NCTC yes, but please think it through

Poorly designed NCTC will do little to fight terror

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | February 26, 2013



The Hyderabad blasts have revived the debate over national counter terrorism centre (NCTC), former union home minister P Chidambaram’s pet project to create an overarching organization to fight terrorism in the country, which was put on hold last year following widespread protests from the state governments. Chidambaram’s successor Sushil Kumar Shinde urged the state governments the next day through Rajya Sabha to agree to NCTC and offered a compromise, “if you wish we can take out the operations part (of the agency) and then take it forward”.

It is about time too. As per the home ministry’s original notification, NCTC would have come into existence from March 1, 2012. But no sooner did the notification, marked ‘top secret’, came nearly a dozen chief ministers raised a banner of revolt. They said they had not been consulted and that NCTC not only encroached on their domain it violated federal structure too. The notification was withdrawn and consultations began at two levels –chief ministers and chief secretaries and the director-generals of police. But these consultations made no headway.  Ever since Shinde took charge of the home ministry, in July 2012, nothing has been heard about it. Shinde has shown little inclination or aptitude. He has discontinued with the daily morning meeting with the chiefs of intelligence and security agencies that Chidambaram had started.

There is little to doubt that NCTC is needed. The Hyderabad blasts could not be prevented even though there were intelligence inputs, even if ‘vague’. A dedicated anti-terror body like NCTC is supposed to convert ‘vague’ to ‘actionable’ intelligence and follow it through. In absence of it this vague intelligence was forwarded to the state governments and then forgotten until the blasts happened.

But now is not the time to rush in, make conciliatory overtones to the states to make them happy and bring in NCTC. A poorly conceived NCTC would create, rather than solve any, problem.

It is time to initiate the debate over the architecture of powers of NCTC that never happened. Chidambaram devised his own plan and imposed it. The first mistake was not to consult the state government even though they are the essential stakeholders in any anti-terror architecture. Secondly, he went against his own good sense and instead of setting up an independent body made NCTC a part of the intelligence bureau (IB), which has dubious legal status and no accountability. Third, he gave them operational powers – power to search and arrest anyone anywhere in the country. Now can anything be more dangerous than a body with police powers (to search and arrest) but no clear legal existence or accountability?

The consultation process that had followed had agreed to take NCTC out of IB and devise a standard operating procedure (SOP) with the state governments to ensure perfect coordination among the various intelligence and security agencies. The SOP never got formulated.

Now Shinde is talking about divesting NCTC of the operational arm. Without that we are back to square one. NCTC gathers ‘vague’ intelligence and passes it on to the state governments and then, Hyderabad blasts happen again! NCTC may not necessarily have an operational arm. The US model from which NCTC has been copied doesn’t have one. The actual operations are carried out by their Homeland  Security and FBI. We can devise our own system which will work closely with NCTC.

As per the original vision of Chidambaram, NCTC was to have three arms – intelligence, investigation and operations. The national investigation agency (NIA) was to be the investigating arm of NCTC and came into being soon after 26/11. But who is probing the Hyderabad blasts? It is the Andhra Pradesh police. What is the point in having NIA? Again, this is happening because we react emotionally to terror incidents. We don’t think hard and devise a sound and workable architecture.

We need a mature and sensible response to the Hyderabad blasts. Shinde’s sudden interest in NCTC is actually counter-intuitive and may prove counter-productive.

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