Thursday, March 23rd, 2023 14:36:50

Intelligence Failures

Updated: October 21, 2016 12:32 pm

The terror attack in Uri on September 18, 2016, and the continuous tension in the Kashmir Valley seemingly have their genesis in our intelligence failure. In fact, the nation has not been let down by the Intelligence agencies only in war. There are many instances of intelligence goof-ups for which  we had to pay a heavy price through myriad terrorist incidents in many parts of the country. In many of these cases it was the politicians and bureaucrats who were to blame, they just refused to act, even when specific intelligence inputs were provided. After the 2008 Bombay attack, former home minister Chidambaram had said: “there was no failure of intelligence, because there was no intelligence”.

A few of the glaring instances where we admitted that there were intelligence failures are:

The assassination of Mujibur Rahman.   Operation Bluestar.  Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi Assassinations. The Purulia Arms Drop. Attack on Parliament. 2008  Mumbai Attack. The Guwahati  and Pune bombings of 2010, the Varanasi  and Delhi bombings of 2011, Dilsukhnagar, Bangalore and the Bodhgaya blasts of 2013. Pathankot Attack.

The Indian intelligence system suffers from a lack of checks and balances. Most of them have been politicised by the parties in power. The bane of intelligence agencies has been lack of focus and direction, turf-battles, poor coordination, uncorroborated reports and lack of professionalism and motivation.

Chances are that intelligence reforms will continue to be ignored even after the Uri attack. The Indian intelligence community, albeit a very successful one at countering terror, has never seen any major accountability or continuity, unlike their western counterparts. Because of lack of reality checks, no meaningful reforms have ever been done.  After the massive failure of 26/11, not only did the government ignore any major reforms, the two intelligence chiefs of the IB and RAW even escaped any censure.

Indian Intelligence has some limitation that is set by government of India. Their task is only to gather input from sources and to pass it on to security forces. Input which intelligence receives is just like raw materials. That raw material needs to go some set refining process, this applies both in case of Human Intelligence and Technical Intelligence. When this refining process is completed and officers are sure about the result, then only this information is passed on to security forces.


Let’s talk about two major attacks-The Mumbai attack and Pathankot attacks. In both cases Intelligence  had already warned security forces of  the respective state government of impending serious attacks. But these warning were ignored. Intelligence agencies in India don’t have any legal empowerment, so it is difficult for them to take any action on their own.The NCTC that  was proposed by Chidambaram during his tenure in home ministry, was dropped due to heavy opposition from some chief minister like Mamta Banerjee and Modi.

Until and unless Indian Intelligence agencies do not  get legal empowerment like NCTC, this type of problems will persist. Indian Intelligence  agencies cannot be compared with the American and British ones. There is big difference between both. Their annual budget are in billion dollars, while ours is in a few million. The  CIA and MI5 both  have legal empowerment.

Our Defence Forces have been entrusted with the mission of providing security from external aggression as well as assisting the management of internal security. The requirement of timely and accurate intelligence by the armed forces is absolutely essential if they have to carry out their assigned missions efficiently and successfully. Thus, the mission of our intelligence agencies would be to support defence planning and operations and contribute to national security through a coordinated effort by the entire intelligence community.

What has been the experience of our intelligence set-up since 70 years of our independent existence? Various intelligence agencies and organisations have gone through an evolutionary process. Though, there have been many failures which have been highlighted in the media and otherwise, the success stories have been very few and far between. Intelligence failures about capabilities and intentions of the adversary during the Sino-Indian war of 1962 and the Indo-Pak War of 1965 are well known. During the 1971 war, the success of the intelligence organisations could be attributed to the long preparation time we had before outbreak of hostilities. We did not fare very well on the intelligence front in Operation Pawan, that is, peacekeeping operation in Sri Lanka in 1987. The Kargil episode has been a monumental intelligence failure; the lessons from this debacle cannot be overlooked.

Former Minister Jaswant Singh, in his book “Defending India”, has remarked on the politicisation of intelligence agencies and their lack of accountability. He states thus, “Intelligence agencies were earlier needed and employed as instruments of control, as extension of the interests of the state from ancient to British to an independent India…But accountability, and by derivation, loyalty remains fixedly with the wielders of state power alone…they are answerable only to the political masters of the day.” He further goes on to add that an unintended but debilitating consequence of all this has been a crippling of the professional competence of India’s entire intelligence apparatus. The agencies tend to shy away from accountability.

India’s top intelligence agencies

National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO)

Set in 2004, this organisation comes under the National Security Adviser at the Prime Minister’s Office and is controlled by India’s external intelligence agency, RAW. The organisation develops technology capabilities in aviation, remote sensing and data collection through, cyber security, encryption systems, strategic hardware and software development. It works with the help of the Technology Experiment Satellite (TES), Cartosat-2A and Cartosat-2B. Besides, it also collects data from two Radar Imaging Satellites named RISAT-1 and RISAT-2.

Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)

The Research and Analysis Wing was formed after the Chinese debacle of 1962. It was setup in 1968 to tackle foreign intelligence and counter-terrorism. It has, over the years, grown into one of the world’s most formidable intelligence agency, with a proven track record of successful missions in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. RAW monitors the political, military, economic and scientific developments in countries which have direct bearing on India’s national security and the formulation of its foreign policy.

Very little is known about this secretive agency. It has around eight to ten thousand agents and a practically unlimited budget. Unlike the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or Britain’s MI6, RAW reports directly to the prime minister instead of the Ministry of Defense. The Research and Analysis Wing has faced many allegations of meddling in the affairs of neighbouring nations.

Intelligence Bureau (IB)

The Intelligence Bureau is the world’s oldest intelligence bureau. The force was set up as the Intelligence Department for the British Indian Army in 1885. The grand unit of intelligence agencies in India has the responsibility of handling national threats inside the country and pass on information among several intelligence units and the police. The IB also issues licenses of radio frequencies and has an email spying system. The bureau can also tap any phone line without a warrant in India.

Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB)

The NCB is India’s top law enforcement unit against drug trafficking and illegal substance abuse. The agency was created on 17 March 1986. It was aimed to protect the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. The NCB is also responsible for tracking down smuggling points and groups across India and seize violators. The unit works in close association with the Indian Revenue Service and Income Tax investigation teams.

Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI)

The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence works according to the directive of the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC), in the Ministry of Finance. This agency works as a free-floater among all the other intelligence units. It provides information to every other department about irregular trades and threats in and outside India. The DRI also keeps a watch on important investigations and helps officials cover legal loopholes at times. The DRI has been instrumental in curbing down India’s smuggling rate.

Defence Intelligence Agency

This agency was established in 2002 and is the nodal agency for all defence related intelligence, thus distinguishing it from the RAW. The entire budget of the agency and its operations are classified.

The DIA has control of the Indian Army’s technical intelligence assets – the Directorate of Signals Intelligence and the Defence Image Processing and Analysis Centre (DIPAC). The DIA also controls the Defence Information Warfare Agency (DIWA) which handles all elements of the information warfare repertoire, including psychological operations, cyber-war, electronic intercepts and the monitoring of sound waves.

Joint Cipher Bureau

The Joint Cipher Bureau works closely with the IB and RAW. The inter-services Joint Cipher Bureau have primary responsibility for cryptology and SIGINT, providing coordination and direction to the other military service organizations with similar mission. Most of the equipment being used is obsolete and of Russian origin. However specialized direction finding and monitoring equipment has been put in place in recent years.

Signals Intelligence Directorate

The Signals Intelligence Directorate is a joint service organisation, manned by personnel from the three services i.e. the Army, Navy and Air Force. It has a large array of Wireless Experimental Units that carry out the task of monitoring the radio spectrum by all users, such as Defence, Police, AIR, Railways, and PSUs etc. It has several monitoring stations spread all over the country including coastal stations.

Directorate of Air Intelligence

As the intelligence arm of the Indian Air Force, the Directorate of Air Intelligence is responsible for air and satellite reconnaissance missions. During the 1971 Pak war, it was Russian satellite imagery that helped India with information on Chinese force deployments. With its advanced space program, the Indian Air Force hasacquired its independent space-based imagery intelligence satellite.

Aviation Research Centre

It functions under the RAW, and over the years has  grown into one of the largest  Indian spy operations with a fleet of  high-flying Mach 3 capable MIGs , Global 5000 jets, Gulfstream III jets besides the Russian IL-76 and AN-32’s,  fitted with state-of-the-art electronic surveillance equipment and long range cameras capable of taking pictures of targets from very high altitudes. It also has a fleet of helicopters and the Pilotless Target Aircraft Lakshya.

There are five  ARC bases, with Charbatia Base in Cuttack being the oldest and largest;  Sarsawa Air Base near Saharanpur; Dum Duma Air Base near Tinsukia,Palam Air Base in Delhi and  the Farquhar Air Base in Tajikistan, the only Indian military base situated in a foreign country.

Defence Analyst and Chairman of the Kargil Review Committee, K. Subramanyam has observed that, “the Indian political elite has not appreciated the role of intelligence as an effective tool in policy-making and governance and the intelligence organisations and armed forces forming a common front to safeguard national security. They have allowed turf battles to develop among them to detriment of the interests of both.”

The Kargil War had highlighted the flawed structure of our intelligence apparatus and the pressing need for introducing reforms. The government has also formed a Task Force of Group of Ministers to address the issues arising out of KRC’s recommendations on intelligence failures and suggestions to revamp our entire intelligence-gathering set-up. The nation faces a variety of threats from both within and without. Even when India has become a nuclear weapons state and its Defence Forces have been fighting insurgencies continuously for the last five decades besides five wars, there is no evidence to believe that intelligence agencies have reviewed their role.

Espionage In India

sherlock-holmes-147255_960_720Strategic thinkers through history—from Chanakya, Sun Tzu to Machiavelli, have emphasised the pivotal role intelligence plays in the security of any nation. There is ample proof of espionage and intelligence gathering in early Indian history.No other civilization can claim such an antiquity for the techniques of war, diplomacy, intrigue and espionage as India.

Even our holy texts are replete with instances that highlight the need to know in advance the enemy’s capability, intentions and plans, and its importance for planning any military strategy. Ancient Indians had gained great expertise in the art of effective espionage.  The techniques and operational methods adopted by them were highly advanced, many of which can be usefully emulated even today. Secret Agencies in ancient India were not conceived as an instrument of oppression but as a vital tool for good governance.

In ancient India, spies were considered as ‘eyes of the king’. It finds mentions in the Vedas. Both the great epics – the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are replete of intelligence gathering through spies. Varuna, one of the chief gods of the Vedic pantheon, is considered to be a forerunner of Secret Services.

Knowledge is power, information is power and intelligence is power. Information and knowledge have always been used as weapons. Over the ages the means of collecting intelligence have diversified from purely human resources to hi-tech means of the present age.

Chanakya’s Arthashastra is probably the oldest recorded manual on espionage in India, but our epics do seem to indicate older usage. In the text, Chanakya laid down the importance of espionage for good statecraft.  The techniques of manipulating public opinion found in the Arthashastra, predates modern intelligence systems by several centuries. The lessons from this 2500 year old text reveal how important deceit, bluff, guile, machinations, disinformation and misinformation are for effective administration.

The development of intelligence gathering in ancient India was closely linked to the prevailing geopolitical conditions. There were many small kingdoms and fiefdoms, each attempting to grab the other’s territory and wealth. Espionage came to be regarded as an indispensable feature and integral part of an efficient administration and of a sound foreign policy. It kept the rulers informed about the activities, strength, and weakness of their political adversaries. They also kept a tab on their disloyal and disgruntled subjects. Espionage was considered to be as important an institution as diplomacy, and rules were framed for these departments which had become a permanent feature of the state.

The Mahabharata refers to a mythological tradition on the origin of the dandaniti and the art of espionage, which was handed down from the past. The Ramayana and the Manusmriti reveal that there was no fixed source of recruitment of secret agents. Like modern day intelligence services, the ancients too resorted to three main sources of recruitment, the academic world, the armed services and the under-world.

A very effective espionage system existed in ancient and medieval South India, where the Kings were continually engaged in wars for expansion of their dominions. They employed spies who went to neighbouring kingdoms to ascertain the strength of their army so that they could inform their rulers to be prepared.  They also informed their masters about the activities of the numerous officials of the realm, and even about the relatives of the king and in general about the condition existing in their own empires. The system of espionage was regarded as extremely important in the Tamil country. The Amukthamalyada, a classic in Telugu, authored by Emperor Krishnadeva Raya of the Vijaynagar dynasty in the 16th century A.D., mentions the work of spies. It states that spies were even appointed to check the work of other spies.

Later day Indian emperors, specially the Sultans,maintained a very powerful spy force to gather information against possible conspiracies by the aristocratic class. An effective postal system was developed to ensure fast delivery of messages.  Palace intrigues, family feuds, harem rivalries etc. were spied upon by maids or sweepers. There were rewardsfor giving accurate information.

The British colonists introduced the modern tactics of espionage and intelligence agencies in the late 19th century. The Sepoy Mutiny was an eye-opener for the Englishmen, and the need for an effective intelligence was felt. To counter the ambitions of the local populations, and the potential threat it posed to the British position in India, a system of surveillance, intelligence and counterintelligence was built up. The strategic rivalry and conflict that existed between the British Empire and the Russian Empire throughout Central Asia saw the advent of modern intelligence methods with permanent bureaucracies for internal and foreign infiltration and espionage. The British used botanists, archaeologists, explorers and surveyors to travel upcountry and gather intelligence. One of the first cryptographic units was established in India as early as in 1844.

It became commonplace to gather intelligence through the diplomatic system of military attachés attached to the diplomatic service operating through the embassies, a tradition which still continues. Although officially restricted to a role of transmitting openly received information, the military attaches used to clandestinely gather confidential information and even recruited spies.

This word ‘spy’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘spash’ which means a wary watcher. Since the information was collected in a secret method, the process was called ‘Guptacharya’. Espionage was seen as a sacred job, for ensuring welfare to humanity. In modern day espionage, information is gathered about anindividual, society or nation through secret means, but it is no more used for promotion of progressive ideals but as a means of vengeance and hatred.

In the present age of information technology, no field of human endeavour has been left untouched by the tremendous rate of change being ushered in by new technologies. Thus, besides our intelligence organisations we need to have a re-look at our intelligence gathering equipment. We need to improve our satellite surveillance, SIGINT, IMINT and TECHINT capabilities for both strategic and tactical intelligence.

There is a serious underlying ‘cultural problem’ that exists within the Indian intelligence agencies set up. Many intelligence chiefs agree that the main reasons for intelligence and counter-terrorism failures are the rivalry among intelligence agencies.

The World’s Super Spy Agencies


Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR)

Russia has a spying tradition which dates back to the Czarist era. The collapse of the Soviet Union saw the KGB disintegrate into several smaller organisations. The present Russian spy agency, the SVRor Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedk as it is known in Russian, has been rejuvenated since the ex-KGB man Vladimir Putin has taken over the reins. It was formed in 1995, and is committed to the country for intelligence, counter-terrorism and defense security.

The SVR has at least 2.50 lacs personnel comprising of undercover agents, secret officers and foreign spies. Its main function is to fight state crime, terror acts, drug smuggling and other internal security violence in the country.

Putin has carved the SVR as one of the most professional and effective intelligence agency. Under him, the intelligence service  have emerged as one of the most powerful political groups in Russia, and ex-KGB agents occupy many of the key positions in the Kremlin.

Ministry of State Security (MSS)

The Chinese espionage is very different than Western espionage setups. The MSS is very similar in structure to the old KGB, being responsible for both domestic security and foreign espionage. It was setup in 1983, and is involved in counter-intelligence, foreign intelligence and political security.

The MSS is actively involved in industrial and military technology espionage. For the MSS, every Chinese has the potential of espionage and they use the thousands of diplomats, students, and business people who travel to the West every year to gather information. It has a very strong cyber cell and regularly hacks into data from vulnerable sites all over the world.  In the past, the Pentagon has accused China of hacking into U.S. Defense Department databases. The governments of Germany and Britain too have made similar accusations.

Its overseas activities are believed to be focused aggressively on India, Japan, the United States and other nations of the South East Asian Archipelago. It is involved in subversive activities.

Inter-Services Intelligence

The Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency was founded in 1948. ISI commands immense power in the Pakistani political and military establishment.Headquartered in   Shahrah-e-Soharwardi in Islamabad, it is said to be the world’s best and strongest intelligence agency.

The ISI is often described as a state within a state due to the firm control it exercises over Pakistan’s politics and its role in protecting the military from domestic opposition.  It has a dubious record of playing both sides in the global war on terrorism, fighting Islamist extremists domestically while abetting them abroad. Its role in the promoting the Taliban and Al Qaeda is well known.

Its primary role is spreading anti-Indian propaganda and hatred in Kashmir, funding Sikh separatists in Punjab, training separatists in special camps, sending counterfeit currency, arms and drugs. The ISI has consistently undermined India’s stability for decades. India has accused the ISI of involvement in dozens of terrorist attacks over the years, including the Parliament attack and the Mumbai bombings.

The ISI has worked in close tandem with the CIA to combat al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan. However the killing of Bin Laden, the repeated drone attacks and Pakistan’s support to Islamic terrorists have put the ISI in the dock.

Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

Britain’sMI6 stands for Military Intelligence, Section 6.  The Agency is commonly referred as MI6 and is one of the world’s oldest intelligence agencies, dating back to 1909.The existence of the SIS was not officially acknowledged until 1994. The SIS was formed mainly for countering foreign intelligence from the Imperial German Government.

The MI6 supplies the British Government with foreign intelligence. (Its counterpart, the MI5 supplies the Government with internal British intelligence).It operates under the formal direction of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) alongside the internal Security Service (MI5), the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and Defence Intelligence (DI).

During the Cold War years, the agency recruited the brightest brains from Oxford and Cambridge.The agency has global covert capability and provides vital intelligence to protect UK’s national security. One of the biggest accomplishments of MI6 was its contribution in November 2011 that helped capture the Libyan leader Gaddafi.

The Mossad

Mossad in Hebrew means “the Institute”, and is the national intelligence agency of Israel. It came into existence in 1949, with the objective to counter terrorism, intelligence collection, and covert operations. Mossad is considered to be one of the deadliest intelligence agencies of the world, with a reputation for extraordinary skill and aggressiveness in combating Israel’s enemies. It was basically formed to bring Jews to Israel from countries where official Aliyah agencies are forbidden.

Mossad maintains numerous Israeli secret agents in Arab and other nations, and its operatives have carried out numerous undercover operations against enemies of Israel and former Nazi war criminals living abroad.

Some of its notable achievements include the abduction of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann from Argentina in 1960 and the assassination of the planners of the 1972 Munich Olympics killings. In 1976 Mossad agents rescued the hostages of a skyjacked Israeli airliner that was being held at Entebbe,

Uganda. Mossad has also been linked with several assassinations of Palestinian leaders in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE)

The General Directorate for External Security of France is considered as one of the most powerful and renowned intelligence agencies in the world. Located in Paris, DGSE was formed in 1947, when a central external intelligence agency, known as the SDECE, was founded to combine under one head a variety of separate agencies. DGSE is notable for performing paramilitary and counterintelligence operations abroad along with DGSI (the General Directorate for Internal Security). As with most other intelligence agencies in the world, DGSE doesn’t reveal its intelligence operations to the public or media.

The action division (Division Action) is responsible for planning and performing clandestine operations. It also fulfills other security-related operations such as testing the security of nuclear power plants  and military facilities such as the submarine base of the Île Longue, Bretagne. The DGSE was the centre of a major scandal for the sinking of the Greenpeace’s ship Rainbow Warrior in 1985.

Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND)

Formed in 1956, the BND is Germany’sforeign intelligence agency which has 300 locations within Germany and abroad.  BND is reputed to be the most high-tech intelligence agency, which relies on telecommunication and wireless tapping of international communications. BND acts as an early emergency warning system for Germany by alerting the German Government of any external foreign threats.It collects and evaluates information on a variety of areas such as international non-state terrorism, weapons of mass destruction proliferation and illegal transfer of technology, organized crime, weapons and drug trafficking, money laundering, illegal migration and information warfare. As Germany’s only overseas intelligence service, the BND gathers both military and civil intelligence.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

The United States has a history of carrying out intelligence activities since the days of George Washington. There were various agencies working in the federal structure. However it was the attack on the Pearl Harbour during the World War II, that a coordinated agency was setup. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner to the CIA, had a mandate to collect and analyze strategic information.

President Roosevelt appointed his trusted aide, New York lawyer and war hero, William J. Donovan, to become first the Coordinator of Information in 1942. After World War II, the OSS was abolished along with many other war agencies and its functions were transferred to the State and War Departments.

In the postwar scenario, the need of a centralized intelligence organization was felt. President Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947, establishing the CIA. The National Security Act  entrusted the CIA with coordinating the nation’s intelligence activities and correlating, evaluating and disseminating intelligence affecting national security.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is an independently operated analysis and intelligence agency for the government of United States. The most important purpose of the CIA includes collecting, analyzing, evaluating, and disseminating foreign intelligence, and performing covert actions. The CIA mainly focuses on overseas intelligence collection and analysis. The National Clandestine Service (NCS) operates as the clandestine services arm of the CIA and the national authority.

The achievements of CIA, some of them dubious, make it the foremost agency in the world. Its major achievements include: the Soviet missiles crisis of Cuba, the overthrowingof the democratically-elected governments of Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954) and Chile (1973), the Afghanistan and Kuwait invasions etc.  The CIA, as the world foremost agency co-ordinates with other spy agencies worldwide and has the largest information pool. It has its own dedicated spy satellites and the most advanced eavesdropping equipment in the world.

Since ancient times, intelligence has been a function of the empire. After independence, intelligence continued to primarily cover political opposition. The new culture of intelligence needs to be changed from a ‘need to serve the government’ to a ‘need to serve the  nation’.

The Indian intelligence apparatus has become highly politicised and  is being used by the ruling parties for their own benefits.Today, power hungry bureaucrats and big corporation fed media are creating  security scares in the country to further impose the ‘intelligence’ network over us much to the danger of even intruding into our private domain which would be detrimental for democracy in the country.


In 1975, the then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi was actually more depended on bureaucracy and her ‘intelligence’. Indira’s son Sanjay was actually the boss of Congress Party and had developed a larger than life image. He had converted the Congress party into a completely spineless class who would be happy to crawl when asked to bend. The result was the total dependency of the government on the ‘intelligence’ and not on their political leaders who were facing flaks for the policies of the government. The ‘intelligent’ people were reporting to the prime minister that the country was very happy with the ‘disciplinary’ measures and hence, it would be good if the country goes for the polls. Mrs. Gandhi had no other source of information as most of the newspapers were writing what her cronies  wanted them to write and intelligence agencies were only looking for ‘political opponents’. The government ordered for polls and the outcome was that the Congress party was completely routed in the elections paving the way for the first non-Congress government at the Centre.

by Anil Dhir

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