September 20, 2020
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Uncovering Covert Operations

Should covert operations be leaked out by the government and made a subject matter of public debate?

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Uncovering Covert Operations

I had on 4th June 2013 written an article Should CBI uncover the IB. A lot more has happened since then. Disclosures in relation to certain activities of the Indian army now raise a larger question: "Should covert operations be leaked out by the government and made a subject matter of public debate?"

India has a vulnerable security scenario. In the last two decades, we have been victim of cross border terrorism. We have lost more innocent citizens to insurgency than through conventional wars. Initially, terrorism was cross-border. Today, many local modules are operating within the country. A large part of central India is in the grip of Maoist violence. The Prime Minister once described it as the most serious challenge the country is facing. There is insurgency in several states of the Northeast. Successive governments have either tried to negotiate settlements or strengthened the security set up to counter this insurgency in the Northeast.

The military-police approach to counter these anti-national activities is partly successful. The need is to strengthen our intelligence agencies so that they are able to uncover the activities of groups which spread terror and insurgency. Needless to say that in fighting terrorism our intelligence agencies have met with a reasonable success and busted many modules both domestic and cross border.

While the role of the intelligence agencies is to develop their own capabilities, they need to create strategic assets. They have to infiltrate into these modules. They need to befriend the communities where such modules are active. They use technology in order to intercept their communications. They need to infiltrate into their activities internationally and develop contacts within the governments abroad or with groups, which operate parallel to the targets of our investigation.

The hard fact is that in a country with serious security threats, the existence of these activities of intelligence agencies has to be strengthened. Intelligence agencies have to conduct various covert operations. And yet there has to be an element of deniability in the covert operations. They must be happening but we do not admit them or talk about them. Larger public interest demands this. My charge against the UPA government is that for narrow political interest it has deliberately leaked out the covert operations in two cases thereby creating a serious set back to our counter insurgency operations.

I will not make a detailed comment on the Ishrat case since have already written about it extensively on 4th June, 2013. It is now clear that this was a part of the counter-terror activities of a central agency. The UPA government needs to seriously introspect whether it acted in national interest when it altered the affidavit of the home ministry before the Gujarat High Court thereby disowning what its own agencies have allegedly done? It intended to use the ever obliging CBI to target police officials of Gujarat and certain BJP leaders of Gujarat. However, the hard truth is that it was an operation of the central government and not of the Gujarat government. In the process all that the central government achieved was to uncover the covert operation of an intelligence agency.

I am unaware of the truth or otherwise of the allegation. The government leak published in a newspaper indicated that a certain politician of Jammu & Kashmir had received funds for allegedly toppling the state government. The former army chief has stated that the army does make payments to stabilize the system in states affected by insurgency. It stabilizes them by either helping the community through community friendly activities or otherwise.

None of us knows or is entitled to know the details of these activities. The Right to information cannot apply to these activities. The CBI cannot invoke its investigative jurisdiction to start investigating whether secret funds have been properly spent by the Intelligence Bureau, the R&AW or the Military Intelligence or by any other agency. All these activities are neither accountable to Parliament nor judicially justiceable. These are a part of the covert operations. The desirability and the appropriateness of these activities is a subject matter for the government of the day to decide. Prime Ministers, home ministers, defence ministers, Chief of the Army staff, heads of IB and R&AW and several others in the government are privy to information which must necessarily die with them. It cannot become a part of their memoirs.

Should such an information have been leaked out by the political establishment which had a problem with the former Army Chief? Pushed to a corner should the Army Chief at all have admitted that such payments were indeed undertaken? The UPA government has abandoned its state-craft. It does not mind if the country is hurt as long as the UPA can score points when faced with a certain electoral defeat.

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