Maj. Gen. V.K. Singh has been some thirty-five years in military uniform in many capacities, the last being Chief Signal Officer of the Western Army. In November 2000, he was recruited to the Cabinet Secretariat (Research and Analysis Wing), where he served upto June 2004, when he retired. He had been commissioned into the Corps of Signals in June 1965 and had been an alumnus of the Staff College, Wellington, the College of Defence Management and the National Defence College, Delhi and had been instructor at the Military College of Telecommunication Engineering etc.
In other words his credibility and his military expertise in his given field is unquestionable. But once he joined the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), he says he began to notice ?several shortcomings and anamolies? in its running. It had, according to him ?turned into a typical government department?. The espirit de corps was totally missing. He learnt that for the first time that he was working with people who often did not mean what they said. There was a lack of accountability in the organisation. It was all very disconcerting.
He decided to write a book on RAW'sshortcomings, as he noticed them at first hand. His resolve was strengthened by the publication of Maloy Dhar'sbook on the Intelligence Bureau (IB) called Open Secrets. He also came across a book on the ISI called Profile of Intelligence by Brigadier Tirmazi. He was also noticing that a former Additional Secretary of RAW, B. Raman, was also writing extensively in journals and newspapers; besides, to his surprise, he saw several books on RAW written by Pakistanis. So V.K. Singh decided that ?the Indian tax-payer has a right to know how public money is spent?. Additionally, he saw no reason why ?intelligence agencies should be exempted from audit and parliamentary review of RAW.
For his troubles, the CBI has charge-sheeted him on April 9 for giving out certain details in his book which alleges corruption in the country'sexternal intelligence agency ?in violation? of the Official Secret Act. The 63-year old Singh and the Publishing House have been accused, according to reports, of wrongful communication of information and allegedly indulging in activities prejudicial to the safety or interests of the nation. The CBI has apparently backed its chargesheet with statements from RAW officials stating the information used by Singh in this book were of a classified nature and has no other documents to authenticate it. Significantly, the Cabinet Secretariat has been seeking legal advice on banning Singh'sbook, but apparently there are no legal provisions under which legal action can be taken against Singh. So the CBI has reportedly been dragged into service. And what are the CBI'scredentials? According to a senior civilian, Sanjoy Bagchi, writing in The Changing Face of Bureaucracy ?it is also well-known that an investigative and prosecution agency like the CBI had no credibility whatsoever, being totally politicised? and shows a modicum of decent objectivity only when functioning under the supervision of the superior judiciary?.
Bagchi, himself a civilian (an IAS officer of long standing) has some very strong words to say about the CBI. So, where does one go from here? In defence of the Government, one can argue that no matter how badly the CBI is run or even allegedly how corrupt it is, it is a matter to be referred to the higher authorities and not discussed in public, for the simple reason that no alien government should know the shortcomings of our intelligence organisations. But that gives these organisations a free hand and almost unlimited power. What, then, is the answer? No doubt, if the matter is taken to Courts, they will give the final verdict. What Singh has done is to show the many glaring shortcomings of how RAW is managed. A case in point was the failure of the Agency to detect the intrusions of Pakistani soldiers in Kargil. It came under severe criticism for its role in supporting the LTTE in Sri Lanka. Singh repeats charges made by Pakistan that there are as many as 35,000 RAW agents in Pakistan who penetrated the country between 1983 and 1993.
As Singh sees it, RAW is bloated ?top heavy and expensive? with favouritism shown to certain officials. Rumours are freely floated. Singh writes, ?One often heard rumours and whispers that implied that there were blacksheep in the flock?. Singh reveals how lack of leadership at the top was responsible for a Joint Secretary suspected to be a mole, to escape. At the Signal Centre almost every message received was graded secret and no one was perturbed if a message was delayed for over two or three days. Purchases of equipment was almost haphazard.
There was no mechanism to check the purchase of equipment and a whole lot remained unused and had to be condemned years later. Lower staff was careless. A driver is quoted as saying that ?most of the drivers in the Control pool spent their time drinking and gambling? and they could afford to do so because ?most of them sold petrol in the market?. Singh discusses the American National Security Agency (NSA) in the US which has established a global interception system called ECHELON ?which can capture and analyse every telephone call, fax, telex or e-mail sent anywhere in the world?.
A frightening thought. One officer?he has been named?was dismissed by the President. He escaped. Writes Singh: ?(His) escape left many questions unanswered. If he was indeed a mole, why was he allowed to get away? Why did RAW have to seek permission of the government to take action against him, once it was found that he was passing on intelligence to a foreign country? Was he ?allowed? to get away by people in RAW itself who feared that they would be exposed if he was arrested and interrogated??..? The questions raised are intriguing not all the information provided by Singh is of such top secrecy as to be damning to the national security of the country. Much of it is gossip.
Quite a lot deals with petty matters of no great significance can be ignored. But the lasting impression that one gets is that something is terribly wrong with our intelligence services that need looking into. Singh raises an important question: He says: ?A career diplomat is not always the best person to decide the nation'sforeign policy and neither is an economist best suited to formulate economist best suited to formulate economic policies. Then why do we leave it to the heads of IB and RAW to decide on the intelligence needs of the nation??. Good question.
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