Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Role of Intelligence Agencies in Democracies

Intelligence activity within and abroad is a legitimate and essential state function.It is shear information and data collection ,studying of trends and analysis.Information is to be acquired perse .One doesn't know what information would be useful,although broad direction and areas are prioritized.

Excesses and over-stepping and machinations have been widely reported.These are short-lived deviations in stable democratic societies.FBI and CIA's role in cold war,Vietnam and McCarthyism periods have been well reported.It has been alleged that in those periods MI5 and CIA had made major inroads into such veritable media institutions as BBC,The Economist of London,Times and Newsweek.Such interventions are often and almost always subtle and discrete.

When there is polarization and transition in a society , various state instruments and institutions get involved in this.Information is power and unbridled power is corrupting.The function has a great potential of misuse and abuse,both institutionally and otherwise.Such agencies themselves can become an underground political party of sorts.In Pakistan,due to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and the subsequent proxy war,intelligence agencies became ideologised if not politicized altogether due to the heavy religious and ideological content of the training system of the" Afghan Jihad".General ZiaulHaq used it abundantly for personal political power.

In Pakistan, Army Generals have been frequently finding justification for abruptly undoing constitutional governments and prolonging their personal rule.They have actively used intelligence agencies for this purpose ,covertly and overtly and unashamedly.State and government and national and personal political interests became all too mixed up.Even otherwise,it often requires quite a sophistication to differentiate the two during the heat of activity.It is a tight rope walk and not to talk of intentional misuse and abuse.

In a country where internal and external security has acquired close interface to the extent of almost eliminating the difference , the task of separating national interest from the vested interest becomes very difficult,when military leaders intentions and ambitions are ambivalent.
In a highly polarized society suffering from such instability and threat, objective intentions and personal ambition gets mixed up and overlap.It becomes difficult to abstain.Intelligence agencies therefore have to prepare themselves for any eventuality and thus a rationale for what they allegedly do.

However,the agency mission can get crowded due to such widespread roles and responsibilities.Lack of focus may reduce operational efficiency and effectiveness.Failure to contain terrorism may be a related phenomenon.In the Us no major terrorist incident has taken place after 9/11.In Germany and Japan,in the post war period,many such terrorist groups had been neutralized by their national agencies.A joint campaign and dialogue ended Northern Ireland issue.In our case,no amelioration seems to be insight which is highly perturbing and demoralizing for the nation.

In this background,the responsibilities of the leadership of these agencies become very onerous and critical.Personal promotion and welfare often requires unbridled and manifest loyalty and support.There are unwritten rules and traditions.Nothing can possibly done without the commitment of the top brass of Pakistan Army.Apparently present leadership does not seem to have political ambitions.This may be the time to bring about some balance and adjustments in the working of the agencies.Training and motivation system must emphasize respect for the law and human rights.

In all democratic societies , major intelligence agencies(Mi5,MI6,CIA,FBI etc) report to the civilian set up and governments and are generally not a part of military.It does not mean that liaison and coordination and cooperation does not exist with the military.I the Us there is a class of civilians who almost act as discretely as their military counterparts.They are issued security clearance of varying scales allowing them access to secrets,installations and interactions.In Pakistan ,reportedly even retired generals are considered security risk. What I mean to say is that , talking of America,those civilians are different. We may also benefit from such traditions and practices.

In Pakistan , attempts to bring ISI under Ministry of interior were nipped in the bud. All political interference in the past has always come from this agency.On the other hand in our chaotic political scene, it may be too risky to entrust such sensitive functions of strategic intelligence to civilian domain where the systems have yet to acquire maturity and stability.A mid way out could be to take away some sections from ISI and transfer these to IB and make the latter more effective and assertive.And let ISI perform strategic intelligence under army.Some genuine thinking has to be done in this respect which has to come out internally from these agencies themselves than being an external imposition which would would be resisted.

Reform is due.It can be done without sacrificed operational aims and activities.In fact reforms would strengthen national security which is the objective. against misuse of power for pursuing personal aims of friends,relatives and clients should be built in.It has often been found that agency personnel misuse their official capacity in sorting civilian petty issues.Internal pre and post audit of activities,parliamentary oversight and some sort of internal judicial type clearance procedure should be instituted.

Outside criticism should be objective and careful.Irresponsible comments unnecessarily generate antagonism,fear and nervousness.Reform can be induced and encouraged through dialogue among the parties..Leadership should create opportunities for such dialogue with political parties,civil society and the media in an open and structured manner. We have by now quite a number of retired generals in politics,media and civil society who know the story of both the sides.Let them know that it is not always so dirty and there is a national purpose.

However,tinkering with the system can wait till some normalcy and stability returns.But minds can always remain open and working.Discussion and debate in this respect should create consensus which is vital for a sustainable reform effort.

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