Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Interpretation of maladies of military intelligence in India


To hold that it is right for a major to haul a 12-year-old out of his home, lock up his parents and proceed to beat up and kill the boy in cold blood goes against all principles of natural justice and democratic accountability.”
 CBI verdict in an abduction case against Army officials in Manipur

Recently, 300 serving Army personnel moved the Supreme Court against “persecution” by the court and civilian agencies such as CBI for fulfilling their duties in the insurgency-hit areas of Jammu and Kashmir and north-eastern States.  According to the petition “the manner in which the ongoing inquiry is being forced to be speeded up by the court” reflected the “extremely vulnerable state for the officers and troops engaged in these operations.” The officers felt that “the extraordinary circumstances in which their colleagues are being persecuted and prosecuted for carrying out their bona fide duties, without making any distinction with regard to act having been done in good faith, without any criminal intent” compelled them to approach the court.


Very often, the future of a nation and its countrymen depends on the success of its intelligence. According to Sun Tzu good intelligence in peacetime is as much a part of national defense as an army on the march in war. In fact, he went on to call the capital spent on cultivating his sources as an investment and insurance policy against having to spend a volume of national treasure if or when war broke out. It has been proven time and again that what a spy can achieve not even a Google can think of achieving. Although the groundwork done in finding the sources, cultivating them and being able to convert their information into real time intelligence remains at the backstage and never appears in front of the common man; the failures of intelligence operations, spies turning rogues and so on definitely manage to grab the limelight. So, sometimes, the job of a military intelligence operator can become difficult and take its toll on the operator’s persona and career. Not all that is part of a spy’s life is as glamorous as shown in the James Bond movies.
Especially in the Indian military context, it has been a much envied profession as the path of career progression for the gentlemen of the Intelligence branch has always been brighter than others. But sadly, the branch seems to have become a victim of its own fore “knowledge”.


In his article in a daily newspaper, Manoj Joshi says “Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld says that the most successful counterinsurgency campaign of recent times was the one conducted by the British in Northern Ireland. Its key, he says, was “self-restraint”: The forces stayed within the bounds of law, avoided torture, illegal killings and arbitrary punishment and took heavier casualties than the militants. He has contrasted this with lack of restraint and consequent failure of the Israeli military in dealing with the Palestinians.”

As in Israel, it would seem that the long insurgency is taking a toll in India as well, not only in terms of men, but morale and attitudes. The leaderships seem to have lost their moral compass, and the effect has travelled down the line.

Role of Intelligence Units in Army

One of the intelligence formations named Counter Intelligence and Surveillance Units are spread across the country for carrying out the primary role of defensive counter intelligence operations inside the country. These operations would basically cover operations related to counter espionage, subversion and sabotage. One of the most important fact to be kept in mind while discussing such operations is that they are supposed to be covert in nature and most often involve actions on part of the HUMINT operators which are generally not covered under any legal rules and regulations. This means, such operations are not to be brought out in public domain as their leaking out would compromise the security and sovereignty of the country. As a corollary, one can also say that the very fact that the operations are carried out by units such as CISU determine them to be not ghastly but in nation’s interest.

Unfortunately, the recent Supreme Court verdicts and facts coming out about the 3 CISU in the North-eastern states has once again thrown light on the Intelligence operations gone wrong in Indian Army. The very fact that these operations have been mentioned in the affidavit filed by one of the earlier CISU officer makes it pertinent to understand the nature of these operations and the changing role of CISU units in Indian Army. When one takes a closer look at these operations they appear to be botched up operations.  

Let's take a brief glimpse at the happenings in the chronological order:

It all started with the recovery of the bodies of three Manipuri men named Phijam Naobi, R K Ranel and Th. Prem who were reportedly picked up from Dimapur town in Nagaland in 2010. These bodies were recovered from the jungle just across the Nagaland border in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district with tell-tale signs of severe torture on their bodies, including nails driven into their skulls.

February 23, 2010
S Chaoba,resident of Sagolband Thangjam Leikai, father of a Manipuri student Thangjam Satish Singh studying in Shillong files a case with DGP Manipur about the mysterious disappearance of his son from his rented house in Shillong. Family members strongly speculate the disappearance of Satish to be linked to the two girls whose tickets were found in his room.

 September 08, 2011
The Imphal Bench of the Guwahati High Court has directed the Govts. of Manipur and Nagaland to respond at the earliest on the writ petition filed regarding the disappearance of assistant publicity secretary of the proscribed RPF/PLA. The wife of the PLA leader filed the writ petition only after she had already paid an amount of 20,000 each in four different transactions and still did not get her husband released. It was further claimed in the affidavit filed by Lt Col Dharam Veer that the same leader named G. Jiteshwar alias Gypsy was picked up from Dimapur, killed and buried behind the unit’s mess. The convenor of Joint Action Committee S Tamphamani clearly expressed her anger and disgust on the inaction of the DGP, Manipur and exclaimed that “GM Changjou should not be viewed as only a leader of the banned RPF/PLA. He is first a human being with a family to look after…”

 December 28, 2011
3 CISU alleged to be involved in a dacoity at the house of an MES contractor located at Jorhat. A team of officers and jawans, alleged to have physically assaulted the female family members of the contractor and looted cash and other expensive items from the house.

 July 07, 2018
Ranju Singh, wife of Lt Col Dharamvir Singh lodges a complaint with the police against two Army officers who had allegedly kidnapped Singh. The Manipur High Court directs GOC 3 Corps to produce the lady’s husband before the court at the earliest.
The Army promptly issued a rebuttal claiming the officer was only being escorted back to his original post at Dimapur as his temporary assignment at Imphal had ended. The rebuttal also charged the officer to have brought his family along to his post without prior permission from his superiors.

When her husband still did not show up, she filed a Habeas Corpus writ with the Manipur High Court and upon the court’s directions, Col Dharam Veer was produced on July, 11. Accompanying him were the same officers who had arrested him without warrant: Lt Col Nanda and Maj Rathod. She later also said that her husband was tortured during detention.

July 28, 2018
Col Dharam Veer Singh’s wife files an affidavit on behalf of her husband claiming the CO, officers and jawans of 3 CISU to be involved in looting, robbery, kidnapping, extortion and killing of innocent civilians just for gold. To cite some important aspects from his affidavit: “Slitting of throat after picking up top businessmen from Assam and Manipur was a trend. After killing the bodies were thrown into the Gholaghat jungles.” Kidnapping and then looting money through ATMs was a routine practice. In a specific case, he cited that “a woman and child were kidnapped and kept captive in the mess location and around 1 crore was demanded from the family for their release. Out of the total, 40 lakhs were handed over to NSCN (IM) and 60 lakhs were distributed amongst the team.

 August 01, 2018
A veteran journalist-activist Yambem Laba came in the possession of a letter signed by Col Sreekumar of 3CISU dated June 30, 2010 which is a kind of citation letter recommending a Captain under his command, for a Sena Medal for busting a terrorist ring, apprehending and killing three of them. The names of the killed persons matched that of those killed and thrown in the Karbi Anglong jungle sometime back.

August 05, 2018
 A meeting attended by approximately 30 civil rights groups was held at Manipur where people came out on roads in loud protest of the cold-blooded murders of young Manipuri boy and the PLA officials by Army personnel of a unit called 3 CISU. They submitted a petition to the Hon’ Chief Minister asking for the return of mortal remains of the young Manipuri boy and others to perform last rites as per their customs. They also demanded a CBI inquiry into the reasons and the situations governing these cold-blooded murders.

Interpretation of Maladies of CISU

In traditional intelligence parlance, the main triggers for people turning into human spies are something defined by the acronym of MICE which stands for: MONEY, IDEOLOGY, COERCION and EGO. But it seems the same manpower trained to indoctrinate people based on MICE have become the victims of MICE.
1.     It is very clear from the open source information presented above that the operations had nothing to do with intelligence of national interest as the modus operandi used by the officers defies even the unwritten yet accepted norms of covert Counter-Intelligence operations. The operations seem to be carried out in a very open, brash and rudimentary fashion where no efforts were taken to conceal the identities of the personnel carrying out these operations. This is clear from the statements of the family members and on-lookers in cases related to the abduction of the Manipuri boy, Satish and ‘Gypsy”.
2.     There seems to be an involvement of a varied range of Army personnel involved in these operations with respect to their experience in service. From the facts available in the public domain and the various legal documents, it is evident that officers and jawans with different years of service in Intelligence were involved in these operations; for instance, some of them had just 2-4 years of service while the others were more experienced with nearly 15-18 years of service. Also, the operations were carried out in the north-eastern states of the country.

These inferences point out to certain more serious deliberations which Indian Army needs to do to find out answers to?
1.     Are these operations the result of a group of personnel who were working together at the same time under the same leadership for long?
2.     Has the Intelligence branch started to indulge in corrupt practices such as abduction, extortion and cold-blooded murder in the name of covert operations?
3.     Is the military intelligence leadership aware of this growing malaise in the intelligence fraternity? Or is there any role of the leadership in these operations?
4.     In the absence of real counter intelligence, has accumulation of monetary assets become the real purpose of all intelligence operations?

Consequences on Indian Army Personnel
1.     Political and personal aspirations especially related to accumulation of wealth and post retirement diplomatic assignments seem to be more influential triggers than honour, honesty and integrity.
2.     The faith in the in-house Justice mechanism of Indian Army is shaking due to the subjective treatment of matters related to officers and units engaged in Intelligence operations. While at times, officers are straightaway subjected to custody and torture by civilian authorities; at other times, even CBI is denied inquiries stating concurrent jurisdiction methods.
3.     The tendency of being supreme authority/beyond all rules vis-à-vis their civilian counterparts amongst the serving officers posted to insurgency-hit areas is growing alarmingly. The increased use of social media groups and exposure given by electronic media has further added to overrule the honourable options given within the organisation for Redressal of grievances.
4.     Corruption seems to be seeping into the Military Intelligence as another way of proving your worth to the organisation. Personnel deployed on Intelligence duties seem to be chosen for special assignments based on their nuisance value rather than genuine professional capabilities.

Concluding thoughts

“Honour is prized as a special military virtue, but clearly there is no honour in committing or shielding illegal acts such as murder, abduction and rape. Morale is best served when the military sets and maintains high moral standards, not when it condones illegal actions.” 
Manoj Joshi

References taken from:

A counter-insurgency op gone rogue? Pradip Phanjoubam Editor Imphal Free Press;
Writ Petition filed by Smt Gurumayum (O) Radha Devi and Another vs UOI;
Affidavit filed by Mrs Ranju Singh w/o Lt Col Dharam Veer Singh
Articles on the matter in daily newspapers namely The Hindu, The Indian Express and The Economic Times
Articles available on social media