Behind the Fog

When secrecy can harm the very purpose of having an intelligence organization in a State

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Sitting in a café with friends sometimes makes one want to talk of complex global concerns. If for nothing else, then just to sound erudite to the person sitting on the table next to yours. And then there are times when this royally backfires.

So as my friend and I sat discussing intelligence agencies around the world, he mentioned China and that one word brought a hard-stop to the discussion. None of us could name the Chinese intelligence agency. Not that we are encyclopedias and that our not knowing, was a total shocker but still we could recall no mention of it in newspapers or in broadcast news. Anywhere!

I quickly made a run-through of all the intelligence agencies that I could recall- CIA, Mossad, R&AW, ISI but all the mind-palace efforts couldn’t help me stumble on the name. So finally, we pulled out our smartphones to clear the mystery.

-Ministry of State Security.

MSS was formed in 1983 and oversees counter-intelligence, amassing data from around the globe and political security. Not so astonishingly, it can even arrest citizens on violation of state security matters, unlike other intelligence agencies around the globe.

The MSS doesn’t work for the welfare of the people but for the maintenance of the Communist Party’s autocratic rule.

The Chinese name for MSS is Guojia Anquan Bu or GAB and it handles operations for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, spy handling, cyber security technical intelligence and foreign liaison.

During its initial years, Deng Xiaoping didn’t want the MSS to recruit spies but to employ businessmen, journalists who would have a natural existing cover to aid questioning of any sort on the international front. He thought that operating from under the MSS would have more information fall into China’s lap than via a façade of institutions, which would end up raising more eyebrows and investing in cover-ups than actual work.

There is a second civilian intelligence agency called MPS- Ministry of Public Security which supports information security research and engages to a lesser degree in domestic intelligence operations. Military intelligence, on the other hand falls under PLA(People’s Liberation Army).

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Most countries with populations more than 5 million have intelligence agencies asset up. Even Hong Kong had managed to set up a “political department’ to cater to such needs before it was returned to China’s control. But in a county of 1.3 billion such as China, talk of such an organization is taboo and non – existent in mass media conversations or official documents.

How do the citizens perceive the ‘intelligence agency’ which has transformed into ‘secret service’? Many concerned netizens have asked for reforms urgently to ensure transparency and instill a supervising mechanism in place for the Chinese intelligence. But first of all, China needs to officially admit the existence of such agencies which can allow for accountability by people or even relevant government agencies.

It has become a trend for scholars of comparative politics to overlook intelligence agencies as mere components of government information processing units. They miss the crucial role played by them in maintaining state power and in formulating international policies. The matter of policy interventions by an unchecked intelligence community, functioning on certain biases will lead to misguided decisions that can spell disaster for the country.

Taking US’s example, its intelligence agencies moved from “non-existence” to public scrutiny after the1960s, which led to unearthing of many scandals and direct control by the White House and Congress. Now, however damaging, be these scandals, they are atleast proof of the checks in place and reflect on the active-passive state of the agency.

But then yet again, ‘transparency’ in a secret service organization seems incompatible. Doesn’t the nature of the work itself incorporate discretion ? Also, the Snowden leaks have revealed, how little tabs governments can actually place on top intelligence bodies.

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China differs in another aspect — of reporting the information to the government. It does not have an official way of integrated reporting into considered strategic analysis, or the ability to distill assessments into a single holistic view. Chinese intelligence agencies, both military and civilian, also have components that operate at the provincial level, leading to regional differences in their analysis, performance and equipment. With multiple layers between the intelligence sources and China’s leaders, it’s probable that what reaches the top levels has been influenced by multiple procedures and biases, leading to a less reliable finished intelligence product. It’s important to remember that an authoritarian system isn’t necessarily a unified one.

The primary purpose of the MSS today is to be the panopticon in China. In Michel Foucaults’ Discipline and Punish, he mentions the Panopticon to be a circular building with a tower in the middle from where an observer can watch anything and everything – Non-stop surveillance. But for Foucault, panopticism wasn’t an intrusive term but an encouragement to economic productivity and social harmony.

But what he doesn’t take into consideration is what happens when the watchman starts abusing such all prevailing power, which is exactly the case with MSS and MPS today.

Hope China clears the fog.

AFSPA: A boon or bane for Kashmir

It is going to be almost 3 decades now AFSPA has been enforced at Kashmir and till date its very difficult to understand its role in Kashmir.

Ever since the creation of India and Pakistan as independent states took place in August 1947, Kashmir has been a contentious issue. Since Kashmir was a small, princely state to the North of India, under the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh when India and Pakistan got their independence, Kashmir had the option of acceding its territory with either Pakistan or India. But due to the attacks at Kashmir by Pakistani forces and revolutionaries in 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh decided to accede with India to protect his territory. This marked the beginning of a series of clashes between India and Pakistan, which includes four major wars. Kashmir became the primary subject of the conflicts between the two states. Pakistan demanded Kashmir with the fact that most of the Kashmiri population were Muslims. On the other hand, India claimed this territory based on the fact that Maharaja Hari Singh had signed the document to accession with it.
Several battles have fought over and within Kashmir which led to the enactment of the Armed Forces (Special Forces) Act by the Indian Government in 1990. This act granted special powers of the army in “disturbed area.” Such powers allows the army to use force which can result to death, enter suspicious premises, arrest suspicious individuals without any warrant, and also this act provides legal immunity to army officials for their actions.

However, AFSPA has been majorly criticized by many human rights activists. The act fails to describe “disturbed areas.” Then it leads to a huge military crowds in and around Kashmir region. The appearance of so much military personnel hampers the “normalcy” of the region. Most of the time, due to clashes between the Kashmiris and the military the region remains under curfew. Regular curfews created negative externalizes on the population there. Children cant go to school and colleges regularly which leads to illiteracy. Only children from the richer section who can afford to move out of the region can afford to get quality education. Working people cant go to their workplace, local businessmen cant afford to run there businesses properly. All these causes huge economical and social loss for the entire Jammu and Kashmir region. Thousands of young children have grown up, and continue to grow up seeing military personnel all around them. This creates a negative image in their mind. They would feel that they have been cages within some boundaries and they are not and never will be allowed to move out of that line. As a result, organisations like Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front have demanded the freedom of Kashmir from India.afspa2

The biggest criticism of AFSPA, however, has been the Human Rights violations it has led to in Kashmir valley. Numerous concerned people from the Human Right divisions have opposed the state politically, by questioning the militarization of the region and the existence of AFSPA. According to survey reports, 322 people were reportedly detained under the AFSPA between January and October,2010. Human Rights watch alleged that thousands cases of disappearances since 1989. Human Rights Watch also claims that the torture by AFSPA is immense in every part of Jammu and Kashmir. Uncountable numbers of rape cases and molestation have been found. Although hardly a few of these cases were reported because of obvious reasons. It has also been found that militants are frequently executed by the security forces without trials just because they pose a security threat. Case like children of 8 to 12 years were shot dead while playing cricket boils the blood of any Kashmiri to get away with the draconian AFSPA. The Justice Verma committee, in January 2013, stated that AFSPA needs to be revised regarding the protection of women and children in conflict areas.afspa 2

During his six- years tenure of former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah constantly demanded for gradual  withdrawal of AFSPA from peaceful areas of Jammu and Kashmir. But the Indian Army denied his proposals. They even denied to remove AFSPA from places like Srinigar, Budgam and Jammu which can be easily tackled only by the Jammu and Kashmir police. It has been noticed that regarding the AFSPA, the union doesn’t open their mouth much and leave the decision to be taken by the security forces. On the other hand, if we critically think, then is it not quite obvious that the defense would never want AFSPA to be removed form Jammu and Kashmir because due to this draconian law, the defence gets all the control over the region and do whatever they feel like. Since AFSPA has the highest authority, it is understood that they would never want to leave Jammu and Kashmir.

As per my understanding, AFSPA should only be at the Line Of Control region in order to protect the security of the state. The places like Srinagar and others where Kashmiris live should be controlled by J&K police only. This would help India to get back Kashmiris. Indian Government seems to be more bothered about the geographical regions of Jammu and Kashmir while with this draconian law of AFSPA they are losing the people of Kashmir. Lot of Kashmiri don’t believe them to be a part of India and believes in Kashmiri Nationalism. This is the negative externalities of having AFSPA.

Its high time now for the Government to do away with AFSPA and get back the Kashmiris to have all the people of the geographical territory under the same umbrella of Indian nationalism.
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My take on Friedrich Hayek’s scholarly article The Use of Knowledge in Society

Friedrich Hayek is a famous economist and philosopher. He is widely known for his defense of classical liberalism. The Use of Knowledge In Society is one of his best scholarly article which deals with why should we support decentralization of knowledge to run the economy.

This article was first published in the September 1945 issue of The American Economic Review. This article is one of a kind. It ensures to give out the most important learning materials to understand economics. It explains the economic problem as clearly as possible. It emphasizes on the superiority of market economies.

Hayek was highly against establishing a Central Pricing Board. The price fluctuations in the market make it a very dynamic entity. He strongly takes the side of an open economy. He feels open economy is highly efficient. Centrally planned economy will be much lower in terms of efficiency because what one single agent will know will be only a fraction of the knowledge held by the rest of the society. A dispersed society will thus allow the flow of knowledge in the society. Proper allocation of scarce resources can only be done when knowledge is dispersing among many people because no individual or a group of experts is capable of acquiring it all.

Knowledge needs to be decentralized because each one of us has our own personal knowledge which depends upon time and place. Access to planning and control over resources should be given to everyone so that as per situational needs everyone can use it in their way. Unfortunately, major decentralization of powers may lead to imbalance in the social coordination but with the help of economic policies we can sort out this problem.

Simultaneously we can see misconception of economic policies as well because we tend to wrongly interpret economic problem of the society. The planning (allocation of resources) takes place in lack of knowledge and information asymmetry. How do we know that who will possess the best possible knowledge? How do we decide whom to recognize as experts? We tend to give away all the responsibilities in the hands of some specific individuals (whom we like to call as experts) who may not know all the information which can help to solve all the economic problems of the society. As we know every individual has their own needs thus, how can we just predict that one individual or a group of individuals (experts) can sort out everyone’s problems?

We tend to overestimate some peoples’ levels of knowledge where as on the other hand we underestimate the knowledge of most of the people from the society. This creates the misunderstandings of economic problems which further creates misunderstanding in economic policies.

Hayek correctly points out the problem of economic planning. “Planners” tend to come up with long term plans and nobody cares about the short term problems which may arise in various points during the long term planning period. Since the smaller problems remain unnoticed thus it takes big shape which becomes impossible to eradicate from the root at a later stage. With the improvement of technologies the need of economic decisions has decreased but we can never do away with economic decisions. At some or the other point we do need to form and reform our economic policies in order to help the market run at its optimal level.

Therefore I would like to conclude by saying that planning is not a good option to run the economy. Since everyone has knowledge based on time and place thus, decentralization of knowledge is very much necessary to run the economy. The need for the extra knowledge that all individual needs to acquire get reflected in price.

Case of the Missing Apartheid Billions

South Africa’s struggle to get out of the net of corruption and recover what it is owed.

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Swati Sudhakaran is pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Mount Carmel college in collaboration with the Takshashila Institution

Need for a Universal Health Coverage

Challenges for an Universal Health Coverage in India

Swati Sudhakaran@TheMindMap

A new global index to assess the development of countries in meeting their SDG goals has indicated that India ranks 143 among 188 countries in health index. Many Indians may be happy with this because we rank better than Pakistan and Bangladesh, but we are, in fact, placed below countries like Syria, Iraq and Ghana.

If the aim was to turn the healthcare into an export sector to advance medical tourism, we have succeeded with our 5 star hospitals and cost effective treatment to people.The medical tourism industry according to the Confederation of Indian Industries is at $3 billion as of October 2015 and is expected to touch $7-8 billion by the end of 2020.

But Universal Health Coverage (UHC) still eludes Indians. The BJP, in its manifesto, had promised health assurance to all Indians and vowed to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure on healthcare. Presently, the government spends on average Rs 4,895 per year on every person covered under CGHS (who are a few million), while the average public spending for the health of all Indians (who are some 1,250 million) is about a fifth of that. Policymakers need to get out of the scandalous selective choosing of whom to cover and hence should actively push for a UHC.

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India’s public expenditure on health at 1.4 per cent of the GDP is one of the lowest among the SEARO countries, with Myanmar being the only exception. It is also the lowest among the BRICS countries.

Governments of UK and Thailand have successfully implemented UHC with both its underlying characteristics- good quality healthcare and of not exposing citizens to financial strains during treatment.

WHO recommendation of one doctor for one thousand people, we have one doctor for 1450 people. With this ratio, nearly a quarter of the posts are lying vacant and the situation is all the more severe in rural areas which have a deficit of six lakh doctors. The doctor population ratio in rural India is about 1:3200. The situation here, is worse than Vietnam and African countries like Algeria.

India is among the 194 countries that are aiming to attain Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030 under the commitment to attain Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The state of healthcare has deteriorated to the extent that one serious illness in a middle class family can push it below the poverty line. Poverty caused by medical expenditure is increasing significantly in both urban and rural India. Recently, there was a news report that in Mumbai, an individual may have to spend two years of his family’s annual income for treating a disease like TB.

The country at present suffers from the triple burden of disease — the unfinished agenda of infectious diseases; the challenge of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), linked with lifestyle changes; and emergence of new pathogens causing epidemics and pandemics.

Nearly 60 per cent of the total health expenditure is incurred by patients directly for which there is no provision for reimbursement or insurance. It shows that it is imperative for India to have a well-designed health insurance scheme which will act as a safety net for these people. The formulation of relevant healthcare policies with effective tools for implementation and monitoring are the need of the hour. We are losing six per cent of our GDP to preventable illness and premature deaths.

WHO has designed a Universal Health Coverage Profile for member countries entailing four parameters of assessment.

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The first parameter is reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health. According to data from the Health Ministry, India loses over 44,000 women to pregnancy-related complications every year, which means one woman dies every 12 minutes for want of care.

The second parameter is the country performance on tackling infectious diseases. Only 39.5 per cent of the population has access to improved sanitation.  Only 41.4 per cent population seeks tuberculosis detection and treatment facilities while 44 per cent population is covered under HIV detection and treatment facilities.

The third factor is the burden of non-communicable diseases. About 30 per cent Indians have high blood pressure. Lifestyle diseases are cropping up faster than usual, spiking the numbers.

The fourth component of the assessment includes basic hospital access, density of health workers, access to essential medicines, and compliance with international health regulations. India has only six hospital beds per lakh and close to two surgeons per lakh population.

Data or rather accurate data is a source of empowerment. On 12th December, i.e. Universal Health Coverage day as commemorated by WHO, a data portal system was launched to keep a track of the progress towards UHC and also to indicate the points at which countries needed improvement.

It is important for policymakers to address how the spending needs to be done on universal healthcare rather than how much.

Swati Sudhakaran is currently pursuing Masters in Public Policy in Mount Carmel College in collaboration with the Takshashila Institution.

IoT’s LaLa land

The Internet of Things is changing the way we live- One Device at A Time.

Swati Sudhakaran@TheMindMap

Technology and magic are similar in a lot of ways. Not a whole lot of people understand them but most people are amazed by what they manage to achieve.

But people wish upon technology or magic to make life easier for them and that’s exactly what the ‘Internet of Things’ aims on doing. The phenomenon of the Internet of Things is already here but a massive paradigm shift in the way we live is about to hit us in less than a decade. Are we ready?

What is IoT ?

The Internet of Things lives by the rule that everything that can be connected, should be connected; from pace-makers, automobiles, alarm clocks to one’s toasters.

But IoT is much more than the hardware- the beacons, wearables, connected machinery and infrastructure; and the software- cloud, protocols, augmented reality, that facilitate its functioning. It’s the ability to add a sensor and connectivity and hence attach a data stream to any object, systems or a network of systems.

 

In healthcare industry, for example, insulin pumps and blood-pressure cuffs that connect to a mobile app can enable people to record, track, and monitor their own vital signs, without having to go to a doctor’s office. IoT encourages people into healthcare and engages them into self-monitoring and regulation which leads to better disease management and substantial financial savings for the patient.

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Ultimately, the user wants to automate his environment according to his adjusted settings that allow maximum productivity to get work done without his intervention. This stands to be the main idea behind a lot of the new ‘smart’ devices and infrastructure around us today.

IoT In India

  • With the major themes this year being Smart Cities, Smart Classes, Smart Homes, ubiquitous broadband etc., IoT was bound to gain traction.
  • The entire market of IoT is expected to grow to $15 billion by the year 2020 from the present $5.6 billion due to the push from the industrial IoT sector, as reported by NASSCOM.
  • CISCO Investments has already backed a lot of IoT accelerators and startups like Ayla Networks and EVRYTHNG.
  • Bolt, a start-up based in Goa, enables enterprises to build scalable IoT products in just a day’s time. It is basically connecting users to the IoT platform providing both the hardware and the cloud services. They help firms create personalized dashboards to visualize data, monitor device health, send text alerts etc. In all developers just have to focus on the end product, leaving visualization, analytics, network connectivity, storage and scalability to Bolt.
  • One of the biggest boons of IoT in India is energy conservation and its implementation in agriculture. SmartAgri built by scientists at CERN allows farmers to get colour coded messages via the cloud on their mobiles regarding moisture content, pH levels and mineral content in the soil.

 

Control, Privacy and Security

We have to be ready for a flood of data and services to take over life as we know it. At the foundational core of the IoT is the embedding processes which are going to be pervasive and so ensuring that they are secure will be one of our top priorities in the future.

Up until the age of IoT, our relationship with the Internet was autonomous, consensual and optional. It revolved around us switching on and off our smartphones, laptops and iPads at our will and walking away from the cloud( as much as we could). Adding sensors to ‘things’ also puts them into a zone of vulnerability where they are prone to getting hacked. A team of researchers at Microsoft and the University of Michigan recently found a plethora of holes in the security of Samsung’s SmartThings smart home platform, and the methods were far from complex.

Control of ownership when it comes to data is complex. With sensors now tracking our actions on the devices connected, they monitor and rate the level of control we exert and also cause changes in the nature of our relationship with the device.

The 2015 Icontrol State of the Smart Home study found that 44% of all Americans were “very concerned” about the possibility of their information getting stolen from their smart homes, and 27% were “somewhat concerned.”

IoTs will leave us wanting a more protected environment but getting a full-proof immunity may well be impossible given the penetration of IoT in the near future.

IoT is on the prowl to disrupt and revolutionalise life at work and at home to connect devices rather than individuals, at a larger platform.

 

BOOK REVIEW: IMPERIUM by ROBERT HARRIS

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A history text book turned into a fiction would grab attention of any reader. Harris has done a great job in accounting the historical facts and creating a historical fiction – Imperium. Imperium is a book which captures the political and judiciary scenario which prevailed in the Ancient Rome.

IMPERIUM, the title of the book gives us a gist of the situation prevailing in Ancient Rome. Imperium implies OFFICIAL, POLITICAL POWER which is vested by the state in an individual. The greed, the need to achieve the POWER is shown through different characters. Imperium is the fictional biography of Cicero told through first person narrative, Tiro.

The main characters in the book include – Cicero, Tiro, Crassus, Lucius, Sergius Catilina, Verres, Pompey, and Hortensius. The protagonists of the book are Cicero and Tiro. The Antagonists are Verres and Catilina.  The book is divided into two sections- Senator and Praetor.

Imperium takes a form of memoir. Tiro, a shy intelligent, bookish slave writes and narrates the story. He is also known to be the inventor of the shorthand writing or precisely saying a Stenographer. Tiro was assigned with the task of taking down his speech poetry, literary works and his letters. He was praised by everyone because of his flawless accuracy in capturing the narration of his master. On one occasion, he was invited into Pompey’s conference to take down the proceedings of the conference.

But this was not the limit of Tiro’s status ,for he was the slave and confidential secretary of the Roman statesman , the person who reveals himself to us in all his manifold contradictions, an author himself, an ambitious man with brilliancy attached to his crown, his blindness and his vulnerability, it is none other than our protagonist: MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO.

Cicero was a greater orator, a celebrated lawyer and a Roman statesman who had a high ambition of gaining the highest political power, that is, the consulship. The story which is narrated in the eyes of a confidante, Tiro has given a close exposure of the character of Cicero. He recounts Cicero’s ascent into the consulship, politics. He fought against all the insurmountable odds in order to reach his power. The best part of Cicero was that though Tiro was a slave, he was never treated indifferent from other members of the family.

Cicero, unlike the other aristocrats of his time, was a parvenu, who didn’t have a family tradition of imperium to rise to the power. His only strength and spell-bounding power was his oratory skills. It was the oratory skills that raised him to the consulship and this journey is what Harris has used as his narrative.

The interesting part for me is that the book concentrates and briefly explains the major events in Cicero’s life. It starts from the beginning of his training to become an orator. It starts with a brief explanation of his excursion to the East to learn philosophy and oratory from the famous Apollonius Molon in Rhodes and ends at him achieving his desire of becoming consulship.

The prosecution of Verres is described as major turning event. This is a case where Cicero uses his wit and strategy to achieve what he had in his mind. This event was when he had shortened his speech and directly dealt with the victims. This is the case where he shamed the senate body using his oratory skills. This is the case where evidences were given importance than long speeches which would go on for days together.

Though years have passed, his speech made during this case still has an eerie relevance in the present world – “A belief has become established – as harmful to the Republic as it is to yourselves- that these courts, with you senators as the jury, will never convict any man, however guilty, if he has sufficient money.” Not only these words, there are many such speeches, words of Cicero which Tiro has accounted which will engulf the readers mind with questions about its relevance to the present generation.

Cicero character also reflects a grey shade about his character- his insecurity. In the book, the reader might notice this when he once writes to his friend Atticus about how he anxiously wondered what people would be saying about him in a thousand years’ time.

My favourite character in this book was Tiro and Cicero. Tiro, because of the way he has given importance to the structure and beauty of each and every character and describing all the incidents which is of trivial matter. His memory and his writing skills must be appreciated. Cicero for his wit and the way he handles the situation is commendable. He has shown that an orator need not give boring speeches all the time. He has shown that sometimes a sense of sarcasm mixed with humour can grab attention at its best.

The strange relationships highlighted in the book, a reader can look out for are:

Cicero- Tiro, a relationship beyond a master and a slave.

Terentia – Cicero, a relationship of Husband and Wife with love filled with dominance.

Tullis- Cicero, A beautiful bond of Father and a daughter.

Pompey- Cicero, a relationship which looks like a friendship, but is built out of disdain and necessity.

Quintus-Cicero-Lucius, a relationship which celebrates brotherhood and a strong bond with three different characters.

The book has engrossed an idea of the Roman Republic. It also shows the dwindling of Roman Republic to the hands of Despotism. Thus the Roman Empire begins.

Robert Harris, a British Novelist, has captured the Roman republic at its best, including its Political system, Judiciary system, the need of power and its relevance in Today’s world. It’s a must read for all the Historical Fiction admirers. Imperium is also the first book of the trilogy which surrounds the life of Cicero. The sequel book is Lustrum.