Army Today

The Defense Intelligence Agency

BHARAT RAKSHAK MONITOR - Volume 4(5) March-April 2002

Op Ed

The Defense Intelligence Agency

Priya Bellary

The early weeks of this month have seen the formation of India’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Lt. Gen. Kamal Davar was appointed as its first chief. Much of the public debate on this development has swung between extreme viewpoints and focused intensely on the publicly stated fissures in the intelligence system.  This article will attempt to examine some of the issues confronting this newly formed agency in a more secular light.  The `Intelligence Process’ involves seven basic steps: collection, analysis, production (assessment), dissemination, coordination, action, and evaluation. A sufficiently advanced intelligence handling system divides responsibility for these parts to independent groups of people, thereby maximizing oversight and minimizing overlap. In India we are still in the process of building such a system. Collection, analysis, and action are relatively easier steps to carry out. Production, dissemination, coordination and evaluation however are immensely complicated. If one carefully reads writings about intelligence issues in India, the difficulties experienced in these steps become apparent.

The bulk of intelligence work in India is carried out by the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB). The various services intelligence directorates namely the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), the Directorate of Air Intelligence (DAI), Directorate of Naval Intelligence (DNI) and some other agencies are involved also but their activity is smaller by comparison. The R&AW and IB agencies are composed largely of civilians. Military personnel are often deputed to these agencies, but the letter of the law and concerns of deniability limit the use of serving military officers in some types of activity (especially collection and action). Democratic countries look down upon excessive involvement of military personnel in intelligence activity. The role of serving officers on deputation is therefore limited mostly to helping with `production’. In cases where greater involvement of Military personnel becomes necessary, they are asked to resign from the forces and re-hired as civilians. As the Defense Intelligence Agency will be comprised largely of serving officers, the `rules’  (mentioned above) will limit its role in physical collection of secret intelligence. The DIA may however choose to expand the existing Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) collection capability.  Similar `rules’ apply to several `action’ related issues. It appears at first glance that the DIA personnel will be involved only in creating a support structure for various `actions’.  

In India repeated complaints have surfaced from various sources over the quality of intelligence production. As the military is one of the biggest consumers of the intelligence product, its complaints have been the most visible. It is impossible to dismiss all complaints as being parochial. A Defense Intelligence Agency does offer certain advantages in terms of quality of production. These are stated below:

a)      The composition of the Indian military reflects the immensely diverse Indian society. Only a member of the military with years of service can truly comprehend the complex social divisions and hierarchy in the armed forces. Consequently this detailed knowledge should in theory enable the member to better mould the intelligence product to suit the needs of others in the military.

b)      Understanding military technology requires considerable specialization. Such specialization exists in the military. With the growing use of technology in warfare there is a greater need for specialist participation in higher-level assessment. 

c)       Post-Chagai there is an emphasis on speed and reliability in all parts of the intelligence chain. At lot of the activity in this area will require the kind of discipline largely available in military service. Though in India, the entire responsibility for this targeting cannot be given to the DIA, its inputs will be critical.

In order to avoid becoming narrow and insular in its approach, it is strongly advisable that the DIA hire civilians to assist with the production process as well.  Presently the country has a large surplus of trained professionals, a good number of universities and research centers. With suitable encouragement at least some of these could be induced to help with the task at hand. The author feels its it also a good idea to routinely farm out small production tasks to private think tanks and strategic forecasting companies. Such a measure will do a lot to improve the standard of public debate on security and strategic issues in India. The task of `dissemination’ of intelligence offers many challenges. The DIA should hopefully attempt to address some like:

a)      The battlefield awareness of the Indian soldier could do with some improvement. Modern technology has improved the ability to reach the soldiers in the battlefield, but knowing exactly what information to give to them is important. This is in part a production issue as well, however any steps taken to improve the ability of the lowest rungs of the military to comprehend intelligence briefings is most welcome.

b)      Dissemination of information in the field has its vulnerabilities; modern technology does not overcome all of them. Here too the exact way in which the information travels from source to destination will need much more thinking. There are SIGSEC and COMSEC capabilities but more agile management is always desirable. 

c)      The sharing of information once it is collected with other agencies is a contentious issue especially in areas of `concurrent responsibility’. This was the Achilles heel of the old system. Whether modern technology can address some of this only time will tell.

`Coordination’ at the DIA (local) level will involve managing the exact division of responsibilities between the various service intelligence directorates. Given the diversity of the theatres of operation, it will be a challenge to integrate the service intelligence directorates while maintaining an emphasis on corroboration.  The DIA will also act as the liaison between the MOD sub-units and other intelligence centers. At a higher level, the DIA will have to brief the CDS and, and `coordinate’ its production activity with other agencies under the supervision of the Intelligence Coordination Group. This part may take time to settle down.

This brings us to the last and most important step of `evaluation’. This step deals with ensuring accountability within the intelligence handling system. Without this critical step, the entire process of intelligence can become skewed. Indian intelligence agencies have suffered a fair bit because of a lack of transparency in their evaluation procedures. Most of these are cloaked in the same veil of secrecy that surrounds other operations. The result is that any public motifs about the agency subsequently color perceptions about accountability. There is a great deal to be learnt from the mistakes made by other agencies in the past. Undoubtedly the new system of intelligence management involving the Intelligence Coordination Group etc… will have evaluation methods built into it, but a mechanism for auditing and reviewing performance within the DIA itself is highly advisable.

In conclusion, it is important to bear in mind that none of the problems have evaporated merely with the formation of the DIA and `old enemies’ may reappear even in the new setup. However in the past the formation of such agencies was overshadowed by severe economic crises. The crises skewed the development of these agencies.  The DIA has been born at a relatively calmer time. This should have a very positive impact on the DIA. While all the items above seem within reach, it is important to realize that all of them are big challenges. It is also vital to bear in mind that the DIA is not some magic wand capable of conjuring instant geopolitical victory.  The DIA will eventually be a sharp tool, most effective in skilled hands. The formation of the DIA is many years overdue and Lt. Gen. Kamal Davar has an enormous task ahead of him, so with that in mind, the author congratulates him and wishes him and the staff of the DIA the very best of luck on their endeavor.