives; so does the imperative of accountability in terms of democratic norms of good governance. Each of these needs to be factored into the work patterns of the intelligence operative of tomorrow. A timely synthesis would pave the way for success.

I thank Shri K. C. Verma and the Research and Analysis Wing of the Cabinet Secretariat for inviting me today.

US-Japan security pact turns 50

The United States of America and Japan today marked 50 years of the signing of the Mutual Assistance Treaty between the two nations.

Both the countries had earlier signed a security treaty in 1951 after Japan gained full sovereignty from the Allied occupation. This treaty was revised, the talks for which began in 1959, and a new security pact was signed in Washington DC on January 19, 1960 by then Japanese Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke.

Meanwhile, Japan’s new government has recently ordered a panel of ministers and academicians to investigate the secret security agreements between Japan and the US, which are not a part of the official security pact of 1960.

The secret agreements allowed US nuclear vessels to enter Japan. US nuclear warships have regularly visited Japan but that has never been publicly acknowledged by any Japanese government till date given the sensitivities surrounding nuclear weapons. The inquiry, ordered by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, will for the first time reveal secret agreements regarding a touchy issue for the Japanese population.

Before the Japanese inquiry into its foreign ministry documents is complete, Canary Trap will bring you exclusive details of the security agreements between Japan and the US. The next post on this subject, based on the declassified documents from the US Department of State and Eisenhower Presidential Library, will narrate in detail the strategic reasons and policies that were behind these secret agreements.

Nixon administration’s battle against ‘The Washington Post’

The Post's Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee after winning a ruling in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case.

The Post’s Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee after winning a ruling in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case.

I think the freedom of press is a very Utopian concept. No newspaper or a media house, howsoever powerful, can be completely immune to overt/covert pressure from powerful people/government/institutions they write against. This is true, especially in India, as the government bailed out a lot of media houses from the impact of global financial crisis by giving them all a sizable number of government ads.

But India is not the only country where the media houses are targeted for their investigative reporting. The recently declassified documents from the Nixon Presidential Archives reveal that the Nixon administration threatened The Washington Post for its reporting against President Richard Nixon. A Nixon aide told the investment bank of The Post that a complete change of management at the newspaper was the only solution to ending its war with the US administration.

A January 15, 1973 memo for President Nixon — filed by his Special Counsel Charles Colson — records the details of the conversation Colson had with one Bob Ellsworth (aka Robert F. Ellsworth) on January 12. Ellsworth, a former Congressman, was at that time a General Partner at a New York investment banking firm  Lazard Freres and Company.

Lazard Freres, interestingly, was the investment banking firm for The Washington Post. It helped The Post to go public through a stock offering and also helped setup its stock plan.

According to the declassified memo, Ellsworth told Colson that Lazard was not happy with the way The Post was performing. He cites increasing independence of reporters, fierce competition between The Post and The New York Times, and the increasing postal rates as the reasons behind his firm’s concern.

“Their concern is intensified, according to Bob, by not only these problems, but the fact that the Administration appears to be bent on hurting the Post,” the memo notes.

Ellsworth further told Colson that his firm was concerned that the administration’s fight with The Post was hurting the price of the newspaper company and its stock. He referred to the US administration’s strategy of feeding exclusive stories to its rival Washington Star, which was hurting the Post syndicate, and challenging the licenses of the Post company’s Jacksonville and Miami television stations.

Colson told Ellsworth that The Post publisher Katherine Graham was responsible for the difficulties of the company. Ellsworth disagreed and said he felt that Benjamin C. Bradlee (then the Executive Editor of The Post) was responsible for the “unfair” coverage of the Nixon administration. Colson suggested that The Post newspaper should be split away from the rest of its business enterprises. That would enable the administration fight an open, honest war with the newspaper, he added. Ellsworth agreed to give it a thought.

According to the memo, Colson even told Ellsworth that he had a business group ready to buy The Post if Katherine Graham was ready to sell it.

Colson’s memo, while summing up about his lunch meeting with Ellsworth, states: “I’m convinced, based on the lunch, that The Post is hurting, that their investment bankers are putting pressure on them, that our feeding the Star and attacking the Post TV stations has Wall Street concerned over The Washington Post’s financial future, particularly since second class mail rates could make Newsweek very unprofitable. If Newsweek became unprofitable and the two TV station licenses were lost, or even tied up in extensive litigation, The Post as a newspaper would have to carry the entire operation which it probably cannot do.

The parting suggestion by Colson to Ellsworth, according to the memo, is a real clincher. It highlights to what extent the Nixon administration tried to pressurize The Post to fall in line and toe its line.

Colson told Ellsworth, before their meeting ended, that the newspaper can show some evidences of good faith. This would include few friendly editorials on how well the President was handling the Vietnam War, firing Managing Editor Bradlee, and some straight coverage for a change. He even suggested that The Post “could start putting the Watergate case back inside the paper where it belongs instead of blasting it across the front pages,” the memo notes.

Colson concluded in his memo that The Post was worried and Ellsworth had told him that even Katherine was worried about how far the Nixon administration would carry their campaign against the newspaper.

Who leaked classified US info on Indo-Pak War in 1971?

Jack Anderson

I had written a blog exactly a year back (January 2009) regarding the presence of a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) mole in the then PM Indira Gandhi’s cabinet and US’s tilt towards Pakistan during the 1971 war.

Jack Anderson, an American investigative journalist, first reported about the US tilt towards Pakistan under secret orders from then President Richard Nixon. Anderson got the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 1972 for his reports on US’ tilt away from India.

The United States administration had ordered a high-level inquiry into the special reports by Anderson in The Washington Post on December 14 and December 16, 1971. The objective of the US inquiry was to find the person who leaked the sensitive information to Anderson. Recently declassified documents from the Nixon Presidential Archives reveal the players behind the entire episode and also discloses the name of the person who leaked the information to Anderson.

Anderson’s newspaper reports disclosed highly classified information regarding the India-Pakistan war, which was known to a very close group of senior US policy makers advising President Richard Nixon on the South Asian conflict. His reports caused great embarrassment to the US administration as they clearly disclosed the US administration’s tilt (working towards providing fighter planes to Pakistan via Jordan, sending a naval task force in the region to threaten India) towards Pakistan.

The investigators questioned a number of senior US officials regarding the leak. The individuals under investigation were either directly involved in the policy making or served as aides to people who were part of the classified discussions which were leaked. The individuals include:

1. Mr. James H. Noyes (Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East, African and South Asian Affairs, Office of International Security Affairs)

2. Rear Admiral Robert O. Welander (Assistant For National Security Affairs to The Chairman’s Staff Group, JCS, and Senior Member of The National Security Council Staff)

3. SP5 Floyd G. Hagar

4. Chief Yeoman William R. Sessoms

5. YNI Charles E. Radford

6. YNI Norman R. Coleman, USN

7. M/SGT Harry A. Dennis, Jr., USAF

8. Interview with Personnel of Chairman’s Staff Group, Office of Chairman, JCS

  • Colonel Bennie L. Davis, USAF
  • Colonel Wallace H. Nutting, USA
  • Colonel J. A. MacDonald, USMC
  • Captain Sayre Swarztrauber, USN

The investigators even conducted polygraph examinations on certain individuals (YNI Charles E. Radford, USN; R/A Robert O. Welander, USN; YNC William R. Sessoms, USN; SP5 Floyd G. Hagar, USA; YNI Norman R. Coleman, USN; M/SGT Harry A. Dennis Jr., USAF) to ascertain the truth behind the leak.

The now declassified investigation report states that out of all the individuals who were interviewed, only one (YNI Charles E. Radford, USN) of them knew Jack Anderson personally. The investigative report states that although Radford denied passing on any information to Anderson, the results of his polygraph tests suggested otherwise. But he confessed to purloining sensitive papers from the National Security Council (NSC) without authority and passing them to his military superiors.

The report does not conclusively nail down Radford as the alleged leaker of information but points towards a number of circumstantial evidence (relations with Anderson,  cash crunch, sympathetic attitude towards India) suggesting his involvement.

But another recently declassified document, also in Nixon Presidential Archives, clearly states that Charles Radford was responsible for leaking classified information regarding India-Pakistan war to Washington Post journalist Jack Anderson.

A memorandum for President Nixon prepared by David Young (Special assistant at the National Security Council in the Nixon Administration and an administrative assistant to Henry Kissinger) regarding the investigation states: “Through electronic surveillance of Radford in Oregon, information is developed confirming that he was the channel to Anderson.”

It further states that when Anderson received the Pulitzer Prize for his reports on India-Pakistan war, Radford was telephoned and congratulated by his father-in-law. Radford too called Anderson on the same day to congratulate him.

While, the US inquiry blamed Radford for leaking information to Jack Anderson, it helped India indirectly. President Nixon had told the US Congressional leaders that US was neutral in the India-Pakistan conflict but Anderson’s special reports (with the help of the information Radford leaked) revealed how Nixon had secretly ordered a tilt towards Pakistan. This brought about a lot of pressure on the Nixon administration within the US.