Sunday, December 4, 2011



Since the Indo-Pakistan conflict in the Kargil heights in 1999, there has been a major increase in the Technical Intelligence (TECHINT) capabilities of the Indian security community, which comprises the intelligence agencies of the Government of India and the intelligence divisions of the State Police.

2. A new organization---initially called the National Technical Facilities Organisation (NTFO) and subsequently renamed the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) – has come up to focus exclusively on the collection of TECHINT. It is somewhat---but not totally-- similar to the National Security Agency (NSA) of the USA.

3. However, whereas the NSA comes under the control of the US Defence Secretary and is headed by a serving military officer of the rank of Lt.Gen, whose appointment by the President is subject to confirmation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the head of the NTRO, called Chairman, is taken on rotation from the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

4.Whereas the head of the NSA is a serving officer, the Chairmen of the NTRO have come from a hotch-potch background --- not found fit to head the organization to which they originally belonged, but sought to be placated by being made the chief of the NTRO with a fixed tenure. The selection process is not subject to review or scrutiny by any external mechanism---either of the Parliament or outside it.

5. There is a greater possibility of the political misuse of a technical intelligence organization than of a human intelligence organization. They ,therefore, have to be subject to even more strict external controls than HUMINT organizations. The dangers of misuse have increased due to the easy availability of modern snooper technology and gadgets. When one was totally dependent on landline telephones for internal communications, the scope for misuse was limited, but mobile technology has placed in the hands of not only the State, but also non-state actors---terrorists, insurgents, organized crime groups, narcotics smugglers, corporate and political rivals--- immense possibilities of snooping on the State, on each other and among themselves.

6. The creation of the NTRO has been accompanied by the strengthening of the TECHINT capabilities of not only the IB, the R&AW and the military intelligence agencies, but also of the police and a number of other departments of the Government of India which have no business to indulge in their own snooping for their own purpose. The Radia Tapes affair brought out that the Income Tax Department has probably acquired its own snooping capability which was sought to be misused by unidentified elements----either in the Department itself or outside--- to besmirch the personal reputation and damage the professional career of innocent personalities like Barkha Dutt, the well-known TV journo, and Ratan Tata, the highly reputed corporate leader.

7. Action to prevent the misuse of the vastly expanding TECHINT capabilities now available at the Centre and in the States demands a centralized and strictly implemented control over the entire snooping process----starting from the procurement of equipment, the recruitment and training of snoopers, the utilization of the funds placed at their disposal, the procedure followed for snooping to ensure that snooping is done strictly in accordance with law for meeting clearly-defined national security objectives etc.

8. In the US, the NSA provides such a centralized set-up. It does the snooping on behalf of all Government Departments after they have obtained the required authorization for the snooping from the competent authority. In India, internal snooping used to be the responsibility of the IB, which had the required technical capability and human and financial resources and which used to do it in accordance with an authorized procedure.

9.The Radia Tapes affair showed that there has probably been a total dilution of the procedure and controls with the result that anybody who wants to snoop has been doing so in reckless disregard of the requirements of the need and obligation to protect the privacy of the citizens and to observe the requirements of the law. Snooping has become the name of the game in many Government departments and State Police.

10. Another worrisome development has been the evident resort to random snooping. There are two kinds of snooping ----targeted snooping of suspects against whom there is suspicion of wrong-doing and random snooping in order to monitor what has been going on in cyber space and mobile frequencies. In the US, whereas targeted snooping is allowed subject to certain conditions and procedures, random snooping, which is a violation of the privacy and human rights of citizens, is totally forbidden. The Clinton and Bush Administrations tried hard to give limited powers of random snooping to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the NSA for counter-terrorism purposes, but the Congress disallowed it. Barkha, Vir Sanghvi and Tata were apparently the victims of illegal random snooping by the Income Tax Department. Had a similar incident happened in the US, not only would there have been a detailed Congressional enquiry into it, but the judiciary would have also awarded heavy damages to the victims.

11. In India, the absence of effective external controls over organizations having the capability for snooping facilitates the misuse of the capabilities for purposes not connected with national security and for besmirching the well-earned reputation of innocent citizens, who find themselves without any defence because they do not know and understand what the hell has been going on.

12. It is important for the Government to go into this matter and establish an architecture of legal and procedural safeguards to ensure that our TECHINT capabilities are used only against suspected wrong-doers and not against innocent citizens---either consciously or unconsciously.

13.Ideally, as in many democracies such as the US and even highly security-conscious Israel, a parliamentary oversight committee for intelligence should be on top of the safeguards architecture. There has been strong resistance from the Indian intelligence community to giving Parliament any oversight role in such matters relating to the intelligence agencies. The political leadership hasn’t had the courage to overrule the nay-sayers in the intelligence community and set up a parliamentary oversights mechanism.

14. While trying to overcome the resistance from the intelligence community, the Government should set up a Cabinet Committee on Intelligence----separate from the Cabinet Committee on Security--- to go into such matters in a regular and systematic manner. It should be chaired by the Prime Minister with the National Security Adviser as the member-secretary and should consist of the Home Minister and the Defence Minister. The very fact that such a high-level committee has been monitoring the use of the TECHINT capabilities to prevent misuse would act as a deterrent against tempted misuse. (5-12-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: . Twitter: @SORBONNE75)



The erosion of decorum and gravitas in parliamentary proceedings is a phenomenon often seen in Parliaments of democracies with a multi-party parliamentary system, with no party strong enough to enforce its political will on the conduct of the parliamentary proceedings.

2.One saw it in the pre-de Gaulle French Parliament and one continues to see it often in the parliaments of democracies such as Italy, Japan, South Korea and some South American countries.

3. de Gaulle did manage to improve the functioning of the French Parliament by having a new Constitution introduced. Despite this, the experience on the whole has been that the erosion cannot be prevented or reversed through rules and regulations alone or through flippant measures such as denying salary to Members of Parliament disrupting parliamentary proceedings. The only way of dealing with this erosion is through the practice of a robust system of parliamentary ethics, the initiative for which has to come from the ruling party.

4. This phenomenon is generally not seen in democracies with a two-party system or with a restricted number of political parties where parliamentary strengths are evenly matched. Two examples are the UK and India before 1970. The predominant presence of the Congress in the Indian Parliament and the parliamentary etiquette of the post-Independence leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru ensured the prevalence of decorum and gravitas even in the most contentious of situations. The self-confidence arising from predominance in numbers ensured a certain dignity and self-restraint in the conduct of the MsP of the ruling party, which was reciprocated by the members of the opposition.

5. The erosion in the decorum and gravitas consequent on the emergence of a multiplicity of political parties initially started in the State legislatures in the 1960s and has subsequently spread to the Parliament, causing frequent spells of paralysis in the functioning of the Parliament, to which the ruling and opposition parties have contributed in varying measures.

6. The initiative for reversing the erosion through better parliamentary etiquette and conduct has to come from the ruling party, but unfortunately there has been a leadership vacuum in the Congress due to the lack of political stature in the party as well as the Government. Neither Mrs.Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the party, nor Dr.Manmohan Singh, the leader of the Government lacking parity of status with the party leader, has been able to give an ethical lead inside the two Houses.

7. The lack of self-confidence of the two leaders arising from their lack of stature has added to their feelings of political insecurity leading to an undesirable abrasive style of politics poisoning the conduct and proceedings inside the two Houses.

8.The political ineptitude of the two leaders was seen in the manner in which they tried to push through the decision on the question of FDI in the retail sector. The parliamentary proceedings have been paralysed by the determination of the ruling party to push through the decision by hook or by crook and the equal determination of the opposition to frustrate the machinations of the ruling party.

9. While the merits of allowing FDI in the retail sector have been adequately discussed, there has not been enough focus on how the Government, which had slept over the issue for many months, has tried to push through the decision in such a peremptory manner in unedifying haste.

10.Some retired senior officials with whom I had discussed this in Delhi last week attributed the haste displayed by the Congress to its urgent need for funds for the UP elections next year. They alleged that some corporate houses, which would be the main beneficiaries of the FDI decision, were expected to be the main contributors to the coffers of the Congress for the UP elections.

11. According to them, the determination of other political parties to prevent the Congress from financially benefiting from the decision before the UP elections accounted for their obduracy in preventing the normal functioning of the two Houses.

12. Even if the Congress had legitimate economic and policy reasons for pushing through the decision, it could have averted the prevailing paralysis either by postponing the decision till the session was over or by seeking to build an all-party consensus on the issue or by accepting the demand of the opposition for an adjournment motion with voting, subject to the proviso that either there will be voice voting or any adverse voting will be deemed to be only a disapproval of the policy initiative and not a lack of confidence in the Government.

13. Instead of discussing the various legitimate options with the opposition, the Government adopted a stone-walling tactics which has led a further erosion of decorum and gravitas. This situation could not have been averted through any number of rules and regulations to govern the functioning of the Parliament.

14. This could have been averted only by a self-confident and enlightened political leadership in the Congress taking the initiative for searching for a way out in consultation with all political parties in a manner that would have preserved decorum and gravitas in the two Houses.

15. By failing to do so, the Congress has contributed to a further erosion of the dignity and stature of the Parliament. While the opposition parties cannot escape their share of the blame for the prevailing state of affairs, one has to admit that the initial provocation came from the Congress.

16. If media reports that the Government has decided to suspend the FDI decision are correct, the present crisis may end, but another crisis will occur in future unless and until there is an ethical introspection by all parties and the Congress leadership takes the initiative for restoring the decorum and gravitas and the ethical dimensions of the parliamentary proceedings. It is in this direction that the public should exercise pressure on the political class. ( 5-12-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-Mail: Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )