The lapses blamed in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks must be addressed, reform advocates say.
India's civil and military intelligence establishment may undergo a major overhaul if the government accepts the recommendations of a task force it appointed to study the question. The group released its report on June 5th.
"The dominant themes of the report are accountability and efficiency," Manish Tewari, a Member of Parliament from the ruling Congress party, told Khabar South Asia. He is regarded as a driving force behind the reform campaign, having advocated for sweeping intelligence changes over the past three years.
The report, sponsored by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), a government think tank, includes recommendations such as improved interaction among the civilian and military intelligence agencies and a role for the legislature in overseeing the country's intelligence apparatus.
"A civil-military rapprochement was long overdue because we have suffered for decades the disturbing tendency of having the two pull the intelligence establishment to different directions," former National Security Advisor (NSA), Brajesh Mishra, told Khabar.
Supervision by elected representatives is also a must, according to Terwari. "I find it shocking that the intelligence agencies serving the world's largest democracy should not have Parliamentary oversight," he said. "The Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) are not even registered entities."
Plugging holes in the counterterrorism effort
Calls for reforming the system have been heard with increasing urgency ever since November 26th, 2008. That was the day when Islamist terrorists conducted a four-day killing spree in the city of Mumbai. Over 160 people died in the carnage, with hundreds of others wounded.
The terror attack, the worst in India's history, led to scathing accusations of intelligence failures. The perpetrators – ten men armed with automatic weapons and explosives -- had been able to reach the Mumbai shoreline in inflatable speedboats and then fan out across the city, catching the intelligence and security apparatus by surprise.
The prime motive behind the proposed reforms is to ensure terrorists never again penetrate the country's defenses as happened on that occasion, Mishra said.
He told Khabar that India's intelligence agencies have "let down the country time and again," due to a "lack of cohesive planning and an architecture of scientific intelligence gathering and analysing."
Former R&AW Special Secretary Rana Banerji drew up an earlier report in 2011. He agrees that the system's numerous shortcomings must be addressed.
"Indian intelligence suffers from a pronounced shortfall in operational drive, weak analysis of available information received both from secret and open sources and a tendency to pass off media reports as intelligence," Banerji said.
Besides establishing more oversight and bridging the civilian-military divide, IDSA provides numerous other recommendations designed to strengthen intelligence. These include better methods of personnel recruitment, an overhaul of training and pay structures, incentives for attracting the best talent in the country, and recruitment from fields such as computer science and communications.