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Why intelligence fails, and terrorists succeed

By George Iype
July 20, 2006 14:28 IST
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India has come to dread two words: Intelligence failure.

Be it an attack on the prestigious Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore or multiple attacks on the economic capital of India, the official admission of 'intelligence failure' comes soon after.

But just why is the admission of intelligence failure becoming so common after every terrorist attack?

In India, there are a number of security and intelligence related agencies.

There is the Defence Intelligence Agency that collects, interprets and disseminates all defence-related information to the Indian Army.

The Research and Analysis Wing is the external intelligence apparatus.

And the Intelligence Bureau is the apex domestic intelligence-gathering agency.

Officials say while there is lack of coordination between the DIA, RAW and IB on counter-terrorism strategies, most intelligence failures are largely because of lapses in the IB.

The IB, whose primary duty is to gather intelligence from within India and execute counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism tasks, is made up of officers drawn from the Indian Police Service and other law enforcement agencies.

Law and order is the responsibility of the state governments, but intelligence experts have always argued that India needs a multi-agency set-up to battle terrorism better.

So, based on the Girish Chandra Saxena Committee's report on Intelligence Reforms, the central government in 2001 set up two wings under the IB: The Multi Agency Centre and the Joint Task Force on Intelligence. G C 'Gary' Saxena was a former head of RAW and later governor of Jammu and Kashmir.

While MAC is in charge of collecting terrorism-related information from across the country, the JTFI is responsible for passing on this information to the state governments in real-time.

Home ministry officials say it is the duty of MAC and the JTFI to ensure that intelligence gathering from across the country is aggressive, correct and to-the-point.

Though MAC and the JTFI exist, they are not in the best of health.

"These two bodies are under-staffed, over-worked and ill-paid. There is also a confusion as to who -- whether the Union home ministry or the respective state governments -- should pay for the expenditure of MAC and JTFI staff," a senior home ministry official told

"The result is that there is no nation-wide anti-terrorism database and intelligence-gathering," the official continued.

For instance, he said, the JTFI has to upgrade counter-terrorism capabilities of the state police forces. "But no state police intelligence bureau has been trained well in the last few years. So any state capital is vulnerable to terrorist attacks," he added.

Another example the home ministry officials point out is that state police intelligence wings -- especially in cities like Mumbai and Bangalore -- are not even trained in routine counter-terrorism procedures (like surveillance of calls to Jammu and Kashmir or Pakistan).

The latest attacks on Mumbai that have killed nearly 200 people, it seems, have prompted the government to take steps. Officials say the Prime Minister's Office has ordered a review of counter-terrorism strategies in all the major cities in the country.

M K Narayanan, India's national security advisor, has been asked to ensure the various security agencies work in tandem to boost intelligence-gathering.

"Narayanan has held a number of meetings with top intelligence officials on how to beef up terrorism-related information from across India," another senior home ministry official told

"He is going to revamp the intelligence set up thoroughly this time," the official added.

Officials like him agree Narayanan is best placed to head the venture as he headed the Intelligence Bureau from 1989 to 1990, before heading the Joint Intelligence Committee.

He was appointed IB director again in 1991, before he retired in 1992. He was appointed the special advisor for internal security to the prime minister in May 2004, before taking the national security adviser's job after J N Dixit died suddenly in January 2005.

Officials say the measures Narayanan will ask of the security agencies include diligent intelligence gathering systems and precise, city-specific response protocols to deal with terrorist attacks.

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George Iype