To keep up with espionage revolution, recruit spies directly after testing for relevant skills
“The world of espionage faces tremendous technological, political, legal, social and commercial change. The winners will be those who break the old rules of the spy game and work out new ones,” writes Edward Lucas in his recent article ‘The Spycraft Revolution’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been vocal about national security issues and his party has milked them for big electoral dividends, but the NDA government is yet to initiate any structural reforms to improve the quality of our intelligence services. Surgical strikes are never possible without precise intelligence and threats to hit Balochistan in a tit-for-tat to avenge Pakistani covert offensive in Kashmir will remain hollow without the requisite intelligence capability. Liaison relationships with foreign agencies do provide benefits but may lead to counter-penetration, as in the Rabinder Singh case.
Reforms in Indian intelligence need to cover a lot of ground, especially in providing a firm legal basis to the agencies involved in the trade. But they must begin with a complete overhaul of the recruitment process. Since Independence, intelligence services have depended on the Indian Police Service (IPS) to man their higher echelons. That must change. The two services are totally different and never before have the job requirements been so far apart. This is not to say that IPS officers have not served Indian intelligence well – many like the great RN Kao or current NSA Ajit Doval have excelled in planning and executing intelligence operations. The likes of Kao or Doval, though recruited as police officers, moved into intelligence early in their careers and then grew in them. But it is equally true that the intelligence agencies end up as a trial arena for the IPS officers, many of whom return to the state cadres when the going in Intelligence Bureau (IB) or Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) proves less rewarding.
Hormis Tharakan is a case in point. After police stints he served in R&AW’s foreign stations, then returned as director-general of Kerala Police before he was brought back to head the R&AW. Scores of IPS deputationists to R&AW and IB head back to their state cadres – for example the redoubtable Hemant Karkare, a 26/11 martyr. To train and develop a police officer into a capable intelligence officer requires complete change of focus and orientation that requires a lot of specialist training and exposure. All that goes waste when the officer returns to his parent police cadre. Some IPS officers revert to their parent cadres when not found fit for intelligence, but not before they have done a few foreign postings. That again is a waste.
This must stop. Some in the army suggest that soldiers, like in Pakistan’s ISI, make for better intelligence officers than policemen. What is possible in military dominated Pakistan is not possible in democratic India. Our intelligence, except for Military Intelligence, has to remain civilian, though army deputations for some units are perfectly legitimate. The intelligence agencies should hunt for very special skills across the spectrum but they must be primarily manned by those recruited and specially trained for the job.
IB and R&AW must recruit their officers through a tough public service exam that tests a wide variety of relevant skills, knowledge and aptitude. Some lateral entry for exceptional talent must also be allowed. The lower levels of IB and R&AW are directly recruited – so why not the higher echelons! It is time that India has a secret service, which provides its best recruits for external intelligence and rest of the intake for the domestic service. The argument that intelligence officers can be recruited through the UPSC process and then allotted their cadre is also not acceptable, if one is seeking the best of talent. The challenges in the job merit a standalone and complex recruitment process that seeks and tests out a wide variety of skills.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.