Rethinking the National Counter Terrorism Centre
by Bhaskar Menon on 05 Apr 2013 0 Comment

Those opposed to an unconstitutional National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) with a dangerous combination of Intelligence and Police powers should propose an alternative: a National Intelligence Centre (NIC) with statutory powers over all other civilian agencies and a Director reporting directly to the Prime Minister. This will result in the entire Intelligence establishment being brought within a constitutional framework and made accountable to Parliament. It will also ensure that reforms necessary for coherence and efficiency will get continuing attention at the highest level.

The legislation on the matter should:

-     Provide for reform: Parliament should mandate the NIC to carry out a thorough review and appraisal of existing Intelligence agencies and arrangements and recommend comprehensive changes to improve their coherence and effectiveness. Changes should aim to create dedicated capacities to monitor the full range of strategic developments in economic, social and political sectors within the country and outside, with the NIC integrating information flows and making overall analyses. That broad approach will throw into high relief the motivations and means driving significant trends and point to countries, groups and individuals that merit special attention. This process should also make clear the requirements in terms of personnel, training, technical development and budgeting for the continuous improvement of Intelligence activities. In sum, the reforms will build capacity for pro-active policy and action.  


-     Require public reporting by the NIC: In an open democracy public understanding is critically important to counter domestic anti-national forces and foreign subversion. Parliament must mandate that relevant portions of the analytical work of the NIC be made public in regular and special reports. These must be subject to debate by central and state legislators and in the media.


-      Require cooperation with civil society: No Intelligence agency can be effective without cooperation from members of the public. At present such cooperation is ad hoc, and can depend on anything from a general fear of officialdom to intimidation and blackmail. Parliament should mandate the NIC to create a regular, structured relationship with civil society, especially in gathering information on communal issues. On other matters affecting national security such as corruption in defence procurement and financing of violent groups within the country the NIC should have a mandate to inform and educate the media so that reporters know basic facts and policy parameters and cannot be manipulated by “leaks” from interested parties. The NIC should also work with other statutory bodies such as the National Press Council to call public attention to issues of systemic anti-national bias.


-       Create an Appeals Mechanism: If Intelligence operatives infringe on the rights, liberties and lives of Indian citizens there should be a mechanism to address problems without public disclosures harmful to national security. Parliament should create an easily accessed and responsive Grievance Mechanism providing for appeals up to a Parliamentary Standing Committee with confidential procedures that could, when necessary, bring matters to the attention of the Prime Minister and President. Use of this mechanism should not preclude legal options for affected parties.

-     Promote understanding of India’s strategic interests: Intelligence agencies can only be effective within a clear strategic framework. Most developed countries, especially those with global interests, have such frameworks but few spell it out. Britain, for instance, has its famous “permanent interests” that are unspecified but boil down to the benefit it can draw from any situation. The United States is unique in publicly defining its overall national strategy as the promotion of democracy globally. That reflects the country’s anti-colonial foundation and its evolution on the basis of a set of inalienable values.


-   The Indian constitution draws heavily on the American and so the global expansion of democracy is also its fundamental strategic interest; but it is not the only one. Equally important is increased social equity as the country's diverse communities move ponderously from many different stages of development into a shared economic and political system. So is the maintenance of India's traditional values at a time when the verities of Western "progress" must be overwritten in the interests of a liveable planet.


-        The strategic picture is further complicated by the existence of many foreign proxies within India, an unavoidable legacy of colonial rule. Under these conditions a primary national imperative is broad public awareness of what is necessary for the country's continued evolution according to its own best lights. Parliament must make provision for these issues to be debated nationally in a continuing and constructive process that draws in educational and training institutions, including those that shape government officials and Intelligence operatives.


With these parameters the NIC can be more than an effective guard against foreign and domestic enemies; it can be a powerful support for India's vast transition to a new age.

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