Saturday, September 22, 2007

Former Indian spymaster charged over revealing book

According to Daily Times, Indian police on Friday charged a former top official from the country’s external intelligence agency for allegedly disclosing state secrets in a book he wrote after retirement, officials said. Federal detectives from the Central Bureau of Investigation also raided the home of VK Singh after slapping him with charges under India’s tough Official Secrets Act, which would carry a minimum prison term of seven years.

Ban it: RAW responds to critical book by ex-official
Pranab Dhal Samanta, Indian Express, July 15, 2007

Upset over one of its former officials coming out with a book that criticises the internal functioning of the agency and makes a case for Parliamentary supervision, the Research & Analysis Wing, the country’s premier external intelligence agency, has asked the Government to ban the book.

It’s learnt that RAW head Ashok Chaturvedi has written to the Cabinet Secretary to stop further publication and sale of the book India’s External Intelligence — Secrets of Research and Analysis Wing on the grounds that it violates the Official Secrets Act. This came after a meeting between Chaturvedi and National Security Advisor M K Narayanan.

RAW has taken the plea that the author, Maj Gen V K Singh, has divulged secret information that could hurt the country’s interest. As per procedure, the contents will be screened by a Committee of Secretaries and then sent to Law Ministry for final clearance of a ban order.

The Government showed similar discomfort when M K Dhar, a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau, wrote the book Open Secrets — India’s Intelligence Unveiled. However, the IB decided against moving a ban order.

Rules suggest that any former agency official planning to write a book must first submit it for screening to the intelligence agency concerned. Singh admits that he did not submit any manuscript for pre-clearance but argues that he was on deputation to RAW and, otherwise, belongs to the Army where no such rules apply.

“As far as I am concerned, there is a two-year cooling-off period for us after we retire. I retired three years ago, so I don’t see the problem,” Singh told The Sunday Express. Still unaware of the Government move to ban his book, he says: “I don’t regret having written the book at all.”

Singh may have a point. The book does not give out any “explosive” secret and, for most parts, describes the routine functioning of the agency. As a Joint Secretary in-charge of communications, he admits that he was never part of any operation and visited abroad twice in his three-year tenure in RAW.

His account largely pertains to observation and criticism of the agency’s functioning. For instance, he writes that releasing the transcript between Pervez Musharraf and Mohammed Aziz at the height of the Kargil war may have served a diplomatic purpose but Pakistan discovered the Islamabad-Beijing satellite link that was being tapped and the source was shut.

The other sensitive issue he deals with is the purchase of a secure communication system by the Special Protection Group. Having been associated with the technical evaluation, Singh had reservations about the customisation of the equipment by Motorola for the SPG. He has detailed the process leading up to forming a committee to look at the issue.

On a broader plane, Singh writes that there is lack of “leadership and accountability” in the agency and that some system of accountability or supervision must be put in place, pointing to cases of misuse of funds. His examples range from daily functioning of the agency to some cases of doubtful procurement.

As for leadership, he does question the commitment of top officials and gives examples of how the RAW station at Bhuj was closed for a year because of the earthquake even though none of the personnel was injured. The decision was taken just because the building had suffered damage and no one wanted to move to makeshift accommodation.

What spooked the spooks
Singh’s book doesn’t reveal any explosive secret but it does make claims that RAW would rather have not heard:
• India was tapping satellite link between Islamabad and Beijing. This was shut after India made Musharraf-Aziz Kargil transcript public
• Details about SPG procurement of communication sets despite security objections
• Purchase of antennae where inflated quotes were approved’
• Criticises the Govt for not coming clean on the Rabinder Singh spy case

Also See related story and CNN-IBN video at Intellibriefs

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