Has India let down its spies?

March 20th, 2008 - 12:14 pm ICT by admin  

(Commentary)
By Maloy Krishna Dhar
The media has often accused the Indian government of neglecting spies once their cover is blown. The reality is that intelligence agencies take full responsibility of locating, cultivating and, if possible, retrieving highly prized agents as opposed to others who pass off as spies. Col. B. Bhattachariya, arrested in East Pakistan from a border region, attained national attention because of the war-like situation between India and Pakistan in the early 1960s. Bhattachariya was a spymaster and not a spy.

While highlighting the plight of “Indian spies” detained in Pakistan and their utter neglect by the Indian government, in case they are lucky enough to escape the gallows, the media emphasis is on humanitarian aspects. There are inevitable suggestions that institutional safeguards should be devised for these spies.

I am afraid such hype, though laudable, is based on misperceptions.

Espionage is an integral part of statecraft, diplomacy, war and peace. Without falling back to Arthashashtra and other classical works, it can be said that espionage is a trade and profession.

Espionage is the assigned trade of the spy agencies. They use tradecraft to hone their professional approach to the task of creation of Human Intelligence Assets (HumInt). This is a complicated subject.

Every informer is not a spy but every spy is an informer.

From the lowest category of spies or agents to the highest category there exist several intermediary elements. A mere trans-border smuggler used as a “single task” informer or a “deep penetration itinerary spy” is different from a well- trained, embedded Long Term Resident Agent (LTRA).

Self-confessed informers like Mohanlal Bhashkar, Ruplal and Kashmir Singh (as claimed by him) are single task border smugglers and itinerants. They work on a specific task. After the successful completion, failure or abortion of their operation, the handling officer has no legal and moral responsibility towards his welfare.

Their brief is limited and the tasks are specific. Most of these trans-border human assets are not elaborately trained and briefed. As most of them are border smugglers and illegal traders, they are left to device their own security aspects.

Such assets are “feed and milk” type human agents. Some of them are known as “double agents”. A same talent may work for Indian and Pakistani agencies.

However, well trained, indoctrinated and tradecraft oriented deep penetration LTRAs are akin to classical agents of the type of Kim Philby, Ethel and Julius Rosenburg.

Such spies are very rare to come by. The agency takes full responsibility of locating, cultivating and, if possible, retrieving such highly priced agents. The lucky ones manage to trek back. Some are retrieved and most are lost, once detected by the agencies of the target countries. Some are forgotten and some are transported to folklore.

Spies are unsung soldiers and heroes of statecraft. No country would admit spying in another country. They would deny the existence of any agent, once they are caught in action and maintain deathly silence even if the media hype up such incidents.

Espionage is both real and unreal.

Every trade and every profession has inbuilt advantages and risks. A soldier is taught to die on the front. A policeman is taught to face brickbats and bullets. A spy is taught to gather intelligence and forget any emotional, legal and moral bondage with his handler.

Some spies mix up smuggling, trans-border illegal trading with tit bit intelligence gathering. Some are prepared to face the gallows if caught in more serious violation of the laws of the country where they are stationed.

During the Cold War, the US, the Soviet Union often “traded in” exchange of “Security Prisoners” - a euphemism for spies. India and Pakistan have not developed such bilateral convention of periodical exchange.

This is the reason that has led to incarceration of Indian and Pakistani spies for unspecified periods. Perhaps sufficient confidence building measures have not been established to reach that level of international protocol.

There is no question of “bad” or “good” treatment to informers, often hyped as spies. Intelligence agencies are known to be reasonably responsive to the families of distressed informers. Often the compensation package is fat.

There is simply no institutionalised mechanism to attend to the human aspect of the spy trade. The response of the agencies depends on the category of the spy, the importance of the mission, magnitude of results delivered and bondage of trust between the agent and his handling agency. Hyping up in expectation of a fat package of compensation does not always pay. Intelligence agencies are like proverbial leeches. They shrink back when sprayed with salts of media hype.

(Maloy Krishna Dhar is a former joint director of the Intelligence Bureau and the author of books including “Open Secrets - India’s intelligence unveiled”. He can be reached at maloy39@gmail.com)

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