Of Tapes and Tapping Technical intelligence scores over human intelligence

02 Jul, 1999    ·   217

Maj. Gen. Yashwant Deva (Retd) highlights how the Kargil Tapes have in addition to exposing the hollowness of Paksitan's politics also demostrated the virtuosity and preeminence of technical intelligence (Techint).

India can rightly feel satisfied with the ace intelligence scoop and the mileage it has got from the release of the Kargil tapes. Pakistan 's official charge of doctoring notwithstanding, the world has accepted the veracity of the tapes. It is immaterial how the tapes were acquired -- by own wiretapping, or eavesdropping by a third party. Their merit lies in incontestable evidence of Pak duplicity, demonstrating yet again the virtuosity and preeminence of technical intelligence (Techint).



That intelligence is no more a cloak and dagger affair, should have dawned on us half a century back. We dithered in creating an integrated set-up for signal interception, satellite imagery, and making and breaking codes, because of the pressures from our sprawling network of spies and human analysts, led by a technically illiterate bureaucracy.  The Indian establishment is loath to give signals intelligence (Sigint) its due, though time and again it saved the day lending the country a diplomatic or military edge. We have been largely dependent on humans. In this age of high-resolution satellite imagery, electronic surveillance and virtual intelligence, we brag of obtaining early warning of the enemy intrusion from gujjars and sheep grazers?



For more than a decade and a half, I have been harping that India needs to emulate National Security Agency (NSA) of the US . Exploits of this agency are well chronicled in a book, Puzzle Palace, by James Bamford. Created by a presidential order in 1952, its strength lay in anonymity, till recently, when it chose to go public by hosting a web page. It will surprise many in this country that the NSA is much larger than the CIA, spends billions of dollars more per year, and its director is possibly the most powerful official in the American intelligence community. Together with the signal intelligence agencies of four white commonwealth countries  viz Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) of UK, Government Security Establishment (GSE) of Canada, Defence Signal Directorate (DSD) of Australia, and Government Communication Security Bureau (GCSB) of New Zealand, it conducts a Top Secret project called "Echelon." Its focus is on what the Americans derisively call "bare-ass nakedness" of the rest of the world, friends and foes alike. Indians and Pakistanis are its current targets, as indeed the French and the Germans.



The country needs an intelligence organization similar to the National Security Agency (NSA),  pooling all its assets of signal intelligence, cryptography and cryptanalysis. It should be under the MOD as in the US , and its manpower drawn from the defence services and the DRDO. It should also address matters dealing with cyber intelligence, cyber policing, cryptographic certification and satellite imagery.



Sigint is expensive. Both the hardware and software cost a lot. Whereas one can understand  difficulties in obtaining state of the art equipment and appreciate dependence of indigenous R&D on dual use technologies that attract denial regimes, neglect of software development is inexcusable in view of   our proven expertise in this field.  More than resources, it is a question of mindset.   Had we continued to pay attention to Sigint, Rajiv Gandhi’s murder could have been prevented.



Lastly, let us remember that intelligence and security are two sides of the same coin. The Pak military is disconcerted by our smartness and would exploit chinks in our communications security (Comsec). I quote George Oswell, who wrote in 1984, "Any sound that Winston made above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it  … There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment  … you had to live -- did live, from habit that became instinct -- in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized."



I hope the other George is listening.