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These ISI spies are not the last
October 26, 2006
Penetration of the Indian armed forces and other sensitive establishments like the ministries of defence, home and external affairs, the atomic energy and space departments has always been a top priority task for the ISI.
All intelligence agencies undertake penetration operations in other countries -- whether friend or foe -- for intelligence collection. Even while posing as India's strategic partner, the USA's CIA penetrated the Intelligence Bureau, the Reasearch and Analysis Wing and the National Security Council Secretariat, NSCS.
Even in the unlikely event of an improvement in India's relations with Pakistan, the ISI's penetration operations for intelligence collection will continue. We have to be on guard.
The ISI has three roles -- intelligence collection, counter-intelligence and covert action.
As an intelligence collection agency, it collects intelligence of relevance to Pakistan's national security from India and other countries. In its counter-intelligence role, it is responsible for preventing India and other countries from collecting intelligence in and from Pakistan. In its covert action role, it is responsible for clandestine procurement of nuclear material and for assisting jihadi terrorists in India and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In India, while it focuses on Muslims for carrying out acts of terrorism, it concentrates on Hindus for the collection of intelligence. This is because it thinks that the Hindus, being the majority community, will have more access to secret intelligence than Muslims.
That is why, more often than not, the ISI moles in the armed forces and other government departments detected by the IB, which is responsible for counter-intelligence, and arrested by the police are generally Hindus. This is so in respect of the present arrests also.
While the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies try to recruit officers at senior levels, the ISI's successes are generally at lower levels. This is because senior officers, who understand the serious implications to their career and social prestige if they fall into an ISI trap, are careful to keep away from it.
Officers at the lower levels, particularly those who have financial problems, easily fall into the trap of the ISI, which offers them large amounts of money in return for intelligence and secret documents.
There were many instances in the past too when military -- army, air force and navy -- officers at the lower levels were found passing on intelligence to the ISI. In the 1980s, a senior naval officer posted abroad was found having a personal relationship with a Pakistani woman, who was suspected to be from the ISI. He was removed from service. This was a rare instance of a senior officer falling into a honey trap set up by the ISI.
Only the interrogation of the two arrested army men and comprehensive damage assessment will bring out whether these were agents acting alone or whether they formed part of a network. It is generally presumed that for every mole detected, there must be one or more, which remain undetected. One has to find out whether the ISI recruited them after they had joined the army or recruited them first and then encouraged them to join the army.
Such penetrations are prevented through internal departmental security and counter-intelligence. Departmental security involves security of the set-up where public servants work, security of the classified documents kept there, physical checking of the personnel as they leave office to prevent their carrying out classified documents and monitoring the contacts of the employees with foreigners and their standard of living in order to check whether they are showing sudden signs of prosperity.
This is the responsibility of each department. Thus, the army is responsible for its internal security to prevent penetration by foreign intelligence agencies.
The large-scale computerisation of the armed forces and other government departments and the availability of means such as pen drives have made the task of ensuring departmental security very difficult. The CIA's moles in the NSCS were reported to have passed on hundreds of pages of classified information to a woman officer of the CIA posted in the US embassy in Delhi through pen drives.
The same modus operandi has been used by the two ISI moles in the army. This speaks poorly of the state of computer security in government departments, which has been taken advantage of by the CIA and the ISI.
Counter-intelligence refers to identifying suspected foreign intelligence officers working in India and keeping a physical and electronic surveillance on them and their contacts with Indians occupying sensitive positions. This is the IB's responsibility. Only when the army's internal security set-up and the IB's counter-intelligence set-up work effectively in close coordination with each other would it be possible to prevent such instances of penetration. The fact that such instances keep taking place shows weaknesses in internal departmental security and counter-intelligence.
The ISI has till now been using Kathmandu for its clandestine meetings with its Indian moles so that these meetings are not detected by the IB. One of the arrested NCOs reportedly was visiting Kathmandu repeatedly for meeting his ISI controlling officer and passing on the documents without being detected till now. The fact that this time he was intercepted at Delhi airport before he could go to Kathmandu would indicate that the IB had been tipped off by somebody or by an intercepted message of the ISI.
The ISI has recently set up a base in Colombo. It is to be expected that in future it will use Kathmandu for clandestine meetings with its moles in North India, and Colombo for its clandestine meetings with its moles in south India.
Since 2004, there has been a detection of three major instances of penetration -- of R&AW by the CIA in 2004, of the NSCS by the CIA earlier this year and of the army by the ISI now.
This shows that all is not well with the state of our internal departmental security and counter-intelligence. As a result, foreign intelligence agencies have been able to operate with impunity. Identification of the loopholes and their rectification should be given very high priority.