Mis-Governance in the Age of Intelligence

Discussion in 'Internal Security' started by Rage, Apr 3, 2011.

  1. Rage

    Rage DFI TEAM Stars and Ambassadors

    Feb 23, 2009
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    This is a discussion on, in the authors words, the 'legal architecture that underpins our intelligence system':

    * Should Parliamentary Oversight be part of the Intelligence Review process <note: intelligence review- not intelligence processing/gathering>.
    * Do we need a new official secrets act? What are some of the parameters/things that should be included in such an act?
    * Does the Right to Information Act override or counteract or contradict or be superseded by the Official Secrets Act, 1923*?
    * The debate is one over: efficiency vs secrecy. In light of past intelligence failures, is greater participation by the elected representatives of government in intelligence review and oversight justified? What are some of the banes and merits for organizational functioning and secrecy?​

    * For your perusal: the Official Secrets Act, 1923; the Right to Information Act.

    Mis-Governance in the Age of Intelligence

    Last Updated : 03 Apr 2011 01:27:06 AM IST

    The legal architecture that underpins our intelligence structures has always intrigued me. Questions asked in Parliament have only underscored its ambiguity. In response to a question on the legislative act or legal architecture from which the Intelligence Bureau draws its legal/statutory authority, the government’s response was quixotic: “The Intelligence Bureau figures in Schedule 7 of the Constitution under the Union list.” In other words the government has the legislative power to create a bureau of intelligence to be called by whatever name. The mere mention of a subject in the list of legislative powers gives neither life nor legitimacy to an organisation. It’s the same with the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). The government has admitted that “there is no separate/ specific statute governing the functions/ mandate of the R&AW”. In 2000, however, the report of a task force on the intelligence system led to a charter listing the scope and mandate of the R&AW.

    Contrast this with other countries. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States, created by the National Security Act of 1947, is specifically empowered by the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949 (CIA Act) to carry out its duties. MI5, the domestic intelligence service of the United Kingdom, draws its legal authority from The Security Services Act 1989 and its sister organisation, MI6, from the 1994 Intelligence Services Act.

    Since India has modelled its legal system on Britain’s, even the evolution of the debate on intelligence reforms in the two countries has uncanny parallels: the process was kick-started externally and driven judicially rather than by internal systemic imperatives. A series of exposés about its functioning convinced the MI5 leadership that it needed a sound legal footing, leading to the enactment of the Security Services Act in 1989 and the Intelligence Services Act in 1994.

    In India, there have been repeated demands to repeal the Official Secrets Act 1923, becoming even more urgent after the enactment of the Right to Information Act in 2005, as the inconsistency between these two pieces of legislation stands out in contrast.

    The parallels do not end there. Charged with ignoring intelligence warnings on the Falklands crisis, the British government appointed a review commission, thus conceding the principle of an oversight committee for the intelligence community and paving the way for the establishment of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security.

    In India, the furore over intelligence lapses before the 1999 Kargil war impelled the then Vajpayee government to establish a review committee and a Group of Ministers was set up to implement its recommendations. It may not have been a parliamentary review, but the Vajpayee government did establish the canon of oversight on intelligence structures.

    The time has arrived to abandon two puritanical doctrines. First, the dogma that since intelligence operations require secrecy, therefore, the word intelligence itself is taboo. Second, the precept that Parliament must entirely abdicate its powers in this field to the executive.

    It is inappropriate to allow law enforcement and intelligence services to function without a sound legal basis. There can be no case that an equivocal or indeterminate legal mandate gives greater operational flexibility.

    Manish Tiwari,
    The author is a lawyer and MP. The views are personal.

  3. amitkriit

    amitkriit Senior Member Senior Member

    Jul 17, 2009
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    La La Land
    US citizens elect their President and representatives, here in India we elect our rulers. We must not expect our rulers to let go certain privileges voluntarily. Our bureaucracy is extremely rigid, not much has changed since the British raj period, bureaucrats help our netas by proxy. Since such matters like "Official secrecy" don't influence voters, it will take some more time before we will hear a serious parliamentary debate on this topic. Right now Indian electorate is focused on "Development", Employment and eradication Corruption.
  4. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

    Oct 8, 2009
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    Hyderabad and Sydney
    Its about time, otherwise our intelligence agencies are a blackhole of nepotism and corruption without oversight. And there ar eplenty of examples to show that we have issues with MI, NTRO and other agencies. IF 170 countries including the US and UK can have oversight of intelligence agencies, there is no reason why there can't be oversight by the Indian parliament. What intelligence agencies do in the name of the GoI affects the Indian nation and should be under oversight of the representatives of the people. There should be a procedure to declassify intelligence documents after a period of time like the National Security Archives project in the US. Otherwise, how will our future generations learn what policies went right and what went wrong?

    An example of why this is needed is the rot in NTRO, if there was PAC or parliamentary select committee, the mess would have been see much earlier and rectified. Instead we have wasted important intelligence assets and tax payers money to fill pockets of some intelligence official. The Kargil war, the 2002 parliament attacks, the bombings and in particular the Mumbai attacks have shown that our intelligence agencies in particular internal intellignece is not working and its precisely because there is no checks and balances and no accountability. Parliament can't pull up officials because of their failures and nepotism and corruption goes away scot free. And because this is very sensitive, corruption and nepotism is doubly dangerous and corruption here directly imperils national security.

    Here is an outlook article on the NTRO case

    The Centre plans a clean-up in tainted intel agency NTRO
    On March 16 this year, the Delhi High Court caused a bit of a flutter in India’s secretive intelligence community when it directed the government to furnish all files related to corruption in India’s technical intelligence agency NTRO (National Technical Research Organisation). The high court order comes even as NTRO has issued a chargesheet to one of its top-level officials, senior advisor and special secretary, Dr M.S. Vijayaraghavan.

    The HC order, following a petition filed by a former joint secretary of NTRO, threatens to blow the lid off the systemic corruption and rot that has plagued the organisation in the last three years. The NTRO, raised in the aftermath of the Kargil war, gathers technical intelligence using an array of radars and antennae on the lines of the US national security agency (NSA). Dogged of late by a series of controversies, it also has the dubious distinction of becoming the first intelligence agency in independent India to face a hostile audit by the CAG.

    V.K. Mittal, who served as the centre director of NTRO’s largest facility, the Centre for Communications Applications, filed a petition in the HC after his efforts to expose corruption in the agency hit a bureaucratic wall. Mittal resigned from the NTRO in the same year that he was picked up by the agency and was named scientist of the year (2007-08). Frustrated at the systemic rot, Mittal wrote a series of letters and filed numerous RTI applications to uncover the truth. His allegations ranged from misuse of secret funds by senior NTRO officials to illegal procurements and recruitments. Some of Mittal’s charges:

    * There were several financial irregularities in the procurement of key systems such as a project to intercept satellite communications and another to purchase portable satellite terminals. Mittal alleged that project director Ruchi Chandra Srivastav tried to favour a particular firm whose system had already been compromised.
    * He alleged that scores of people had been illegally recruited by the agency. One example he cited was Vaibhav Vikrant, an engineer who was recruited as a uav pilot after finishing an aero-modelling course from a Haryana institute. An inquiry panel, set up under the orders of NSA Shiv Shankar Menon in 2009, found the recruitment to be faulty. (He’s since been asked to leave after he failed to clear some crucial examinations.)
    * Regarding the allegations against Vijayaraghavan, though the inquiry panel only recommended some minor penalties, the NSA has stepped in now. Meanwhile, Mittal has pointed out that the accused, while serving as second-in-command at the NTRO, simultaneously held two other posts. He continued to be the director of the DRDO laboratory as well as private-public venture SETS, in Chennai. While this should have set alarm bells ringing, no one took notice and Vijayaraghavan’s association with the private-public venture went on even when he was picked up to be a part of an intelligence agency. He flew regularly to Bangalore and received emoluments from SETS, Chennai.

    Worried by Mittal’s complaints, the NSA formed a one-man-inquiry committee to look into the allegations. The man chosen by the PMO was P.V. Kumar, a former special secretary with RAW who had joined NTRO as a special advisor. Kumar found several instances where Mittal’s allegations proved to be true.

    Kumar, who subsequently took over as NTRO chairman in 2010, has now been tasked with cleaning up the agency and restoring its credibility. (He is in a unique position to do so since he headed RAW’s telecom division—he has the technical expertise as well as over 30 years service as an intelligence professional.)

    However, the NTRO has been quick to point out that many of the dubious procurements alleged by Mittal were initiated by him. But Mittal has countered that by saying while many of these projects were planned by him, the actual sanctions came from the NTRO financial advisor. Much of his two-year effort bore partial fruit when the PMO wrote to him on January 22 this year admitting they had recommended the NTRO take remedial measures in a time-bound manner.

    NTRO is not the only one in a soup. The cabinet secretariat has also been prompt in ordering an inquiry into allegations levelled against the purchase of aircraft by the aviation research centre, the air wing of RAW. With the Delhi HC seeking NTRO’s files on the action taken against the guilty, the agency’s troubles are far from over.
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2011

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