RAW Headquarters in Delhi | Commons
RAW Headquarters in Delhi | Commons
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Advisors and analysts use intelligence mishaps such as the Pulwama, Uri, Pathankot and Mumbai 26/11 attacks to draw attention towards a myriad of problems that plague India’s intelligence agencies. But reform advocacy is largely focused on increasing accountability of agencies by bringing them under parliamentary scrutiny and removal of defunct ones. These, however, tend to overlook what is at the core of intelligence – people.

First focus on the human factor

Earlier this month, Pakistan declined India’s request for consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav citing the International Court of Justice’s pending verdict on his death sentence. Pakistan claimed that Jadhav was on a mission for the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), a claim that India has officially denied. The incident has raised a more significant question about whether agencies are paying adequate attention to recruitment and training of human resources.

Reforms must first focus on this human factor which lies at the core of espionage. The Narendra Modi government took a step in this direction last year. In a mammoth clean-up drive, the government marked more than 70 senior and mid-level officers in the RAW for “compulsory retirement”. The decision may have been taken to create a leaner, more effective agency, but removing a significant number of people could lead to unintended consequences. Introducing changes to the recruitment process can help improve the capacity and the capability of the agency without complications.

Also read: After 50 years of RAW, there are still no declassified documents or an official history

Recruitment to the RAW

Currently, there are two routes of entering the RAW. The first is recruitment via the RAW Allied Service test (which forms the internal cadre) and the second, on deputation (either short-term or long-term) from the All India Services. Besides the Indian Police Service (IPS), deputation principally also includes the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Forest Service (IFS). While the idea behind recruiting from the civil services was well-intentioned, it has created two parallel cadres that has bred inefficiencies affecting the performance of the agency.

Interestingly, the RAW is the only external intelligence agency in India that includes members of the civil services, specifically the IPS. Most agencies around the world keep police work separate from intelligence gathering and analysis. The nature of work for the former is different and sometimes contradictory to the latter. Policework involves following defined processes set by law. Espionage, on the other hand, requires operating in the grey often outside laws of countries.

Given this fundamental difference, many nation-states prefer to maintain a clear distinction – internal intelligence work is part of law enforcement, making police support indispensable. The term ‘Intelligence’ is reserved for the external sphere where information is gathered through means that may not be entirely legal.

Also read: RAW@50: Remembering RN Kao, India’s first true spymaster

Catch ‘em young

As part of the Takshashila Institution’s Intelligence Reforms project, we suggest changes, which can be introduced at various stages of an officer’s career – from recruitment to retirement. Incremental changes to the recruitment process, for instance, would bring about significant improvement.

The RAW should open its recruitment avenues and engage individuals from different backgrounds with diverse skills and education experiences to fill positions. The existing practice of recruiting and training persons without technical specialisations and proficiencies leads to inefficiencies, particularly when candidates with these skills are available in the job market. Additionally, establishing an interface with private industries could create openings both in collection of intelligence and in providing non-diplomatic cover for postings.

By adopting a practice similar to the one employed by the CIA, India too can utilise university deans and retired intelligence officers as talent spotters for campus recruitment across Indian universities. These talent spotters can easily identify students who have a flair for foreign languages, are articulate in speech and writing and display strong interpersonal skills. Increasing student engagement by offering internships and asking retired officers to take on teaching assignments will allow intelligence agencies to tap into the university talent pool. Continued engagement with university students will serve a second objective of relaxing the element of secrecy enough to make working at the agency an attractive career option for students.

Also read: How IPS has become the Indian Political Service

Currently, the average age of an officer on deputation to join the RAW is 32 years. He or she is 37 years of age when he or she becomes the first secretary and is eligible to take on overseas assignments. This would mean that in the short span of five years one has to master a foreign language, the tradecraft required and gain experience in handling area desks at a very young age. Investing in younger recruits not only increases the service years of individual officers, but also eliminates other problems that have plagued the RAW.

First, it is easier to instil a sense of belonging into the hearts and minds of young recruits who join the agency right after graduation than a civil servant who owes his or her allegiance to the parent service. Second, it puts an end to the ‘revolving door’ mechanism that allows civil servants on deputation to leave the agency and return to their parent service – a great liability for the intelligence agency.

Immediately after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, the rules for deputation to the RAW also came under the scanner. While the rules continue to be debated, it is clear that the benefits of separating the civil services from external intelligence outnumber the benefits brought by an amalgamation of the two. There are better-suited solutions that should not be dismissed without exploration. Policymakers need to break away from the traditional line of thought and develop creative reforms. Without getting human resourcing right, intelligence reforms will remain incomplete.

The author is a Policy Analyst at the Geostrategy Programme of The Takshashila Institution.

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27 Comments Share Your Views


  1. Why not make the RAW an annex of the CIA !!! It seems to me that we have to be ourselves. It is because we copy, often badly, what is done elsewhere that we have services that are not operational. At the end of independence, on many points we preferred to replace the former colonizing power. We did not want to overhaul the institutions – in terms of police, intelligence, elite training etc … Today we see the result of this policy. If after more than 70 years of independence, we are not able to draw the consequences of our mistakes, it is because we have lost faith in ourselves!

  2. You have to give something to get something back. You give to plant something and nurture it till the time it starts bearing fruit. People who plant cactus simply to get away from the responsibility of nurturing and protection, deserve only thorns and not fruits. Pity the nation that cannot see in spite of a fully functional visual apparatus.

  3. When politicians are not entertaining people above 70, then why can’t RAW look from that angle. They should infuse young talent into the agency under the supervision and guidance of retired staff. Indian is a land of millions of talented people. When this could be recognised and identified by MNC’s then why can’t the agency look from that perspective ? RAW should make some changes in the process of recruitment ensuring the secrecy ay the same time.

  4. Not only RAW but central agencies like CBI, NIA etc should also have there own cadre instead of being a leisure home for civil servants and also for paramilitary forces at the subordinate level.

  5. Rightly said. This was pointed out even almost three-and-a-half decades ago by the then true professional guys in the Cabinet Secretariat in Delhi whom I had known personally. It’s surprising that things haven’t changed even after such a long period. Hope the author’s insights are taken seriously by the authorities concerned and necessary changes ushered in.

  6. U are aware of only one sided stories, how can in such organisation people from Ministerial cadre be sent mission at par with those have given their life to the organisations. Resulting u get Soods as interviews who remained Personnel Secretaries to bigger bosses. Obviously they have soft corner for such . While those rotting in borders with not much facilities and work till the last point. Writing reports is an art and can get manipulated even if collected and collated on basis of ongoing trends. Even today the TRG institute is managed by the lecturers of those retired decade earlier. The new are lacking dedication in securing achievements for the country.

  7. I agree with your opinion about NSG .But the concept of recruiting students like me and many more from universities will benifit the organization in a long run .But you have to ensure that “Every person who is best can be in your organization will be morally and patriotically good ,so my suggestion is that find the children with patriotic ,honest,obedient etc. qualities .Search for their records and find the best because we are the people you can shape into anything .

  8. RAW should follow the Israel’s mossad style. The organisation Mossad who famously and proudly known for intelligence throughout the world. India and israel relation is nice and israel help India too on many important matter. NSG also made on the ideology of mossad too at that time so why not RAW will change itself. Mossad even recruit good painter, scholar, expertise on making fake papers passport even make finest snatcher, kidnapper too. RAW should modify its body like this for the shake of our Motherland.

  9. Our country population grown-up s speed but our intelligence wing aslo increase in same time all types of social elements of our do we needed a large numbers of 🏅 models and we want to recruit also very grateful ide it was to very fast as possible as give to our new next generation

  10. There is no IAS nor an Indian Forest Service officer in the R&AW. Kindly please check. There are officers from IPS, IRS (IT), IRS (Customs) currently

  11. I like recommending suggestions u give. And I would also like to add one more thing to this as the civil service officers are no doubt both Intelligent and great but they don’t fit in the agency outfit as they have other goals and aspirations no person expects few join civil services to join r&aw.,so the real talent is going where?? It’s there in the university itself officers need to go and check the right guy and ask interview him if he is interested and that if he is the right material for the job… Hope my suggestions are helpful. Future civil aspirant here.

  12. Indian intelligence seems to be corrupted by politicians &weak especially in foreign affairs & national safety, especially weak compared to pak terror controlled intelligent agency..lt should be reformed by president with immediate effect considering national safety.

  13. India needs good amount of Scientists in the agency. This was even agreed by the former chiefs of RAW. Although we have DRDO for the same, recruitment of scientists don’t seem to be enough. The historic Scientists who we used to have were all Sages and Seers who practiced meditation and yoga. The ones who meditate have strong intuitions and this can really become a great strength of Indians. If agencies of other countries are good at techniques of hypnosis, we Indians can use our power of intuition and positive aura in influencing people around us. It would be great if they include Yoga and meditation training to the candidates along with other physical and mental trainings.

  14. Please recruit by a ” special exam” ..like civils cgl e.t.c., so many talented people are there to serve India and ready serve for our nation in any situations. So if you want to make some change on RAW then you should think about my comment.

  15. Assessment of RA&W and its operationsis itself a difficult task as very little is in public domain. Improvements suggested are more guess work unkess author is having a exposure to intelligence agency of at least a few countries. There lies need for structural review by experts with adequate experience and vision.

  16. CIA is ok. But RAW needs to be deadly like Mossad or KGB.. Any person working against India should be liquidated without a trace. Remember how Israel rescued hijacked plane ,its crew and passengers from Entebe. This type of organisation should be RAW. This is possible only with NDA not with Pakistan and China loving UPA.


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