‘In India, intrusive surveillance is quite high’
A top former security/intelligence expert in the Indian establishment who prefers to remain anonymous speaks to Hardnews
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
On the Edward Snowden Affair’s implications regarding intelligence agencies
I don’t think there will be any implications of Snowden’s revelations as such for the intelligence community. Of course, it is a revelation of records which would be perhaps embarrassing, but in the intelligence community, what was being done was quite well known. And, many a time, this type of metadata gathering, storage and sharing has really helped in curbing terrorism which has international linkages. Therefore, one needs to look at it in a proper perspective and not jump to conclusions.
Even in our country, it happens all the time. Sharing of information of this type, both satellite and phone links, etc, with our intelligence liaison overseas — it has definitely enhanced our capabilities to bust very important terrorist modules. Trans-border, there were so many cases where we identified people through telephones and their voices and some of these telephones are then put on further observation either by us or our friendly liaison agencies. Then we get other additional linkages in some other countries where people who had connections with groups inside India or with trans-border groups who were hostile to India, were identified and neutralized.
The Abu Jundal case is a very specific example. After he was brought here from Saudi Arabia, we already knew the information that he had given but did not have evidence. Now we have specific evidence. Whether the Pakistani courts accept it or not is a different matter, but it is high quality evidence in the eyes of international jurisprudence. It is a major breakthrough in the Mumbai attack investigations.
on India’s relationship with other intelligence agencies
We have friendly agencies all across the world. But mainly democratic countries. India has friendly relations with the US, UK, Turkey, Indonesia, Iran, Germany and many others.
There are protocols. There are rules under which information is shared between agencies. One of the things that is very sacrosanct is that there should not be any specific leakages to the media. This is one thing that we in India keep violating. The media should be aware that a lot of good work is being done in this regard. So, there are protocols. It is built up over the years and all relationships are not always hunky-dory, as every agency has its own national interest. Keeping that interest in view, the sharing is gradual and limited and one has to then build on the relationship and also build on the inputs that are being received. So, it grows over time and then the credibility of the agency with which you are sharing also establishes over a period of time, depending on how useful the information is to the user country.
The quality of intelligence being gathered by our agency and shared with us by other agencies is very high. It is based on both technical intelligence and human intelligence. Technical intelligence can be shared commonly but human intelligence is shared by the country which gives and there is a value assigned to this intelligence by the home country. They also have to indicate how reliable or credible it is and then it is for the user agency to find out how good it is for them.
Also, liaison with other agencies is helpful when you need information on hostile countries. Like, for example in Pakistan, the US has immense clout. They can put pressure on the Pakistani authorities. Although how much pressure they can put is not clear, and it varies. So we have to depend on their information, which they share with us.
The initial information was that the Mumbai attacks were to take place in September but eventually they took place in November. They tried coming in September but the boat capsized
This partnership could have helped foil the Mumbai attack plan. Before the attacks, the CIA had shared information specific to the venues of the attack. We had shared it with the authorities on the field, the Coast Guard, the Mumbai police, IB etc. The initial information was that the attacks were to take place in September but eventually they took place in November. They tried coming in September but the boat capsized. So two months had elapsed.
During the two months there may have been a high-level alert and sharing but at that time it didn’t happen. It was shared just about 10-15 days before the attack that this is a very specific plan and again there was an alert and patrolling and monitoring, but, somehow, it could not be prevented.
I don’t know how it was implemented in Mumbai but there was a specific input. In that sense it was a lapse. But, lapses occur. It certainly shows the quality of intelligence that we receive from friendly agencies.
On the Level of surveillance and the abilities of Indian agencies
As Snowden’s revelations indicated, India is a country where intrusive surveillance is quite high. Some of it might be terrorism-related; a lot of it might be just grovelling in the sand. We have highly sophisticated computerized systems to monitor metadata that we collect. So we have to observe the suspicious calls and then if we come across any suspicious module, we have to keep them under watch and then nab them in a manner so that we have enough evidence which can stand in a court. This is how we try to be ahead of the planners.
The citizens of this country must understand that when the security of the State is under threat then the security agencies will exercise all the means to gather information. They must therefore keep in mind that their emails and telephones may be under watch by the agencies. This doesn’t mean that the agencies have the freedom to do whatever they wish to with the private information that they are gathering.
Also, we don’t have the capabilities to launch surveillance on the same scale as was being done by the NSA. It is done through highly sophisticated means. I can say, we can do 60-70 per cent of what NSA is doing.
Moreover, human data collection varies from time to time. In some areas and sectors it is very weak and needs to be strengthened. And quality of human intelligence also is very weak.
Cyber security is also a growing threat and it is not over-hyped. We have to take all possible means at our disposal, both technical and human, to build firewalls, etc. Our cyber security set-up is not very good at the moment but we are improving on that front.
There are problems in the way our intelligence officers are recruited. Only lower-level field officers come through direct recruitment. Be it Intelligence Bureau (IB) or Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), the top officers are always brought in from other services. Like other agencies, we should have direct recruitment in India as well.
Another big issue is the representation of minorities. We don’t have even a single Muslim officer in R&AW. It is very strange that this policy is not changing. IB too has very few Muslim officers, although there are a couple of officers at the helm including the Director and a Joint Director. We need to recruit them on pure merit so that the minorities don’t feel a sense of alienation.