New intelligence technology feeding surge in political espionage – Praveen Swami

Few people at the North Block headquarters of India’s domestic intelligence service, the Intelligence Bureau, cared: dealing with these national problems, strange as it might sound, isn’t their job. The combo file picture shows former IB Director Ajit Doval (top) and former chief of RAW A.S. Dhulat.

Large part of Intelligence Bureau remains deployed on political tasks, not national security duties

Early this summer, India’s intelligence services were facing the most serious internal security threats since 26/11: new urban terror cells, on which there was little information, were known to be planning strikes; Maoist insurgents had expanded their reach and lethality to unprecedented levels; Pakistan’s descent into chaos had threatened renewed violence in Jammu and Kashmir.

North Block headquarters of India’s domestic intelligence service, the Intelligence Bureau, cared: dealing with these national problems, strange as it might sound, isn’t their job.

Instead, highly placed intelligence sources have told The Hindu, a large part of the IB’s resources were committed, and remain committed, to providing the government raw information and assessments on its increasingly bleak political prospects. In the summer, the IB carefully monitored Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s public meetings in Uttar Pradesh after the events at Bhatta Parsaul; later it sought to penetrate Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption mobilisation in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister P.Chidambaram, the sources alleged, both received briefings on these events, in part based on passive communications intelligence monitoring — technology capable of intercepting staggering amounts of voice, text and e-mail data, without legal authorisation. Earlier this month, The Hindu, in partnership with a media consortium brought together by WikiLeaks, revealed India’s intelligence services and police forces had made large-scale acquisitions of such equipment since 26/11.

It is improbable that either the Prime Minister or the Union Home Minister knew what the basis of the information provided to them was — and neither, the sources insisted, had authorised its use. The equipment had in fact been deployed with a legitimate objective — ensuring that at large rallies political leaders were not targeted by terrorists. There are, however, no firewalls in the IB to ensure that data obtained for counter-terrorism aren’t available to political analysts; nor is there a system to ensure that the interception of information is first logged, and then destroyed.

Less than a third of the IB’s estimated 25,000-strong manpower, two former high-ranking officers told The Hindu, is dedicated to what might be described as national security tasks — like monitoring terrorist groups or extremist organisations. Even that ratio, one serving officer said, was “a charitable assessment.”

There are at least two joint directors — officers of a rank equivalent to inspectors-general of police and joint secretaries to the Government of India, who sit at the apex of the permanent bureaucracy’s operational systems — devoted to analysis of the activities of Congress dissidents and non-Congress parties. Five other joint directors have the job of making assessments of the political landscape across India, with the help of the stations the IB has in State capitals, which in turn help the Director brief the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister on potential political challenges emerging across the nation. There are only one or two joint directors for the operations division that deals with counter-terrorism.

Even though it is improbable that the Home Secretary would issue warrants to tap the conversations of opposition leaders, the IB was able to use technology to build a picture of who had been talking to whom and when — and, in some cases, what their conversation had been.

For politicians in power, this kind of information is invaluable; for everyone else, it ought to be a nightmare.

The East India Company’s political officers, the seeds which gave birth to the modern IB, saw mass movements as the main threat: for them, state and government were one and the same thing. Little changed in the years after Independence: except in the North-East and Jammu and Kashmir, the IB invested the bulk of its energies on monitoring revolutionary communists. The IB’s anti-communist unit, the “B-Wing,” was its most prestigious division; the former National Security Adviser and now-West Bengal Governor, M.K. Narayanan, spent much of his career in the unit.

In 1969, though, after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi broke with the right wing of her party, the B-Wing diminished in size. Mrs Gandhi believed that the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, not the Left, was the principal threat to India — and also, weakened by the rifts in her party, began to use the IB as an independent channel of information-gathering on adversaries and the bureaucracy. “There were plenty of people in the intelligence services who built careers out of feeding her paranoia,” one contemporary recalls.

Following the end of the Emergency, her abuse of the IB led some officers to be hounded out — but there was no effort at structural reform.

In 1987, on the eve of the outbreak of the long jihad in Jammu and Kashmir, the IB station in Srinagar had fewer than 100 personnel — most of them focussed on the Congress’ troublesome ally, the National Conference, not the Islamist networks that would soon send thousands of people across the Line of Control for training at Inter-Services Intelligence-run training camps.

Punjab had a far larger IB station — but much of it was, again, committed to watching the many factions of the Shiromani Akali Dal through the 1970s. India, as a result, had next to no information on the training of Khalistan terrorists and their links with the ISI until the early 1980s.

Ever since then, the numbers of IB personnel committed to national security tasks has slowly grown — a process that has been further nudged along by the organisation’s current chief, Nehchal Sandhu, himself a career-long counter-terrorism operative.

‘A product of history’

“I think the problem was the product of history,” says A.S. Dulat, a highly regarded career intelligence officer who retired as chief of the Research and Analysis Wing after serving in the IB for over two decades, “the product of time when we could not take our survival as a nation for granted. It is unforgivable that it still goes on today — and it needs to stop, now. It is in the interests of neither our intelligence services nor our polity, just a handful of self-serving individuals.”

Not a few serving intelligence officers agree with that — but national security still hasn’t become the IB’s principal task: it only began monitoring the Maoist movement late in the day, and police officers in West Bengal, Orissa, and Chhattisgarh told The Hindu that the organisation has only just begun to put together a serious body of intelligence.

Expending staff resources on political intelligence gathering is all the more reprehensible because the IB is desperately understaffed. In 2008, the Union government announced it had sanctioned 6,000 additional staff — expanding the organisation by almost a quarter. In practice, though, the strength of the 25,000-member organisation has stayed static, in part because it hasn’t found the kinds of staff it needs, but also because it can train only some 1,200 personnel a year, barely covering for retirement.

Does this mean the IB’s political intelligence work should end?

Complex questions

Back in March 1658, Henry Cromwell, Lord Deputy of Ireland and Oliver Cromwell’s son, offered an evocative description of what intelligence services are called on to do, in a letter to England’s spymaster, John Thurloe: “picking the locks leading into the hearts of wicked men.”

In a thoughtful 2009 volume on domestic intelligence-gathering in the United States, the scholar Brian Johnson pointed out that the reason to have intelligence agencies in the first place was to gather information “not related to the investigation of a known past criminal act or specific planned criminal activity.” That is the job of police services; intelligence organisations must search for crimes no one has — as yet — committed.

The core of the problem is this: we do not all agree on who Henry Cromwell’s “wicked men” might be. From 1975, following allegations that the United States’ intelligence services were spying on its own citizens, an official committee led by Senator Frank Church issued 14 reports revealing that peaceful dissidents had been targeted for surveillance. Even in countries like the U.S. and the United Kingdom, where oversight mechanisms exist, credible fears of abuse still exist.

“I think we should not have a simplistic view of this issue,” argues Ajit Doval, who served as IB Director in 2004-2005 and was the first civilian to be awarded a Kirti Chakra, for a daring undercover operation that led to the successful conclusion of the second siege of the Golden Temple. “The fact is that in India, there are many political movements which may not be terrorist in character, but are none the less real threats to the nation. The Khalistan movement was not, after all, initially violent — but better intelligence on its intentions would have saved lives.”

“The distinction I would draw,” Mr. Doval says, “is this: political intelligence should be focussed on gathering information on actual and potential national security threats, and the despicable behaviour of some individual intelligence officers, who seek to curry political favour.”

MI5’s history

It isn’t always easy, however, to know precisely what political intelligence actually is. From the eminent scholar Christopher Andrew’s Defence of the Realm, MI5’s authorised history, we know that MI5 monitored left-wing politicians and the trade union movement. In an article written this summer, The Guardian’s Martin Kettle recounted reading now-declassified MI5 files on his father, Arnold Kettle. Arnold Kettle had been a lifelong communist and, back in university, a friend of the Soviet Union’s double-agents inside MI6, Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess.

MI5 carefully followed Dr. Kettle’s activities, down to recording his lectures on Shakespearean literature, and his intellectual debt to F.R. Leavis. Their only substantial discovery was, however, that Dr. Kettle was homosexual — a “secret” his family had known for years.

Mr. Kettle, interestingly, said he believed MI5’s decision to spy on his father was correct: in its early years, after all, the party he belonged to wanted to overthrow the regime and was receiving foreign finance to do so. By the 1950s though, he pointed out, the communist party “wasn’t going anywhere as a revolutionary force, and was increasingly looking for democratic and liberal legitimacy.” His father remained under surveillance, though.

There is no simple answer — but in India, where political parties have shown little interest in understanding and debating even a private member’s bill seeking oversight of our intelligence services, the first steps towards one are yet to be taken.

Keywords: The Hindu, WikiLeaks, SpyFiles, espionage technologies, spying on citizens, communications intelligence, 26/11 attacks, Mumbai terror, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, new urban terror cells, internal security threats, former IB Director Ajit Doval, former RAW chief A.S. Dulat, intelligence services.

It’s this kind of activities that keep congress in govt forever. India needs structural reforms and unless that happens..we r just going to suffer at hand of terrorist and terrorist politicians …
from: Ravi chuda
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 03:57 IST

This should come as no surprise, anyone in India will get investigated by CBI and other central agencies as soon as they raise a voice against the government, take the example of Andhra Pradesh Ex-CM YSR Son, Jagan Reddy. Everyone knew that he has amassed huge wealth during his father’s tenure, but strangely enforcement agencies looked the other way for almost 5 years, as soon as he revolted against the congress central command 15 teams of CBI raided his homes and offices, same story goes for Anna team members, Arvind Kejarwal, Kiran Bedi and even Anna Hazare. No Wonder we were left gaping when terrorists struck our country with ease. Even our external intelligence agency RAW’s head is appointed by the PMO, and from the story it is clear that RAW and IB have become tools of supresssion like the CBI. The Hindu ran a story recently on how Col Gaddafi suppressed opposition in his country, his ways might have been brutal but the present Indian government’s and Gaddafi’s goals were the same.
from: Janaradhan Reddy
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 04:37 IST

Fascinating article! This must put to shame the ‘senior’ politicians of this country. Who cares if bombs keep going off in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune etc killing and maiming civilians in dozens. All that matters in the end is to monitor political movements of the civil society and the opposition parties! I lost trust in our law enforcement system, the day HM of this country stood up in parliament and said, we had passed on the intelligence to the Delhi Police but it failed to act. No action was taken against the HM or any official of the Delhi Police. So much for being the worlds largest hypocrisy!
from: Rakesh Sharma
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 04:41 IST

BRILLIANT article. Terrifying.
from: Veera
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 05:00 IST

What an insight! Thank you, sir. Your work has always been inspirational…
from: Ninad Zare
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 06:17 IST

It was 1975 when I was working in Hyderabad, a colleague of mine with contacts in the Police Department often used to quote IB ‘reports’ on political assessments relating to the opposition parties,while I wondered what has the IB to do with such non-(Police)subjects? Now with the technology available to the powers,the difference between Muammar Gadaffi and any other ruler is only the extent of their ability to arm-twist the people to their line of thinking!!Democracy now needs a new definition!!
from: kandasamy koomarasamy
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 06:41 IST

Amazing, this government and every government before and after it, is just tottering and drifting day-to-day from incompetence to complete idiocy.
from: p Naik
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 06:52 IST

The Hindu has come up with such an important and constructive article after a long gap I think.anyways thanx. pls keep educating people on matters importance to national importance on varied domains
from: Hindu
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 09:01 IST

Such a wonderful article. There should be accountability in the functioning of IB & RAW.
from: Ramanuj
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 09:27 IST

Very thoughtful article. Hope things start to fall in place after this string of revelations by The HINDU and the consortium..
from: R Mahendran
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 09:28 IST

I read the series of thought provoking and interesting articles in the name of ‘SPY FILES’ being published in ‘HINDU’ for the past three or four days. How our ruling political parties (especially Congress party) are exploiting our intelligence agency for the sake of their own development.Now I am pretty clear that why one after other terrorist attacks are happened regularly in every parts of India. Thanks to ‘Hindu’ for revealing this shocking truths.
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 09:32 IST

Issues raised need in-depth debate. For the IB to state that the items mentioned in the first para of the article fall outside their purview is ludicrous. It is shocking that far less proportion of IB resources are spent on real security issues. Police in TN is stated to be using its resources for assessing the preparedness of the opposition parties, a job not theirs. What should amuse us further is the report in today’s papers of IAF proudly stating that its helicopters could ‘beam real action of the type of 26/11’-instead of their ability to tell us on their precisely finding out from the skies if any suspicious vessels are ‘reaching’ our shores. Recently, some stowaways slipped out of a vessel near Mumbai and reached the shores without any check on them; a helicopter landed on the west coast and left after sometime without either the police, coast guard or the naval people knowing about it. There is a turf war on who should head the coastguard service.
from: s subramanyan
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 09:37 IST

There is only one objective for the ruling party. Secure the power after next election. They are very very hungry for it. National security, education, employment, health care it can all wait. If we judge this government based on its performance and actions so far they are very anxious about forming the next government.
from: Ayyappa
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 10:14 IST

current technology in the brighter perspective upholds the universal principals of oneness and single unified world , all systems which are against that are bound to fail . we no longer need nations , individuals can manage things pretty well , governments are doing very bad job … now its time for prem sena
from: sunny sandhu
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 10:44 IST

Thanks to Hindu for blowing the cover off this scandal that was widely suspected but never talked about. It is sad that the Indian democracy and political class are tolerating McCarthy and Edgar Hoover era of controlling information on political dissent. The union government wants to gradually monopolize more control and more information on citizens without the corresponding exercise of restraint, accountability and responsibility. CBI and the IB seem to have become tools of political control for the ruling party rather than for effective investigation and intelligence collection for national security purposes. A very worrisome situation for India.
from: vishwas
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 11:39 IST

As always, a very well researched and concise article. I feel that the veil of secrecy under which intelligence operations have in India somehow leads to the lack of importance it receives. And unless it is raked up in media circles, it is unlikely to catch Parliamentary attention which as it is, is flooded with more important legislations. But this trend of using intelligence to achieve political ends bears the potential of striking at the very roots of our democracy and needs to be nipped in the bud.
from: Shamit Monga
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 11:49 IST

This has all the makings of a dictatorship in the guise of a democracy.
from: Srini
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 12:18 IST

The process of intelligence collection and its purpose, extent of level of intrusions for intelligence are never been met by the intelligence agencies.the efforts to collect the vulnerable information which is against the sovereignty, security of the Indian nation was compromised but the political interests, the spying mechaniams are never been.very bad status in the indian scenario…..
from: J.Ramesh Kumar
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 12:33 IST

Friends This snooping has been going on from late 60’s & early 70’s. Only point was the AAD AADMI was never seriously noticing same. As AAM AADMI even today is worried more about his ROTI, KAPADA & MAKAAN. These politicians ensure that people don’t have any time to think of other issues. Those who do in desperation or in well thought out way will be asked to COMPROMISE or else put behind bars on concocted cases – Like Ferriera of Mumbai – who despite being released from all 9 Cases filed against him the the Mumbai Police for being NAXALITE – was kidnapped from the gates of NAGPUR CENTRAL JAIL when he walked out in Nov 2011. Till date he is untraceable. Wonder NO ONE IS RAISING THEIR VOICES AGAINST THIS DISAPPEARANCE OF FERRIERA. TAKE THE CASE OF DR. SEN, ITS ANOTHER SAD SAGA IN OUR JUDICIAL ANNALS THAT SC HAD TO INTERVENE TIME & AGAIN FOR HIS RELEASE ON BAIL & HE IS CONVICTED FOR LIFE IMPRISONMENT FOR HAVING MAOIST LITERATURE. WHEN WILL PEOPLE WAKE UP??
from: Venkatramani
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 12:44 IST

Wow! many knew this, but none dared to say it. Thanks The Hindu for writing about it, I know nothing will change.. its been going on even before I was born, and it will go on after me too.
from: Vignesh
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 12:49 IST

India’s biggest problem in Intelligence is the unpalatable fact that no one is accountable. After every terrorist strike, the standard practice is buck passing and ultimately the buck simply disappears! We need to have a cabinet rank minister for Intelligence both at the Centre as well as in the States who would be accountable to Parliament and the State Assemblies respectively for all aspects pertaining to Intelligence. We have several Intelligence agencies in the country but there is hardly any centralised coordination and control at the required levels to ensure professional approach to the five major components of Intelligence operations namely, collection, collation, dissemination, feedback, and action on feedback.
from: JK Dutt
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 13:09 IST

Good article-old Hindu touch which of late has been withering!
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 14:22 IST

after long time Mr. Praveen Swami’s article. thanks
from: Karthikannan
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 14:51 IST

The central and SIDs spending invaluable time and resources keeping tabs on political parties,opponents,dissidents and adversaries rather than on terrorists and their outfits, sources and sponsors,indicate the abysmal disregard and wanton recklessness on the part of the powers-that-be to the grave threats that this nation face from some rogue countries that surrounds us and also from terrorist groups that operate from our own land.If less than a 3rd of IB’s forces dedicated to security tasks is a ‘charitable assessment’ then its no wonder that terrorists outpace our intell agencies,they also have choice,time and wherewithal to murder.The PM should intervene and restore the dignity of our agencies by sorting out all squabbles over funds and manpower and putting them back on track to do what they are supposed to do-intell.gathering,counter terrorism and security ops. by working in coordination with the SIDs so that the interests of the nation are not overlooked for cheap political gains
from: vyjayanthi
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 16:11 IST

i believe in the last few years, we are getting to know why our intelligence is in shamble.The worst part is that our country is geographically highly unsafe surrounded with failed states in spite of all that how come gov’t can be so apathetic towards their own people. we are not safe not only because of terrorists but also our govt has no value for normal Indian citizen.learn from US.Very sad. Thanx Mr swami. Hope people in the north block may feel the sorrow of those millions who lost their life.May sense prevail to them.
from: prem
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 16:41 IST

I still remember Mr. P Chidambaram’s saying that “No intelligence is not intelligence failure” in the aftermath of 26/ 11 attacks. I now realise what he was trying to cover up. Great article. Makes one ponder over how the critical national agencies are abused by ruling parties.
from: Girish S
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 18:29 IST

Sorry indictment on lack of probity by the government of the day ,seems
like no one is accountable and all the security personnel are beholden
to their political masters and least concerned with their stated
objective of national security.
from: prakash
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 20:41 IST



Spymaster’s Pandora’s box

“Open Secrets. India’s Intelligence Unveiled” –

by M K Dhar

Reviewed by Sreeram Chaulia

Released when intelligence agencies of major global powers are facing flak for incompetence and fabrication, Open Secrets is the first attempt to break the taboo of shielding the Indian intelligence fraternity under a permanent veil. “As powerful a weapon as a fusion bomb”, (p 8) India’s intelligence infrastructure has been weaponized by the governing class to hit the governed. Like the police, civil administration and judiciary, it has been used as a handmaiden to suit petty political ends and crush constitutional liberties. Dhar, an operative in India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) for three decades, has a muckraking tale to tell.

Since Indira Gandhi’s time in the 1960s, the IB director has answered solely to the prime minister and home minister. The refusal of political masters to allow induction of expert staff from lateral fields has perpetuated a servile “police culture” in the bureau. “An average IB officer is not oriented with the techniques of war pursued by mujahideen and fidayeen fanatics.” (p13) Non-productive human assets clutter the bureau. Lack of in-service checks fosters a “breeding ground for Goerings and Himmlers in the backyard of constitutional democracy”. (p 18)

No meaningful cooperation between state and central intelligence entities exists, especially when different political parties rule at the center and in the states. Coordination among the three prime central agencies, IB, RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), is non-existent. The Kargil and Surankote intelligence failures are two glaring illustrations of a divided house of Indian spook (see Kashmir’s snake in the grass June 7, 2003).

Dhar gives a clarion call for freeing intelligence organizations from the machinations of the executive. Legislation to make the agencies accountable to parliamentary committees is a crying necessity. Election prospecting, verifying credentials of ruling party candidates, researching the weaknesses of opposition candidates, toppling and interfering with elected governments and other dirty operations victimizing the innocent are shameful tasks assigned to agencies that should be protecting national security.

As a budding officer of the Indian Police Service in 1965, Dhar learned the nitty-gritty of grassroots intelligence collection in Darjeeling, Siliguri and Naksalbari (northern Bengal). His unusual techniques of raising human assets were encouraged with subventions from the police Secret Service Fund. Meetings with Charu Majumdar and Jangal Santhal, forefathers of India’s extreme Maoist movement, convinced Dhar that violent agrarian revolution was not far off. However, politicians from Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Delhi showed no intentions of addressing the economic woes of the rural populace. “Indian rulers blindly follow the firefighting ideology in dealing with great social and economic fault lines.” (p 71)



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