Intelligence agencies require both auditing and oversight

The recent Union budget has been very magnanimous to the home ministry. The overall allocation for the home ministry in the 2013-14 budget is around Rs 59,000, which constitutes a substantial increase over the last year. While nobody would begrudge them these funds, munificent though they may seem, there are some serious concerns about the appropriate utilisation of these funds.

Various anti-terror projects like the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid) and the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS) have not been utilising the funds allocated to them. Natgrid was initiated in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks to augment our counter-terrorism infrastructure by linking 21 data sources from 11 intelligence agencies. This project was allocated Rs 364 crore last year, however only Rs 11 crore was spent. This is despicable,considering the innumerable terrorist attacks in the recent past.

The CCTNS which proposes to link about 15,000 police stations across the nation, has not fared too well either. The home ministry has spent only Rs 85 crore out of the allocated budget of Rs 400 crore for this project. The vexing question is -- who should be held accountable for this?

The Supreme Court may provide us a solution. Recently a bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir issued a notice to the home ministry and the National Security Advisor (NSA) seeking their clarification on a PIL that sought to audit the key intelligence agencies of this nation. The petition has demanded parliamentary oversight and financial auditing of agencies like the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and National Technical Research Organization (NTRO) by the CAG. Advocates Anil Divan and Prashant Bhushan appearing for the petitioner stated that India is the only democracy in the world whose intelligence agencies are unaccountable.

The petitioners are perfectly right in raising such demands. One understands that secrecy is very important for the effective functioning of such agencies. That is why they are accountable only to the executive. This is true in most countries including the USA.
However in many democracies the executive voluntarily shares with the legislature part of the responsibility for monitoring the performance of the intelligence agencies. This is to improve the efficiency of such agencies and also to ensure that they remain accountable to the public. The painful fact of underutilised funds would have been remedied if India had such a mechanism in place.

Power to scrutinise

In the US, the senate intelligence oversight committee has the power to scrutinise the appointment of the chiefs of intelligence agencies. This is done to eschew the menace of nepotism on the part of the executive. It also ensures that the most competent professionals are appointed to these sensitive positions. They can also look into the budgetary allocations for such agencies to ensure probity and also to check if the right national priorities are being pursued. They cannot go into operational details of clandestine operations, thereby preserving the secrecy of the same.

Indian intelligence agencies tend to pull in different directions and seldom work in an coordinated manner. These agencies have not been created by an Act of Parliament. They were set up under executive orders and are obliged only to the executive. This makes parliamentary supervision arduous. Effective oversight can be a possibility only if there is an Act of Parliament which formalises the existence of these agencies. It is high time the government acted on this.

The US and Israel are two nations that have successfully carried out intelligence reforms. Israel felt that the level of coordination between its key agencies like Mossad, Aman and Shin Bet, which constitute the core of the Israeli Intelligence Community (IIC), had suffered in the past from fundamental shortcomings, hence they had set up a commission to investigate the intelligence network after the Iraq War (2004).

This commission reported that it was essential to restructure the IIC in accordance with a proper work distribution, as well as a correct constitutional and legal frame of reference. This has been implemented successfully. Israel has a long history of carrying out intelligence reforms, be it the the Yadin-Sherf commission (1963), the Agranat commission (1973), the Zamir commission (1974), the commission of Aluf Aharon Yariv (1986). This explains the preponderance of the Israeli intelligence agencies.

The US constituted two important commissions—the Gilmore commission (1999) and the 9/11 commission. The Gilmore commission originally mooted the idea of a national agency to combat terrorism called the National Office for Combating Terrorism (NOCT). The 9/11 commission moved this idea further when they suggested the creation of a director, National Intelligence (DNI) and also a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).

All of these proposals have been implemented and there has been not a single terrorist attack in the US since September 11, 2001. India needs to emulate these methods if it were to effectively counter the terrorist activities that have gone on unabated.

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