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SLEEPING DOGS OF INTELLIGENCE

 

Paper no. 645       28. 03. 2003

 This letter published in page 2 of India Abroad of March 14, is in response to the report "India's intelligence failure led to Kargil conflict, says Pentagon-supported study" published earlier in  India Abroad issue of February 7, 2003.

Permission of Editor of India Abroad has been taken to republish this letter.  Director

Leave alone the sleeping dogs. That saying has much merit for intelligence because if awakened, they create anxiety.

Intelligence is not provoked into spilling the beans when uninformed critics, relying on slanders, innuendos and rumours, try to cast dirt. Intelligence services in all democracies are fated to such experience but when downright lies are dished across, patience will tend to snap. 

Intelligence in a democracy, dictatorship or monarchy, works under or has direct access to the chief political executive of the country. In democracies, peoples’ representatives in the legislature do demand transparency about its work. The political executive will grant transparency in proportion to the maturity of the legislators to keep secrets. US has achieved the highest level of transparency through a series of compromises over a period after deep agonising within the executive government. The US has not been able to reach a golden mean between transparency and dangers of leakages. Embarrassments are not unknown. In the UK, the existence of the intelligence world was acknowledged by its Government only in recent times. In India,  Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh had demanded  transparency, more than a decade ago when  in the opposition. Is it not worth reflecting why little has been done in that direction even though the political executive of which he is a senior influential member, has been in power for nearly four years?

Intelligence is a prize catch. Its tools are coveted by others. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) in India had been traditionally a part of the Home Department in the days of the Raj and the Ministry of Home Affairs after partition. The Pakisan share of the IB became a part of the Home Ministry there. But when the Research & Analysis wing (R&AW) was being created in 1960s there was a scramble to possess it in  different quarters of the administration and a jockeying even by non professionals to be appointed its head. Its technical capabilities have been eyed with envy and longing by others. To give one example, its aviation research facility has been the subject of a ceaseless quest by the Indian Air Force.

Certain basics need to be comprehended and the foremost among these is the principle of unknowability. There will always remain an area of unknowability in any target situation which means that there can never be 100% acquisition of information. Any one who expects 100% information is quite obviously innocent of the rudiments of intelligence work. An example from the Gulf war of 1992 will illustrate this. Despite the best technical resources of surveillance, satellite photography, reconnaissance etc. the US was unable to discover Iraq’s weapons of war  until after the war when go downs storing such weapons  became available for inspection. The question then arises what level of acquisition of information can be called good  performance. It is difficult to lay down a yardstick for civilian intelligence but a scale is available for judging the quality of military intelligence. Intelligence  reporting accurately  90% of a target country’s order of battle (Orbat),  will be rated very good. After the Kargil intrusions of 1999, there has been great debate in India whether the inability to identify intrusions constituted an intelligence failure. Both the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister have declared no intelligence failure occurred but some insist on holding a contrary view.

The issue  revolves around the inability of intelligence to identify the presence of three battalions out of sixteen battalions in the region before Kargil happened. The area of unknowability was well within accepted norms of intelligence work since over 80 % of the remaining orbat in the region had been ascertained. Further,  the performance has to be judged in the context of the entire Pakistani orbat, and not just a corner of the area under its control. If 90% of the whole Pakistani orbat is correctly identified as it was,  basing a value judgement on a miniscule segment, is erroneous.

Inability at cognition may be a handicap but is not necessarily a failure. How can anyone be blamed for failing to perceive what lies beyond the frontiers of conception and imagination?  Kargil was an exercise in stupidity, planned against practically no win odds, in an area where intrusions had been unknown. According to the Kargil Committee Report the Kargil adventure might have been anticipated if sophisticated politico– military war games had been routinely played or half meter resolution satellite photography was available. War games are not the responsibilities of Intelligence. The failure lies in the fact that the concept of National Security Management had not been understood in India, unlike the US. Whether it is understood correctly even now remains a moot question.

Human methods of gathering intelligence are broadly the same everywhere and in all ages. Sophistication in  technology makes for a big difference in quality. Mata Haris have been employed with considerable success just as eunuchs have served  Ottoman Sultans and the Muslim Courts to spy on their harems. Arthashastra of Kautilya is a better source for research on the traditions of intelligence  in India.  The parent  of the IB was the anti-Thugee department of the Raj, set up to neutralise the Thugee menace in central India, towards the closing years of eighteenth century. The IB and R&AW, not being part of any palace system, developed methods of operation and a work culture which could not be dreamt of by any system of palace informers.

R&AW was carved out of IB in 1969. Their charters were mutually exclusionary, leaving no room for rivalry or recriminations  between them. However, this could not be claimed in the relationship between the R&AW and the Armed Forces. Collection of strategic military intelligence was a function allotted to R&AW. Sometimes this led to  hiatus between information and execution and attitudinal dispositions, obstructing coordination. Its  most disastrous manifestation was the drop of Indian paratroops over the University Campus in Jaffna, which was the stronghold of the LTTE.

The site was chosen without any consultation with the R&AW. The dropping paratroopers became easy targets for the LTTE. A number of soldiers were killed. After this episode, the R&AW arranged for a very senior officer to remain in daily touch personally with the Director of Military Operations (DMO) in the Indian Army headquarters for instant transmission of intelligence and advice.

This arrangement remained unknown to formations lower down in Sri Lanka. Some of the officers who served in Sri Lanka later wrote memoirs  containing baseless allegations. One  falsehood was that the R&AW furnished LTTE “with advance information about the Army operations resulting in avoidable losses to the Indian Army.” If any rivalry was said to exist between R&AW and military intelligence, it was certainly not in the R&AW's mind.

It is possible that discord can exist sometimes between the intelligence and armed forces  on account of the nature of former’s responsibilities. If Bonapartism makes its appearance in a society, who is to be depended upon to detect it?

Despite faults and shortcomings the Indian Intelligence can display a good report card. Its activities have assisted the Government  when every other avenue of action appeared to be a closed alley. In 1982 then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used  intelligence to contact US at the highest political levels to work out ways of mutual cooperation.  Indo-US cooperation  thereafter  has never looked back. .

 In 1988, an amazing breakthrough was worked out which would have resolved all major problems between India and Pakistan. The unfortunate death of Zia-ul-Huq, Pakistani President, in an air crash snapped these initiatives. The drafts, worked out, remained unconsummated.  The same year, as now revealed elsewhere, the foundations of the longest handshake in history between two statesmen, Deng Xiao Ping and Rajiv Gandhi, were laid by the intelligence. In 1992, during the course of a visit to India and Pakistan, Senator Claiborne Pell of US Foreign Relations Committee publicly admitted in Pakistan that the Indians alone had the correct assessment about events in Afghanistan and the durability of the Najibullah regime.  These four separate  unconnected scenarios, are indicators of the strengths of Indian intelligence even while it is admitted that there is much room for improvement

What needs to be accomplished is not entirely in the hands of intelligence. Most important is to develop a sense of national security culture in the corridors of power and build a fitting mechanism to advance it.  Quite obviously, the sleeping dogs will have much more to bark about.

A. K. Verma

via email

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