India is expected to have the National Counter Terrorism Centre operational by March 1 2012, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. It would be the umbrella body which would deal with terror threats within the country and would comprise the Intelligence Bureau’s Multi Agency Centre apart from the Joint Intelligence Committee, National Technical Research Organisation and the National Security Guards.
In India, Intelligence gathering has not been really the problem. The problem arises when the same has to be analysed. We got to see it during the 26/11 attack where both the police and the Intelligence agencies were at logger heads with each other over intelligence sharing. A similar problem cropped up during the David Headley fiasco when India cried foul stating that intelligence was provided but the same was not actionable in nature. The NCTC is aimed at putting to rest all such confusion and would receive data at regular intervals before analysing the same and sending it back to the police after deciding whether the intelligence is actionable or not.
Prior to getting into the pros and cons let us look into the role, jurisdiction and also the powers of this centre. It would have powers under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act which would enable it to make searches, arresting powers and would also have the power to seek transcripts, data and other terror related material from any of the agencies in the country. The agencies that it could seek information from would be the Central Bureau of Investigation, National Investigation Agency, NATGRID, National Technical Research Organization, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and all seven central armed police forces including the National Security Guard (NSG).
Apart from collecting data, the primary job of the NCTC would be to warn so as to pre-empt terror strikes. All agencies dealing with terrorism would feed information to the NCTC which would be a collection point. There would be a panel of experts on board to analyse this intelligence. The analysis would be conducted on the existing intelligence which would read with previous alerts and also strikes. This would be then pieced together before sending the information to the field based on which security agencies would act upon. Basically what the Home Ministry has done is set up an agency which would be the main collecting unit of intelligence. This is a way of ensuring that all intercepts are sent to one particular agency which would piece it together and then put out a final assessment.
The Home Ministry had found loop holes in the manner in which intelligence was being shared. Most of the time it was being passed on directly to the police. However this led to confusion and each time after a terror strike both the police and the IB were found to be blaming each other about intelligence sharing. With the NCTC, it would be compulsory to alert it regarding each intercept and it would be the job of this centre to ensure that the information is given out to the departments concerned so that action could be taken on the same.
Experts however argue that this is just another centre aimed at creating more jobs. The best intelligence always comes from the local police stations and there is a dire need to strengthen this wing first. Despite us having so many agencies it is always seen that officials from foreign agencies or the interpol when they visit India in relation to case, they always contact the local police for first hand information as it makes the process quicker. The other argument is that intelligence sharing could slow down as the Home Ministry has decided yet another agency to report to. However the counter argument to this would be that officials would have to tune themselves up to sharing information quickly and the NCTC on its part would have to very quickly analyse the intelligence and send it back to the agencies concerned.
C D Sahay former boss of the Research and Analysis Wing says that it is important that the NCTC has finally been established. This is a decade old proposal and I feel happy it has finally seen the light of the day. However there are certain issues and most important we need to be clear about the charter of this centre. If its charter evolves around getting information from various agencies then what are the Joint Intelligence Agencies, the Multi Agencies and the State’s Intelligence Coordination units going to do. They are basically doing the same thing and the setting up of the NCTC could only lead to multiplicities of agencies. I just hope it is not another exercise of creating more posts. I feel that the other agencies mentioned above need to be wound up and only the NCTC should be allowed to function as this would wipe out all confusion as there are already agencies which are involved in analysing data. We need to review all this and have one fully empowered agency which is accountable and efficient enough to deal with all matters pertaining to terrorism.
An senior official points out that there is a bit of confusion regarding the director of the NCTC reporting to the Director of the Intelligence Bureau and being part of the Intelligence Bureau. It should be an independent agency and should not be accountable to any of the major feeder agencies. This infact makes it an awkward situation as the the Intelligence Bureau will always be the main feeder agency and hence there is a need to keep the NCTC independent of the IB and should be a reporting agency.
Sahay points out that in this case where the director of the new agency reports to the IB it sure will lead to confusion. If this is the case then why have a separate agency at all. Instead create a cell within the IB itself. If the NCTC is not made independent then there is a danger of it becoming a bureacratic unit and there is every chance that the NCTC would become an independent intelligence gathering centre.
Another official argues that the present role does not make it clear what exactly this agency would do after all. I personally feel that it should have an operational role for itself. It should coordinate operations failing which it will go back to the same rut where in there will be complaints of information not coming in and then we have a repeat of the post 26/11 situation. Unless there is someone heading the NCTC with operationalising powers there is no meaning for the agency and this agency would have information again in bits and pieces and this would once again lead to a major intelligence failure.
The main thing that the NCTC needs to do is to get together experts who can analyse intelligence. There should be a proper structure where the feeder agencies collect information right from the ground level including a constable and then immediately feed it to the NCTC.
Another official says that it is too early to comment on the exact manner in which the NCTC would function. It would start operations from March 1 and over the next couple of months the required amends would be made. There is a herculean task ahead of them to start collecting data and then piecing together the intelligence before analysing it. The idea is to have faster access to information and intelligence. The officer also adds that there is a need to ensure that the NCTC does not get entangled into a hierarchy mess and should be open to information right from the level of a constable who is probably the best intelligence in the Indian police set up. However there should be a proper channel to collect such data which would ensure that the NCTC would go a long way in counter terrorism.