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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Right thinking

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram’s suggestion to bifurcate the Union home ministry in order to streamline security and intelligence functions is a welcome move. He has mooted a proposal to hive off those departments in the ministry related to intelligence and security functions from the non-security related ones like Centre-state relations, freedom fighters, etc. Chidambaram’s thinking is that today with security threats emanating from Left wing extremism, besides externally-fostered internal security problems, the home minister needs to devote his entire attention to national security related issues. A major problem that plagues the country’s security bureaucracy is the multiplicity of intelligence agencies without effective inter-agency channels to ensure intelligence sharing.

In the existing security architecture, the Joint Intelligence Committee, which is now part of the National Security Council secretariat, and the Multi Agency Centre are both designed to serve as platforms to collate intelligence from different agencies. Yet systemic flaws in the security architecture did not prevent the dastardly 26/11 disaster. Apart from the two principal intelligence agencies tasked with internal and external security, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research & Analysis Wing, there are several lesser known intelligence outfits. These include the ‘G’ branches of the central para-military forces like the BSF and CRPF besides the 800-strong intelligence arm of the Railway Protection Force. The problem is that the diversity of intelligence agencies leads to turf wars and eventually results in compromising national security interests.

Appropriate use of these intelligence organisations — with a suitable mechanism such as a proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre, modelled along the lines of the US Department of Home Land Security — can make a significant difference in the on-going war against terrorism.

Chidambaram is the first home minister who can take credit for starting a public debate about coping with terrorism. The challenge of creating a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) arises considering the various intelligence organisations tackling terrorism are scattered among the PMO, the Cabinet secretariat, the defence and finance ministries. Bringing together these diverse units under one roof, given the realities of bureaucratic inertia and resistance to change will not be easy. Also the status of the NCTC chief vis a vis the National Security Adviser and Director IB and Secretary R&AW will be tricky issues that need to be figured out clearly to ensure its harmonious functioning.





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