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RAW book: More smoke than light

Last updated on: July 21, 2007 15:09 IST
The RAW Experience.

Or, India's External Intelligence, Secrets of Research and Analysis Wing.

Which is the more attractive title for a book?

Of course, the latter.

But that title has put author Major General V K Singh in the heart of a storm. So much so that he has switched off his cell phone and is answering only select calls on his landline.

Manas Publications, his publisher, changed the title suggested by him, The RAW Experience, to the spicier one to assure more hits on Internet search engines, says General Singh while speaking to

He has just published a book on India's external intelligence agency that works in secrecy; he justifiably wants R&AW to be made more accountable and transparent.

"The publisher told me we need words like 'secrets' and 'intelligence' in the title because a word like RAW will only get sites on raw vegetables on Internet search engines," the general says.

The book has already stirred a controversy with unconfirmed reports saying that R&AW chief Ashok Chaturvedi has called for a ban on it.

Three former R&AW chiefs, whom spoke to, believe the government is unlikely to ban the book; they also feel the book should not be banned.

The prospect of the book facing legal trouble does not worry Vivek Garg, its publisher.

"I have also heard that it is going to be banned. I am all set to fight the government's decision in court," Garg told "If you think that V K Singh has written against the national interest, then even then prime minister A B Vajpayee should be prosecuted for treason because he released a secret tape belonging to R&AW of a conversation involving General Musharraf."

In his book, General Singh has written at length about this particular conversation between then Pakistan army chief Pervez Musharraf in Beijing and Lieutenant General Mohammad Aziz, his Chief of General Staff, in Islamabad at the height of the Kargil conflict.

General Singh writes that after this revelation the source, which helped India tape the conversation, dried up.

Contrary to what the title suggests, the book's critics say there are not many secrets in it because General Singh was concerned with signal intelligence rather than human intelligence during his tenure at R&AW. Also, at R&AW, like in other spying agencies, the production of intelligence and analysis of intelligence are separate functions. General Singh, having been a technical expert, is unlikely to know much, the critics say.

Girish Chandra 'Gary' Saxena, a former R&AW chief, told, "I am not inclined to read the book because as far as I know he was on the periphery of things."

General Singh, however, disagrees. "That is not entirely true because I knew about all my department in R&AW. Like Dulat (A S Dulat, R&AW chief for 14 months, from 1999 to 2001), I also came to know the organisation although we were in it for a brief period."

When Arvind Dave headed R&AW from 1997 to 1999, he had prepared a plan for the upgradation of telecommunications under a project called Vision 2000. The scheme was approved by the Vajpayee government. General Singh was inducted from the army into R&AW in 2000 to help implement this project by suggesting equipment, scrutinising tenders etc.

He was an equipment specialist with more than 20 years of experience, but he was not an 'intelligence' specialist. Until his retirement in 2004, he served under three R&AW chiefs -- Dulat, Vikram Sood and C D Sahay.

His time in R&AW coincided with Amar Bhushan's tenure as additional secretary in charge of administration. Subsequently, Bhushan became special secretary when Sood retired in March 2003 and Sahay took over as R&AW boss.

It is believed that while General Singh got along well with other officers, his relations with Bhushan were strained.

He complained to his superiors that Bhushan did not treat him with respect, did not even give him a proper room and furniture befitting his status.

When asked about it, General Singh agreed that he was not properly treated and was not given logistics to function within R&AW. "That is true. Those were systemic faults," he says.

However, he clarifies, "It is a wrong impression to say I had problems with Bhushan. I have appreciated him in two places in my book. I had good relations with him."

However, after he was provided the logistics he wanted, he was not invited to the periodic meetings of the R&AW chief with other officers, says an insider who has now retired from the agency.

Those upset with the book claim it is wrong to say the agency is not accountable.

"R&AW is accountable," says Saxena, who also served as governor of Jammu and Kashmir. "But, of course, very few know about it. Things remain under wraps because we are a secret service. Any secret organisation is supposed to be secret. If you want transparency have the Transparency Intelligence Services!"

General Singh gives the example of the Central Intelligence Agency being accountable to the United States Congress, but Saxena refutes this, saying, "The CIA is hardly transparent."

Like R&AW, the Directorate General of Security and the Special Protection Group are also part of the Cabinet Secretariat. The budgets and expenditure of R&AW, the DGS and SPG are scrutinised by the same financial director of accounts.

The SPG is assisted by R&AW's telecommunications division in the selection and procurement of telecommunications equipment required by it. General Singh used to assist the SPG in the selection of equipment, but differences arose between him and the SPG over the selection of some equipment.

The SPG overruled General Singh's objections to the purchase of Motorola equipment. Siemens, which had not made a bid, had alleged that

Motorola was brazenly favoured. General Singh alleges that the US company overcharged the SPG and also that it is a security risk for VVIPs.

"If Singh strongly felt that an American company would compromise the prime minister's security," says a former R&AW officer, "the correct thing for him would have been to place his objections before the Secretary (Security) who coordinates the prime minister's security, or the Cabinet Secretary or the Principal Secretary to the prime minister or the National Security Adviser. Instead of doing so, he waited for three years after his retirement to write against the SPG's decision."

"When I was in service," says General Singh, "I did submit my reservations in writing to my head Sahay. It would not have been prudent to write to the NSA or anyone else."

He argues that the larger issue arising from this deal should be seen. "I want to share with the people what the Americans already know. It is a matter related to vital security."

In his book he writes that 'the algorithms used by intelligence agencies are always indigenously customised,' but in this case the SPG bought equipment whose encryption device is known to the Americans.' General Singh counts this as a security risk.

One chapter in his book concerns VVIP security. "Precisely because VVIP security is being compromised, I have written on it," he says.

B Raman, terrorism expert, former R&AW officer and columnist, says, "There is a Laxman Rekha on the subject of security of the country's top leaders which nobody crosses in other countries. Singh seems to have crossed this Laxman Rekha and written on current matters relating to the functioning of the SPG, which is responsible for the security of the prime minister, past prime ministers and their families. The government is naturally seriously concerned over this."

Vikram Sood, another former R&AW chief, agrees: "I believe in principle it is wrong to write such a book."

The most disappointing chapter in General Singh's book is about R&AW officer Rabinder Singh who, just before he was apprehended for being an American spy, fled to the US. The author has not provided any new information about the episode.

He says the episode was mishandled by R&AW, which is, of course, hardly a secret. The fact is that when Rabinder Singh escaped from India, Amar Bhushan, with whom V K Singh did not share a rapport, was in charge of counter-intelligence at R&AW.

Interestingly, senior R&AW officers C D Sahay, Jyoti Sinha and Amar Bhushan, all hailed from Bihar and the same batch of the Indian Police Service. Sahay was an IPS officer of the Karnataka cadre; Sinha of the Bihar cadre; Bhushan of the Madhya Pradesh cadre.

Expectedly, the three officers shared what is known as 'peer group rivalry.' When Sahay was made R&AW chief on April 1, 2003, the Vajpayee government promoted Sinha and Bhushan as special secretaries with the same emoluments as Sahay.

Bhushan, who was appointed head of the Aviation Research Centre, was disinclined to demit charge of administration and continued to hold two charges as special secretary, administration, and director, ARC. In the former capacity he was in charge of counter-intelligence.

When Bhushan became aware of Rabinder Singh's links with the US and placed him under surveillance, he allegedly did not keep either Sahay or the Intelligence Bureau, which handles domestic intelligence, in the loop.

Only when Rabinder Singh slipped past surveillance and disappeared from New Delhi did Bhushan reportedly bring the matter to then R&AW chief Sahay's notice.

It is correct on General Singh's part to criticise the episode. Many former R&AW officers feel Bhushan has to bear a major share of the responsibility for Rabinder Singh's escape to the US.

However, they also feel, "V K Singh, who allegedly did not get along well with Bhushan, has over-dramatised the Rabinder Singh fiasco."

General Singh's book has also levelled allegations about R&AW's misuse of operational funds and argues for parliamentary oversight.

Asks Saxena, "Does he know anything about R&AW's finances? Of course it is subjected to audit."

Many former officers at the agency including Raman have been writing about this since 2000.

"So long as the director of accounts in the Cabinet Secretariat, who is a senior officer of the Indian Audit and Accounts Service and is of the rank of accountant general of a state, is satisfied about the handling of accounts," says Raman, "such allegations, which have been made periodically, need to be ignored if they are of a general nature."

Raman feels another allegation aired by General Singh, that a senior R&AW officer used secret operational funds to fund his daughter's education in the US should be investigated.

"This is a specific allegation. The government should enquire into this and if it is found false, it should inform the public instead of chasing V K Singh for making such an allegation."

Former R&AW chief Anand Kumar Verma feels, "Such books should be rated on merit. We should have the freedom to write. Former CIA chief George Tenet has just published a book where he has spoken against the President Bush and has ruthlessly criticised the invasion of Iraq. Freedom of expression is necessary for everybody, even for retired intelligence officers."

Interestingly, Verma draws attention to another fact of life for Indian intelligence officers. "Our organisation, which functions outside India, is essentially asking officers to break the law. In the US intelligence officers have the backing of their country's laws which authorises them to function 'legally' outside US shores. Here, none of us is protected. We should have the law to protect our intelligence officers."

As the debate goes on, Saxena puts it aptly, "The book is already published. The horse has bolted from the stable. No point in banning it now, belatedly."

"Enquiries indicate it is not correct that R&AW wants this book to be banned," adds Raman.

Garg denies the charge of planting rumours about a ban and refuses to reveal how well the book has done because he fears our telephonic conversation is being tapped by the intelligence agencies. Nonetheless, he appears to have the last laugh.

Sheela Bhatt