India is setting up its first intelligence-gathering agency dedicated to providing technical support and feedback to other government agencies on internal and external security issues.
The National Technical Facilities Organisation (NTFO), which will report directly to the Prime Minister’s Office, will conduct high-tech surveillance missions using the aircraft, satellite and computer assets of the Indian Defence Forces. The new agency also will have access to data collected by the military services and other national intelligence sources, a Defence Ministry official said.
Defining the Mission
The NTFO will complement the intelligence operations of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Research and Analytical Wing of the Cabinet Secretariat, the Central Bureau of Investigation, Defence Intelligence Agency, and the intelligence units of the ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs, Economics and External Affairs as well as military and paramilitary forces.
Sources from the Defence and Interior ministries said staff is now being appointed for the new organization, which will be led by a senior government official. Just who that will be remains to be decided. Initial operations have begun, but the agency will be fully functional in a year with an annual budget of $155.5 million.
The idea for setting up another source of intelligence expertise came after the failure of the current intelligence agencies in 1999 to thwart the entrance of terrorists from neighboring Pakistan into Jammu and Kashmir. Indian forces waged a battle to evict them.
An official in the National Security Council said there is need for greater sharing of information and cooperation between India’s intelligence organizations, but admitted that hierarchy issues will be difficult to settle.
The official said the head of the new intelligence agency will hold a higher rank in government than the leaders of the other intelligence organizations, who all currently are on the same bureaucratic level. This, he said, sets the stage for potential animosity and conflict.
“The setting up of an all-powerful intelligence agency can be monstrous and can grow … much beyond the control of the executive,” said a senior official of the Integrated Defence Staff, the chief planning arm of the Indian Defence Forces.
“The role and hierarchy of NTFO will need to be clearly spelled out so as to avoid any apprehension among the various other intelligence organizations on the validity and futility of having NTFO,” the official said.
The National Security Council official said the NTFO’s objective will be to collect and analyze multiple forms of communication through radio broadcasts, intercepted forms of communication and Internet monitoring. NTFO also will be in touch with other overseas intelligence organizations, added the official.
The Ministry of Interior official added that while the role of the NTFO is still being defined, such communication monitoring will be one of its top objectives.
India’s intelligence-gathering assets are limited. The military’s planned airborne early warning and control system aircraft, Russian-built Il-76s equipped with Israeli Phalcon radar equipment, will not be in place for two years. In addition, New Delhi is still negotiating with Israel to lease capacity on one of its military satellite until India launches its own.
India has approached Israel about leasing capacity from the Ofeq-5 military satellite to meet its intelligence-gathering and satellite mapping capabilities.
India wants high-resolution images for accurate mapping and three-dimensional modeling capability of the mountainous Kashmir terrain, a senior military planner said.
The Indian Space Research Organisation developed and launched the Resourcesat earth-observation satellite last year. The Cartosat-1 earth-observation satellite, valued at $22 million, will be launched by the indigenously developed Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle later this year. Cartosat-2 is planned for launch in 2005.
India also is building the Risat microwave remote sensing satellite, scheduled for launch in 2006. Risat is designed to take images through dust and darkness.