Almost seven years after the deadly 26/11 Mumbai attacks, termed as the biggest intelligence failure of the country in recent times, India’s prime internal security agency – Intelligence Bureau — is finally regaining some of its allure.
Information gathered by TOI from reliable sources in the government reveals that young boys and girls, from highly educated backgrounds — MBAs, advocates, IT specialists having qualifications like BE, BTech and MTech, accountants, science graduates and PGs, doctors and even pharma engineers — are joining IB to become “spies”.
Some of them even bid adieu to their better paying careers as they claimed being an IB officer was more exciting and challenging. “A young boy even left his job where he was earning Rs 1.5 lakh per month to become an intelligence officer,” said a top official.
These youngsters, in the age-group of 18 to 27 years, from across states including Nagaland, Manipur, Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka, J&K and others are more forthcoming towards the tough job and have shown great interest in gathering intelligence for national security.
Not just that, a large number of young boys and girls from minorities have signed up lately for the IB.
The new-age spies – boys and a large number of girls as well – are joining the IB as assistant central intelligence officers (ACIOs) Grade-II, a rank equivalent to a sub-inspector in police.
IPS officers make policies for securing the country from any threat emanating from terrorist organizations from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and other countries but ACIOs are the “foot soldiers” who work on the ground, in disguises and in hazardous and conflict zones. They collect secret information daily on possible terror threats, riots and internal strife in a community, or that posed by a union or a group/organization or individual that can be dangerous for the safety of the country.
Explaining that intelligence gathering is one of the toughest jobs, especially in “hard zones” (disturbed/conflict areas), an officer said, “Being a field intelligence officer, ACIO, requires a lot of motivation and skills. At a time when militants are upgrading and new threats are emanating from the cyber world, the IB using age-old methods and people was not working.”
The ACIOs, who are posted in Subsidiary Intelligence Bureaus for two to five years and sometimes even longer, are trained initially for two years in the “tradecraft” of the IB – on how to penetrate a community, how to raise sources and contacts, how to use secret methods of surveillance, using foot surveillance, how to maintain a disguise, how to track a suspect without being caught, how to do counter intelligence and even defuse tensions before they escalate in a particular area. These youngsters also keep a watch on markets, stock prices, commodity prices and even the business community.
“These are the boys and girls who are go-getters for the IB,” said an official. “All they need is a telephone, a tele-printer and a computer and they send their daily reports to their local SIBs and headquarters. They are the eyes and ears of the government,” said the officer.
IB is the most vital arm in India for collecting information and intelligence assessment for the government. Over the years, the situation in IB, as explained by a senior officer who didn’t wish to be named, had become worrisome as “quality intelligence was not being generated” and ACIOs worked in poor conditions. Hence, groups like Indian Mujahideen managed to spread their wings in the last 7-8 years and Pakistan-trained terrorists managed to attack Mumbai via the sea route in 2008, killing many Indians.
The officer went on to say, “Intelligence Bureau’s men on the ground don’t get the kind of facilities Pakistan’s ISI operatives have access to. What was happening for a long time was that IB officers on the ground filed their ‘daily reports’ like a routine with whatever limited information and knowledge they had from their area/sources. Sometimes, the alerts sent to the states were recycled and sufficient verification wasn’t done or there was no coordination at the local SIB (Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau) level,” the officer said.
“The nationalist feeling comes in an ACIO when he/she is treated well,” he said.
However, the new blood has given fresh hopes to the IB even as threats from Islamic terror outfits including Lashkar-e-Toiba, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, al-Qaida, Sikh militants, militants from northeast and internal conflicts including Maoists and even ‘cyber world’ continue to grow.
The new breed has more knowledge about national and international issues, they are better aware of technology, and they read a lot and have command over several languages.
Subsequently, ACIOs now get good pay apart from other facilities. The IB has also started giving opportunity to new ACIOs to be posted in a SIB, which is either in their home state or close to it as being a local, an officer understands the issues and communities better and he/she can mix with locals easily and share ‘daily reports’ more easily.
The ACIOs can reach up to the post of superintendent of police in the IB while serving during their lifetime, which rarely happens in police.
A senior home ministry official confirmed that “the Narendra Modi government has put more focus on better intelligence officers on the ground and providing everything they need so that country has a safe environment”.
Though there is still a massive shortage of intelligence officers in India, efforts are on to woo youngsters to come forward to join the IB, so that it becomes among the best agencies in Asia.
According to a reply in Parliament in 2013 filed by then minister of state for home RPN Singh, there was a shortage of around 8,000 officers in intelligence services of the country.
he had said that IB had 18,795 personnel on its rolls, against a sanctioned strength of 26,867 — a shortfall of over 30%. Senior home ministry officials told TOI that the problem still persists but youngsters are now showing more interest in joining IB.