Natgrid CEO, Ashok Patnaik: New Face of Intelligence

Ashok Patnaik National Intelligence Grid Chief

Ashok Patnaik National Intelligence Grid Chief

In an effort to revive the ailing National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), the NDA government has announced the appointment of a new CEO to the intelligence organization on 13 July, 2016. 1983-batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer from Gujarat, Ashok Patnaik has been appointed the new Chief Executive Officer of NATGRID. Patnaik is also the son-in-law of India’s former Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh. The NATGRID is an intelligence agency set up in 2011-12 to collect and track information related to suspected militants and terrorists operating out of Indian soil.

Patnaik is currently serving as Additional Director in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and his appointment is effective from the date he takes charge of the post. He is likely to remain in the post till 31 December, 2018, the date of his retirement on superannuation.

What is NATGRID?

In the wake of increasing terrorist activities in India such as the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the previous UPA government had conceived of the National Intelligence Grid or the NATGRID, a counter-terrorism intelligence agency.  The initial idea was for NATGRID to work as a database, collating information from 21 different sources including government agencies and ministries, bank account details, credit card transactions, travel and visa details,  immigration entry and exit records, call records, and tax records. This data was then to be made available to 11 Central agencies such as the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Enforcement Directorate, Narcotics Control Bureau, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Financial Intelligence Unit, and the Central Board of Direct Taxes.

At the time of its establishment, the NATGRID faced much opposition from a number of political parties including sections of the BJP. The main concern was that the data collected by the NATGRID would be leaked or misused leading up to a breach of privacy. In 2011, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) gave a clearance of INR 3,400 crore for NATGRID but in July 2012 with the exit of home minister P. Chidambaram, the project slowed down.  Currently, there are around 70 personnel working in NATGRID; they are sourced from both the government and private sectors. Since the exit of the previous CEO of NATGRID, Raghu Raman in May 2014, the project was handled by Ashok Prasad (Special Secretary) till january 2016 and by Rajiv Arora (Joint Secretary). Arora’s move from NATGRID in May 2016 is believed to be linked to the government’s aggressive move to revive the project.

In 2015-16, INR 52.94 crore was allocated for NATGRID in the budget that was further revised to INR 16.81 crore, but the budget allocation for NATGRID in 2016-17 stands at INR 45 crore.

Revival Plans

Terror attacks and threats from terrorist outfits such as the ISIS are growing each day and disrupting the peace and security of the people. The Pathankot attack brought our vulnerability to the forefront. Against the backdrop of such major security threats, the NDA government plans to revive the NATGRID project and reinvent it in a new avatar. Apart from collation of data, the NATGRID is now likely to act as a counter terrorism organization by analyzing the data for any suspicious or surreptitious activity by using  technologies like Big Data.  These technologies are used to analyze huge amounts of data and identify patterns. This should also help predict suspected terrorist activity in the country.

Plans include putting in place a slew of safeguards that shall protect the data collected by NATGRID against misuse. The key objective is to transform NATGRID into a program that provides real-time information in case of a terrorist attack.

In the first phase of revitalization, NATGRID will connect 10 user agencies and some 21 service providers.  Later plans for the program include connecting about 950 additional organisations in later phases. In the years to come, over 1,000 organizations will be connected.

Initially, it was estimated that 15,000 police stations across the country would be able to access NATGRID data but with to plug security loopholes this plan has been changed. In future, only a nodal officer from the 11 intelligence and security agencies will be able to access details from NATGRID’s database.

The decision to revive NATGRID and to appoint Patnaik as its chief came after a high-level meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Also present at the meeting were top officials from national security agencies and from the Home Ministry.

More About Ashok Patnaik

Patnaik is a very senior Gujarat cadre IPS officer, who is currently holding the post of Additional Director in the Intelligence Bureau. In 1991, Patnaik got married to Daman Singh, daughter of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In 2007, Patnaik received the President’s Police medal.

Due to his appointment as the NATGRID CEO, Patnaik  is now unlikely to be a candidate for the post of IB Director which comes up for consideration in 2018.