Shooting in the Dark-March 2007
Intelligence is the key to counter-terrorism operations
By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab
This is one sentiment that is echoed without dispute by everyone involved in counter-terrorism operations, both at the political and operational level. Intelligence is the crux and all counter-terrorism operations have to be intelligence driven, especially human intelligence. The emergence of advanced technologies to track terrorist communications and movements have no doubt increased the scope of intelligence gathering, but they have in no way reduced the importance of human intelligence, which remains paramount, particularly in the context of India and Pakistan and hence Kashmir. Unfortunately, what at one point was India’s strength is increasingly being subsumed by technology. Rues one senior IPS officer who has been involved in counter-insurgency operations both in the Northeast and Kashmir, “There is excessive reliance on technology, satellite imagery, call intercepts and so on. As a result, intelligence operatives these days do not invest time and effort required to cultivate long-term sources. They find it easier to buy off intelligence without realising that the source whose sole criterion is money would sell counter information for a higher price to your adversary.” Moreover, technological intelligence has limitations of comprehension and interpretation. Despite the creation of National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) in 2005 to interpret imagery and communications intelligence, there have been many instances of an image being interpreted differently by different agencies. Another problem that has started to afflict counter-terrorism operations in parts other than Kashmir is the emasculation of the police station.

Once considered the hub of the town, today police stations in insurgency or terrorism-affected areas have turned into mini fortresses complete with barricades. Despite the experience of Kashmir, where the security forces started getting the better of the militants after the resurrection of the local police (One major general involved in CT operations in Kashmir told FORCE [January 2007], “Our close cooperation with the police and intelligence agencies comes in handy. We use them as our eyes and ears because their intelligence is always more definitive and faster”), there is too much reliance on excessive outside security forces, like the CRPF, in the Naxal-infested areas. Till last year, the CRPF did not even have an intelligence branch. Given the odds that the force is up against, such as, unfamiliarity with the terrain, absence of adequate intelligence and ill-equipped police, which is only too happy to pass on the dirty work to the Para-military force, the CRPF is forced to turn the police stations into barricaded fortresses which civilians fear to enter. Poor intelligence gathering can be gauged by the fact that unlike terrorist attacks in Kashmir or the Northeast which are conducted either by a single person or a small team thereby ensuring that information does not leak out, Naxal operations are always defined by large numbers.

In the now infamous Jehanabad jail attack of 2005, over 1,000 Maoists had participated. In the recent massacre of the police and the Salva Judum activists in Chhattisgarh, the participation ran over 500. Given that so many people were involved, it is a miracle that the information did not leak. Clearly, it either shows superb coordination, commitment and professionalism of the Maoists who are essentially tribals or the sheer incompetence of the intelligence agencies. Sound intelligence not only makes security operations effective, ensure minimal civilian casualties, it also keep the morale of the forces high as the troops get confidence from the knowledge that they are not going into a blind alley. Preponderance of force has never been a substitute for good intelligence. Every time a terrorist incident takes place, the entire security set-up is taken by surprise and is always quick to make the intelligence agencies a scapegoat for not providing actionable intelligence on time.
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