CIA’s Human Intelligence Activities in India
Tring Tring….. (A telephone ringing at the American Embassy in India)
Somebody picks up the phone and waits for the person on the other side to speak.
“Hello, it’s me, Raj. Naam to suna hi hoga?”
And the conversation starts…..
Little did I know that the hero’s name from popular character names of Shah Rukh Khan’s maximum Yash Chopra/Karan Johar produced Bollywood movies would be one of the favourite covers used by many Indian military officers to communicate with counterspies of CIA! The high ranking officers of the Defense Ministry generally used nicknames to hide their real identity. So, in this one case, the officer had a sensitive disposition and was especially afraid of getting exposed. Hence he was always extra careful about his visits with the CIA agents. The CIA gradually laid a very clever trap for him. And once he fell into the trap, it wasn’t easy to escape. Every time he had to meet the agents, he would give a call and say it was “Raj” speaking. That was a clue for the CIA agents to move and reach the venue to check whether “Raj” was followed/ tailed by anyone. As a result of friendship with “Raj” CIA got to know about the steps Indian government was planning on various important matters related to Defense of External Affairs. “Raj” got paid some Rs 34000/- in return for his excellent contribution.
HUMAN INTELLIGENCE & its importance in National Security
One of the most complex aspects of HUM INT is human nature. Emotions, intentions and motivations differ from person-to-person and change overtime. Understanding people, with all of their complexities, is crucial to the business of running assets to collect HUM INT. On numerous occasions it has been proved in the past that specific information can be sought only through HUMAN Assets and none other. At times, human assets have been sacrificed for gathering crucial information in hostilities.
Throughout history, information derived from human sources has helped shape foreign policy decisions. Some thinkers believe the credibility of Human assets and the correlation of information provided by too many assets simultaneously makes it little less effective in today’s fast paced geo politics. But in the long run, it is this intelligence-raw or finished which is gathered through human assets that come handy.
Collection methods can take place in a variety of ways, including in-person meetings. Some HUM INT operations can bring results in short duration, while others can take years. HUM INT is collected through many methods such as clandestine acquisition of photography, documents, and other material, overt collection by people overseas, debriefing of foreign nationals and citizens who travel abroad and official contacts with foreign governments.
Human intelligence plays a critical role in developing and implementing a nation’s foreign and national security policy and in protecting its national interests. HUM INT can be used in its raw form to make decisions on the battlefield, or more often, HUM INT, along with other types of intelligence (SIG INT, IM INT, etc.), is analyzed to produce finished intelligence products for the nation’s policymakers.
POST INDEPENDENCE INDIA (Early Sixties)
Even the popular Indian writer V.S. Naipaul in his book An Area of Darkness: A Discovery of India recounts sardonically how, during his travels across India between February 1962 and February 1964, “He had grown tired of meeting young Americans in unlikely places. It was amusing, and charitable, to think that some of them were spies for the CIA or whatever it was.”
India had always been a soft target for American intelligence agencies from its post-Independence
times. It is very well known fact in International Relations that US prefers and promotes discord between India and its neighbours, esp. China, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Although US government had trouble with Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, they found it easy to exert influence on India’s economy, politics and security and intelligence through their vast network of HUMAN INTELLIGENCE. US government knew very well that India was a potential market for many US products such as agricultural crops, clothes, cosmetics and especially weapons and ammunition. This market could be threatened if the Indian government decided to develop its own means of indigenous production of goods such as grains, garments or weapons.
US has tried and succeeded in creating a strong network of Pro-American officials in the Indian military and the Indian government who would oppose the Prime Minister’s policies. They have spent huge amounts of funds, time and manpower to get information beneficial to their government. With this aim, the CIA did not just confine their activities to the lobbies of bureaucrats and top brass of Indian military in New Delhi. It built a wide network of faithful agents in the distant yet important military bases in the country.
In order to broaden their ties with the Indian Army, the CIA has tried to use all kinds of baits for turning officials into their pawns such as Wine, Women and Wealth. Open Source Information and documents (autobiographies of old CIA agents, Indian political leaders/ bureaucrats) suggest that the Agency did not hesitate to use blackmail, slander, information, sabotage and murder in fulfilling its aim of weakening India’s development and using it for their own good.
CIA’s activities in India (early Nineties)
With Mrs Indira Gandhi India was again governed for much of the next two decades by a leader with total mistrust of Western intelligence services in general, and the CIA in particular. One former CIA officer, who served in India in the early 1970s, recalled that, ‘CIA agents…were to be found according to Madame Gandhi, beneath every charpoy and behind every neem tree.
Majority of US citizens living in India are directly or indirectly connected with agents of
CIA or FBI. They are provided cover for the gathering information in the name of business or educational purposes.
Their main purpose is to collect information related to the outstanding political and government leaders, important policies and decisions of Indian government in matters of domestic and foreign interests and various bones of contentions between various state governments and the central government.
In order to facilitate pro-American policies the Intelligence agencies slowly built a network of close contacts within the government, bureaucracy and military services. These so-called double agents or rogues are created through close watches on their personal and professional lives. At the right time and through the right kind of bait, their offices are used to gather information about important decisions of the government. Even the smallest possible opportunity is used to nurture a link in the network.
Services of a large number of CIA agents serving in the neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma, Bhutan, China and others are also used to enhance and build up related agents in India. These agents come handy when CIA has to protect some of the subtle, soft-hearted yet supportive Indians who don’t want their covers to be blown up ever.
CIA’s ability to penetrate into India’s military setup was amazing. Among one of their acquaintances was a colonel rank officer who held an important portfolio in “G” staff. He was responsible for posting officers as Indian military attaches to foreign countries. He was very influential in Indian military hierarchy because the promotions of many Indian Army officers depended on him. Hence, he could always recommend new recruits for the CIA from hordes of officers who would do anything to remain in his good books. He would often hold dinner parties for officers of CIA on Sundays. His contribution to the American intelligence fraternity was directly proportionate to his fast improving standard of living. An air-conditioner got installed in their bedroom, a car was bought, and expensive Scotch Whisky replaced the local wines served at the Sunday parties. But what was surprising was the way his standard of living changed went unnoticed by Indian vigilance agencies.
2. Woman thy name is frailty
CIA often used women, not only as their employees but also the wives of their own agents to gather information about the policies of Indian government. Surprisingly, pregnant women and middle aged mothers were especially busy with counter intelligence tasks such as collecting documents from Army officials, paying off the agents and so on. It was convenient to use women and meet their contacts in crowded streets and restaurants as nobody ever suspected them in such places. An officer who had been a military attaché in Washington was influenced by the “American way of life”. CIA came to know his weakness for the fair sex. So they went “fishing” for him using an American beauty, another CIA agent, as bait. The colonel jumped at the bait and CIA added another feather in their cap.
REAL –LIFE EXAMPLE OF FAILED CIA OPERATIONS IN INDIA
The US CIA, with the cooperation of the Indian government, planned an expedition to the Himalayas to plant a nuclear-powered monitoring station (SNAP) on the summit of 26,600-ft-high Nanda Devi, from where it would eavesdrop on the Chinese nuclear test program in over-the-border Xinjiang Province. Far from succeeding in eavesdropping on the top-secret Lop Nor nuclear test site, Operation Hat was destined to threaten one of the world’s great rivers with plutonium contamination.
Soon, the CIA and its Indian government partner were in a fix. The southern slope of Nanda Devi, where SNAP lay buried, is a major source of head water for the Ganges, the sacred river of 500 million Hindus. A holy bathing place for pilgrims was just a few km downstream from the SNAP site. If SNAP were to break open under the weight of the avalanche, there was a real risk that the hallowed waters of the Ganges would be polluted with deadly plutonium, and both the Agency and the Indian government would face the wrath of millions of people.
Over the next two years, expeditions to locate and recover SNAP returned empty-handed. Eventually, after water sampling of the Ganges revealed no contamination, the decision was made to abandon SNAP in the hope that it would remain intact and that Operation Hat would remain a secret. The secret of the lost SNAP was kept until May 1978 when the US journalist Howard Kohn revealed the existence of Operation Hat in Outside magazine.
The then Prime Minister Morarji Desai tried to defuse the danger of SNAP. Many nuclear experts disagreed with the government. They said that the SNAP generator will eventually corrode and disintegrate, releasing plutonium into the headwaters of one of the world’s great rivers.
Lessons to be learnt from CIA’s HUM INT activities in India
1. Not all CIA agents are proficient in Indian languages, culture and traditions. Still, they succeed in making contacts among Indian officials and their families based on the fascination of Indians towards the American way of life.
2. The CIA invests in various ways in cultivating its agents inside and around India in order to mark and cultivate important HUMAN assets in Indian government and military services.
3. There is definite accountability of the actions of every Intelligence agent working in India and hence they all work as a team. Their aim is very clear to promote the US interests in Indian government. For this they are ready to use all kinds of means and methods.
In recent years, India has made a lot of progress in gathering IM INT through satellites and recce aircraft but unfortunately, it has still not understood the importance of cultivating effective HUMAN INTELLIGENCE. USA has neither criticized nor supported India vehemently in any of its crises within its own states or with neighbouring states. But, it has always been very supportive of nations conflicting with India. As a result, India has never been able to improve its geo-political relations with its smaller neighbours or its so-called Asian arch-rivals Pakistan or China. If India has to make its dream of being one of the world’s greatest civilization come true, it needs to interact and exchange its intelligence, especially HUMAN INTELLIGENCE with its neighbours in the same manner as the US has been doing over the years in India through CIA.
Read about Indo-Chinese HUM INT Interactions in my next blog on vidulaabhyankar.blogspot.com