THE SHAD­OWY WORLD OF ES­PI­ONAGE

India Today - - UPFRONT - By Vap­pala Balachan­dran

Writ­ers on in­tel­li­gence face two prob­lems. First, in­tel­li­gence is a low­pro­file job where there is no place for da­banggs. Stella Rim­ing­ton, MI5’s first woman chief, had fa­mously said that “the best and most suc­cess­ful spies are the quiet, ap­par­ently bor­ing and dull peo­ple”. But read­ers ex­pect them to re­flect Ian Flem­ing’s ‘Bond’ sto­ries. Se­cond, even re­tired in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers re­sent it when such books do not high­light drama. Allen Dulles had said that the leg­endary Bri­tish Se­cond World War SOE (Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Ex­ec­u­tives) “who set Europe ablaze” were ag­i­tated by the “staid and sober” of­fi­cial his­tory by their mil­i­tary his­to­rian, whereas the me­dia had glo­ri­fied them.

The Un­end­ing Game by for­mer R&AW chief Vikram Sood is a low­pro­file but solid con­tri­bu­tion to the study of in­tel­li­gence as a tool for for­mu­lat­ing se­cu­rity pol­icy in In­dia and else­where. It is not a vain­glo­ri­ous mem­oir, as is of­ten seen nowa­days, but an en­thralling book on the his­tory and prob­lems of in­tel­li­gence col­lec­tion, in­ter­pre­ta­tion and fol­low­up. His prodi­gious col­lec­tion of rel­e­vant facts has re­sulted in the book hav­ing el­e­ments of mys­tery and sen­sa­tion. It would also in­cite the read­ers to think of the myr­iad fu­ture chal­lenges in the realm of na­tional se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence in a com­plex “wired world”.

Sood has elo­quently ex­plained the value of in­tel­li­gence in the first chap­ter. As the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing all over the world, ar­ma­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers are en­tic­ing af­fected coun­tries by in­tro­duc­ing ad­vanced warn­ing sys­tems and weaponry. But de­vel­op­ing coun­tries are un­able to pur­chase such ar­se­nals due to pro­hib­i­tive costs. In De­cem­ber 2017, the Par­lia­men­tary Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on De­fence had crit­i­cised the NDA gov­ern­ment for poor al­lo­ca­tions in the 2017­18 bud­get for mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion. Prime Min­is­ter Ra­jiv Gandhi, while ad­dress­ing R&AW of­fi­cers in the 1980s, had an­tic­i­pated such sit­u­a­tions and called upon them to meet this chal­lenge through timely ad­vance in­tel­li­gence on for­eign threats, which would be much less ex­pen­sive.

The third chap­ter is about the CIAKGB bat­tles. Sood says the KGB was able to out­smart west­ern in­tel­li­gence ser­vices by in­fil­trat­ing the core west­ern de­ci­sion­mak­ers, but suf­fered set­backs when the Soviet de­ci­sion­mak­ers ig­nored in­tel­li­gence. This is quite right. A 1997 Yale Uni­ver­sity study, which pro­duced a book, Bat­tle­ground Ber­lin, had said: “They won bat­tle after bat­tle but lost the war. Rarely did Stalin re­ceive in­for­ma­tion that he might not like.”

Chap­ter 4 presents a com­par­i­son of in­tel­li­gence agen­cies in ‘Asian Play­ing Fields’ where Sood has de­scribed the ISI’s clout. Again, I am re­minded of what Ra­jiv Gandhi had told us about his talk with Yasser Arafat, who con­veyed to him after his Pak­istan visit that they were more afraid of R&AW than the In­dian Army! ISI chief Hamid Gul had frankly told R&AW chief A.K. Verma in the 1980s that Pak­istan was sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism as a low­cost war­fare since they were afraid of In­dia’s might.

Sood has done well in de­scrib­ing the para­noia that is de­vel­op­ing all over the world as a re­sult of the pro­lif­er­a­tion of so­cial me­dia and con­se­quent elec­tronic eaves­drop­ping by gov­ern­ments, busi­ness lead­ers and pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als. It has also cre­ated a new busi­ness model of ‘out­sourc­ing’ in­tel­li­gence col­lec­tion to pri­vate bod­ies and re­tal­ia­tory ‘pri­vatis­ing’ of ter­ror tasks by cer­tain coun­tries like Pak­istan.

In Chap­ter 11, the au­thor has em­pha­sised the im­por­tance of avoid­ing a re­volv­ing door cul­ture in R&AW for manning key posts as “each rookie… will drift to greener pas­tures mid­stream, tak­ing away with him years of ex­pe­ri­ence”.

The writer is for­mer spe­cial sec­re­tary, cab­i­net sec­re­tariat

Sood de­scribes the para­noia de­vel­op­ing as a re­sult of elec­tronic eaves­drop­ping by gov­ern­ments

THE UN­END­ING GAME: A For­mer R&AW’s Chief’s In­sight into Es­pi­onage

by VIKRAM SOOD PEN­GUIN VIK­ING 304 pages, `599

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