Galwan Valley clash: Defence experts question dismantling of JIC, say it 'weakened' system of assessing intel
With the JIC now gone, it is the NSCS' job to analyse the intelligence inputs and give its report to the National Security Council headed by the prime minister, and also coordinate with the ministries concerned and the state governments to ensure that the plans are properly implemented
A month after the Galwan Valley incident, which saw twenty Indian soldiers killed in a border clash with China, defence experts are questioning whether disbanding the Joint Intelligence Committee was a good idea.
The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), an autonomous body comprising subject experts was, in 2018, merged with the all-powerful National Security Council Secretariat in an attempt to consolidate the country's security apparatus towards the end of the Modi government's first term.
National security experts are also questioning whether the Galwan Valley incident was a case of intelligence mismanagement at the top rather than an intelligence failure.
A report in The Indian Express on Thursday claimed that the first reports on sighting of Chinese troops near the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh were available since mid-April. More specific inputs were received only days later, indicating that allegations of intelligence failure may not be entirely accurate.
The extent of damage incurred in the clash almost a month later indicates that these intel inputs were either glossed over by decision-makers when assessing Chinese intent, or worse, were never conveyed to the Indian Army, some have argued.
The Indian Express article quoted above contended that the mismanagement of available intelligence data either indicated the "inability to read Chinese actions" from the information available, or it occurred because of the "systemic changes in the way stakeholders share intelligence" following the disbandment of the JIC in 2018.
The newspaper quoted an unnamed senior intelligence official as saying that the process for joint assessment and sharing of information between various stakeholders has indeed changed since JIC was disbanded.
Former NSA MK Narayanan also concurred with the view that disbanding JIC has led to a weakening of the intelligence assessment system. In an opinion article in The Hindu, Narayanan argued that the Galwan incident showed "a weakness in interpretation and analysis" of the available intelligence.
"The principal responsibility for intelligence assessment and analysis concerning China, rests with the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) and India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), and to a lesser extent, the Defence Intelligence Agency. It may not, perhaps, be wrong to surmise that the decision of the NSCS to dismantle the Joint Intelligence Committee has contributed to a weakening of the intelligence assessment system," wrote Narayanan.
How India's security apparatus was synergised
The security apparatus earlier roughly had three tiers under the NSCS:
- Strategic Policy Group (SPG) with chief of intelligence agencies and the heads of the three armed forces among its members.
- National Security Advisory Board, comprising retired officials and non-government persons.
- Joint Intelligence Committee.
In 2018, this was collapsed into what was touted as a more synergised approach to the national security apparatus. The National Security Advisor was made the chief of SPG, earlier headed by the defence secretary, the NSAB was truncated to leave out non-government persons and the JIC was disbanded.
The NSA now had three deputy NSAs instead of one.
These changes were made with the idea of ensuring proper collation and consolidation of intelligence.
It is thus the NSCS' job to analyse the intelligence inputs and give its report to the National Security Council, headed by the prime minister, and also coordinate with the ministries concerned and the state governments to ensure that the plans are properly implemented on the ground, according to media reports detailing the effects of the revamp.
Earlier these tasks were divided between the NSCS, SPG, JIC and Defence Intelligence Agency. It was the analysis and threat evaluation part of the task that was entrusted to JIC before the security apparatus revamp.
'NSA has too much on his plate'
Manoj Joshi, distinguished fellow at Observer Research Foundation, had in October 2018 argued that with NSA already in charge of several other offices, piling on crucial responsibilities on a single nodal body directly under his office may water down its efficacy.
"The NSA simply has too much on his plate to devote time to issues of reform and restructuring that are needed in the area of defence. He is the principal security adviser to the prime minister, responsible for managing India’s policies towards Pakistan, China and the US. He manages India’s nuclear deterrent and, because of his background, also supervises the intelligence agencies. True, he has some highly capable people to assist him in carrying out his numerous tasks. But at the end of the day, the buck does stop with him," Joshi argued in an article in The Wire.
Even experts who saw the revamp as a welcome move cautioned against doing away with JIC and opined that such an institution should in fact be empowered.
'Sea of information'
Tara Kartha, a former director of the National Security Council Secretariat, and who also writes for Firstpost, saw the revamp as a long-overdue process, but warned of the dangers of considering JIC dispensable in an article for The Wire.
"With the two major intelligence agencies now at the topmost levels of the hierarchy, there seems to be a perception that the JIC — staffed by subject experts — can be done away with. This is dangerous. Elsewhere, national security agencies are focusing even more on all source intelligence and co-opting universities and academics in an exercise that aims to build the capability of both. The US, for instance, has set up 14 schools that operate Intelligence Community Centres of National Excellence. This is a recognition of the fact that there is a vast sea of information waiting to be converted into intelligence," she stated.
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