Tuesday, Dec 06, 2022
For The Record

'Make The Black Swan A White Swan'

Full text of the former President's RN Kao Memorial Lecture

'Make The Black Swan A White Swan'
'Make The Black Swan A White Swan'

I am indeed happy to deliver the 7th RN Kao Memorial Lecture organised by the Research and Analysis Wing. My greetings to all the participants. When I am with you I would like to share through this lecture a few thoughts on Technology, Strategy and Intelligence.

R N Kao the doyen of External Intelligence

As soon as I agreed to give the annual lecture of R&AW, I studied the life and works of the pioneer in Intelligence network, Shri Rameshwar Nath Kao. Shri Kao, after spending his initial days in the Uttar Pradesh Police, joined the Intelligence Bureau in 1947 and thereafter his services were transferred to the R&AW to head the new external intelligence agency.

After facing many challenges in putting the organisation in a firm foundation, he evolved it as an effective foreign intelligence organisation. Under his able guidance the organisation attained greater heights and new goals and contributed significantly towards safeguarding national security. As a doyen of the Indian intelligence system, he was always available for advice to the government through several critical phases of the country's history.

I am presenting my study results to you in three parts based on the work on my core competence in system design, system integration and system management during my tasks in space programmes and defence strategic programmes.

Part-1: Improbables and their Characteristics

Friends, when I see you all and also the composition of the personalities who hold great responsibilities, I thought of sharing one incident. The incident goes like this: an important event was to take place the next day. Multiple agencies were in action. The next two nights were dark nights with no moon light. The other side, the world was sleeping. At the Chandipur flight test range, a series of 12 Trishuls were launched. Almost every two hours one launch took place.

At the Island range at Stealth launch pad, a simulated Agni launch preparations were going on in high intensity. In Pokaran range, away from the action, point number of rockets — PINAKA type — were put into action. At mid-day and evening, the Air Force was bombarding with runway destruction bombs on the experimental runway. These are all intensified events for a particular purpose. There is a strategy of seeing beyond the event that is going to take place and also be aware of the reconnaissance satellites of other countries which were looking at purposely generated events.

This was a well-planned measure of diverting the attention of snoopers. India woke up the next day with the news that three nuclear tests had been conducted on the same day and another two the next day. Friends, these events happened in India. It was an unexpected, unscheduled event in the eyes of the world. No one knew about it except three souls and their classified team. And India became a nuclear weapon state in 1998.

The whole event I described can be classified as more than a Black Swan, with the improbability of highest order to be expected from India and its nature. The message I would like to convey, even though our actions are patriotic actions to make the nation strong, there are nations and their terrorist institutions definitely would use Black Swans against other nations, particularly against India. India, India's intelligence and technology level have to be of highest standards to meet such improbabilities. That means India has to invest in a generation of knowledge and ability to convert the improbable and to make the Black Swan a White Swan.

Calculus of Life

As you know friends, differentiation is easy whereas integration is difficult in life as in mathematics. I would like to share a real time experience I had when I was the scientific adviser to the defence minister with two great leaders of our country. I still remember a scene during May 1996. It was 9 pm. I got a call from the then prime minister's house that I should meet the Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao immediately. I met him just two days before the announcement of the general election's results.

He told me, "Kalam, be ready with the Department of Atomic Energy and your team for the nuclear test and I am going to Tirupati. You wait for my authorisation to go ahead with the test. DRDO-DAE teams must be ready for action".

Of course, the election result was quite different from what he anticipated. I was busy in the Chandipur missile range. I got a call saying that I must meet immediately the Prime Minister designate Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji with Shri Narasimha Raoji. I witnessed a unique situation. Shri Narasimha Raoji, the outgoing prime minister, asked me to brief Shri Vajpayeeji about the details of the N-programme, so that a smooth takeover of such a very important programme can take place.

This incident reveals the maturity and professional excellence of a patriotic statesman who believed that the nation is bigger than the political system. Of course, after taking over as prime minister in 1998, the first task given by Shri Vajpayeeji to us was to conduct the nuclear test at the earliest. Both these leaders had the courage to take difficult decisions boldly, even though the consequences of such a decision had great national and geo-political significance. The message which we can see is that great leadership has to respect the fact that the nation is bigger than any organisation or the political system.

Technology as a great unifier and performance enhancer in every field

Here, I would like to discuss only two aspects. One is cyber terrorism and counter measures. Another point is cyber war.

The world has changed dramatically since the Cold War era. During those years, the enemy was clear and it was fairly straightforward to identify the intelligence collection targets. Today, we are faced with a new world in which change occurs very rapidly, and the enemy is asymmetric and poses a very different challenge. The most significant threats today are foreign terrorists and terrorist networks whose identities and whereabouts we do not always know.

In today's world, Information Technology plays a crucial role in overcoming this challenge. Some of the core IT areas we consider crucial for counterterrorism, namely:

  • Collaboration, analysis and decision support tools;
  • Foreign language tools;
  • Pattern analysis tools;
  • Predictive (or anticipatory) modeling tools.

Three core information technologies thrust areas mapped onto a typical intelligence analysis process.

Cyber War

A cyber war can be fought by anyo#8800 even an individual using his hacking skills against huge corporations, nations or even different civilisations. One single person's malicious software can wreak havoc on computers and spread across nations and continents. The modern world's industry, economy, institutions and even other facets of life is supported by computers and associated software. The individual could be acting alo#8800 he could be part of a group pursuing its inimical agenda or could be state supported, working to further the plans of the State.

Amongst various types of warfare, cyber war is the low-cost option. At its simplest, all it requires is one bright individual on one computer to originate cyber-attacks. Unlike in conventional war, where the attacker generally suffers heavy casualties, in cyber war there is no casualty to the attacker.

In this war, it is not the physical might of a soldier, the quality and quantity of equipment, the integration and orchestration of systems, or the strategic genius of a General which is tested.

Eugene Kaspersky, one of the world's best known cyber-security experts and the co-founder of the anti-virus company Kaspersky Labs, views India as being under constant attack from many different sources. He says:

"I believe that massive attacks on the Indian government and corporations happen all the time, and that they are mostly successful. There is no one particular enemy, but dozens of different sources of attacks. It could be secret services of other countries, competitors of Indian companies, hacker groups who sell stolen data, and hacktivist groups interested in the public disclosure of information."

I am sure this statement has to be made inconsequential by our mission on preparations on cyber war.

Solution for countering cyber security threat

I have two suggestions for countering the cyber security threat. One is technology upgrade in cyber security and second isinvestment and education in cyber security.

1. Technology Upgrade in Cyber Security

  • An empowered coordinating agency and government policy are critical to success.Asingle national agency is required, which must receive information about all attacks. We cannot fight these attacks alone—information sharing is critical.
  • Intelligence agencies must continuously upgrade their technical capabilities - be it signal intelligence, communications intelligence and interception capability, monitoring, information sharing mechanisms and creation of databases of security.
  • There is a need to call in professionals — scientists, computer software and hardware experts — to impart latest skills in computer hacking, cyber warfare, etc. Like, hacking is institutionalised in China wherein virus writing is taught in Chinese military schools.
  • Enhance in-house technical research and development capabilities especially in relation to signals decryption work, and cryptography capabilities.
  • Upgrade Open Source Intelligence capabilities such as use of advanced commercial search engines; upgrade offensive as well as defensive capabilities in cyber warfare
  • Human/robotic penetration amongst terrorist organisations is a useful tool. Human intelligence and electronic intelligence will have to be tuned to the maximum to penetrate terrorist groups and focus on building operational data that can be regularly shared with the police, paramilitary forces and others.

Offensive and defensive cyber capabilities are as important for the nations to build as nuclear capabilities. We will soon have only two types of nations—those with cyber offensive and defensive capabilities and those without. Cyber capabilities would soon assume the proportions of Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty and would become points of negotiations between nations.

2. Investment and Education for Cyber Security

  • Cyber security requires investment in people and systems. India has an abundance of raw IT talent and the best can be channelled for this type of work. There is a school of thought that cyber security actually requires an entirely new framework to be understood. Harvard and MIT have been working to build the new discipline of Cyber International Relationsfor just this purpose. Our technology institutions like IITs and IISC should significantly enhance their research on cyber security with an active participation from the industry.
  • Western countries on the forefront of defence have set up research units, started academic research innovation, and run full-scale cyber-attack rehearsals. So must India. To build a cadre of elite security technologists, we need to promote hardcore computer science education in our technical institutes of high calibre.

Cyber attack capabilities require a brilliant trained workforce of youth. Like other nations, talent development exercises must be conducted at a large scale to catch them young, almost out of school. This would foster hacking talent and get a large brigade of hackers into the system. Who besides the human talent would also develop 'Bots' that would act as software soldiers ready to attack or defend as needed.

Challenges for R&AW

One of the possible solutions for countering the threats is by being visible in the public domain and creating greater awareness breaking the traditional masks of secrecy that surround the intelligence operations.This exercise of being present in the event dominating social media to garner support from the public and managing the social media through well-orchestrated planning would be the greatest challenge for R&AW in the years to come.

The social media has become ever so powerful today.Governments have been brought down as in the case of Egypt and flash mobs have been motivated to conduct vandalism as in England to demonstrate the power of this media. Predicting cascade effects in social media and the ability to alter the outcome of such cascades and arrest them when needed or directing to them one's own advantage requires the symbiotic convergence of not merely the technology and social sciences but also a very watchful monitoring.

The technologies underpinning social media should be used to the advantage of unifying people for national growth and security. This will form the major thrust of all intelligence activities and I am sure that R&AW would strive to be in the forefront of this very soon.



It is true India has got multiple intelligence agencies. Of course R&AW has a unique mission with the nations.The intelligent mission is a national mission.It is very important on an event, database of multiple intelligence agencies will be in a position to integrate to arrive at action in real time.

That means accountability of intelligence agencies has to be clearly defined under one leadership. Information technology and the networked enterprise solutions could be leveraged to develop the integrated view of all the data by every one on a need to know basis irrespective of who owns the data.

A radical change in attitude: - Covert actions and Penetration

  1. Though intelligence agencies of India are playing a commendable role, a radical realigning is the need of the hour.
  2. Intelligence agencies must practise a proactive approach and not a reactive approach.
  3. Technology driven covert operations are becoming the order of the day and inflicting collateral damages through Critical Information Infrastructure is threatening to change the conventional wisdom in warfare.
  4. Elimination of source of terrorism and other anti national activities original crippling their ability to use technology for communication.

Recruitment of intelligence operatives (External/Internal):

Why don't Indian intelligence agencies come up with a proposal to develop a pool of manpower recruited especially for intelligence agencies through a common recruitment scheme say like the Indian Intelligence Service?

All these recruits have to be made to pass a very strict personality test which will be based on evolved and dynamic physiological and psychological aptitude tests. Based upon their performance, they can be posted to challenging tasks.

Intelligence agencies must also consider recruiting personnel from Special Forces for frontline operation.

Utilisation of Technology

The following list of technologies will help intelligence collection.

Utilisation of short-term usage microlite over suspected area. These satellites should be able to be launched from aircraft so that tell tale satellite launch vehicle's usage could be avoided.

Usage of Mini and Micro air vehicles over urban areas for tracking suspected individuals covertly.

Improved data sharing: By combining criminal records and intelligence information from a variety of central, state, and local agencies that can be accessed wirelessly to identify wanted criminals and suspected terrorists when they encounter law enforcement or attempt to enter secure facilities. Advanced big data techniques and machine learning and data mining should become the backbone of R&AW

Smart ID cards: with biometric identifiers, adding chips containing thumbprint scans or other biometric data to driver's licenses, as well as standardised security features for preventing forgery and fraud;

Smart Visas and improved border security: Byplacing biometric information on visas to identify visitors, keeping track of their entry and exit, confirming compliance with the terms of their entry and protecting unguarded stretches of the borders.

Digital surveillance: Extending longstanding principles of law enforcement and surveillance to the Internet by permitting surveillance of email and other electronic data while preserving traditional safeguards on searches by government agents.

Facial recognition software: Development and usage of 'facial recognition software', to pick out suspects (even disguised) from the CCTV footage.

Video analytics systems: Systems that can detect changes in the landscape, so that a small bump in land under which a bomb has been placed can be detected.

Video Synopsis products: Instead of watching the entire video, a viewer can see a synopsis —with the option of focusing in on objects or people of interest from a 24-hour period within a few minutes. If viewers notice something odd in the behavior of an individual, they can focus in on that individual, and receive an index of all his or her movements in the entire range of footage.

Underwater Imaging Technologies: Imaging technology to detect underwater movements to prevent terrorism from sea against oil rigs and harbour installations.

In summary, one area where technology has made a significant contribution has been in new systems to aid in intelligence and surveillance against terrorist operations. While terrorists may hold old ideologies, they have not been reluctant to employ 21st century communications and information technologies.

They have utilised the Internet and mobile phones for a number of purposes, and at the time of 9/11 the nation was in need of systems to intercept and sort out terrorist communications. While highly sensitive, public disclosures about several key programmes show that considerable progress has been made in this critical area, giving the intelligence agencies some key tools in locating terrorists and stopping their plots.

Apart from communications interception, a new area of 'data mining' has also shown considerable promise in locating terrorists and their plots. Less controversial have been efforts over the past decade to employ new information technologies to what has been termed the Information Sharing Environment — collaborative efforts to best utilise available intelligence and other data among the various central, state and local agencies with counter-terrorism responsibilities.

While certainly some progress has been made over the past 11 years, the net result is largely a national embarrassment, and clearly a triumph of politics over physics. Even though the information and communications technologies are all well-developed, the deployable knowledge products at the right time have to be developed and advanced. Investment in the science and technology base must enable more effective counter-terrorism operations, as a national effort networking academic institutions, R&D Centres and Industries.


International Network For counter terrorism

I have made a comparative study of the three democratic nations and their threat perception and experiences, particularly on the angle of intelligence:

The experiences of United States and Israel, based on their agreement on both nation's home land security, outlines that they have effectively controlled the damages due to terrorism, using technologies in surveillance, intelligence, quick network operations and effective mechanism and force under control for quick reaction.

The data base and the civilian cooperation in information sharing, and control of resources for the headquarters of terrorists organisation and constant attack on them all helped to save their people. The attacks are well coordinated and never end before the threat is completely eliminated, however long it takes and whatever it takes.

Very often the attacks were performed on targets located in unfriendly foreign soil and successfully. Never forget and never forgive! India can learn lessons from of their experiences and introduce technologies in tools for focused networked operations. It is advisable for these three democratic countries (USA, Israel and India) to come together with an integrated task force to effectively defeat the threats of the terrorists.

Of course, it is essential the intelligence organisations of India must come under one single roof of management and leadership with the involvement of technocrats and evolve systematic operations in a coordinated manner using all possible resources to defeat the terrorists and threat to national sovereignty. The best of minds with knowledge leadership have to become part of the intelligence network of the nation.

My greetings and best wishes to all the participants in their mission of national security.


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