Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Tuesday, 29 July 2008 16:10 UK

Indian intelligence gropes in the dark

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Wreckage outside a hospital in Ahmedabad
The intelligence agencies have no leads so far

When Ahmedabad was hit by a series of explosions on Saturday, one newspaper vendor in the city told another - "Kam ho gaya" (the job is done) .

That exchange sounded like a communication between the bombers, promising an intelligence-led breakthrough.

But it proved to be a red herring - the newspaper vendors had only rejoiced because after the blasts they expected the sale of their evening papers to zoom.

Barring this one telephone call, there is nothing else that could provide intelligence with a clue to the explosions in Ahmedabad.

Intelligence officials say perhaps this is because the bombers are no more speaking for long periods before and after the explosions.

After his arrest last year, Jalaluddin alias Babubhai - the "India operations commander" of the Bangladesh-based militant group Huji - revealed that he had instructed his jihadis (holy warriors) to "minimise telephone or internet communication" during operations.

No leads

"India's technical intelligence capability has developed with help from the US and local scientific knowhow, so we told our brothers to use personal couriers," a senior Intelligence Bureau (IB) official quoted Jalaluddin as saying.

Since the serial blasts in the southern city of Hyderabad last August, India's intelligence has failed to pick up leads.

"That explains the complete dearth of intelligence on the groups responsible for this year's serial explosions in Jaipur, Bangalore and Ahmedabad. Our intelligence has become too dependent on technology," says BB Nandi, one of India's best known spymasters.

Indian Muslims
There are very few Muslims in the Indian intelligence agencies

"We are making the same mistakes that Western intelligence agencies made by pinning too much hope on technology. That's important, but there's no substitute for a good agent in the right place," Mr Nandi says.

While Western intelligence agencies like the CIA and MI-6 are trying to augment human intelligence capabilities after a string of failures such as the 9/11 attacks in the US, Indian intelligence is not learning from their mistakes.

Intelligence officials say that Pakistan and Bangladesh-based Islamic militant groups have increasingly made their Indian units autonomous - in recruitment, training, funding and operations - so that nothing can be traced back to the patron nations.

"The serial bombings in Jaipur, Bangalore and Ahmedabad prove that Pakistan's ISI has successfully Indianised the jihad by creating Indian equivalents of Lashkar-e-Toiba or Huji," says B Raman, another former spymaster specialising in Islamic militant groups.

"They still provide general direction, so you have a series of explosions in India immediately after the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul and the stepped up hostilities in Kashmir," he says.

"But the surrogates are largely independent now in choosing targets or gathering explosives."

'Real bane'

And why can't India's intelligence agencies penetrate these home-grown Islamic militant groups if they are run and led by Indian Muslims with roots in India?

The Intelligence Bureau (IB), which is responsible for domestic and counter-intelligence, is supposed to co-ordinate the fight against militancy through its multi-agency co-ordination.

But the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), which is responsible for external intelligence, has a major role in checking the foreign sources of militancy.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi visits the wounded in hospital
Mr Modi has called for the creation of a better intelligence agency

"The real bane of Indian intelligence is that it is largely run by police officials, most of whom serve on deputation from states and are floating in and out of the IB and other federal intelligence wings. They lack both the commitment and the expertise," says retired IB official Ashok Debbarma.

Strangely, the lower echelons of IB and RAW are direct recruits, trained specifically for intelligence. But they lack the motivation because they can rarely rise to senior positions.

"None of the world's best intelligence agencies are run by policemen. They are all run by career intelligence officers. It is only in India that the Indian Police Service (IPS) monopolises most senior intelligence positions," Mr Debbarma said.

He said some police officials have done well in IB and RAW but most have failed in a fast changing world.

"The best brains go to foreign service and administrative service and only those at the bottom of the heap are recruited into the police service," Mr Debbarma says.

A losing battle

Interestingly, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has demanded the creation of an Indian intelligence service that, he says, should recruit the best available talent and deploy them in positions that fit their special talent.

"We should get the best brains for intelligence, but we only get rejects now," Mr Modi said after the Ahmedabad explosions.

Many say Indian intelligence is losing its fight against Islamic militancy because the agencies do not recruit enough Muslims.

"There are very few Muslims in Indian intelligence, only a few in the state police special branches and really a handful in the federal agencies. How can we plant agents amongst jihadis unless we have Muslim officers?" asks a former IB official who does not wish to be named.

The IB is also woefully short of officers - against a sanctioned strength of 250 officers, only 100 places have been filled up.

"Most IPS officers use the IB as a transit point. They come here only when they don't get a good posting in their state cadre," says retired IB official Subir Dutta.

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24 Jul 08 |  Country profiles

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