The entire intelligence apparatus should be moved away from bureaucratic control and intel agency heads should get longer tenures and be selected on the basis of career performance and not just seniority, suggests former R&AW chief Vikram Sood. He feels that it is necessary to have periodic reforms to ensure that the country has the best intelligence apparatus it can afford.
Sood has come up with a new book “The Unending Game: A Former R&AW Chief’s Insights into Espionage” in which he deconstructs the shadowy world of spies, from the Cold War era to the age of global jihad, from surveillance states to psy-war and cyberwarfare, from gathering information to turning it into credible intelligence.
“Prime ministers need to choose their chiefs of intelligence with great care. Past experience, career performance in the R&AW and integrity should be the main guiding factors, and not just seniority,” he says.
“Leaving this decision opaque or simply on the basis of seniority, which is quite an immutable rule in bureaucracy, is not the most suitable way of selecting a successor for an intelligence organisation,” he says.
On the issue of seven officers heading the R&AW between 1990 and 1999, he writes, “This was certainly not the best advertisement for a specialised agency that needs continuity and stability at the top.”
A career intelligence officer for 31 years, Sood retired in March 2003 after heading India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).
The book, published by Penguin Random House India, provides a national and international perspective on gathering external intelligence, its relevance in securing and advancing national interests, and why intelligence is the first playground in the game of nations.
“Heads of intelligence organisations must have longer tenures – five years ideally – the selection should be from within and be based on career performance,” Sood suggests.
He goes on to add that the rest of the bureaucracy will describe his suggestion as blasphemy and the politician will wonder at the idea of leaving a man in charge despite them, not because of them.
“The main argument here is that the entire intelligence apparatus should be moved away from the control and supervision of the traditional bureaucracy, and promotions, career prospects or remunerations should be decided independently,” he writes.
According to Sood, longevity of tenure is a professional requirement and continuation of intelligence chiefs at the will of the executive head is not always a good idea and uncertainty of tenure hardly raises morale.
He is also of the view that a defined and clearly understood charter with legal backing is the starting point of any reform.