‘You can’t run a space programme, Army, or Intelligence services with people on deputation’

Five years after 26/11, India’s intelligence services are functioning with staffing deficits of up to 40 per cent, highly placed government sources told The Hindu. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), officials said, faces endemic shortages of personnel both with specialist language and area skills, and technology experts critical to modern espionage. The Intelligence Bureau (IB), in turn, has been unable to expand its counter-terrorism efforts, despite mounting threats.

“It is very sad we haven’t sorted out these problems in all these years,” says V. Balachandran, a former RAW officer who headed an official investigation into intelligence and police failures leading up to 26/11. “I fear we will pay for it dearly.”

Endemic shortages

Figures show staff deficits are endemic across the intelligence services. In March, Minister of State for Home R.P.N. Singh told Parliament that the IB had 18,795 personnel on its rolls, against a sanctioned strength of 26,867 — in other words, a shortfall of over 30 per cent. However, a senior Home Ministry official told The Hindu those deficits have still not been filled.

In 2009, the then Union Home Minister, P. Chidambaram authorised the hiring of 6,000 personnel. However, the IB’s existing training facilities can process just 600 to 700 staff in a year, which barely covers attrition from retirements and resignations. The Bureau is expanding its training facilities, but experts say it will take time to staff the new institutions with instructors.

The RAW, estimated to have some 5,000 personnel, faces a similar shortage. The organisation is short of some 130 management-level staff, the sources said, particularly cutting-edge under-secretaries and deputy secretaries. Its overall deficits run to 40 per cent.

Key positions in the RAW’s Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh divisions are now being staffed by officers who have never served in those countries — pointing to a deepening lack of area and language skills.

The most critical deficiencies, however, are in critical technology positions — the core of modern espionage. The RAW, the sources said, is now approximately a third short of its sanctioned strength of cryptanalysts, who are charged with breaking enemy codes and ciphers.

The organisation has not had an Additional Secretary-rank officer to head its telecommunications cadre for the past three years, due to conflicts over appointments with the Department of Personnel.

Mr. Balachandran says this is unlikely to change — “Why should skilled technical people come to RAW when there are far better prospects in the private sector?”

Long neglect

Long years of neglect, intelligence officials said, had contributed to the staffing crisis at the RAW and the IB. “The intelligence services,” a senior officer said, “had always relied on young Indian Police Service officers, recruited early in their careers, to serve in middle and senior-management roles. The overall shortfall in the IPS’s strength, though, has meant States are loath to allow their best officers to serve in New Delhi on deputation.”

The RAW’s internal cadre, the Research and Analysis Service (RAS), froze recruitment from the 2004-2005 batch to the 2009-2010 batch, and in other years, cut hiring to a trickle. Last year, bulk recruitment to fill the deficits was agreed on, but a debate about whether needs would be best met through Union Public Service Commission-run examinations or campus recruitment rages on.

In addition, the organisation remains deeply divided by career resentment within the RAS, whose personnel say they are denied adequate opportunities compared with IPS officers arriving on deputation — some of them with little or no past intelligence skills. IPS officials, their RAS counterparts charge, are often appointed at the level of Joint Secretary and above, blocking prospects for career intelligence officers.

Mr. Balachandran, himself a former IPS officer, concurs. “You can’t run your space programme, or Army, with people on deputation. You can’t run your intelligence services that way, either.”

IB sources said the staffing shortages have hit efforts to expand counter-terrorism operations. The Bureau’s operations directorate — the hub of its counter-terrorism effort — has some 30 analysts and field staff, all told; another 30-odd track Maoists. Local counter-terrorism teams set up in 2008 have been dismantled due to staff shortages.

“Every year, there’s some discussion on this and some excellent decisions are taken,” says A.S. Dulat, who served many years in the IB and before becoming RAW chief. “Then nothing happens.”

“It’s about time someone took this seriously”.

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