Information and Intelligence (Column: Spy’s Eye)

Even to a lay man, the word intelligence denotes exclusive information or special knowledge linked to some out-of-the-normal doings or profile of an individual or an organised group — which were not visible on the surface or known in the open.

One keeps this knowledge to oneself unless it has an adverse personal bearing, requiring the individual to seek the support of someone else — possibly in authority — to do something about it.

Today, the internal security scene in the country, marked by surreptitious operations of anti-national elements working on behalf of an external adversary, has made it necessary that the citizens realise that the new kinds of threat like terrorism, urban Naxalism, communal violence triggered by agent provocateurs, promotion of undesirable activity under the cover of a civil society forum and use of drug trafficking for funding underground enemy agents, are meant to harm both the nation as well as its people and that a new level of responsibility has arisen for them to watch out for any such unusual activities and discreetly share that knowledge with the custodians of national security.

This can, however, happen only if trustworthy arrangements are built by the latter to quietly utilise this vast public resource of information of intelligence value. The call of the time universally is for a nation to make sure that in addition to the fundamental work of intelligence agencies of accessing secret information on the hidden plans of the enemy, there is inflow of information from the enlightened public in a manner that the State would be able to make good use of it for the cause of national security.

It is not known how the ‘Fusion Centres’ catering to this need are working for Homeland Security in the US but there is no doubt that citizen’s awareness is going to be of great help in a situation where more than the threat of an open military attack, the danger of trans-border covert offensives of the enemy are becoming the order of the day.

India has particularly been a target of these for a long period now. All intelligence ultimately is information but all information is not intelligence. Intelligence is information with the special stamp of containing a futuristic indicator of hostile activity.

It is a new paradigm of internal security that openly accessed information often contains elements of intelligence that an enlarged scan and analysis could muster to the great advantage of security.

Open source information has traditionally been a valuable store for reading trends that are relevant to security issues. Social media and cyber space have acquired a new-found importance now in as much as a comprehensive scrutiny of the same could help in detecting the footprints of an adversary.

WhatsApp groups with foreign links, notably directed from Pakistan, came to notice during NIA investigations into the recent terror acts of Amravati and Udaipur. Exploiting communal conflicts for generating militancy and recruiting terrorists using faith-based motivation has become pronounced casting an added burden on Central and state intelligence agencies, of keeping track of the socio-economic scene in an area and examining in depth if any attempts at ‘radicalisation’ are being made.

Intelligence function of police stations, not only for organised crime but also from the angle of national security, is now extremely important — the Centre-state cooperation for strengthening the same should be seriously pursued.

This in turn will help keep India an open, democratic and easily accessible country. An upshot of this new security paradigm is that the role of the state police goes beyond the maintenance of law and order and includes a keen participation in the safeguarding of internal security as well.

Investigation of crime could sometimes unearth valuable leads of intelligence value on the security front. This added dimension of work requires an upgrade of the quality of police force in the country.

In the era of proxy wars, the army is being utilised on our own soil in counter-terror operations and for putting down insurgency movements. To avert collateral damage, intelligence-based actions are a must. Close collaboration among civilian intelligence agencies and the DMI has to exist and this is being successfully worked on here.

Apart from the periodical meetings between the chiefs of intelligence on both sides and the meetings of Strategy Planning Group (SPG) now chaired by the NSA, which are attended by the service chiefs, liaison between the local army units in the field and the representatives of SIB on the ground has to be kept up.

Intelligence on what is happening across our borders is another matter of exchange of information between civil and defence organisations in the context of Jammu & Kashmir, the Northeast and the India-China border.

A new dimension of proxy offensives is the possible damage clandestinely caused to our establishments of strategic importance and vital national assets to weaken India. These include, among others, our nuclear, space and missile development centres, cyber base on which Railways, civil aviation and power grids work and systems used for running refineries, metropolitan transport and steel plants.

The Intelligence Bureau has been overseeing the security of such assets through briefings organised for the security set-up of the individual enterprise. This should be further developed into a two-way interaction through which these establishments would also give feedback on any suspicious activity with a bearing on national security, noticed by them.

The point is that the country needs to tap all areas from where information of intelligence value could be garnered.

India’s principal adversaries — Pakistan and China — are acting in concert against India and apart from the provocative activities on the borders, they are now taking to destabilising this country by instigating internal discords using their agents — with Pakistan particularly spreading radicalisation to recruit ‘lone wolves’ for acts of terrorism here.

Pakistan has put Indo-Pak relations in a Hindu-Muslim framework and stepped up its efforts to claim that the primary identity of Indian Muslims is the one that made them a part of Ummah.

The developments, including the outbreak of violence over the alleged anti-Prophet remarks by now suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma, made during a TV discussion, have amply proved that Pakistan is planning to whip up Islamic militancy in India by exploiting communal issues.

The desperate desire of those in political opposition here to somehow retain the minority votes — even if it meant going along with anti-India expressions of many leaders of the Muslim community — is being taken advantage of by Pakistan.

The concept of nationalism and nation is decried by many opposition leaders as an idea smacking of Hinduism and taken to a point where they even advocated that saluting the national flag and standing during the singing of national anthem should be made optional for the minorities.

No wonder that some civil society groups in league with anti-India lobbies at home and abroad have lately become active in floating narratives of majoritarianism, autocracy and human rights to run ‘politics by proxy’ against the Narendra Modi regime.

Keeping track of all this does not require the classical cloak & dagger style of intelligence collection, but needs enlarging of the area of coverage with the help of ‘observers’ so that any play of an ‘alien hand’ in what is happening on the ground do not go unnoticed.

The challenge for the security set up is to remain well informed of ‘open activities’ that provide a ‘cover’ for what is nefarious and detrimental to national security and integrity.

In the post-Cold War world, geo-politics is shifting to produce for India a new spectrum of friends and adversaries. The large democracies — including the US — have a natural friendship towards India and Prime Minister Modi’s tested policy of building bilateral relationships that are mutually beneficial in terms of economy and security and are in alignment with global peace, which has somewhat marked out the two adversaries of India — Pakistan and China — in the eyes of the world.

This is why the international community is by and large on the side of India on the points of friction between this country and the two hostile neighbours across the border. The military alliance between a Marxist dictatorship and a fundamentalist regime — with their give and take on Afghanistan after the reinstallation of Kabul Emirate of Taliban and collaboration in many things that went against the interests of the democratic world — has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the international community.

Pakistan is using Chinese drones for its covert cross-border operations of dropping arms, explosives and drugs on our side. The Sino-Pak axis has, however, helped enlarge the arc of friends for India and added to the utility of information on world developments that could be gathered from open interactions with friendly countries as different from intelligence-gathering operations.

Friendly liaison is a valuable storehouse of information of intelligence value for India — it multiplies the importance of diplomacy as a means of supplementing the objective of strengthening national security.

Friendship with all countries has facilitated the rise of India as a major power in the world whose counsel is respected — and responses to the approach of India to Ukraine-Russia military conflict showed that.

It needs to be mentioned here that the extraordinary performance of the NSA, and the effective elucidation of our foreign policy by the External Affairs Minister, have been of singular help to Prime Minister Modi in carrying India to this new height.

(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)

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