Home ministry’s plan for umbrella intelligence body finds no favour

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

NEW DELHI - The Indian home ministry’s plan to have an over-arching body for intelligence sifting has found no favour with two security think-tanks that worked separately to promote reforms in the country’s spy agencies.

The two studies carried out by the think-tanks on changes needed in the country’s intelligence agencies’ functioning have concluded that such an umbrella organisation was not a practical option, in view of the individual agencies’ mindset to protect their own domains.

Government-sponsored Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and independent body Observer Research Foundation (ORF) have drafted the reports, which were thrashed out at a closed-door roundtable participated by retired spymasters and officials closely related to such agencies.

The draft reports have dealt with reforms in the functioning of India’s intelligence outfits such as Research and Analysis Wing, Aviation Research Centre, Intelligence Bureau, National Technical Research Organisation and Defence Intelligence Agency.

The two institutions, in their findings, have concluded that the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), a pet idea of Home Minister P. Chidambaram, was not feasible in the present scenario.

Chidambaram had in December 2009 revealed his plan for the NCTC at an endowment lecture sponsored by one of the intelligence agencies.

Under his plan, the NCTC would function as an umbrella outfit under the home ministry with representation from all security and intelligence agencies, including those working directly under the Prime Minister’s Office, the Defence Ministry and the Finance Ministry.

One of the experts, who had worked on the reports, noted that NCTC can be one other agency and still coordination among all the existing agencies that are so protective about their turfs will be needed for intelligence inputs.

The NCTC would anyway not be able to control the inputs emerging from each of the existing intelligence agencies, he felt.

The experts wondered whether the NCTC, being a home minister’s baby, would be allowed control of agencies that report to the prime minister, defence minister and finance minister of the country.

Another interesting aspect of the IDSA and ORF reports is the role that they want the National Security Advisor (NSA) to play.

One of the suggestion was that the NSA should be a minister for security and intelligence in the government, thereby bringing the office under parliament scrutiny and accountability.

But the appointee need not necessarily be a politician and the office could easily go to an expert in the field, it was felt.

That apart, the report suggested that the intelligence agencies’ functioning, appointments, training, budgetary funds, cadres and recruitment needed to be streamlined and brought under a parliamentary oversight such as a committee consisting of the prime minister, the defence minister, the external affairs minister, the home minister and the finance minister, apart from the Lok Sabha speaker, the Rajya Sabha chairman and the leaders of the opposition in both houses of parliament.

The experts felt that a parliamentary standing committee or a consultative committee on intelligence agencies would be too obtrusive, as the operational details of these organisations could be sensitive and be national secrets.

The reports also suggested having an ombudsman or a tribunal to deal with issues arising out of whisleblowers. But that suggestion was shot down by experts, who did not want “a central administrative tribunal kind of a situation” staring intelligence agencies in the face.

Filed under: Terrorism

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