To be read in continuation of my article of January 14, 2012, titled Neither An Ass Nor A Mule
There has been an avoidable and unfortunate controversy over the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC), which, according to the media, is to become operational from March 1, 2012.
Going by the media reports on it, the NCTC, which is meant to co-ordinate intelligence collection, analysis and assessment and follow-up action in matters relating to terrorism, will differ from the NCTC set up in the US after 9/11 in two important respects.
In the US, the NCTC is an independent institution functioning under the supervision of the Director, National Intelligence (DNI). It co-ordinates the functioning of the counter-terrorism divisions of the various agencies of the Intelligence Community. The chiefs of the various intelligence agencies having any role in counter-terrorism do not have any powers of supervision over it. The idea of making it independent was to ensure that it would take an objective view of the functioning of the counter-terrorism divisions of different agencies and ensure proper-coordination. The expectation was that being an independent agency, its functioning will not be affected by inter-agency clashes and egos.
As per the media reports, the NCTC being set up in India will not be an independent institution. It will be part of the IB and Director, IB, will supervise its functioning. This could come in the way of an independent audit and supervision of the functioning of the counter-terrorism division of the IB. Whatever deficiencies are there presently in the exercise of the counter-terrorism functions of the IB will get duplicated and magnified instead of being identified and rectified.
The post-9/11 creation of the NCTC in the US was meant to strengthen the preventive capability by improving the collection, analysis and assessment of terrorism-related intelligence and effective follow-up action. The 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US were attributed to inadequate intelligence and unsatisfactory follow-up action even on the intelligence that was available. The same was the case in India in respect of 26/11.
The NCTC in the US has no powers of arrest, interrogation, investigation and prosecution. The responsibility in these matters continues to be that of the FBI. In India, if media reports are to be believed, the NCTC has been given the powers to arrest and carry out searches under Section 43 (A) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
Till now, in India, these powers belong to only the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) at the centre and the police in the states. By giving these powers to the NCTC too, we are going to create confusion in the investigation and prosecution of terrorism-related cases.
Moreover, the IB does not have such powers. It is a clandestine organisation for the secret collection of intelligence. In all genuinely democratic countries, intelligence agencies are not given powers of arrest, searches and interrogation due to fears that such powers may be misused under pressure from the political leadership against political opponents. Only in authoritarian countries do intelligence agencies have powers of arrest and searches.
In India, the IB informally associates itself with all terrorism-related interrogation, but the arrests and searches are made either by the police or by the NIA or the CBI. By creating a multiplicity of organisations having such powers and by giving these powers to the NCTC which will work under the DIB, we will be taking an unwise step which could further politicise our handling of counter-terrorism.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies