The book Escape To Nowhere has already received rave notices. I have no doubt it will be one of the best-sellers of this year. I am sure an exciting movie will follow provided a woman could be introduced into the film script. One misses the presence of a spooky woman in Amar Bhushan’s narrative. There are women-spooks in the R&AW---some doing very well. Any spy-fiction has to highlight their role in Smiley’s World.
The book will have a very high excitement value. I hope it will also have an equally high educative value. There is an acute shortage of scholarly works on the craft and profession of intelligence in India. There is an even greater shortage of works on the craft and profession of counter-intelligence.
Some of us, who had served in the intelligence profession, have come out of the spooky purdah and started sharing with the public our thoughts and insights on the state of our intelligence in the hope of better educating the public, but we still hesitate to write freely and frankly on the state of our counter-intelligence lest we unwittingly play into the hands of foreign intelligence agencies looking for clues as to how our counter-intelligence operates. What are their weak and strong points? What are the techniques employed by our counter-intelligence? It is much more difficult to write carefully on counter-intelligence than on intelligence without weakening our armour. Amar has sought to do this, but some professionals will doubt the advisability of his discussing the techniques of surveillance employed by the R&AW. A description of the techniques is exciting for a fiction and a movie, but hazardous and weakening for a counter-intelligence set-up.
Your intelligence capability helps you to collect information about others that you need for strengthening your national security. Your counter-intelligence capability enables you to prevent others from collecting information about you which they could use against you. You may be able to collect valuable intelligence about others, but if you are not able to prevent others from collecting intelligence about you, your national security will remain weak.
The best intelligence comes from human and technical penetration of other governments, intelligence and security agencies, terrorist and other organizations. In Smiley’s World, there is a demonic competitive bid to penetrate each other. The more capable you are in penetrating others, the better the quality of your intelligence.
The highest value is attached to the penetration of foreign intelligence agencies. When you manage to place a mole in a foreign agency, you are not only able to collect high-grade intelligence, but also influence the thinking of the political leadership and policy-makers of the penetrated countries through intelligence officers who are generally very close to the senior levels of decision-makers. That is why when there is a mole in an intelligence agency, it is difficult to make a damage assessment when the mole is discovered. It is comparatively easy to establish what information was lost through the mole, but it is difficult to establish what wrong decisions were taken by the political leaders and policy-makers as a result of the use of a mole by a foreign agency to influence thinking at the decision-making levels.
The likelihood of the penetration of an intelligence agency by a foreign agency is a constant nightmare for all counter-intelligence set-ups. The ability of an agency to prevent penetration by a mole depends on various factors---the personal and professional integrity of its officers, their security consciousness, their loyalty to the country, their ethical standards, their ability to withstand temptations, their courage to report to their seniors any indications of suspicious conduct of their colleagues and even close friends. When these factors are weak, penetration is facilitated.
That is why we as a nation and the R&AW as an intelligence organization ought to have been worried by the ease with which the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) penetrated the R&AW twice and managed to evade detection for a long time. The penetration and the ease with which the CIA and its moles managed to evade detection spoke poorly of the state of counter-intelligence in the R&AW.
Maj. Rabinder Singh was not only a mole of the CIA carefully planted deep inside the R&AW, but was also the only mole in our intelligence set-up who managed to give the slip to our counter-intelligence and flee to the sanctuary provided by his controlling agency. Rabinder was India’s Kim Philby, the KGB’s mole in the MI 6, the British external intelligence.
In the years after the Second World War, the KGB managed to plant in the MI 6 a network of moles believed to have been operated through Kim Philby. When the network came under suspicion, Philby and two others managed to escape to Moscow giving the slip to the MI-5, the security service, which is responsible for counter-intelligence in the UK.
After the escape of Kim Philby, there were many years of agonising debate in the British intelligence establishment on how the KGB managed to penetrate the MI-6 and what damage was caused to national security and to the intelligence establishment. The enquiries brought out shocking instances of ethical permissiveness, lack of integrity and old boys’ network ( I cover you up, you cover me up) that prevailed in the MI 6 that made the penetration possible. Did the KGB’s network consist of only Philby and his two associates who fled to Moscow or were there others who remained undetected? There were some who believed strongly that there was at least one more----the fourth man---who remained undetected and continued to cause damage.
The Philby enquiries led to a revamp of the Western counter-intelligence set-ups. Despite this, the KGB managed to penetrate the CIA through Aldrich Ames, who exposed to the KGB the identities of some valuable sources of the CIA in the former USSR and Russia, who were arrested and executed. Weak professional integrity and an old boys’ network in the CIA were among the factors identified for this fiasco. The counter-intelligence set-up in the US has since been further strengthened under the joint leadership of the FBI and the CIA.
The Gary Saxena Task Force on Intelligence Revamp set up by the A.B.Vajpayee Government in 2000, of which I was a member, had recommended the strengthening of the Counter-Intelligence set-up under the leadership of the IB.The Rabinder Singh episode indicates shortcomings in the implementation of the recommendations.
Amar Bhushan was the chief spy catcher of the R&AW, the Czar of its counter-intelligence. He has first-hand knowledge of the sins of commission and omission that prevented the early exposure of Rabinder and enabled the CIA to whisk him out of India. His book, which is in the fictional format, throws some light on what went wrong, how and why. It provides some answers but not all the answers to questions regarding the state of our counter-intelligence. A fictional format cannot be a scholarly in-depth format. It is hoped his initiative in writing this book will act as a trigger for undertaking a more in-depth analysis of the state of our counter-intelligence.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.
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