Ignored warnings

Published : Jul 02, 2004 00:00 IST

ONE of the first things new intelligence agents are told is to forget what they might have seen in James Bond films: in real life, there ought to be no fancy cars, no diamond-wearing girlfriends, nor evenings hanging out in expensive bars. In the Research and Analysis Wing, though, they also seem to be told that the rules do not have to be taken seriously.

Successive chiefs of RAW ignored warnings from the organisation's in-house surveillance unit on its growing vulnerability to penetration. As early as the 1990s, the Counter-Intelligence and Security (CIS) Division launched a major study of a dozen "stay-backs", officers who either never returned to India from their foreign assignments or left for jobs abroad shortly after their retirement. Personnel compromised by inappropriate behaviour were also studied. CIS Division watchers found that officers with well-known records of alcohol abuse, dubious financial records and sexual misconduct had been sent on sensitive assignments.

RAW began to haemorrhage personnel from around the time of the Emergency. A former Indian Army officer who had been transferred to RAW had applied for leave in the early 1970s, but was refused permission to travel abroad. CIS Division watchers then found a notice in the Defence Services Officers' Institution announcing that his household goods were for sale. No action was taken, and the officer ended up taking asylum in a South American country after the Emergency was declared. A secretary to former RAW chief S. Sankaran Nair took asylum in the United Kingdom at the same time.

As the years went by, several other RAW personnel went the same way. Two officers who had served as personal assistants to RAW Directors, stayed on at the end of overseas postings. One of these first took premature retirement, claiming he intended to work in Mumbai in his brother's textile business. The ranks of stay-backs, however, were not limited to low-level staff. One 1957 batch Indian Police Service officer serving in RAW, who was posted to Canada, took a job with the provincial government of Ontario. The CIS Division noted that all these officers had been posted abroad towards the end of their careers, when financial temptations were at their highest.

A second string of scandals involved financial and personal misconduct. A woman officer recruited from the Income Tax Department was sacked after allegations surfaced of her taking bribes from overseas businessmen, under pretence of conducting an investigation into Bofors beneficiaries on the instructions of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. CIS watchers also found that the officer had made a Rs.1,00,000 contribution to a South Indian temple, which she could not account for, and had also made an unauthorised visit to Hong Kong. Finally, it turned out that the officer had a romantic relationship with a colleague, then posted in Dhaka, with whom she went on to set up a business.

The couple's efforts to use their service contacts to further their export business finally forced the CIS Division to order all Embassies overseas not to have any dealings with them. In this and several similar cases, careful vetting and surveillance could have prevented embarrassment. One officer, for example, had to be removed from Oslo after problems related to alcohol abuse. CIS Division staff pointed out that the officer had been hired despite past knowledge of his alcohol problem, and the fact that he was facing a criminal investigation for his alleged role in the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984. The officer was also reported for misbehaviour at a RAW annual day function prior to his overseas posting.

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