Proposed National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) on hold ?

United Progressive Alliance is progressing towards the having Unique Identification Number for citizens and networking 21 available databases across government and private agencies to 'flag potential terrorist threats.' It is claimed that in less than two years, these databases will be linked to enable security and intelligence agencies get any information at the press of a button under the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID). NATGRID is a plan of P Chidambaram, Home Minister.

On February 14, 2010, The Hindu reported a discussion at a Cabinet Committee on Security meeting on the NATGRID proposal where “some Ministers raised queries about safeguards and said there was a need for further study.” There were concerns about privacy and potential misuse of information for political ends. “Highly placed sources,” it was reported, “said the main objections raised at the meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, revolved around the need to put in place a more elaborate safety mechanism for upholding the privacy of citizens. But discussions veered around to the political scenario in which a UPA regime might no longer be in power and in which the informational opportunities provided by NATGRID could possibly be misused by another ruling party.” That meeting ended inconclusively, asking that further consultations be held before deciding whether to go ahead with the proposal or not.

Only 11 selected government agencies will be able to access the grid and a special mechanism will prevent any leakage of data. As such, the raw data will reside with the provider agencies and will be readily available to NATGRID, as it will only take abstracted and approved subsets of information from the original databases.

The 11 agencies who will have access to the database include the Intelligence Bureau, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Military Intelligence, Revenue Intelligence, National Intelligence Agency and National Security Council. Personnel from these agencies will be work with NATGRID to liaison with their parent organisations and guide them in usage of the data generated.

The NATGRID is headed by 43-year old Captain Raghu Raman who has been hired on a 18 month contract and enjoys the perks of a joint secretary. NATGRID has a total workforce of 290, including 98 'outside consultants,' who have all been identified by the CEO.

The first phase is limited to linking up only the databases that are available with the Centre, besides those of one or two state entities as a concurrent pilot project. The first phase is limited to the data already accessible through the current procedures.

It is the second phase of networking that will provide NATGRID with the analytical capability to cross-link different pieces of information and flag "tripwires" that indicate some unlawful or terrorist activity is in progress or likely to take place. In this phase and onwards, NATGRID will recommend improvements of the databases and development of unconventional but highly valuable data sources like visitor records of jails and checking sales of fertilizer,which can be used to make improvised explosives.

The telecom and internet service providers will be mandated by regulations to compulsorily link up their databases with NATGRID. The databases so far identified for being linked in the grid include those of rail and air travel, phone calls, bank accounts, credit card transactions, passport and visa records, PAN cards, land and property records, automobile ownership and driving licences.

Raman was specially picked up to head NATGRID to impart professionalism. He brings added advantage of expertise in weapons, armament, missiles and armed warfare and commando operations. Raman is also trained in hacking and competitive intelligence.

National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) functioning under the National Security Adviser was already coordinating and collating inputs available with various security and intelligence agencies but the Home Ministry clarified that NSCS is only a policy making body and may use the databases interlinked by NATGRID while the latter will be actually developing and maintaining grid and associated applications to ensure smooth information search and retrieval over a range of databases with a focus on terrorist activities.

NATGRID appears to be a duplication of National Technical Research Organisation's (NTRO) work. The NTRO was setup under the NSA to augment the technical intelligence capabilities of the country, with huge budget, manpower and technical resources. The NTRO was set up for cyber security, crypto systems, strategic hardware and software development, strategic monitoring, data gathering and processing and aviation and remote sensing.

But the Home Ministry pointed out that NTRO's main role was that of technical interception, whereas NATGRID's role is that of connectivity and retrieval of information.

Raman has been entrusted to establish the grid by May 2011 when the project is expected to be fully implemented, official sources in the Home Ministry said.

During his 10 year stint with the forces he spent time battling counter-insurgency in Punjab, leading troops in active operations in Siachen Glacier, as a UN Peace Keeper in Angola and finally as an instructor teaching tactics and leadership to young officers in the School of Armored Warfare.

In 1998 he left the Army and joined the Mahindra United World College with a specific project responsibility of setting up the IT Infrastructure including the hugely ambitious Internet Connectivitylink. At that point, this link was considered to be far ahead of its time in the education world and had the distinction of being one of the longest microwave connectivity’s.

In addition to his training in the Military College of Telecommunication Engineering, Raman has been trained in hacking in Foundstone, in Competitive Intelligence in the US, and other strategic programs in ISB and IIM.

Raman has been a speaker and trainer in RSA (Singapore), ISB, MDI and is considered an authority on information risk management and counter-intelligence.

In the Report Card of Ministry of Home Affairs for 30 October, 2009, Chidambaram said, "Raghu Raman has been appointed as Chief Executive Officer to implement the NATGRID project. He was in the private sector and has agreed to accept this assignment until May 2011 when the project is expected to be fully implemented."

Source: news agencies

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