Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Intelligence: Need for Enhanced Focus on China


( Article written for the November,2010, issue of “AGNI”, the journal of the Forum For Strategic and Security Studies of New Delhi )

Since 1947, India has had four reviews of its intelligence capabilities.

2.The first was after the Sino-Indian military conflict of 1962 in which the Indian Army did badly. The review led to two conclusions. Firstly, the Intelligence Bureau (IB), which was then responsible for the collection of internal and external intelligence, had serious deficiencies in its capabilities for the collection, analysis and assessment of intelligence regarding China in general and Chinese-occupied Tibet in particular. Secondly, its capabilities in this regard had to be strengthened quickly and this would not be possible without the assistance of the intelligence agencies of the US and the UK.

3. Among the follow-up measures taken were building a cadre of Chinese linguists on a crash basis in order to be able to collect, collate, analyse and assess open source intelligence, expanding the IB’s network of Forward Intelligence Posts (FIPs) on the Tibetan order and Foreign Intelligence Posts in South-East and East Asia for collecting human intelligence and strengthening the IB’s capability for the collection of technical intelligence through ground stations for the interception of messages and air platforms for the collection of signals of various kinds and aerial photography.

4. The reservoir of linguists was built up without the need for any foreign assistance. Many young graduates and post-graduates were recruited and got trained in the foreign language schools of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and in a special school for teaching the Chinese language which had been set up after 1962. Those who did well in their language training were sent to places like Hong Kong for further improvement of their language skills.

5. Despite this, the IB was not in a position to provide a 100 per cent coverage of open source intelligence. This would have involved huge investments. In view of the limited resources available to the IB, it was decided to benefit from the open source intelligence collection capabilities of the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the UK’s external intelligence agency called the Secret Intelligence Service or the MI 6. The CIA and the MI 6 readily agreed to share with the IB the produce of their open source intelligence monitoring stations located in South-East and East Asia and Australia.

6. The strengthening of the FIPs on the Tibetan border and the Foreign Intelligence Posts was also done by the IB through its own limited human and financial resources without any external assistance. There was an increased intake of officers at the junior, middle and senior levels and they were got trained in the Central Police Training College at Mount Abu in Rajasthan followed by specialised training in the intelligence tradecraft in the IB’s own training school.

7. Foreign assistance was obtained from the intelligence agencies of the US and the UK for strengthening the IB’s capability for the collection of technical intelligence relating to China. It was felt that from the counter-intelligence point of view --- that is, to prevent a possible penetration of the counter-intelligence set-up of the IB by the US and British agencies--- it would not be advisable for the new technical intelligence capabilities created with US and British assistance to be located in the IB. These capabilities consisted essentially of ground-based monitoring stations for the collection of signal intelligence and air–based platforms for the collection of signals of various kinds and for aerial photography.

8. It was decided to locate the new Techint capabilities acquired from the US and the UK in a new organization called the Directorate-General of Security (DGS), which would come under the over-all supervision of the Director of the IB, but would be administratively independent of the IB, with its own cadre of staff and its own budget. While the DGS exercised the responsibility for the collection of intelligence through ground stations, the responsibility for operating air platforms was given to an organization called the Aviation Research Centre (ARC), which was part of the DGS, but had a different administrative set-up.

9.This re-organised set-up, which came into being as a result of the post-1962 review, started functioning well. The post-1962 review paid no attention to the IB’s capabilities for the collection of intelligence about Pakistan. It was an ad hoc re-organisation carried out with American and British assistance following the disastrous 1962 military conflict with China. The review and the re-organisation were not holistic covering the entire gamut of the intelligence collection capabilities of the IB. There was considerable extra attention to China, but inadequate attention to Pakistan. The IB was not in a position to use the additional capabilities acquired after 1962 for the collection of intelligence about Pakistan because the US and British agencies had insisted that the assistance given by them could be used only for strengthening the intelligence-collection capabilities relating to China and not for the coverage of Pakistan.

10. The second and third reviews were undertaken after the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965 and the revolt by the Mizo National Front (MNF) in 1966. Both these reviews brought out that the intelligence deficiencies noticed in 1965 and 1966 were due to the fact that the main focus of the IB’s attention was on internal intelligence and that, as result, external intelligence----whether relating to Pakistan or China--- did not receive the attention it deserved.

11. These two reviews led to the decision of the Government of India in 1968 to divest the IB of the responsibility for the collection of external intelligence. It was decided that thereafter the IB should be responsible for the collection of internal intelligence only. A separate organization for the collection of external intelligence----human as well as technical --- under the name of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) was created on September 21,1968. The DGS, which was responsible for the collection of intelligence about China with technical capabilities acquired from the US and British agencies, was transferred from the control of the IB to that of the R&AW. Secretary (R ), as the head of the R&AW is known, was given two hats to wear---as the head of the R&AW and as the concurrent head of the DGS.

12. The post-1968 re-organisation paid more attention to strengthening the capability of the R&AW for the collection of intelligence about Pakistan and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. However, R.N.Kao, the first head of the R&AW from 1968 to 1977, who had spent his years in the IB in the China and international communism wings of the IB, and his No.2, K.Sankaran Nair, who had spent most of his years in the IB in the Division dealing with Pakistan and the Islamic world, saw to it that the increased focus on China after 1962 did not get diluted as a result of the increased focus on Pakistan post-1968. Under Kao, the co-operation of the US and British agencies with the DGS continued to function well.

13. Between 1977 and 1991 --- a period of 14 years--- the R&AW and the DGS were headed by officers who were essentially experts on Pakistan and other countries. They did take interest in improving the coverage of China, but their focus tended to be on Pakistan. Between 1991 and 1993, the R&AW and the DGS were again headed by an officer who was an acknowledged expert on China. He had served for some years in the DGS set-up and hence was able to see that the co-operation between the DGS and the American agencies on China remained strong. Since 1993----for 17 years now--- the R&AW and the DGS have again been headed by officers who were more experts on Pakistan and other countries and internal security than on China. During this period, there has been a dilution of the focus on China. The result---- a weakening of the Chinese language skills and a decrease in the number of officers with expertise on China. The present focus has been on Pakistan and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, which are important and should receive priority, but this should not be to the detriment of the China-related capabilities.

14. In the early 1980s, the Government constituted a separate cadre of the R&AW called the Research & Analysis Service (RAS). It consisted of officers directly recruited to the R&AW and got trained by it and officers of the Indian Police Service (IPS) and the armed forces, who had come to the R&AW on deputation from the IB and the States as well as from the armed forces and who were found good in intelligence work. For the directly-recruited officers of the RAS, acquisition of foreign language skills was obligatory before they could be confirmed and promoted. It was not necessary for the deputationists from the IPS and the Armed Forces who were taken into the RAS.

15. Most of the deputationists were experts on Pakistan or terrorism and insurgency. Hardly any expert on China came on deputation. The IPS officers of the IB and the State Police do not have much expertise on China. The Armed Forces do have officers with Chinese language skills and China expertise. In the 1960s and the 1970s, some of these officers came on deputation, but since the 1980s, the flow of military officers with China expertise decreased. As a result, the dwindling Chinese language skills and China expertise remained confined to the small number of direct recruits to the RAS. When the turn of these direct recruits for appointment as Secretary (R) came, they were overlooked and IPS officers were inducted from the States or the IB to take over as the chief. The result has been a declining incentive among young officers for acquiring Chinese language skills and China expertise. The number of young officers who want to specialize on China has been coming down. Practically everybody wants to specialize on Pakistan or internal security related subjects so that their chances of rising to the top will be strengthened.

16. Since 1962, we have not had a military conflict with China. As a result, we have not had a comprehensive review of our capabilities for the collection, analysis and assessment of intelligence about China. The fourth review, which was undertaken in 2000 after the Kargil military conflict with Pakistan through a task force headed by G.C.Saxena, former head of the R&AW between 1983 and 1986 and then Governor of J&K, again focused largely on examining our capabilities relating to Pakistan, terrorism, insurgency and other aspects of internal security. It paid only limited attention to China, but it did examine in detail the working of the DGS set-up and our capabilities for the collection of Techint----whether relating to Pakistan or China.

17. Its report led to the creation of two new agencies in the intelligence community---- the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) to analyse and assess military intelligence of a strategic nature and the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) to deal exclusively with the collection of Techint through ground stations as well as air platforms. While the creation of the DIA did not weaken any of the existing military intelligence agencies, the manner in which the NTRO was created weakened the capabilities of the DGS. The Task Force wanted that the NTRO should handle all capabilities to be newly-created and that the then existing capabilities in different organizations like the R&AW, the DGS and the IB should not be disturbed. This recommendation was not fully implemented. One understands that some of the existing capabilities of the DGS were transferred to the NTRO much to the opposition of the then head of the R&AW and the DGS. The China-centric capability of the R&AW and the DGS, which had already been weakened, was further weakened by the manner in which the NTRO was set up.

18.Thus, at a time when our major concerns relating to China have been increasing we find the adequacy and effectiveness of our China-centric capabilities in an unsatisfactory state. Our major concerns relating to China arise from the continuing border dispute with China, its determination to acquire at least part of Arunachal Pradesh if not the whole of it one day, its virtual military alliance with Pakistan, its favouring Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, its increasing presence in the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, its growing strategic presence in South Asia and Myanmar, its space-related military capabilities, its sophisticated capabilities for a cyber warfare, the modernization of its armed forces, the upgradation of its infrastructure in Tibet, the assertiveness of its Navy etc.

19. India is now faced with strategic concerns on many fronts---- all of them arising from Pakistan or China acting individually or jointly. It has been reported that our Army is increasingly concerned over the possibility of a two-front war that one day may be imposed on us by Pakistan and China and has been trying to revamp its strategic doctrines and capabilities to meet such a threat should it arise.

20. The intelligence community should also have a corresponding two-front capability for the collection of intelligence in equal measure about Pakistan and China. Pakistan is important and should continue to have high priority. But China has become equally important and its importance as a priority has been increasing.

21. Since 1962, we have not had a detailed review of our intelligence capabilities relating to China. It is urgent to undertake such a review to identify our deficiencies and take action to remove them. There are two ways of doing this. Either have a holistic review of our entire intelligence capabilities instead of focusing only on China or have a review of only our capabilities relating to China. A holistic review would be more advisable. We have not had such a holistic review since we became independent in 1947.

22. Other countries such as the US have two kinds of reviews. The first is a review undertaken whenever there is a national security set-back or failure. This is similar to the four reviews which we have had. They focus only on identifying the reasons for the set-back or failure and suggesting corrective actions. The second is a holistic review undertaken periodically to determine whether the intelligence agencies are keeping pace with the evolving threats to national security and taking continuous corrective action. Such a holistic review is urgently called for in the light of the growing alliance between China and Pakistan. (28-10-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi. E-mail: )