Essay

Intelligence & policy

Print edition : February 19, 2016

July, 1987: Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Sri Lankan President Jayewardene sign the historic Indo-Sri Lanka accord in the country's capital, Colombo.

Rajeshwar Dayal, then the Foreign Secretary, was witness to the birth of RAW during Indira Gandhi's prime ministership. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

B. Raman, former Additional Secreatary, RAW. He was one of the most upright members of RAW. Photo: The HINDU ARCHIVES

Subash Ghisingh. His party, the GNLF, was believed to have been infiltrated by RAW. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

It is high time that the rogue elephant that is the Research and Analysis Wing acquires a strong statutory mahout—a charter enacted by Parliament. This requires an all-party consensus.

ON December, 4, 2015, The International New York Times published a long and most instructive report from Berlin by its correspondent Alison Smale. It revealed the relationship between one of the world’s most professional intelligence agencies, the BND, and one of the most democratically governed countries, the Federal Republic of Germany. At issue was a BND memo entitled “Saudi Arabia: Sunni regional power torn between foreign policy paradigm change and domestic policy consolidation”.

Alison Smale reported: “The German government issued an unusual public rebuke to its own foreign intelligence service on Thursday (3 December) over a blunt memo from the intelligence agency that said Saudi Arabia was playing an increasingly destabilising role in the Middle East [West Asia].

“The agency’s memo risked playing havoc with Berlin’s efforts to show solidarity with France in its military campaign against the Islamic State and to push forward the tentative talks on how to end the Syrian civil war.”

The memo said: “The cautious diplomatic stance of the older leading members of the royal family is being replaced by an impulsive policy of intervention.” It said King Salman bin Abdulaziz and his son Prince Mohammed bin Salman were trying to build reputations as leaders of the Arab world.

“It was flatly repudiated by the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, which said the German Embassy in Riyadh had issued a statement making clear that ‘the BND statement reported by media is not the position of the Federal Government’. Frank Walter Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister, ‘is in regular contact with his Saudi colleague Adel Al-Jubair and has always stressed that the federal government counts on constructive cooperation with Saudi Arabia’, the statement added.”

A government official in Berlin, speaking on condition of anonymity, added crisply that it was the BND’s job “to supply the government with information and to deliver, hopefully, clever analysis”. “The BND certainly does not speak for German foreign policy.”

Steinmeier was instrumental in convening talks in Vienna in November on the Syria conflict, drawing together Saudi Arabia, its main regional rival Iran, as well as Russia, the United States and other Western powers and regional actors, including Turkey and Iraq. Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen stressed the importance of what she repeatedly called “the Vienna process” and overall diplomacy, even as she explained Berlin’s decision to assist military assaults on the Islamic State.

All this was put in jeopardy by the memo, which said that the Saudi rivalry with Iran for supremacy in West Asia and Saudi dependency on the U.S. were the main drivers of Saudi foreign policy.

“The Saudi-Iranian rivalry plays out throughout the region, the memo said, most recently and strikingly in the Saudi military intervention in Yemen. There, the memo said, ‘Saudi Arabia wants to prove that it is ready to take unprecedented military, financial and political risks in order not to fall into a disadvantageous position in the region.’”

The BND’s reportage and analysis were accurate, even brilliant. But, as a government official said, “the BND’s job was to supply the government with information and to deliver analysis. The BND certainly does not speak for German foreign policy.”

An intelligence agency collects information and reports to the government. This is its prime task. It also provides analysis. It has no business to advise on matters of policy. It is for the democratically elected government, responsible to the country’s parliament and the nation, to lay down policy after carefully assessing the information it has received.

In recent decades, intelligence agencies have been invested with—if they have not rapaciously grasped —three more functions. One is to communicate with foreign non-state actors with whom authorised diplomats are not supposed to parley. They also exchange notes with foreign intelligence agencies. Another function is to presume to act as advisers on policy. A third is to conduct covert operations in the good old Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) style.

Tunnel vision of spies

An excellent illustration of an intelligence operator and his handlers’ ignorance of political realities and sound policy consideration is provided by A.S. Dulat’s interview to Harinder Baweja in Tehelka (August 26, 2006). “In 1993-94, Kashmir was going through a violent phase and the state was under Governor’s Rule. The then Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, wanted us (I was with the I.B. then) to initiate a dialogue with the separatists. They were all in jail. The prominent Hurriyat leadership, which included Abdul Ghani Lone, Professor Bhatt and Maulvi Abbas Ansari, were in Jodhpur jail. JKLF [Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front] leader Yasin Malik, who played an important role in the kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed, was behind bars and so was Shabir Shah, then popularly called the ‘Nelson Mandela of Kashmir’. We initiated talks with Yasin and Shabir Shah who were released turn by turn.

“Shabir Shah always wanted to be the last one to be released. He thought that would serve his credibility better. Unlike Yasin, who flew to Srinagar from Delhi, Shabir undertook a long tour. As per the script, Shabir then came to Delhi a few months later and, like most Kashmiri politicians, called on several opposition leaders, including [A.B.] Vajpayee. There was nothing to indicate that he had any reservations about a dialogue with Delhi but then there was a mess-up.

“He told us (the I.B.) that he wanted to meet his counterpart from Pakistan. He insisted on a one-on-one with the Pakistan-based People’s League leader Mahmood Sagar. He either wanted Pakistan’s approval or at least wanted to sound them out. We set up a meeting for them in Kathmandu. Shabir Shah and his close associate Naeem Khan (the two are now bitter rivals) flew to Benaras, from where they were to go to Kathmandu by road. The day Shabir was to cross the Indo-Nepal border, the Prime Minister’s Office [PMO] panicked and we had to stop him at the border and bring him back. That caused a big setback in our relationship because the whole exercise was built largely on trust. The Shabir I was dealing with changed that day. He kept telling me that that was the precise problem—that no Kashmiri could ever trust Delhi. That Delhi’s attitude was at the core of the alienation that finally led to the insurgency. I remember him telling me, ‘I know what Delhi is like but I thought you were a different kind of person.’ We let Shabir Shah down. In some ways, we lost him.”

Dulat lost his trophy, that is, assuming his version is correct. But it did not occur to him or his superiors in Delhi that if Shabir Shah had ended up biting the alleged bait, he would have been dead politically. The tunnel vision of spooks has no room for the large political vision. To be fair to the spooks, their vision is shared by the establishment. Furlough a couple of separatists, and the problem is solved. The people’s aspirations and contempt for the ones so bought matter not. Can you blame New Delhi much if there are in the ranks of both unionists and separatists men who offer themselves for sale?

Impressive legacy

The charter of the Intelligence Bureau, which was also responsible for foreign intelligence until 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”.

It concentrated on domestic intelligence since the British Secret Services looked after foreign intelligence. However, such was the high quality of the I.B.’s work that studies on the Communist movement in India by its successive Directors—Sir Cecil Kaye, Sir David Petrie and Sir Horace Williamson—are regarded as fairly authoritative and have been reprinted by a Communist publishing house. P.C. Bamford’s study of the Khilafat movement was also of high quality. The great Churchill was flatly told by the then Director, Ghulam Ahmad, when his query was transmitted via the Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy, that there was no evidence in support of his suspicion that Gandhi had links with the Japanese.

RAW: Spurious from birth

Rajeshwar Dayal, who was a witness to the Research and Analysis Wing’s (RAW) birth and was India’s Foreign Secretary at that time, has recorded in his memoirs, A Life of Our Times, how it was conceived and delivered, while Volume IX(a) of the Jain Commission’s Report provides documents that give a good glimpse of its working.

Dayal’s 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 the Ministry for 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! It seemed extraordinary that a far-reaching decision which so obviously and intimately concerned External Affairs should have been taken without a word of consultation with that Ministry.”

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 discernible 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.”

Now for the infamous Report on Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Justice Milap Chand Jain’s ambitions made him a legend in his own lifetime. The two secret RAW documents on the Gulf and West Asia which he so thoughtfully reproduced in full in Volume IV of his magnum opus, the Final Report, reveal a lot about him and RAW. One is a 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 of the Ministry of External Affairs and a couple of other officials. The analysis is superficial. One wonders whether the Ministry’s men in the region or the Joint Secretary himself would have found it particularly relevant.

The other document is entitled “A study on the Post War Scenario in the Middle East”, which dealt with “some important issues”. It was forwarded on February 7, 1991, to the PMO, 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 tried to hedge its bets. The study “can at best be tentative” and “any crystal-gazing on the Middle East can be hazardous”. The language is pedestrian and cliche-ridden. “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.”

The point is simple. What are RAW’s human resources or equipment to enable it to analyse the situation in the region when India had professional diplomats in several countries who provided the information and the analyses?

Meddling in policymaking

The I.B. and later RAW sought a role in policymaking, and weak governments readily acquiesced. Jawaharlal Nehru allowed the I.B. chief B.N. Mullik to guide him on Kashmir and China, with disastrous results. His deputy, Vallabhbhai Patel, suborned Mullik’s integrity and got him actually to tailor his reports. (Both facts are documented in the writer’s article “Integrity and intelligence”; Frontline, May 29, 2015. It was Patel who initiated in independent India the nefarious practice of phone tapping and mail snooping.)

Whatever be one’s views on Neville Maxwell’s critique of India’s policy towards China, he deserves to be ranked as one of the best informed and painstaking foreign correspondents, on a par with Abe Rosenthal and Robert Trumbull of The New York Times. It was most instructive to read Maxwell’s reports in The Times (London), then a highly respected newspaper. His explanation for Mullik’s hold on Nehru rings true.

“The decline of military intelligence (M.I.) in India could be traced back to the last days of the British. There had been no Indians in M.I., so after 1947 all its personnel were new to the work. Furthermore, its role was diminished in favour of the civilian Intelligence Bureau (I.B.), staffed by police officers. This I.B. grew in influence and importance, while M.I. languished, its senior staff posts tending to become sinecures or stepping stones. Under its Director at this time, B.N. Mullik, the Intelligence Bureau had, as has been seen, become an important voice in the innermost counsels of the government; at bottom this influence derived from Mullik’s standing with Nehru. Access to and the confidence of the Prime Minister was the perquisite of influence in the government in those days, and Mullik enjoyed them to the full. A former police officer, Mullik was articulate and astute; his stewardship of dossiers on many of Nehru’s colleagues and opponents and the importance of intelligence in domestic Indian politics would also have brought him close to the Prime Minister. Reliance upon Mullik’s advice in some areas of domestic politics had grown by the 1960s into a willingness to accept almost as fact his predictions about Chinese behaviour….

“Mullik’s closeness to Nehru has been alluded to in this account and the influence that this gave him has been traced. But, even allowing for the distortions of focus inherent in autobiography, it seems that if anything Mullik’s role in the formulation and implementation of his government’s policy towards China was more substantial than has appeared to this point. Again, the image of the court is inescapable in a reading of Mullik, and it appears that the monarch’s failing was that he all too often made those whose real capacities fitted them for the cap and bells into his dukes and captains” ( India’s China War, pages 335, 496-497). Mullik fed Nehru’s fears of an army coup. Patel used the I.B. for his own political ends. The I.B. was suborned soon after Independence. Indira Gandhi and her aide, P.N. Haksar, fabricated RAW as a tool at its very birth. Used mainly for covert exertions, at home and in neighbouring countries, it soon conducted forays in the realm of diplomacy.

V. Balachandran, former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, who should know, recalled “the 1949 debate between Professor Sherman Kent and Professor Willmore Kendall, both veterans of U.S. Intelligence, on the interface between intelligence and policy, with Kent forbidding intelligence to assume any role in policy formulation while Kendall advocating even policy options. Mr Robert Gates, as CIA chief, advocated policy activism, which was rejected by President George Bush. But the Kendall-Gates school won the latest round through a 1995-96 Congressional Commission under Harold Brown (former Defence Secretary), which recommended that intelligence must be integrated more closely with other functions of government such as law enforcement.

“The Joint intelligence Committee (JIC) which was recast in 1965 as an autonomous assessment body was meant to present a holistic picture to the government by being the intelligence arbitrator. That it has hardly been able to live up to its expectations is not a secret. Perhaps it is not to be blamed. Apart from being considered a sideline job, the post of Chairman, JIC, does not have the same access to the power centres as the chiefs of RAW or I.B.” ( The Times of India, July 15, 1999).

Unchecked, the operator soon develops his own likes and dislikes and his own agenda as Maloy Krishna Dhar wrote in his book Open Secrets: India’s Intelligence Unveiled. The operator has the “facility of pursuing his own agenda that can either be illegal moneymaking or following his ideological commitments and political preferences”.

B.N. Mullik did just that as I.B. chief, and so did M.K. Narayanan as National Security Adviser (NSA) to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He thought nothing of telling an American diplomat that he disagreed with his superior’s policy on Pakistan: “I don’t trust Musharraf.” But trust is a political judgment for the political chief to make. It is beyond the intellectual equipment or station of a former police officer to make, especially one who failed on crucial occasions as I.B. chief and as NSA. Small wonder that he admires B.N. Mullik ( The Indian Express, January 25, 2002; “A legend”.)

Role in Sri Lanka

We have an authentic expose of RAW’s ambitions in the memoirs of the former High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, J.N. Dixit, Assignment Colombo. “The Research and Analysis Wing of our Cabinet Secretariat led by Anand Verma started advising Rajiv Gandhi that he should follow a three-track policy to deal with the new twist of events in Sri Lanka. The military operations should be continued to keep the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] generally under pressure; secondly, RAW should be allowed to keep in touch with the LTTE with the purpose of persuading it to move back from military confrontation against India; thirdly, that RAW should be authorised to make direct contacts with [President J.R.] Jayewardene without involving the Ministry of External Affairs or the Ministry of Defence to persuade him to offer a qualitatively improved devolution package to the Tamils, which would result in the LTTE returning to the mainstream democratic processes. Rajiv Gandhi generally agreed to these suggestions with the caveat that military operations would continue as long as the LTTE remained obstinate.” Pretty detailed advice, this!

“The Research and Analysis Wing of our Cabinet Secretariat trying to make peace offers to the LTTE while the Indian Army was operating against them had a narrower institutional dimension. The RAW, which had become not just an intelligence and information factor but a political factor directly influencing policy in Sri Lanka since 1980, felt that it had been marginalised and its role diminished in the process, which led to the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement. Once the agreement started fraying, the Research and Analysis Wing felt that it should regain its role by advocating a political approach to the LTTE through its contacts. Though I do not know all the details, I came to the conclusion that this resulted in inadequate coordination between our intelligence agencies and the IPKF [Indian Peace Keeping Force]. And, an equally insufficient sharing of intelligence between RAW and the IPKF command. It resulted in operational limitations on the IPKF.

“A crowning example of this lack of coordination was the death of a RAW operative (along with an LTTE leader), a person called Canagaratnam alias Rahim, in an ambush by IPKF while they were returning from a negotiating session with Prabhakaran in the Vavunia jungles. This RAW operative and the LTTE leader were sent to discuss the possibilities of a ceasefire to be followed by political discussion between the LTTE and the Government of India, to end the confrontation. Neither the IPKF nor the High Commission or the Ministry of External Affairs was aware of this initiative, which was taken in the first week of March 1988. I came to know about the incident from General [A.S.] Kalkat, who came to know of the initiative from the papers recovered from the dead RAW officer and his friend.

“I was generally aware that the RAW was taking such separate initiatives. I was also aware of some contacts which RAW had started making with Jayewardene, because the President would keep me informed of these contacts and would satirically ask me: ‘How many policies does the Government of India have regarding the Sri Lankan situation?’ The consequence was the absence of a cohesive policy at the apex level and lack of coordination at the operational level in the Government of India’s endeavours in Sri Lanka at this point of time. In discussions in Delhi and in my interaction with senior IPKF commanders I frequently discerned glaring differences between the RAW’s assessment of the developing situation and the ground assessment being made by military intelligence of the IPKF.”

Raw and Ghising

Rajiv Gandhi went so far as to use RAW to destabilise State governments of the opposition. His prime bete noir was the formidable Jyoti Basu. This is what S.N.M. Abdi, a highly respected journalist, reported: “The involvement of Central intelligence agencies in GNLF [Gorkha National Liberation Front] affairs is now well known. Apart from SIB (Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau), the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) allegedly has a finger in Ghising’s pie. A senior Congress (I) politician told The [ Illustrated] Weekly, on the express condition that his name would not be published: ‘RAW is, of course, playing a role in GNLF.’ He explained that the GNLF had been infiltrated by RAW so that ‘the possible involvement of foreign countries can be immediately identified and tackled’.

“Ghising’s trip to Delhi in August 1986 was organised by RAW. The then RAW operative in Darjeeling, J.N. Sharma, specifically asked the GNLF president to travel to Kathmandu, where Ghising met S.S. Katoch, the RAW chief in the Nepali capital. Later, Ghising met Arjun Singh and M.L. Fotedar in New Delhi, who apparently asked him to call off the black flag demonstrations scheduled for 15 August.

“Apart from Katoch, Ghising also met Hemant Kumar Singh, the Indian political secretary in Kathmandu. Singh also visited Darjeeling on 14 and 15 October. On 15 October 1986 Singh was spotted at a luncheon meeting. He checked out of Darjeeling’s Planters’ Club soon after he was identified. These details are contained in a top secret report presented to Jyoti Basu by the intelligence wing of the West Bengal government” ( The Illustrated Weekly of India, February 22, 1987).

On August 11, 1989, members of the opposition alleged in the Rajya Sabha that RAW was involved in the training of Bodo militants in order to oust the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) government in Assam. The Association of RAW Employees alleged that Rs.3 crore had been allocated for the job.

B. Raman was, beyond a doubt, one of the most upright members of RAW. What he wrote of Rajiv Gandhi’s use of RAW in Punjab raises many questions. “The alarm caused by these developments and reports made Indira Gandhi contemplate for the first time sending the Army inside the temple to arrest the terrorists and their supporters. However, before doing so, she tried frantically to find a political solution and to use the leaders of the Akali Dal for persuading Bhindranwale and other terrorists to vacate the temple. Rajiv Gandhi and two of his close associates held a number of secret meetings with Akali Dal leaders in a New Delhi guest house of the R&AW” ( The Kaoboys of R&AW, page 95). Thus, the Prime Minister used her son, then a private individual outside the government, to conduct the talks on an official mission. He had not taken the oath of secrecy and had no official standing. RAW was used in Punjab as well.

This explains what a former I.B. chief, T.V. Rajeswar, wrote in his memoir. RAW eclipsed “the I.B. even in its legitimate areas of functioning. R&AW set up its offices in every State, something which an external intelligence does not do in any other country” ( India: The Crucial Years, pages 174-5).

Doings in Nepal

RAW’s doings in Nepal deserve separate treatment. But read this bit by Yubaraj Ghimire. “Nepal’s Prime Minister G.P. Koirala was involved in manufacturing counterfeit Indian currency notes when he was in political exile in India in the early 1970s. This startling disclosure has been made by Koirala himself in a weekly TV interview series on his past political activities.

“Appearing on Kantipur Television, Koirala, in another interview, claimed that R.N. Kao, then chief of India’s external intelligence agency RAW, had given him the green signal to hijack a Nepal Airlines plane with the promise that nothing would be done to him. Koirala led a team of Nepali Congress leaders, who hijacked a Nepal Airlines flight from Biratnagar to Kathmandu in June 1973 and took away four million rupees meant for the Rashtra Bank.

“But after the TV interview, the bit about the RAW involvement was withdrawn from the programme though this claim was made by Koirala himself” ( The Telegraph, January 17, 1987).

As Raman noted, the Indian intelligence community steadily expanded. It had two agencies in 1947, the I.B. and the Military Intelligence. Today, it has eight: the I.B., the Directorate General of Security, the RAW, the Directorate General of Military Intelligence, the Directorate General of Air Intelligence, the Directorate General Naval Intelligence, the Defence Intelligence Agency and the National Technical Research Organisation. Their coordination is a full-time job. It is done at present 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,” Raman opined.

Sample this bit: “RAW operatives had already established contact with Wali Khan in Kabul and his request for financial assistance did not come as a surprise. Another factor that prompted Wali Khan to ask for assistance was his close association with Badshah Khan, the widely known Frontier Gandhi, and his personal association with India and her leaders during the Indian independence movement. The negotiations did not take long to be finalised. The situation suited both Afghanistan and India.

“Once again, fate did not seem to favour Wali Khan. The Desai government found it horrifying that India had been supporting a political group in a Third country. Morarji Desai is reported to have himself ordered Nair to cut down this support drastically. Thus ended his another RAW operation” (Ashok Raina; Inside RAW).

It is high time that the rogue elephant that is RAW acquires a strong statutory mahout—a charter enacted by Parliament. There are two British statutes to draw on—the Security Service Act, 1989, on the MI5, and the Intelligence Services Act, 1994, on the MI6, its external counterpart. This requires an all-party consensus.

So much for intelligence-gathering. It requires a higher degree of intelligence and wisdom to assess intelligence. Raymond L. Garthoff, who served in the U.S. government for long, was that rare breed, a man wise and honest. What he wrote in 2001 on analysis is something we would do well to consider. “A lesson regrettably not learned from the Cuban Missile Crisis or any other episode in the geopolitical rivalry was that the continuation of an arms race was not necessary for deterrence of war. Instead of recognising that leaders on neither side had an incentive to launch a war strong enough to lead to consideration of deliberate initiation of war in the nuclear era, deterrence theory elaborated justification for infinite expansion and perfection of strategic scenarios ‘prevailing’ in second or third ‘exchanges’ of tens of thousands of thermonuclear weapons. Any weapons programme could be justified by the argument that it would ‘enhance deterrence’. To be sure, sanity in political judgment was not lost, and we survived the Cold War. But risks, as well as costs, were raised unnecessarily by excessive militarisation of the rivalry, excessive reliance on fallible technologies of warning and communication, and substitution of mechanistic ‘requirements’ of deterrence (in such coin as missile ‘throw-weight’) for strategic and political thinking” ( A Journey through the Cold War, Brookings Institution Press, 2001).

No wonder Henry Kissinger hated him and had him punished.

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