Will national anti-terror outfit be just another agency?

on Monday, January 12, 2009

What India Needs Is A Unit That Converges All-Source Intel Collection & Its Dissemination

Establishing a national counter terrorism agency is a positive idea whose time had come quite some time back but got registered only when it came riding on the tragedy of Mumbai. It was heartening that the lawmakers seized the opportunity to constitute a national agency to counter terrorism. However, the way in which it is being conceived and designed, it may belie the high expectations.
Demand for an effective National Counter Terrorism Agency emanated from national dismay that when reasonably good intelligence was available, when the country had instrumentalities to counter terrorists, when there was a coordination mechanism in place, why did 26/11 happen? When it did, why was the response so flat-footed?
It required no genius to discover that the fault lay in the system itself where multiplicity of agencies prevented any one agency to have the total picture; disabling any single agency or individual to be in total command to act decisively and leaving coordination to degenerate into a bureaucratic ritual. It was a case where every agency or individual had all the material to defend itself, but collectively little to defend the nation. The system was designed to fail as those with knowledge had no legal empowerment or fire power, while those with fire power were not in the knowledge loop and those with legal empowerment were resource constrained. On top of this, there was multiplicity of agencies even in each category without standardized operating procedures, governing rules and doctrines, training and equipment, and commonly shared objectives and priorities. This had to be corrected divergence substituted by convergence, turf wars replaced by synergy and concerted action taking over confusion. For this, they thought a unified national agency was the answer.
However, the envisaged NIA does not bring us anywhere closer to this objective. On the contrary, it adds one more platform with no structural integration or operational unification. As a post-event investigation agency, it might marginally increase conviction rates or get enhanced punishment to a few jihadis who, working at suicidal level of motivation, may only find it amusing.
Had this agency existed before the Mumbai carnage, none of the shortcomings that came to light would have been minimized. It would not have ensured improved intelligence integration or action-oriented dissemination, better preventive response. There would have been one more player playing it. They might be interrogating Ajmal Kasab little better but the real brains would have still remained beyond their reach. Legal actions are important but, at the end of the day, war against terror would neither be won nor lost in the court of law.
What India needed was a counter-terrorism outfit that converges all-source intelligence collection and its dissemination, real time and decisive physical response to meet the threat both in defensive and offensive-defense modes and efficient investigations to punish the wrong doers. And, all this under a common umbrella with unambiguous responsibility, authority and accountability.
While the intelligence function should have aimed at collection, integration of inputs and their refinement to operational grade intelligence, the action component should have focused on terrorist specific tactics, field craft, equipment and skills for speed, surprise and dominance. Investigators as part of the composite team should have been selected for their special skills and attitude, including knowledge of terrorist groups, modus operandi, collaborative linkages, channels of procuring funds and weapons.
To be effective, the new outfit should develop a secure Enetwork connecting the apex agency to all district headquarters and police stations. It should be linked to the agency’s data mining centre where terrorist information from police station to the highest in the agency is inputed according to availability and retrieved according to needs; with adequate safety features like firewalls. The agency should have stateof-the-art infrastructure to collect technical and cyber intelligence, break codes, analyze terror documents, carry out surveillance and jam terrorist communications. Specialized counter-terrorist force, like the NSG, should be brought under the control of the agency for undertaking intelligence-driven operations. Commandos should be constantly updated on emerging trends, techniques, weapons and modus operandi of terrorists. They are not robots and their mental tuning is a must for optimal results.
The ideal arrangement would be to have a director general, counter terrorism, who is ex-officio special director of the Intelligence Bureau with all counter-terrorist work, multi agency centre and joint task force on intelligence centralized under his control. Being part of the IB, the outfit will overnight acquire communication linkage, intelligence reach, logistic and technical support, connectivity with local police and administration not only in every district but remotest border areas. This will bring the whole country under a unified counter terrorist grid with no extra cost or time involved.Due to various sensitivities involved, no intelligence agency can transfer its entire data to a non-intelligence agency. If the director general of counter terrorism is made part of the IB, he can have total access to the intelligence data, will also be able to leverage vast technical capabilities of national intelligence agencies both for intelligence and to keep the counter-terrorist force at its technical best.
The director general should enjoy total autonomy and should be the only person empowered to undertake counter terrorist actions. To enable him to control, train, equip and motivate men for special counterterrorist actions, the NSG should be brought under his command. The DG should also be empowered to maintain liaison with friendly security and counter-terrorist agencies, as when handled by those who know little about terrorism, the loss in content and time is unaffordable. This will also help the DG to keep abreast of latest techniques, technologies, equipment and weapons that have proved effective against terrorists, and take initiatives to keep his armed wing best trained and equipped. Fourth generation warfare needs people who can change fast, think fast and act fast in this battle. It’s not the bravest but the smartest that takes the trophy.
None of the steps suggested encroaches on the power of states. It also does not require any amendments to laws and can be achieved within executive powers of the government.
With what is happening in Pakistan, Afghanistan and within our country, we may be in for much greater shocks than the Mumbai strike and we are not prepared for it. We think the latest was the last but the worst is probably yet to come. Today, there is mood for change in the nation but it may have a short shelf life. The consensus on response to terrorism is an opportunity to be seized.