Raw intelligence

Published : Jan 04, 2008 00:00 IST

On books that start a serious discussion on intelligence services.

THESE three books by officers of distinction should serve to initiate serious discussion on the intelligence services. Obsessed with secrecy, the services try to cover ineptitude with repression. Maj. General V.K. Singh (retired) and his publishers were subjected to harassment in the form of raids on their respective premises because his book exposed some gross cases of ineptitude in detail. To cite the worst of them, the case of the VHF/UHF Antennae and Rabindra SinghR 17;s escape well after he had aroused suspicion. The author served the Army for 35 years before joining the Research and Analysis Wing.

He makes two important points. Intelligence is a tool, or an input that is required by the countrys policy makers and planners to further her global and regional interests. A career diplomat is not always the best person to decide the nations foreign policy, and neither is an economist best suited to formulate economic policies. Then why should we leave it to the heads of I.B. [Intelligence Bureau] and RAW to decide on the intelligence needs of the nation? Should not the peoples representatives, sitting in Parliament, have a say in it? This is only partly correct. The say should be limited to matters of policy.

The two premier intelligence agencies in India are the IB and RAW, looking after internal and external intelligence respectively. Both function more or less independently, without any curbs or supervision. Coming under the Ministry of Home Affairs, the IB has a modicum of ministerial control. RAW does not even have this fig leaf of restraint to curb its activities. There is no doubt that RAW and IB, like intelligence agencies anywhere else, must work under the direct control of Executive. The same is true for other organisations such as the Armed Forces, which are tasked with safeguarding the nations borders and the lives of its citizens. But the Chiefs of the three Services do not decide when to go to war, or which country to attack. This is the prerogative of the government, which is in turn answerable to the people, through Parliament. Is it not strange that our intelligence agencies are exempted from such controls, which even the Armed Forces are subservient to? If war is too serious a business to be left to generals, should not intelligence be considered too serious a business to be left to spies?

One wonders why after a distinguished career in the I.B. and as Deputy and, later, head of RAW Sankaran Nair decided to write his memoir 20 years after retirement. It is full of trivia. Sankaran Nair offloads slights and grudges accumulated in service. Petty incidents are narrated tastelessly. It is bad enough to make Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul a full General and misspell the legendary Gen. K. Thimayyas name as Thimmiah. He ought to know that Krishna Menon never served as Foreign Minister, nor was he elected as a Labour MP to the British Parliament.

Lack of candour compounds trivia and factual errors. It is not honest to write that RAW was in close touch with the freedom fighters known as the Mukti Bahini and Mujbur Rehman. Everyone knows that it was a RAW creation and Sankaran Nair played a crucial role in that. Asoka Rainas book Inside RAW published in 1980 records the details now known to all (Chapter 6). Sankaran Nair was involved in the affair since 1962-63 as Colonel Menon. His account of meeting Wali Khan also confirms Rainas version. Reportedly (believed), Prime Minister Morarji Desai ordered Sankaran Nair to cut down the support drastically. Thus ended another RAW operative. He found it horrifying that India had been supporting a political group in a Third Country (Pakistan).

Sankaran Nairs book is devoid of any worth or serious purpose Ramans is rich in both. Highly respected for his integrity and competence, he writes with serious purpose, which compels respect even if one disagrees with his political assessments. The media do little service by retailing the sensational bits of such books. The book covers a wide canvas Bangladesh, northeastern India, Punjab, Sri Lanka and terrorism and has interesting pen portraits of some leaders.Some disclosures deserve note. L.K. Advani, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader, who kept meeting [Narasimha] Rao at the latters request for discussions, was assuring him that there would be no damage to the (Babri) Masjid. A Hindu religious leader, who had some friends at the senior levels of the R&AW, repeatedly cautioned that Rao should not trust any assurances given by Advani. He expressed his fear that the Hindutva volunteers might demolish the Masjid. What he stated was conveyed to Rao orally.

One got the impression that Rao was in two minds. Sometimes, he felt he could trust the assurances of Advani. Sometimes, he felt he could not. Once he told the R&AW that he did not like Advani coming to his house for discussions, lest there be mischievous speculation in the media. He asked whether the R&AW had a secret guesthouse in which he could meet Advani without the media coming to know about it. The R&AW told him that it had such a guest house, which was being used by Rajiv Gandhi for secret discussions with the Akali leaders before Operation Blue Star in 1984. He developed second thoughts and gave up the idea. He then asked the R&AW to give him a secret recording device and explain to him how to use it. He wanted to use it for recording his discussions with Advani in his house. It was given to him. After the demolition of the Masjid, he returned the device to the R&AW. He did not say whether he had used it and, if so, what happened to the recording. Nor did the R&AW ask him.

The author advocates reorganisation of Indias services. It had two agencies in 1947 the IB and the military intelligence. Today, it has eight the IB, the Directorate-General of Security, the R&AW, the Directorate-General of Military Intelligence, the Directorate-General of Air Intelligence, the Directorate-General of Naval Intelligence, the Defence Intelligence Agency and the National Technical Research Organisation. Their co-ordination is a full-time job. It is done presently by the National Security Adviser, in addition to his other responsibilities relating to strategic policymaking. It is time to think in terms of a National Intelligence Adviser, directly answerable to the Prime Minister.

What RAW needs above all is a statutory charter. It was created on October 10, 1968, by a secret executive order. The Charter of the Intelligence Bureau, which was also responsible for foreign intelligence till 1968, is a published document. It was set out in the Rules of Business, 1924, made under Section 40(2) of the Government of India Act, 1919. The I.B. was made responsible for collecting, coordinating and supplying to all departments of the Government of India, either on its own initiative or on request, information relating to the security of India that may be of value to them in the discharge of their functions. A witness to RAWs birth, the then Foreign Secretary, Rajeshwar Dayal, recorded in his memoirs, A Life of our Times, how it was conceived and delivered. Volume IX (a) of the Jain Commissions report provides documents giving a good glimpse of its working.

Dayals account bears quotation in full because it reveals, most instructively, the clime of those days: The Ministry had a Director of Security whose job in those relaxed times was not very exacting. It largely concerned ensuring that no unauthorised persons entered the Ministry premises that papers from trash baskets were duly destroyed every evening and did not find their way to paan vendors and hawkers, that suitable security personnel were posted to our neighbouring missions, etc. One day the Director of Security, R.N. Kao, came to me with a brief typewritten note and asked for my signature thereon. The request was made casually, as though it was a matter of minor routine. But one glance at the paper took me aback. It said that it had been decided to create a service for external intelligence and that External Affairs should include the names of the operatives to ensure their cover on its list of diplomatic officers: When I asked when the decision was taken I was blandly told that it had been taken by the Prime Minister!

He wrote a note to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi about it. The matter was dropped; or, so it seemed. For he proceeds to record: But some time thereafter a Research and Analysis Wing was created, functioning directly under the Prime Minister and undercutting our old established Intelligence Bureau which was in the Home Ministry. RAW functionaries soon proliferated far and wide, without a discernable function, in many capitals. Everywhere I travelled, our Ambassadors complained bitterly about these privileged supernumeraries thrust upon them, who were outside their operational control and seemed lavishly endowed with funds without accountability.

Volume IV of the Jain Commission Report has two secret RAW documents on the Gulf and West Asia, which he has so thoughtfully reproduced in full in the final report. One is a very RAW analysis of the Gulf-Regional Security System penned by its Director on January 8, 1991. It was marked to the Joint Secretary, West Asia Division, Ministry of External Affairs, and a couple of other officials. The analysis is superficial. The other document is entitled A study on the Post War Scenario in the Middle East [sic] and deals with some important issues. It was forwarded on February 7, 1991, to the Prime Ministers Office, the Ministry of External Affairs, the Home Secretary, the Defence Secretary and the Chiefs of the Armed Forces, besides those of the I.B. and the Joint Intelligence Committee. It hedged its bets. The study can, at best be tentative and any crystal-gazing on the Middle East can be hazardous.

A few lines later the study abandons caution and assumes [sic] that the multi-national forces would not stop at half measures. Apart from evicting Iraqi forces from Kuwait it would oust Saddam Hussein and possibly hand out the same fate to the Baath Party. The language is pedestrian. The Middle East became a pawn on the imperialist chessboard at a fairly late stage. The study proceeds to treat its reader to some engaging pop history and profundities like this: No one country is going to emerge as the leader of the Arab World. It is time RAW and the I.B. had statutory charters like the British Security Service Act, 1989, for M15 and the Intelligence Services Act, 1994, for M16.

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