Tuesday, February 12, 2013



Intelligence agencies have to be accountable to the Executive. Otherwise, there will be no secrecy in their functioning. Without effective secrecy, there cannot be clandestine collection of intelligence having a bearing on national security. Nowhere in the world ---not even in the much cited US--- is the executive not primarily responsible for the effective functioning  of the clandestine agencies.

2.However, in an increasing number of democracies, the Executive voluntarily shares with the legislature part of the responsibility for monitoring the performance of the secret agencies to ensure their competence to protect national security and to prevent wrong-doings.

3.In the US, the Executive and the Congress negotiate from time to time the ground rules for sharing this responsibility. The ground rules are so designed that in the anxiety to provide for accountability, the capability of the agencies to function as the clandestine arm of the State is not blunted.

4.The US Congress now has the following powers in respect of the agencies of the intelligence community:

·      To satisfy itself regarding the professional suitability of the heads of the agencies. The Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee goes into the suitability of designated heads and has to confirm their appointment.

·      To go into the overall budgetary allocations for different agencies and satisfy itself that correct national security priorities are observed in making the allocations. The Congress does not, however, go into allocations for individual clandestine operations. For example, the Congressional Oversight Committees decide whether allocations made for monitoring nuclear developments in North Korea are adequate and appropriate, but cannot go into how the allocations are utilized on individual operations.

·      To examine the intelligence produced  by the agencies to satisfy itself that they adequately meet the national security needs.

·      To enquire into instances of wrong-doing by the intelligence agencies.

5.The Executive and the two Houses of the Congress decide for themselves as to how they will exercise their shared responsibility without encroaching on each other’s turf. The culture of bipartisanship in the US facilitates decisions relating to intelligence agencies being taken by the Executive and the two Parties in the Congress in continuous  consultation with each other. Congressional leaders exercise their shared responsibility in such a manner as not to weaken national security.

6. The time has come  to consider the introduction in the Indian intelligence community the concept of shared responsibility between the Executive and the Parliament for monitoring the performance of the intelligence agencies. Certain difficulties will arise in this regard which have to be addressed first:

·      In India, we still do not have the concept of an intelligence community functioning as an organic whole. Each agency functions as an autonomous unit.

·      Our intelligence agencies were set up under executive orders and not through an act of Parliament. Unless there is an act of Parliament formalizing the existence and functioning of the agencies, the question of a parliamentary role will remain vague

·      There is no bipartisan culture in India. We have a multiplicity of political parties and coalitions. How to lay the ground rules under which a Parliament with a plethora of parties will play a role in monitoring the performance of the agencies? The more the parties involved in monitoring the performance of the agencies the less will be the secrecy. The concept of a national security culture has not evolved in our political class. Consequently, there will always be attempts by different parties to embarrass each other than to strengthen the intelligence community.

7.While I have always been a strong advocate of giving Parliament a role in monitoring the performance of the agencies, before this can be done the issues mentioned above have to be resolved through multi-party consensus. While the US model may not suit India, the British model can be considered for adoption with suitable changes and safeguards.

8.In the British model, the Prime Minister continues to play the leadership role in deciding the ground rules for joint Executive-Legislature monitoring of the performance of the agencies. Under the British political culture, the political parties do not challenge the primacy of the Prime Minister in matters relating to the intelligence agencies.

9. If we have to introduce the system in India, the political parties have to accept the primacy of the Prime Minister in matters relating to the secret agencies and the Prime Minister and the ruling coalition have to concede that the time has  come to give the Parliament a role in this matter.

10.Once there is a gentlemen’s agreement on this, the nuts and bolts can be decided through joint consultations. ( 13-2-13)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi.Twitter: @SORBONNE75)





It will be incorrect to compare the execution of Ajmal Kasab,Pakistani member of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), for his involvement in the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, with that of Afzal Guru, an Indian citizen from Jammu and Kashmir for his involvement in the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13,2001, believed to have been mounted by the Jaish-e-Mohammad.(JEM), a Pakistani jihadi organization.

2. Kasab was a Pakistani citizen who was a member of the LET .He had voluntarily got himself trained by the LET for participating in the execution of the terrorist strike. He was one of the perpetrators who was seen carrying out the killings. The evidence against him was direct and documentary in the form of video recordings. There were no grounds for doubt and no mitigating factors.

3.In the case of Afzal Guru, the evidence produced by the prosecution before the court clearly showed he was a conspirator and an accomplice, who had facilitated the attack on the Parliament by voluntarily providing logistics assistance to the JEM perpetrators who carried out the attack. However, whereas Kasab was a perpetrator, Afzal Guru was an accomplice and facilitator, who did not actively participate in the attack on the ground.

4.The gravity of the JEM attack on the Parliament was as serious as that of the LET attack in Mumbai. Nobody can question the appropriateness of the death penalty awarded to him.

5.However, there were many mitigating factors in the case of Guru. He was an Indian citizen from an alienated province of India. He was not known to have been an active member of any jihadi terrorist organization of India . He had reportedly undergone training in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir as a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in the early 1990s, but the JKLF has since dissociated itself from acts of terrorism. He had no previous record of involvement in any act of mass casualty  terrorism in Indian territory. He was an accomplice and not a perpetrator.

6.Political wisdom and foresight demanded that these mitigating factors should have been taken into consideration while deciding whether it was a fit case for carrying out the death penalty or whether ends of justice would be served by commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment.

7.In the competitive pre-poll attempt to show who is stronger in dealing with terrorism, the Government  and the BJP seem to have overlooked these mitigating factors and used Afzal Guru’s execution as an unfortunate yardstick to establish their strong counter-terrorism credentials.

8.This is likely to prove counter-productive and aggravate the threat of terrorism instead of helping to bring it under control ( 11-2-2013)

( 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. Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )