Internal security measures should take top priority in these difficult times
The Shaheen Bagh protest and riots in Northeast Delhi were a nightmare for not just the people but also the country’s intelligence agencies, policing establishment and political leadership. One of the aspects of internal security, crowd management, went totally out of control, thereby risking the lives of thousands. India’s internal security was threatened, reminding us how important it is for the peace of a nation.
The elements of internal security can be broadly divided into perimeter and border management (of both land and sea); the different surveillance mechanisms in the hinterland such as CCTVs; threat of tactical UAVs, rogue drones (detection and disablement) and the collection, sharing, analysis of intelligence leading to effective threat assessment, forensics and investigation technology, communications and cyber security.
Today, India faces many different types of threats ranging from violent non-state actors, organised transnational criminal groups, espionage actions of other states, cyber threats and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. While conventional counterintelligence, counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism methods have stood the test of time, there is no denying that technology has facilitated a massive transformation of the national security setup – proving both a boon and bane simultaneously.
India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval has talked about the role of technology in the policing domain, acknowledging that technology is an enabler. “When you induct technology, you are adding to your enablement,” he said at the two-day long 3rd Young Superintendents of Police Conference and Police Expo-2020, organised by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in partnership with Haryana Police and Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), which concluded on 6 March 2020. His views were endorsed by Chief Minister of Haryana Manohar Lal Khattar who was the chief guest at the plenary session on day two of the expo. Pitching for SMART policing, the Haryana CM said, “Technology in policing can be more apparent and transparent than human interface. We are in the age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) where challenges related to cybercrimes are increasing manifold and need to be addressed and countered.”
To maintain secure maritime, land and air borders is extremely challenging. Effective border security is key to the effective implementation of counter-terrorism measures. It is the first line of defence against the movement of terrorists across borders and the illegal cross-border movement of goods and cargo. India shares 15,106.7 km of its boundary with seven nations — Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, running via distinct terrains.
Additionally, India has a coastal boundary of 7,516.6 km, which includes 5,422.6 km of coastline in the mainland and 2,094 km of coastline bordering islands. The coastline touches nine states and two Union territories. In the case of our coastal border line, our territorial boundary is defined up to 12 nautical miles.
Competent border management, which is multi-faceted, requires several agencies such as customs, immigration, armed forces and intelligence agencies, to work in lockstep and assimilate sources of external information which are both technology-driven and intelligence-based (human inputs, satellite images), in order to frame a single or a common operating manoeuvrability picture within and beyond our borders followed by establishing a secure communication line to dispatch the collated information.
Construction of roads, fencing, installation of ground radars, floodlighting, modernisation of equipment and weapons, vehicles, logistics, air defence control & reporting system (ADC&RS), sensors, manual patrolling, setting up of command and control centres which act as the position for informed decision-making are a few measures undertaken by the Indian government for effective border management. The Indian Navy and Coast Guard, along with the state (Marine) police, which is the second line of defence, is tasked to with the security of the coastal borders.
Porous borders along the International Maritime Boundary Line bordering Pakistan have made ports located on the western coast a little more sensitive to subversive activities. There are around 133 ports located along India’s western coast, spread over five states and two Union territories.
For instance, geographical barriers at certain places pose a challenge to erect border fence. The 61 kilometres of border area in Assam’s Dhubri district where river Brahmaputra enters into Bangladesh, is one such area. It consists of several river channels, thus making border guarding difficult and demanding.
To overcome this problem, in 2017, ministry of home affairs (MHA) decided to opt for technological solution besides the physical presence of manpower. In January 2018, Information and Technology Wing of the Border Security Force (BSF) undertook the project BOLD-QIT (Border Electronically Dominated QRT Interception Technique). BOLD-QIT is the project to install technical systems under the Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS), which enables the BSF to equip Indo-Bangla borders with different kind of sensors in unfenced riverine area of Brahmaputra and its tributaries.
According to one of the press statements issued by the MHA dated 5 March 2019, two pilot projects covering about 71 km on Indo-Pakistan Border (10 km) and Indo-Bangladesh Border (61 km) of Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS) have been completed. “Now, the entire span of River Brahmaputra has been covered with data network generated by microwave communication, OFC cables, DMR communication, day and night surveillance cameras and intrusion detection system. These modern gadgets provide feeds to the BSF control rooms on the border and enable the BSF Quick Reaction Teams to thwart any possibility of Illegal Cross Border Crossing/ Crimes.” In September 2018, two pilot projects of ‘smart’ border fencing built under the CIBMS programme in Jammu were made operational.
India is already building new ‘steel fence’ along its border with Pakistan and Bangladesh. The CIBMS that entails deployment of smart fences, advanced surveillance gadgets and anti-infiltration alarms has been speeded up by the border management division under the MHA and the BSF along these two borders, sources said. This fence will cost about Rs 2 crore for a kilometre, as reported by several media reports.
The state of India’s coastal security preparedness has improved considerably. As part of coastal security mechanism, a surveillance system, called Coastal Surveillance Network (CSN), comprising Chain of Static Sensors having Radars, Automatic Identification System (AIS), Day/Night Cameras and Met Sensors at 46 locations along the coastline and islands has been established by the Indian Coast Guard. In order to achieve near gap-free surveillance of the entire coastline, 38 additional radar stations and eight Mobile Surveillance Systems apart from VTMS connectivity at Gulf of Kutch and Gulf of Khambat, are being installed under CSN phase-II, the Indian Coast Guard shared. There is an enhanced coordination through Joint Operation Centres (JOCs).
“I think the coastal security situation is somewhat better than what it was in 2018, but challenges remain. Ports in particular are still vulnerable, with the rise in ‘grey zone’ activity in the littorals.” Abhijit Singh, Senior Fellow and Head, Maritime Policy Initiative Observer Research Foundation who is also a former Indian naval officer told FORCE. The ‘grey-zone’, he explains “is a metaphorical state of being between war and peace, where an aggressor (usually a non-state actor, with or without the backing of a state) aims to reap gains associated with overt military aggression without crossing the threshold of armed conflict against a powerful adversary.”
The littoral security architecture has a better sense of the threats than it earlier had but a lot yet remains to be done.
Technology integration can add multiple layers of smartness to homeland security. The use of drones for surveillance and security purposes is an emerging trend across the world for border security management system.
There are different types of drones – strategic, operational and tactical. Strategic drones are used for long-range reconnaissance in hostile territory. Tactical drones are low-altitude or short-ranged aircraft and are fully operator controlled. They are commonly used by the police forces in developed countries for border surveillance and crowd control. An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs), which is a point sensor and not a wide-area surveillance asset, acts as the eyes behind the enemy lines without putting human lives at risk. UAVs get their commands from a Ground Control Station (GCS) through line-of-sight (LOS) radio waves. A special antenna called a Ground Data Terminal (GDT) sends commands to and receives video imagery from the UAV at ranges up to 200 km. A tactical UAV operation consists of a launch and recovery site (LRS) and a mission planning and control site (MPCS). For effectively employing technology–based assets of these kinds, it is imperative to identify their capabilities and limitations.
According to a PTI report, there are more than six lakh rogue or unregulated UAVs in the country. The same report mentions that security agencies are analysing modern anti-drone weapons like sky fence, drone gun ATHENA, drone catcher and Skywall 100 to intercept, counter terror or similar sabotage bids by these aerial platforms. Pre-fed and programmed with flight data and drop data, these UAVs can carry some payload to be used for smuggling banned contrabands, Assault rifles, satellite phones, grenades and pistols, etc.
There are different types, sizes and applications of drones which is unfettered to military drones alone. Many drones can be employed to cover large sections of land, working in areas such as geographical surveying or to combat wildlife poaching. One of the British drones manufacturing company is working on UAVs which can neutralise the threat from IED from air. Though India’s counter-drone capability is limited, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is working on the manufacturing of anti-drone technology.
The UAVs are also put to use by non-state actors. Technology has been the key to many locks but at the same time it manufactured new locks, generating a new set of challenges and problems which altogether require a new set of solutions.
A report by World Economic Forum’s Geostrategy platform in collaboration with the RAND corporation, titled ‘Drone terrorism is now a reality, and we need a plan to counter the threat’, explains, “The use of weaponised drones by lone individuals and small groups—some acting as proxies of nation-states—is no longer just a concern for the future, but very much for the present. The proliferation of certain emerging technologies has effectively diffused power and made it available at the lowest levels.”
The Islamic State (IS) has successfully used drones to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance and to carry out offensive actions like dropping a grenade on an adversary’s military base in Syria. Reports of Pakistan deploying weaponised drones across the Line of Control (LC) need no special mention. Terrorist outfit Hezbollah have used drones to ram Saudi air defences in Yemen.
Reportedly, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) has also finalised specifications for a system to counter rogue drones at Indian civilian airports. The specifications have now been sent to the civil aviation minister for approval.
Surveillance cameras can be effectively used for crime control and its prevention. Law enforcement agencies and criminal justice system can benefit from public surveillance technology in the areas of real-time arrest, interrogation/investigation, evidence accumulation, prosecution, emergency response situations, virtual guarding among others.
Poor quality footage fails the aforementioned purposes; hence it is imperative to invest in functional and high-quality cameras. The two main categories of analog closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are fixed cameras and pan/tilt/zoom models which can rotate horizontally and vertically to cover more area.
Then there is something called Internet Protocol camera, or IP camera, which is a type of digital video camera that receives control data and sends image data via the Internet. They are commonly used for surveillance and require no local recording device, only a local area network. In order to transfer the images, it requires nothing more than a network connection. The images captured by an IP camera may be viewed from anywhere in the world via the internet, whether via pc, laptop or mobile phone.
India has reported data of nine different cities that accumulate 274,784 surveillance cameras. New Delhi alone has 1,79,000 CCTV cameras.
With 15.28 and 14.36 CCTV cameras every 100 individuals respectively, the United States followed by China have the most numbers of cameras installed for public surveillance. The law enforcement may choose among overt, semi-overt, and covert camera options, depending on the need and intended impact. An alternative view to this is that the public feels that the extensive usage of public surveillance technology is essentially breach of their right to privacy. Rights and legal framework on rare occasions act as impediment to the job of security agencies.
For instance, during the recent February 2020 Delhi riots, facial recognition software sparked furore and grabbed headlines. This high-end technology identifies people by matching a picture or video of a person’s face to the available databases of photos. Several human rights activists want to regulate the usage of facial recognition software as the tool can be used by the agencies to run the search without prior consent or unfounded suspicions. Other reasons for facial recognition software to be infamous both inside and outside the realms of policing is the reservation on successful match and identification.
Intelligence Sharing and Data Integration Mechanism
The Indian government has undertaken several mechanisms to strengthen the internal security and intelligence sharing mechanism in the country — MAC, IMAC, NatGrid, National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) created in 2002, National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) in 2004, National Investigative Agency (NIA) in December 2008 to name a few. Inter-State Intelligence Support Teams (ISISTs) have been formed in 25 states and 4 Union Territories.
Apart from this, friendly foreign intelligence agencies also share their inputs regularly with their Indian counterparts. India has had a long history of intelligence cooperation with several Commonwealth countries, erstwhile USSR and other countries of East Europe. Over the course of time, the government has organised and reoriented itself in many different ways to address grave national security challenges and perceived threats.
With innumerable databases and incoming data, which is further divided into structured, unstructured and semi structured, there is the challenge of it becoming redundant. Big data and predictive technology are handy and comes to the rescue in such a scenario.
Col Haridas M. (retd), who is co-founder, director and CEO DataVal Analytics, explains, “Big data analytics helps you to sift through hidden patterns in the data which otherwise will evade human eyes. Too much information is available because of the data being generated from sensors working in silos and the human tendency to build back-up of systems to avoid failures. Artificial Intelligence-based algorithms today have the capacity to build working models which can extract actionable intelligence as per requirement. Converged platforms with input from all stakeholders responsible for security will give creditable intelligence for joint action.”
MAC: Around 28 agencies are part of the national-level Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) which was formed following the Kargil intrusion. States have SMACs. Both MAC and SMACs hold meetings almost every day to analyse inputs received in the last 24 hours. MAC is a New-Delhi based intelligence-sharing ‘fusion centre’. National Memory Bank (NMB), which is a Central data bank for counter-terrorism related information, has been connected with 374 nodes, including state intelligence, state police and all MAC member agencies, with effect from 7 June 2012.
After 2008’s 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, which claimed 166 lives leaving over 300 wounded, the country’s lack of proper intelligence sharing mechanism had faced the flak paving way for the massive overhaul of the security architecture, bringing the MAC under the renewed focus of the government. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) is now trying to link SMACs with the districts and expand its footprint. Notably, the director of the IB has pointed out that some state agencies had hesitated to share their intelligence inputs with MAC in some instances.
NATGRID: The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had given approval to NATGRID project on 8 April 2010. The Rs 3,400 crore project was conceptualised following the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. Its headquarters is in New Delhi and data recovery centre is in Bengaluru. The NATGRID will have data related to all immigration entry and exit, banking and financial transactions to generate intelligence inputs. Only 10 agencies namely IB, Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC), Directorate General of Central Excise and Intelligence (DGCEI) and Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) will be given access to it. No state agency has been given any direct access to it.
National Counter Terrorism Centre: The National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) is a proposed central anti-terror agency to be created in India and is modelled on the National Counterterrorism Centre of the United States.
Unlike the American NCTC, which deals only with strategic planning and integration of intelligence without any operational involvement or the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, the Indian version will be vested with powers and the mandate to conduct operations. The NCTC, which will be set-up as the unified command and control structure for counter terrorism responses, continues to remain on paper.
Despite sweeping reforms being undertaken and many security agencies planned, the country’s security apparatus continues to be outdated as was proven by 2016’s Pathankot terror attack and 2019’s Pulwama attack. So, what went wrong? A lot, experts would say. But broadly, nobody identified the real problem. Those heading the various security agencies should ask themselves if the problem was ever in intelligence gathering or in generating threat alerts? Perhaps, they would realise that the real problem was the lack of coordination and under-equipped forces. For any terror scenario, it is not the numbers that matter but the quality of the agencies backed by the credibility of the policing force that plays a vital role. No matter the work at the Centre, locals and state police remain the first responders and hence, equipping them accordingly is the only way forward to fix the crisis.