The true ramifications of Rabinder Singh's exposure as a probable major CIA spy within the Indian intelligence service RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) are not yet fully known. The nagging worry for New Delhi must be that Singh was part of a much larger 'spy ring' reminiscent of those such as the Cambridge ring in the UK or the Walker ring in the USA that did so much to undermine the self-confidence and efficiency of those countries' intelligence communities during the Cold War.
The suggestion has already been made by a number of well-placed observers that Rabinder Singh had acted as a conduit or cutout for a number of highly placed US 'assets' operating deep within the Indian intelligence community, the military and scientific centres working on nuclear and missile development, and others inside the political establishment.
'War is now just another arm of diplomacy'
Wherever this conjecture may lead, it is inescapable that one major question be asked.
Why is the United States pursuing such a vigorous espionage operation against a long-time ally of the West and a fearsome opponent of Muslim terrorism?
If India, as the world's largest democracy, should be so targeted by the CIA, are similar operations being conducted against the rest of Washington's supposed allies?
The answer to this is a very definite yes!
The US intelligence community may accept that there are 'friendly' nations, but it does not accept the notion of 'friendly' intelligence services. Even Israel's Mossad keeps the CIA at arm's length for much of the time and the famous attack on the USS Liberty in 1967 highlighted Israel's determination to draw a line on just how much Washington was allowed to spy on their activities.
Why is the US spying on India?
What's wrong with RAW?
It has long been rumoured that the CIA has a special analysis section devoted to trying to identify the 'sources' for information obtained by MI6 in order to make an aggressive 'takeover bid'. Indeed it has been suggested that the British spent as much effort keeping the identity of one of their greatest spy successes, Oleg Gordievsky, secret from their American 'allies' as from their Soviet 'enemies' in order to protect his exposure by over-aggressive CIA recruitment tactics.
India, therefore, falls neatly into the US intelligence lexicon along with most, if not all, of Washington's allies, as friendly but untrustworthy.
What makes this spy case so important and deeply disturbing for New Delhi is that much of the classified material Rabinder Singh passed to the Americans may well have landed quickly on the desks of intelligence chiefs in Islamabad.
The suspicion must be present that one of the reasons for Pakistan's surprising willingness to publicly, if not privately, abandon its long-term support for the Taliban in Afghanistan was the flow of vital information on India's intentions and capabilities reaching the Inter-Services Intelligence organisation. The analysis provided by the ISI may well have proved of critical importance to Pakistan's diplomatic position throughout recent confrontations with India over Kashmir, Islamic terrorism, and nuclear weapons.
Confirmation once again that the United States trusts no one or for that matter any country completely in its war on terrorism and in its aggressive policy of comprehensive, intrusive worldwide intelligence-gathering operations must have sent shock waves through the security services of its putative allies.
There appears to be very little indeed that any country can do to protect its secrets from the might of US intelligence. Worse is the realisation that they need America far more than America needs them, a humbling and far from pleasant reality.
Whatever the final truth may turn out to be, and it has to be accepted that this is being buried very deep, particularly by the CIA and the highly embarrassed officials of India's counter-intelligence section, many of America's longest and most loyal allies may still be wise as with the Devil 'to sup with a long spoon' when dealing with the least friendly of 'friendly' intelligence services, those of the USA itself.
Richard M Bennett is a well-known intelligence and military analyst based in the United Kingdom.