The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) is a technical intelligence agency that reports directly to the National Security Advisor in the Indian Prime Minister’s Office. It is fully responsible for geospatial intelligence and satellite imagery to keep a watchful eye and spy for India. Headquartered in Delhi, the organization that was founded in 2004, is currently spearheaded by Anil Dhasmana, the new chief of NTRO.

NTRO also houses,

The National Critical Infrastructure Protection Centre

The agency is created to monitor, intercept and assess threats to crucial infrastructure and other vital installations from intelligence gathered using sensors and platforms which include satellites, underwater buoys, drones, VSAT-terminal locators, and fiber-optic cable nodal tap points.

National Institute of Cryptology Research and Development (NICRD)

Asia’s first cryptology centre.

NTRO follows exactly the same “norms of conduct” as the other two agencies in similar roles – Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).

The Beginning

The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), was originally known as the National Technical Facilities Organisation (NTFO). After the Kargil war in 1999, the Subrahmanyam committee report to the Government of India highlighted India’s weaknesses in intelligence gathering in the national security set up. This led to the founding of the National Technical Facilities Organisation. In October 2001, the directives and the role of NFTO were outlined by Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam when he was the Principal Scientific Adviser.

At that time, a Group of Ministers (GOM) spearheaded by Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani put across their recommendation to the parliament committee for NTFO that would be India’s state-of-the-art technical wing of intelligence gathering. The organization would undertake hi-tech surveillance jobs, including satellite monitoring, terrestrial monitoring, internet monitoring, considered vital for the overall security of the nation in line with Dr. Abdul Kalam’s overall directives.

In 2004, the agency was set up with an estimated investment of INR 700 crores to procure different hi-tech equipment for use.

Current Role of NTRO

Since NTRO’s responsibility increased in a decade, the agency decided to set up a larger facility in Borda village near Bhopal. In September 2013, the Madhya Pradesh government allotted 180 hectares of land to NTRO.

NTRO India’s foremost and highly specialised technical intelligence gathering agency acts as a super-feeder agency for providing technical intelligence to the Defence Ministry and other related agencies regarding India’s internal and external security. It has developed technological capabilities in aviation and remote sensing, data gathering and processing, cybersecurity, cryptology systems, strategic hardware and software development, and strategic monitoring.

Today NTRO is largely tracking the movements of China’s People’s Liberation Army along the Line of Control (LOC) that has seen a recent deployment of soldiers and support elements from both sides. During the lockdown and global pandemic, China’s tactics at the Indian border gathered tremendous criticism from world leaders. While China and India continue to sit across the table having diplomatic talks to resolve the stand-off, NTRO continues to keep an eye on our intrusive neighbors.

Other activities of NTRO
  • In December 2014, NTRO intercepted some classified communication emanating out. On December 31, at around 11 pm a suspicious boat was spotted about 200 km off the coast of Porbandar. When intercepted and chased by the Indian Coast Guard, the occupants of the fishing boat set it on fire and escaped. A disaster may have been averted due to NTROs vigilance.
  • NTRO is a member and works closely with SIGINT Seniors Pacific (SSPAC) a 10-member counter-terrorism team under the US National Security Agency (NSA). 
  • NTRO analyzes data it receives from Technology Experiment Satellite (TES), Cartosat-2A and Cartosat-2B, the two Radar Imaging Satellites called RISAT-1 & RISAT-2.
  • NTRO helps to detect any airborne threats to the nation. Since 2017, NTRO is equipped with Very Long Range Tracking Radar (VLRTR) systems for Missile Monitoring. Its latest Swordfish LRTR has a range of 600 to 800 kms and can spot objects as small as 2 inches in diameter.
  • The NTRO will operate India’s missile tracking ocean surveillance ship VC11184 constructed by Hindustan Shipyard Limited that is currently undergoing sea trials at Vishakhapatnam.
Image credits: DNA
The Controversies

Like other government agencies, NTRO too has had its share of controversies. Few of them include: –

  • On April 29, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown NRTO was accused of not being able to stop or catch several cybercriminals who impersonated officials from health organizations and other government enterprises, to seek donations through malicious e-mail attachments.
  • May 2015, NTRO faced a legal challenge when 47 officers who were their casual staff and removed abruptly without any notice dragged them to court.
  • In April 2013, the Department of electronics and information technology (DeitY) accused NTRO of hacking the network of NIC (National Informatics Center).
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2012, hinted at a procurement scam in NTRO emphasising in its report “noticed lack of transparency and noncompliance of rules, misuse of official position and procedures in procurement of systems, stores, equipment and deficient procurement, resulting in cases of excess payment and wasteful expenditure.”
  • 2011 was far from a good year for NTRO. In 2011, Indian media accused NTRO of financial corruption pointing to its non-utilization of the Israeli UAVs which NTRO had purchased in 2007 with INR 450 crores of taxpayers money. In the same year, The Times of India newspaper carried a story about how an NTRO officer got access to and planted a spy camera, to bug the bathroom of its Director. As though two controversies for the year were not enough when a whistleblower reported that NTRO has tapped 750,000 phones illegally.
  • In 2010, NTRO faced another scandal alleging that it had tapped the phones of four prominent politicians, including one from the ruling party.
Anil Dhasmana appointed as new chief of NTRO. Image credits Hindustan Times
The Head, the Eyes

On September 18, 2020, Anil Dhasmana got re-inducted in government service and is now appointed as Chief of the National Technical Research Organisation. Anil Dhasmana succeeds former Intelligence Bureau chief Satish Jha.

Anil Dhasmana a retired Indian Police Service officer and former chief of India’s external spy agency, R&AW had stepped down from the Research and Analysis Wing in June 2019.

A 1981 batch Indian Police Service officer, he had joined R&AW, India’s external spy agency in 1993 working on the agency’s Pakistan desk and becoming an expert at it. He had even lead the Balakot airstrikes conducted by India on February 26, 2019. After Pakistan-backed terrorists killed 40 CRPF soldiers in the Pulwama car bombing, Anil Dhasmana and his agency played an important role in planning the Indian air force attack to drop bombs in the vicinity of the town of Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan.

Every agency has its ups and downs. But NTRO the eyes that look out for the nation we do hope will be protected and watched over by its head Anil Dhasmana.

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