After every terrorist attack – whether the Pulwama attack in February 2019 or the Mumbai 26/11 attack – the all-too-familiar question arises about intelligence failure by agencies like the IB and the RAW.
There is no doubt that inadequacies exist within India’s intelligence community, especially in the RAW. Instead of letting them fester and risk national security, the focus should be on reforms that focus on the people that constitute the institution.
Cancel the crash courses
Intelligence operations are human-driven and, therefore, prone to error and inaccuracies. As former RAW chief Vikram Sood points out in his book, ‘The Unending Game’, anticipating the future while judging the present as one continues to remember the past can be quite the task for even the most highly trained agents and analysts. At present, training of new RAW recruits lasts for an approximate period of six months – a period that is grossly insufficient for them to hone the finer skills required for espionage.
This is in stark contrast to the three years spent training by those recruited during the initial years of the agency. It can be argued that the motivation behind the reduced training period was to address the staff shortage faced by the RAW. However, taking recruits through a crash course and expecting them to refine their skills on the job would create an entirely different and possibly more dangerous challenge.
Developing human assets should remain a high priority for the RAW because they are able to convey intent better than any other electronic source of intelligence. Basic training in a paramilitary institute, physically arduous courses in guerrilla warfare and defensive driving are all critical elements of training. But with India’s expanding covert programmes, more skills need to be added to the basket of training offered over an increased period. Currently, the agency lacks talent with area knowledge and advanced language skills, particularly in Arabic, Chinese, Burmese, Sinhala and minor Pakistani languages.
Without language expertise, raising sources overseas is near impossible. This deficiency in language expertise can be overcome by partnering with language schools in the country. In addition, the RAW could sponsor its recruits to undergo advanced language training at institutions. Golf lessons could be re-introduced. It is the one game which helps build up interpersonal skills and competencies that can ultimately lead to beneficial associations.
Learning from the best
It can be argued that certain aspects of espionage (such as cultivating a source) cannot be taught, and are instead innate. However, some virtues can be acquired and sharpened through training. Establishing a “research park” similar to the United States, where new hires do unclassified analytical work is worth exploring. Collaborating with academics, industry experts and analysts master critical thinking and analytical writing. The RAW should consider setting up a school that offers on-campus training experience. Retired officers and seasoned veterans could be engaged to train new recruits in the finer skills of espionage during the orientation period.
At Fort Monckton, for instance, new recruits to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI-6) are still taught the art of pistol shooting by retired sergeant-majors. Being trained by senior retired officers with deep expertise in an environment conducive to learning will help the fresh breed of officers to sharpen their skills.
Develop the individual
Training is not and should not be limited to the initial stages of an intelligence officer’s career. RAW officers are trained as analysts and have few managerial responsibilities during the initial stages of their career. As they move up in the hierarchy, the number of managerial activities increase. They should be trained in how to manage and lead people.
AMAN, Israel’s primary military intelligence agency, witnessed positive results after it trained its analysts to act like leaders through various workshops. Lack of proper management training can pose a serious human resource challenge that could damage the functioning of the agency. Having a sufficient number of trained mid-career officers is necessary to sustain an agile agency that is able to meet evolving national security objectives.
The perfect intelligence agency
No intelligence agency can be built to perfection. To believe it can be would be naïve. Intelligence failure and attacks cannot be eliminated, but efforts can be made to minimise them. Reform is a constant process driven by the objective of continuous improvement. Reforms and policy suggestions must, therefore, be centred on the people that comprise the agency.
The author is a Policy Analyst at the Geostrategy Programme of The Takshashila Institution. Views are personal.
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