Military Intelligence in India : An Analysis

Source : The Indian Defence Review, © 1995 by Lancer Publishers & Distributors.


The present paper seeks to understand the importance of military intelligence (hereafter MI) to the security of any country. More specifically, it examines the role and organisation of MI in India. The field of MI is in some ways a specialised one for it deals with the requirements of the Armed Forces of a country. It also operates at strategic and tactical levels. And as will be seen, with increasing sophistication and advances in science and technology, MI is forced to keep itself up to date on a wide variety of issues. It is argued here that inadequate attention has been paid to MI organisation in India and much needs to be done to improve its organisation and methods of functioning.

Sources of Military Intelligence

The first section of this article examines the components of MI and its main sources. Any intelligence, strategic or tactical, that is of interest to the defence capabilities of a country, which influences, in peace or war the military security of a nation, may be termed MI. It is possible that this intelligence may arise from a variety of sources. Wherever this intelligence is of relevance to an Air Force, Army or Navy it can be categorised as MI. For example, if India were to find out from photographic aerial reconnaissance that Pakistan has moved two divisions close to our borders, it should alert the defence planners to this move. Of curse, like in any other intelligence organisation there has to be collection, analysis and dissemination of information in MI, but the point is that certain specific categories of intelligence are of greater interest to MI than others.

There are seven sources of intelligence. Human intelligence (HUMINT) is perhaps the oldest of them all. From the covert agent, POW, defector, to the overt military 'reconnoitire', it has been the human being who has been the most prolific source of intelligence before the advent of writing and the invention of the pictograph. In course of time man learnt to transmit messages by writing them down. The interception of such communication became Communication Intelligence (COMINT). HUMINT&COMINT remained for hundreds of years the main source of information to civilian and military organisations. With the invention of printing in Europe a new source of information became available. Books, magazines and journals began to appear over the next few centuries on specialised subjects relating to military science and studies, which provided a wealth of information on foreign armies, their organisation, strategy and tactics.

The introduction of wireless, radio and other methods of transmitting messages in the ether provided a new source of intelligence. The ability to intercept such messages gave man Signal Intelligence or SIGINT. By the 1840s, the arrival of the telegraph and Morse code gave COMINT a new dimension, the ability to tap enemy communication lines. COMINT was particularly important for Britain in the First World War.

The invention of photography and man's ascent to air, opened up two new sources of MI. One was Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) and the other was Photographic Reconnaissance (PR). A spy could now support his case with photographs of classified documents. And as technology progressed, small and higher resolution cameras eased the task of espionage. As the aircrafts took to the air, they in part took over the role of the spy, collecting images far beyond the reach of HUMINT and giving MI valuable insights into the enemy's order of battle, and logistic Capabilities. For instance, a PR Spitfire had spotted an additional Panzer corps in the Ardennes forest before Op Market Garden in 1944, but unfortunately the report was not believed. PR became important to MI during the Second World War.

It was in the realm of SIGINT that Britain had considerable success during World War II with the recording and decoding of the signals traffic of the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht which provided in many cases a decisive edge. SIGINT is usually a more profitable source at the strategic level as the time taken to defeat security at the tactical level reduces its importance on the ground.

The development of RADAR just before World War II provided a new method of acquiring tactical intelligence on the battlefield. With rapid improvements in electronics technology, a new and important source of MI became available i.e. Electronic Intelligence (ELINT). ELINT covers a field far beyond battlefield surveillance, it encompasses electronic eavesdropping upon electromagnetic emissions of a wide variety of devices.

In recent times imagery from space satellites, ELINT from monitoring of nuclear explosions, and radars provides MI with a whole new range of information. The collection and analysis of much of this raw data is done by computers today. In fact in all spheres of intelligence activity computers are playing an important role and help in the speedy dissemination of real-time intelligence of technical importance. They are also used to code and decode transmissions at a strategic and tactical level.

In the past few decades, the information explosion has resulted in the availability of a number of published sources that provide a wealth of military information.

These specialised magazines, journals and papers, though not quite on the scale of their covert sources, provide a great deal of information if collated and analysed properly. For instance, there is enough available in both India and foreign publications on India's defence situation and yet the government does nothing to amend the Official Secrets Act. If any intelligence organisation were to broaden its net and collect information from radio broadcasts, science journals, books and TV programmes and use it in conjunction with classified information, very comprehensive intelligence tool will become available.

As a matter of fact one of the tasks of a Military Attaché (MA) is to collect information from the above mentioned sources and send it to his own country. Basically the Military Attaché acts as an observer in the foreign country and uses his eyes and ears to pick up stray bits of information which may later lead to a bigger picture.

The defector is an other valuable source of MI, particularly if the defector is of rank and has served in sensitive departments of a foreign army. Equally important can be low grade clerks and operators who work in SIGINT and COMINT establishments. Lt Igor Gouzensko, who defected to Canada in 1945 was a cipher clerk to the MA in the Soviet Residency at Ottawa. He became one of the most useful sources of information for western intelligence agencies for over two decades.

And finally, if an intelligence organisation has friendly links with another country's agency, valuable information can be obtained.

Amongst the various sources of Intelligence discussed above, there are four major covert means of acquiring intelligence, HUMINT, SIGINT, ELINT and satellite reconnaissance or PR.

MI Organisations of Some Nations In this section, it would be appropriate to examine some world-wide organisations specifically charged with the collection of MI. In America, under the National Security Act of 1947, the CIA was created, but the Department of Defence and the Armed Forces continued to have their own organisations. In 1961, the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) was created by the Secretary of Defence to have a central co-ordinating body for military intelligence. The Joint Chiefs of Staff thus had one place to look for MI, instead of arguing over the estimates of each armed force. Essentially each armed force now maintains an intelligence division for technical intelligence, apart from counter intelligence activities.

The US Army has an assistant chief of staff for intelligence (referred to as G-2) under whom Army intelligence is organised. This unit looks after the works of military attachés in other countries. The Naval intelligence is similarly organised with a Naval Intelligence Command (NIC) headed by n Assistant Chief of Naval Operations (intelligence). The US Air Force is in charge of PR and ensures against surprise attack. Thus each American Armed Force has its own agency charged with carrying out various intelligence activities, including counter-intelligence.

In the erstwhile Soviet Union and Russia today there, the Central Intelligence Office or GRU - the Chief Intelligence Directorate of the Army General Staff. The GRU deals primarily with military intelligence. A full General commands this post. The agent networks are controlled by the first four directorates, each headed by a Lt General.

In the United Kingdom, each armed force has its own intelligence unit. Like the American DIA, they have a Defence Intelligence staff that combines the talents of all three services to provide inputs to the JCS. For COMINT and SIGINT they have GCHQ at Cheltenham, which is responsible for electronic surveillance and cryptology. This is like the American National Security Agency.

The National Defence Staff's Second Division in France is in charge of MI. While in Israel the AMAN - the Intelligence Corps of the IDF looks after MI. Its chief is the advisor to the Defence Minister.

MI in India In India today, all three armed forces have their own Intelligence units and all are headed by a Director of MI under whom is a directorate which collects intelligence and prepares it for dissemination. The root of India's MI organisation can be traced to 1885 when Maj. Gen. Sir Charles Mac Gregor was appointed head of the Intelligence Department of the Indian Army. The new department had its HQ in Simla and was principally concerned with gathering and evaluating information about Russian troop dispositions in Central Asia.

It was during the Second World War, after the retreat from Burma, that the British Army set up a group, staffed by Intelligence officers to collect intelligence about Japanese designs and to tackle counter-intelligence. GCHQ had a separate section looking after cryptology in the Far East with HQ at Delhi.

In 1942, the Intelligence Corps was created with HQ at Karachi for undivided India to train JCOs and NC0s. For most part of the war the intelligence work was done by British officers, and when they left the Intelligence Corps in 1947, nothing remained to go on as they destroyed most of the records. The fortunes of MI at the time of independence were at a low ebb. Not only did the British officers leave, but they took a host of records which left the organisation in India with a scanty database. The other problem was that MI was not given proper authority and was staffed and headed by officers with little intelligence experience and virtually nil resources.

In 1951, the Himmatsinhji Committee (also known as the North and North-East Border Committee) made a survey of the frontier situation. With regards to intelligence collection on the border, the committee. recommended that this work be entrusted to the Intelligence Bureau (IB). The committee may have felt that MI organisation was not upto the job. Whatever the facts, it is a reflection of the prevailing malaise affecting MI of both mind set and organisation, as it did not argue that this job, which in pre 1947 days had been a military job, was rightly theirs.

The importance given to intelligence in the military hierarchy in those days is well reflected by the fact that both MI and military operations were headed by an officer of the rank of Lt Col. Officers and Jawans who were inducted into the Intelligence Corps in these early days were not trained for the job and the main function assigned to such people was field security. With little resources, cryptology also suffered. That, left the armed forces in a poor condition as far as intelligence was concerned. In the fifties two suggestions came up to improve this situation, but nothing came out of it. One came from Lt Gen. Thorat, who suggested that officers from the armed forces be sent abroad on undercover assignments with the aim of building up a network of defence intelligence officers. Then in 1954, the Government decided to set up a Defence Intelligence organisation to serve as a clearing house for intelligence from all services and to advise the Chiefs of Staff. Plans were drawn up to induct around 30 officers from the three services. The idea was for the organisation to work in liaison with the external cell of IB. But due to the financial constraints and a shortage of suitable officers, it did not take off. The Army in the meantime went ahead with organising or rather reorganising its MI set up.

What actually happened in the sixties was that MI was nurtured as a field security service rather than as an external intelligence agency, This resulted in MI policing the army rather than carrying out intelligence activity. Worse than that, it was given the job of checking corruption and misuse of facilities/equipment amongst army personnel; this animosity exists to a considerable degree even today.

The very organisation and functioning of MI meant that it was not prepared to handle the various facets of Military Intelligence, both external and internal. This is clearly what made the '62 debacle and subsequent 'failures' to provide either strategic or tactical intelligence. The other fact in this regard is that IB was given the task of external intelligence right from 1951, which did not give MI the chance to recover from its state of organisation since independence.

In the various conflicts India has been involved in since 1947 and in the numerous internal security operations involving the armed forces, MI has been largely involved in providing tactical intelligence. The scale of operations and levels of success achieved so far in both conventional and unconventional conflicts leave little room for complacency. What has become clear in the recent past, is the fact that with the increasing use of the army in aid of civil authority, MI has had to adapt quickly to the needs of counter-insurgency situations. In terms of equipment, adequate systems are available to provide tactical intelligence. Much of the present equipment is of Russian origin, including specialised direction finding and monitoring equipment.

In India there is provision for organisations within the MI which deal with SIGINT (both COMINT and ELINT. There is an inter-services Joint Cipher Bureau which is in-charge of cryptology and SIGINT. There are other organisations within the MOD which have similar mission profiles. The problems in this realm really exist due to the multiplicity of organisations performing similar roles. What is needed is proper command and control.

Apart from inter services co-operation, MI also has contacts with R & AW. Many military officers work in R & AW and there is a Senior Officer at the level of Maj., General (designated Chief Military Intelligence Adviser) to assist the Secretary, R & AW. But in the realm of strategic intelligence, MI is at a disadvantage. For, this it the exclusive purview of R & AW, Due to the very tight controls that each intelligence agency keeps on it spheres of operations in India, a certain uneven development has taken place. All the service Intelligence Directorates must argue for clearly defined mission profiles that include both strategic and tactical intelligence. In looking at the past, be it the '62 war or the Sri Lankan experience, one has to therefore realise the overall organisational structure and role of each intelligence agency before passing judgement on the levels of success and failure.

In the overall context, the three service intelligence agencies have the requisite as sets to perform their tasks., But organisationally, they still remain without proper co-ordination. The Army intelligence set-up, being the biggest has got more attention, but the problems it faces are also faced by its sister services, though on a smaller scale. What is needed is change of set-up, emphasis and functioning of Armed Forces Intelligence organisation in a manner suitable to our national security. The future will require both MI and R & AW and IB to act in-co-operation. Intelligence from all these sources can provide a reasonably balanced assessment. The reliance on one agency will then be reduced.

For the Future for MI to be revitalised, (this goes for all the service directorates) reorientation of organisation is required. Not only does India need a joint intelligence group in the MOD, but each directorate has to be given greater scope and direction. The areas for study and analysis should be - foreign countries, science and technology, armed forces, and intelligence-operation. Equally, Army HQ has to treat MI as an equal partner if it wants good intelligence. As seen in the first section of this paper greater emphasis has to be given to the various sources of MI.

For example, Air Force intelligence is usually collected by PR using Mig 25R recce aircraft, and converted Jaguars. But with advances in space technology it is important for the IAF to acquire capabilities in Imagery Intelligence from space. At the height of the Cold War, USA used its satellites to get intelligence inside the Soviet Union. Similarly, during the '71 war Russian satellite imagery gave India information about Chinese intentions thus allowing for positioning of troops on the western border. This means, that apart from the geographical area of interest. MI has to keep open for survey a wide range of issues. This could range from enemy military strength to the adversary's socioeconomic standing. Only then can long term threat appreciations be made.


Including this paper just two points need to be made. First, MI in India needs a drastic review and reorganisation. Second, this is not so because, as was seen above due to its failures in action, but due to its, inherent structure, That in itself is a greater problem than facing a few failures.

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