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What does an Intelligence officer do? An ex-IB Director looks back

Officers of Intelligence opt for anonymity by choice and know they did not have to depend on the 'glamour of uniform' to feel important about the work they were engaged in for the national cause

What does an Intelligence officer do? An ex-IB Director looks back

What does an Intelligence officer do? An ex-IB Director looks back

A few of the chiefs of Intelligence in India and abroad have written about their work in the agency they once headed - possibly to make up for the anonymity they had to face on the professional front and tell the world how important their role had been in helping the governance of the country right at the top.

Publishing a book, no doubt is not everybody's cup of tea - writing on Intelligence always received media attention which is a sign that enlightened citizens wanted to know about matters relating to national security.

To decide what part of operational work that one was privy to, should be kept from the public domain is a judgement call for the writer and it is presumed that at the level of a former chief, it would be taken on a note of professional wisdom.

A ring-side view of how the government worked during a period has significance in terms of presenting a 'historical' perspective about it but the caveat here would be to filter out such events and decision-making processes that could 'predict' in the present the nation's future line of action on a strategic matter.

It is known that Intelligence might provide decisive inputs for the government to take a stand on crucial matters but it did not 'dictate' policy.

In the time of late PV Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister, a plenary meeting was once called by him on Kashmir at a juncture where cross-border terrorism there had touched a new high. Everyone who mattered was present - from Governor to the Army Chief - besides the top bureaucrats and they all favoured a line of immediate action.

On being consulted by the Prime Minister, Director Intelligence Bureau (DIB) attending the round table, suggested that 'we should hold on' for the present and the former agreed with that. It so happened that the participants (of the meeting) pressed for a 'decision' whereupon the Prime Minister famously told the gathering that 'not taking a decision was also a decision'.

Intelligence agencies keep national security above politics and do not involve themselves with the latter. In an electoral democracy, however, where there has to be a certain transparency of public life, any unforeseen or covert developments that could cause internal destabilisation, would be of concern to the national Intelligence set-up.

The success of an Intelligence organisation depends a lot on the professional competence of the officers manning it. Every entrant - high or low in the hierarchy - has to undergo a 'basic' training programme for Intelligence orientation. The leadership of the organisation begins at the 'Desk' and the 'Desk Officer' though only an Assistant Director, is acknowledged as an expert on a subject covered on that desk - for the simple reason that he or she goes through every bit of information made available to the organisation in that sphere.

I remember how I once addressed the 'Basic Course' as a desk officer and noticed two very senior officers sitting in front, listening to me with rapt attention and even taking down notes - one of them became my immediate boss and the other went on to become DIB soon enough.

In a successful Intelligence organisation, there is no confusion about credit-sharing, operational decision-making is delegated in an environment of effective supervision and the senior is never evasive about giving guidance that his or her junior associate would ask for.

Intelligence agencies worked on these basic principles of management with the chief being respected - not feared - because of his sterling leadership.

Lesser men would show up occasionally in positions of leadership - they would deny credit to their own officer in a bid to usurp it for themselves. Such seniors are easily exposed within the organisation because an Intelligence agency is opaque for the outsiders but pretty transparent internally and reputations there are marred or made on sure grounds.

When I joined IB in May 1964, the Bureau was run from South Block which housed the Prime Minister's Office. In the post-Nehru era, it was shifted to North Block, the seat of the Union Home Minister and the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Intelligence Bureau (IB) handled external Intelligence as well and the IPS officers, selected from amongst those at the top of the list in a batch, were inducted for long-term deputation at the Centre. They were all asked to complete a year of foreign language courses in anticipation of a posting abroad at some point of time.

Soon enough, however, R&AW was created in 1968 as a split off from the IB, for exclusive coverage of external Intelligence and put under the Cabinet Secretariat - incidentally, my Spanish still enables me to read novels in that language even as the ability to converse in Spanish had tapered off. There was an organic link between the two agencies for some time but this faded away gradually as the new organisation progressed to handle its special responsibilities.

A meaningful exchange of officers between the two agencies should be built into the system for the benefit of the country - more so because there is often a 'cause and effect' relationship between external and internal threats to national security in the Indian context. These are the times for the fullest inter-agency coordination as security is an integral concept - even a closer liaison between Intelligence and agencies investigating economic crimes is desirable now for the simple reason that 'national security is inseparable from economic security' and both sides could benefit from information accessed by Intelligence or unearthed by an investigation.

Officers of Intelligence opt for anonymity by choice and know they did not have to depend on the 'glamour of uniform' to feel important about the work they were engaged in for the national cause. They were aware that whatever they did might have been hidden from the public but it was directly in the knowledge of the powers that be and deeply appreciated.

It was a traditional practice of Intelligence officers not to talk about their organisation in social gatherings which sometimes made their friends very curious about the nature of the former's work. I recall how in my early years, a family friend - both he and his wife were practising doctors - managed to know that my rank in the government was that of a Director in the ministry and that I had to look into communal riots as part of my job. At a dinner at his house, he introduced me to some other guests saying that I was the 'Director of communal riots' in the central government. Those people might have felt puzzled but they kept quiet.

In the Indian context, Intelligence agencies kept track of whatever 'in their judgement' was a potential threat to national security. The political masters in charge of governance could of course task them also without overriding this professional call.

For the government, Intelligence agencies were the only instrument for accessing reliable information on matters of national importance. In the 70's during a period of scarcity, field officers of IB furnished information on the price-line of food items in major markets and this was valued as the only source of correct knowledge on which Centre's Civil Supplies Management and Public Distribution System could bank. Intelligence set- up relocated its resources from time to time on a determination of the priorities of the security environment - the prime importance of the impact of International Communism in the Cold War years gave way to the coverage of the new global terror that appeared on the scene with great force in the post-Cold War era.

Intelligence does not share with the masters only what they wanted to hear - it told them what all they had to know. It freely reports on both positives as well as the negatives of the public impact of a policy, to facilitate corrective responses.

In a democratic state, the Charter of Intelligence is pretty well-defined and it is pursued regardless of the political identity of the leadership in power. Its aim primarily is to safeguard the security and sovereignty of the country.

A strong sense of nationalism and acceptance of the democratic tradition of keeping national security above politics, facilitate the working of Intelligence agencies. The Narendra Modi regime gets the credit for enabling the Intelligence set-up to perform at its optimal best - in a major sense, this is because an extremely competent National Security Advisor was available at hand, to the Prime Minister.

(The writer is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Views expressed are personal)

Dc Pathak
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