Monday, July 2, 2012


With reference to my article titled “Spy Vs Spy: The Anti-Climax” I am reproducing below a  strongly-worded, hard-hitting and even insulting letter received by me from  a distinguished print media journalist for whom I have a lot of regards and affection and my reply to him:

I know you will probably ignore this message and send it to the bin. But I wonder what you meant by "Barkha's people"?

At a time when she did great harm to the credibility of our profession, you defended her stoutly. You tweeted angrily, wrote sharp letters to Prem Shankar Jha and admirably held on to your position.

Now you use her name to condemn all of us into a single stereotype, falling for each one of them.

The Radia Tapes exposed the under belly of journalism. You didn't find abutting wrong in them. But you choose to constantly take cheap pot shots and speak derisively of journalists every chance you get.

If you feel so strongly about journalists, why do you use the rediff or Outlook platforms so extensively? Isn't that a form of moral dishonesty?


Thanks. I never ignore messages & reading material. I read your message too with great interest. My article is not a criticism of anybody. It is a satire including of my own profession. I have never used any journalistic platform. I write only for my blog and for web sites of SAAG and Chennai Centre for China Studies. People take from there. Some ack and pay. Rediff regularly pays. Outlook and Pioneer have never paid a single paise since they started using my pieces in 2000. I have never asked them either. TOI and HT ask me to write twice or thrice a year and pay me without fail sans my asking for it. I write not for publicity or money, but to share my thoughts with others. I have about 20,000 regular readers in SAAG.I write to share my thoughts with them.

I have always been a great admirer of Barkha and a critic too when warranted. I continue to be her great admirer and hold her in high esteem. This article was not a criticism of Barkha. I used her Tweets as a peg to focus on the way the media reacts to such cases. Take care. Raman



“oh they all openly say they went as spies.. that’s the first thing that takes the imagined glamour away na .”

“what I mean is I'm sure its a commonplace phenomenon across either side.”

“and roop lal before that. Not sure it should come as a shocker though!”

“and so many others like him on both sides. Hardly glamorous intrigue. More like tragedy.”

These are some of the Tweets sent out on  June 28,2012, by Barkha Dutt of NDTV, who has emerged as a widely-followed Tweetizen of the world.

Her Tweets were her disappointing reactions to the statement made by Surjeet Singh, the alleged R&AW spy, who crossed over into India that day after having spent years in a Pakistani prison on a charge of being a spy of the R&AW allegedly sent across  the Indo-Pakistan border by the R&AW to collect intelligence.

When Pakistan announced that it was releasing Surjeet, there was considerable excitement around in the journalists’ community. Also in the general public.

They all expected Surjeet to be one like Smiley’s people crossing the border inconspicuously in the dead of the night as it was raining cats and dogs and disappearing nowhere----never again to be seen and heard.

To die a quiet death away from the glare of publicity.

A typical return of an R&AW man from the cold, which would make all of us proud of the R&AW and give a theme for our movie-makers, who are frantically hunting for heroic R&AW stories.

A question I am often asked is: Why there are no heroic espionage stories and movies in India?

Surjeet was hardly the man from the cold. He walked across the border in bright sunlight relishing all the attention on him from his relatives, young innocents-abroad journos and officials.

“Jasoosi ki thi?”, the excited journos asked him expecting him to deny vehemently.

To their surprise and disappointment, he replied: “bilkul. Jasoosi ki thi.”

All the exciting expectations were gone in a trice.

What? This is not the way Smiley’s people behave. This is not what we had seen in Western movies.

What kind of an intelligence agency we have? Do the R&AW officers read John Le Carre and watch Western movies to learn how they are supposed to behave as spies?

Where is the glamour in the R&AW and its spies? Where is the glamour in the intelligence profession as practised in India?

No glamour in the Indian world of intelligence. Openly admitting before TV cameras that they indulged in espionage in Pakistan.

As we all retired spooks know to our discomfiture, the R&AW’s reputation----particularly in the world of Barkha’s people----had never been high. It reached its nadir on June 28, thanks to Surjeet and his supposed confession before the TV cameras.

At least one thing I can tell you about the R&AW people after having spent nearly three decades in that organisation having been a spy myself and controlled dozens of other spies.

We may not be as glamorous as Smiley’s people, but we are not stupid.

You will see our finger-prints in every success the nation has achieved since 1947--- whether during the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 or 1971 or 1999, whether in our counter-insurgency operations in J&K and the North-East, whether in East Pakistan before 1971.

Just as you will see them in every national security disaster the nation has gone through---whether during the Sino-Indian war of 1962, whether during the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, whether in Sri Lanka against the LTTE or whether against the LET on 26/11 in Mumbai.

Every intelligence organisation has its ups and downs just as every spook has.

In one way we are proud to have been different from Smiley’s people---whether of the British or American or Soviet variety.

We have never led our country into a wrongful adventure---just as the CIA did in Vietnam, the KGB did in Afghanistan and the CIA and the MI 6 did in Iraq.

There are spies and spies and spies living and operating in Pakistan. Some collecting intelligence about Pakistan. Some about the Khalistani terrorists living in Lahore. Some about the jihadi terrorists. Some about the Narco smugglers. And so on.

How many so-called flop  spies Barkha has been able to name?  Three---Roop Lal, Sarabjit Singh, Surjeet Singh. Possibly one or two more.

The glamour is not in a handful of guys who didn’t come up to our exotic expectation as they returned from the cold.

The glamour is in countless others who are heroically living in the cold, evading detection, and protecting Indian nationals and interests to the best of their ability.

The nation will never know of them.

But they are the unsung heroes of the R&AW. (3-7-12)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Research & Analysis Wing )



It is difficult to totally avoid collateral deaths of innocent civilians in counter-insurgency operations, but it is important to take every precaution possible to reduce such deaths.

2. When the security forces do not exercise the  necessary care and caution to avoid collateral deaths of innocent civilians, counter-insurgency operations themselves, instead of putting down the insurgency, become a root cause of more insurgency.

3. The alienation of the people in the affected areas that originally gave rise to the insurgency is further aggravated by the deaths of innocent civilians. It tends to confirm the image of the Government as projected by the insurgents as uncaring and insensitive. The credibility of the Government and the security forces is damaged when the people come to know that the version of an operation as officially put out is wrong---either partially or totally and deliberately so.

4. This drives more people into the folds of the insurgents and strengthens their motivation and determination to keep up the fight against the Government.

5. Collateral deaths of innocent civilians take place due to three reasons----- imprecise intelligence, over-reaction by the security forces caused by exaggerated assessments of the threats posed by the insurgents and deliberate acts of vindictiveness by the security forces to teach a lesson  to sections of  the community perceived to be supporting the insurgents.

6. Whenever the security forces claim to have killed a large number of insurgents in an operation projected by them as successful, the Government should verify their claims instead of immediately praising them  for their success.

7. Verification does not necessarily mean that the Government distrusts the version of the security forces. It only means that the Government wants to satisfy itself that there has been no collateral deaths --- wanton or unavoidable--- of innocent civilians.

8. Such verification adds  to the confidence of the people in the fairness of the Government. The Government has a dual responsibility. To the security forces, to reassure them that their rightful actions will have the total support of the Government. To the people living in the affected area to satisfy them that the Government cares for them and will not blindly support the security forces if they indulge in wrongful actions or unjustified operations.

9. If the Government does not take the precaution of verifying the facts and circumstances of operations resulting in large fatalities and if these prove to be wrong, the resulting embarrassment will damage the future effectiveness of counter-insurgency operations.

10. One is already seeing this in the unfortunate controversy following the claims of the security forces to have killed 20 Maoists in what was projected as an intelligence-driven and successful counter-insurgency operation in Chattisgarh’s Bijapur District on June 29,2012. The initial claims of a remarkably successful operation made by the Security Forces and the Government of Chattisgarh were accepted without due verification by Shri P.Chidambaram, the Home Minister of the Government of India, and the security forces complimented for their success.

11. Subsequently, doubts have been raised about the veracity of the facts and circumstances of the operation not only by human rights activists and sections of the local villagers, but also by some members of the Congress Party, who have been quoted by the media as describing the encounter as “completely fake” resulting in the death of many innocent civilians.

12.Our security forces are led by responsible officers and I find it difficult to believe that they would have indulged in a fake operation and tried to mislead not only the State Government, but also the Government of India under which the central para-military forces come.

13. At the same time, from the kind of allegations being made  by sections of the public and non-governmental activists against the security forces, one cannot totally dismiss the possibility of an unacceptable number of collateral fatalities due to reasons yet to be determined.

14. Instead of standing on false prestige and instead of being influenced by considerations of having to maintain the morale of the security forces by supporting them right or wrong, the Government should  hold an independent enquiry to establish facts and make amends to the relatives of any innocent villagers killed if such collateral deaths had taken place as alleged.

15.Since taking over as the Union Home Minister after the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, Shri Chidambaram has taken commendable action to strengthen our counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capabilities and to improve the quality of the operations undertaken by the security forces.

16. At the same time, he has shown an unfortunate tendency to rush to the  media with unverified versions of operations instead of showing the patience to have the facts verified before going public and identifying himself with the initial version which may prove to be wrong on subsequent verification.

17. We saw it in the case of the interrogation of  Zabiuddin Ansari aka Abu Jundal aka Abu Jindal aka Abu Hamza, an Indian Muslim  suspected to be one of co-conspirators of the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai. We are seeing it again in the case of the operation against the Maoists in Chattisgarh.

18. The Home Minister is the supreme head of the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency machinery of the Government of India. His credibility in the eyes of the people and the international community is of supreme importance. If his versions repeatedly prove to be wrong subsequently, not only his personal credibility, but even the credibility of the Indian State could be weakened.

19. The Home Minister of the Government of India should be the last to brief the media after all facts and circumstances have been verified to his total satisfaction. He should not be the first to rush to the media. ( 2-7-12)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-Mail: . Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )