China’s Intrusions at LAC, 20 Soldiers Dead: Intelligence Deficit?

·4-min read

Are intelligence failures to be blamed for the multiple incursions that have been made by the Chinese Army across the Line of Actual Control?

In Ladakh, at Depsang, Galwan Valley, Pangong Lake, even in Arunachal Pradesh, multiple intrusions, take-over of land on India's side of the LAC, building of permanent posts, bringing in of heavy weapons, etc, has been reported.

Is there an intelligence deficit at the LAC? Does intelligence not reach our forces at the border? Or is credible intelligence ignore back in Delhi?

Was the fierce clash between Indian and Chinese forces at the Galwan Valley, which left 20 Indian soldiers dead, a result of intelligence failure?

We decided to speak to multiple retired Defence and Intelligence Bureau officials about how intelligence is gathered in India’s security system – between agencies, defence forces and government departments with a special focus on India’s borders with China.

GATHERING 'INTEL' FROM GROUND & SPACE

Here is what we found out -

Facing the Chinese Army or PLA at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is the responsibility of the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), as well as the Indian Army. At some points, while the ITBP mans the forward posts, the Army maintains posts and camps a few kilometres behind them.

Both, ITBP and Army personnel collect human intelligence at the LAC, that is, intelligence gathering through physical surveillance as well as through a network of informers.

Intelligence Bureau officials are also deployed at the LAC to gather intelligence and information.

Intelligence is also gathered via aerial surveillance, via the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

NTRO generally uses drones to collect images while ISRO uses satellites to click images. ISRO has satellites ear-marked for gathering defence related intelligence.

While NTRO has their own experts to analyse drone images, ISRO focuses only on collecting images and passing them on to Military Intelligence.

It is the task of the Defence Image Processing & Analysis Centre (DIPAC) to analyse satellite images. DIPAC passes its analysis to Army Headquarters.

Since multiple satellite images can be recorded every second, every minute, DIPAC or the military intelligence is required to specify the location and time period that ISRO’s satellites need to focus on.

For instance – images of PLA activity around the LAC at the Galwan Valley.

So, as you can see, an astonishing volume of information is gathered through multiple sources. The next key step is assessing the intelligence coming in, checking if the satellite information matches human intelligence coming in from the same areas and then deciding which intelligence is critical in terms of national security and needs close attention.

The Key - NSCS & JIC

Various intelligence agencies and security forces report to different ministries. For example - while ITBP, and Intelligence Bureau report to the Ministry of Home Affairs, DIPAC and Army intelligence come under the Ministry of Defence.

So, for smooth information sharing between different ministries and agencies all information is pooled together by the National Security Council Secretariat for the Joint Intelligence Committee or JIC meeting.

The JIC meets every fortnight and the heads or seniors of all agencies attend - IB, R&AW, the Directorates of Military, Naval and Air Intelligence, ITBP, DIPAC, CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), ED (Enforcement Directorate), DRI (Directorate of Revenue Intelligence), NIA (National Investigation Agency), BSF (Border Security Force), CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force), SSB (Sashastra Seema Bal) etc.

Each department is given time to present its intelligence inputs at the JIC meeting. The Deputy National Security Advisor heads the JIC meeting. His team collates all the intel from the meeting and shares with the National Security Advisor or NSA. The NSA then briefs the Prime Minister.

Just as intelligence flows from the ground up to the PM, once decisions are taken, information and instructions also flow the other way.

First the NSA briefs the concerned Minister. For instance in case of the LAC, the NSA would brief the Minister of Defence, who would speak to the Defence Secretary and the Indian Army Chief about action to be taken or recommended.

So, now that we understand how intelligence flows… we can ask the right questions -

  • Was human intel and satellite images of PLA activity at the LAC shared with proper analysis and perspective at the JIC?

  • Were satellite images properly analysed by DIPAC experts and passed on to the higher ups?

  • Were satellite images of a PLA tent at Patrol Point 14 prior to 15th May, or images of fresh PLA activity at the same point after 16th May interpreted as threats by the experts at DIPAC?

  • Did DIPAC and Army Intelligence raise an alarm about developments at multiple points on the LAC at various JIC meetings?

According to defence and intelligence experts that The Quint spoke to – when human intelligence is corroborated by technology, it is fully reliable.

So, if intelligence inputs, including detailed satellite images about PLA incursions were tabled at repeated JIC meetings, did we fail to perceive it as a threat?

Or was no action taken due to lack of political will?

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