Intelligence agencies need oversight, accountability: Vice President


New Delhi: Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari Wednesday called for greater “oversight and accountability” in the operations of the country’s intelligence agencies and suggested a standing committee of parliament on intelligence be set up to meet the needs of good governance in a democratic society.

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Delivering the Fourth R.N. Kao Memorial Lecture organised by the Resarch and Intelligence Wing (RAW) of the Cabinet Secretariat, Ansari said although ministerial responsibility to the legislature, and in turn to the electorate, was an essential element of democratic governance, exceptions to it pertained to the “intelligence and security structure of the state”. This had only executive and political oversight.

He said the present system, though accepted for so long, did not “meet the requirements of good governance in an open society” and concerns have been raised over the scope and extent of the political executive’s supervision as also the possibility of misuse of these services.

“The shortcomings of the traditional argument, of leaving intelligence to the oversight of the executive, became evident in the Report of the Kargil Review Committee” that went into the intelligence debacle before the Kargil invasion by Pakistani Army soldiers, Ansari said.

He said given the international models of “calibrated openness to ensure oversight and accountability” in advanced democratic societies, “there is no reason why a democratic system like ours should not have a Standing Committee on Intelligence that could function on the pattern of other Standing Committees (in parliament)”.

Since internal and external intelligence in the Indian system did not report to the same minister, the possibility of entrusting this work to the Standing Committee on Home Affairs may not meet the requirement, the vice president said, throwing open to debate an issue that is likely to find greater resonance in the political and strategic community in the coming months.

Ansari also said that, just like in other democracies like the US and the UK, the “concerned agencies should make public their mission statement, outlining periodically their strategic intent, vision, mission, core values and their goals”.

And, in step with the globalised information architecture, “there is a case for greater openness with regard to the history of intelligence institutions”, Ansari said.

He said the contention that openness and public discussion would compromise the secrecy essential for intelligence needed to re-examined. While operational secrecy was essential in the functioning of the intelligence services and needed to be maintained, it was necessary that these services have “financial and performance accountability” and the proposed Standing Committee “could fill this void”.

“It could also function as a surrogate for public opinion and thus facilitate wider acceptance of the imperatives of a situation,” he said.

Kao, considered the guru of the Indian intelligence community, founded the RAW, the country’s external intelligence agency. He was close to then prime minister Indira Gandhi and was described by a British newspaper after his death in 2002 as a philosopher-spymaster. The Indian intelligence community honours his memory with a lecture every year.