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'Talk of Sangeeta Richard being a CIA agent rubbish'

December 24, 2013 14:14 IST

'The CIA would not need to engage a maid who has no access to any information. They can buy a politician in India for much lesser cost and have more access to information. Trust me, that happens,' Amar Bhushan, former head of R&AW's counter-espionage section, tells Rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa.

Sangeeta Richard, the housemaid who worked for Devyani Khobragade -- the Indian diplomat whose December 12 arrest led to a stand-off between India and the United States -- is at the heart of the international controversy.

Many without understanding the gravity of the case have compared Richard with Rabinder Singh, the Research and Analysis Wing agent who was a 'mole' for America's Central Intelligence Agency some years ago.

Uttam Khobragade, a retired IAS officer and Devyani's father, alleged on Saturday that Richard could be a CIA agent, and that could be the reason, he claimed, why the US is shielding her and targeting his daughter.

Rabinder Singh's story is well explained in Amar Bhushan's thriller, Escape to Nowhere.

Bhushan, formerly the No 2 man in R&AW, who headed the agency's counter-espionage section, tells the story of Singh, a major in the Indian army who joined R&AW in 1986.

Singh worked at R&AW, India's external intelligence agency for 18 years, before his work outside R&AW's domain came to light.

he was kept under surveillance for several months, but Singh escaped to Nepal.

The CIA, it was discovered later, had arranged for Singh and his wife to flee the country. The couple were given fresh identities and now live in the United States.

How can this be even compared to the case of Sangeeta Richard, Amar Bhushan asks Rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa.

"The crux of the Sangeeta Richard case is that her employer Devyani Khobragade was not paying her the right salary," says Bhushan. "You cannot do this in the United States of America. If you have done wrong you need to face the law. That is the standard practice."

"It may be true that the US has sheltered Sangeeta and even facilitated her family to escape out of India. This escape was done solely at the insistence of Sangeeta who would have told the authorities that there is a good chance that her family is harassed in India after such a row kicked off," the former R&AW officer added.

"The US will go out of its way to protect her and her family only for one reason: She has filed a complaint in the US on the basis of which they have proceeded against Devyani," Bhushan said.

"She is crucial to the case and they (the US) would try and protect her in order to strengthen their prosecution."

"Stating that she is protected because she is a CIA mole is nothing short of rubbish," the former R&AW counter-espionage expert felt.

"She is not a CIA mole because the US has nothing to gain out of Sangeeta Richard. She was an employee at the home of a deputy consul general. I know for a fact that a deputy consul general has no secrets. Moreover, Sangeeta has no access to her employer's office."

"At most, Sangeeta could have passed on some telephone numbers from her employer's home directory. Would the US have any interest in this, considering Devyani was privy to no secrets? They have better resources than that."

"Had Devyani been a deputy ambassador, then I could have understood this theory being floated. A deputy ambassador does have access to some secrets."

"People should think before making such comparisons," he added. "There are issues that need to be raised in such a case, but to make wild comparisons is not wise."

"The CIA would not need to engage a maid who has no access to any information. They can buy a politician in India for much lesser cost and have more access to information. Trust me, that happens."

"Somebody from R&AW posted in the US will need to find out if Sangeeta Richard had spoken to anyone else about official matters. Apparently, it has not happened and R&AW has not reported anything to this effect," Bhushan explained.

"To compare Sangeeta with Rabinder is like comparing a mountain to a mole hill. Rabinder was deep inside R&AW," Bhushan pointed out. "He was a senior officer with loads of information. He also spoke to and engaged with other R&AW officers."

"In Sangeeta's case, who could she have possibly spoken to? She worked for someone who had no secrets at her disposal."

"Let me tell you, worse things have happened to our officers in R&AW who were working in the US, Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc," Bhushan revealed.

"The ministry of external affairs did not lodge a formal protest even in the mildest of language. I will not name those who have faced such ordeals, but I can tell you worse things have happened to them."

"The cases went unnoticed because the MEA did not lodge either a formal or informal protest."

Image: A television grab showing Sangeeta Richard.

Vicky Nanjappa