Terrorism and Naxalism are the two biggest threats to India’s national security as they weaken the country by damaging the cause of development. Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism is an instrument of a wider “proxy war”, in which the symbols of India’s economic power are targeted, while Maoists use violence to halt development projects in remote areas to “preserve” their constituency of the rural poor in general and tribals in particular. The forces behind these threats realise that the national security of any country is inseparable from its economic security.
With regard to Naxalism, Government of India had already corrected its policy line that in the earlier years considered it only as a problem that needed a “military solution”. The emphasis is now on handling the security-development interface, in which the security of the area is ensured and maintained for facilitating development. As far as terrorism is concerned, the attack on the Pathankot airbase has come as a reminder that we must concentrate on the security of our establishments of strategic importance, whether in the public or private sector, and, in particular, train the security set-up with skills of “insider threat management”.
It is in this backdrop that the arrangements for safeguarding our “protected information” —whether it is with the ministries, strategic establishments or the decision-makers—have acquired urgent importance. Simply defined, espionage is “unauthorised access to protected information” and in the cyber age, both “security classification” and a “need to know”-based access to classified information pose challenges that have to be tackled with professional clarity and efficient enforcement. It is a matter of satisfaction that the present National Security Adviser (NSA), who has a background in intelligence operations, has been instrumental in getting the attention of the government drawn to this extremely vital component of security-development matrix.
It has been reported that the Narendra Modi regime is putting in place a system of strict monitoring of the appointment of foreign-funded consultants working with the Union government, with the aim of reducing the influence of international agencies and NGOs on public policy. This is part of a push to plug data leaks in various ministries. It may be recalled that NGOs were an instrument used by the two superpowers in the days of Cold War to counter communism or “expose” capitalism. Even as thousands of NGOs work for genuine public causes and human welfare, the nation has an obligation not to let an adversary float such an entity to park its agents there—for accessing information or organising motivated “campaigns”.
Last year, following an alert from the NSA, a comprehensive probe was ordered into the widespread leak of information from the ministries that was suspected to have taken place over a period of time. It cannot be denied that an atmosphere of permissiveness earlier prevailed across sensitive ministries in the matter of access enjoyed by outsiders. Investigations reportedly unravelled the contours of how “subverted insiders” could be engaging in a sustained operation that aimed at ferreting out confidential information of the government for various end users outside. The decisions of the government, if known before they are implemented, can be of great benefit for the nation’s adversaries as also for corporate houses seeking a competitive advantage in business.
As the Modi government embarks on a flurry of strategic policies and decisions in the areas of economic build-up, defence and foreign affairs, an atmosphere of security against their premature disclosures must prevail in the establishments concerned. There must exist a system of ongoing security orientation briefings for senior government officials, PSU executives and top managers of private corporate bodies collaborating with the government in strategic sectors. The National Intelligence Academy managed by the Intelligence Bureau could possibly help in formulating such a programme.
It has to be mentioned that if India’s internal security management is at its optimum best, the agents of the adversary would find it much more difficult to conduct their “subversion” and “espionage” operations. The security grid domestically, however, is set significantly by the control of law and order that in the Indian situation is totally a responsibility of the states. The law and order situation in India is decidedly weak and this is a factor affecting the investment climate as well. In the interest of national security, the Centre has to find ways and means of ensuring that the states improve their performance in this regard. The Centre must have some say in the appointment of the police chief of the state.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau.