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Chiefs ignored penetration warnings

Wednesday 16 June 2004, by SWAMI*Praveen

NEW DELHI, JUNE 15. 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, no evenings hanging out in expensive bars. In the Research and Analysis Wing, though, they also seem to be told that the rules don’t have to be taken very seriously.

Successive chiefs of RAW ignored warnings from the organisation’s in-house surveillance unit on its growing vulnerability to penetration. In the early 1990s, the Counter Intelligence and Security Division, the house security unit concerned, 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 retirement. CIS Division watchers also found that officers with known records of alcohol abuse, dubious financial dealings and sexual misconduct had been sent on sensitive assignments.

RAW began to haemorrhage personnel from around the time of the Emergency. A former Army officer transferred to RAW had applied for leave in the early 1970s, but was refused permission to travel abroad. RAW security staff were subsequently shocked to discover a notice in the Defence Services Officers Institution announcing that his household goods were up 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 the 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 personnel assistants to RAW Directors stayed on at the end of overseas postings. One of them first took premature retirement, claiming he intended to work in Mumbai at 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 most of these officers had been posted abroad towards the end of their careers, when financial temptations are 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 bribe-taking from overseas businessmen, on the 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 massive contribution of Rs. 1,00,000 to a South Indian temple, for which she could not account, 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 criminal investigation for his alleged role in the genocidal anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984. The officer was also reported for misbehaviour at a RAW annual day function prior to his overseas posting.

In one case, the consequences of inadequate counter-intelligence almost proved calamitous. A RAW officer with a scientific background, posted to Vienna for liaison with the International Atomic Energy Agency, developed a relationship with a United States national there in the 1980s.

CIS Division files note that both enjoyed heavy drinking. As the relationship seemed innocuous, the officer saw no reason to report it - until his friend made an approach on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency, asking for information on India’s nuclear science and technology programme. The officer continues to serve in RAW but there has been no comprehensive assessment of what information he may have passed on casually to his American contact.

Serving and retired personnel from the CIS Division brought the attention of these and a welter of other cases to Surinder Singh, Cabinet Secretary in Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s Government, and to the former RAW boss, Amarjit Singh Dulat, suggesting a full-scale review of recruitment vetting and service-time surveillance. These timely warnings received no response. Now, with Rabinder Singh’s defection, the price of inaction has become clear.

Praveen Swami

See online : The Hindu

P.S.

in The Hindu, June 16, 2004.

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