People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 29

July 16, 2006

The Bear Hug Of A “Strategic Partner”

Reflections On The Security Breach


Nilotpal Basu


THE arrest of S S Paul, a systems analyst at the National Security Council secretariat, for passing on sensitive information to an American diplomat with the US embassy in New Delhi, Rosanna Minchew, has set the cat among the pigeons. There are several long and red faces among the Indian security top brass. Paul’s arrest, however, is only the tip of the iceberg – of what seems to be an extensive mole network of the CIA which has penetrated the RAW, the IB and the entire National Security Council secretariat network.


A senior officer in the home ministry has gone on record with – “there is no doubt Paul was a part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s mole network.” A retired intelligence officer went on to further add – “Paul’s arrest highlights the fact that the government still does not seem to have any idea of the extensive network established by the CIA within the intelligence community”.




But what is slowly trickling out of the otherwise iron curtain of the intelligence establishment is much more worrisome. Now fairly confirmed reports are available to suggest that Paul was introduced to the American diplomat in question – Minchew – by Mukesh Saini. This revelation takes the whole issue of breach in the National Security Council’s secretariat to a much higher level. Mukesh Saini was the high profile NSCS information specialist who has been booked by Delhi Police on charges of alleged spying. Saini was not only a key person in the secretariat in so far as its information network was concerned but also the Indian coordinator of the Indo-US Cyber Security Forum – the high profile initiative launched by the government under Vajpayee in 2000 as part of a new age bonhomie with the United States.


Saini’s involvement is not only based on Paul’s alleged revelations. Given the profile that Saini enjoyed in the intelligence and security network as an expert, his sudden decision to leave this key job to join the US multinational Microsoft brought him under the scanner. A former naval commander, Saini is reported to have developed his liaison with the CIA during his tenure as a RAW operative in New York. He also used his links in the US to get a job for his wife who is employed and settled there. Given this background, it is very surprising as to how he was cleared for such a highly sensitive position in the NSCS. In fact, this background makes him ineligible and is contrary to stipulations for such appointments. Saini, as it is now revealed, had travelled with Minchew, the Third Secretary of the US embassy to both Kolkata and Mumbai. Further, Saini also represented the country as the Indian coordinator of the Indo-US Cyber Security Forum and it is during one of the events of this forum that he introduced Paul to Minchew.


Meanwhile, Brigadier Ujjwal Dasgupta, Director of Computers of the IB has been asked not to come to office. This suggests that along with the NSCS, IB network was also penetrated by the CIA.




But the current development of the breach in the NSCS should not come as a surprise in the background of the rather bizarre fleeing of Ravinder Singh of the RAW. Singh was covertly working with the CIA and when he was put on watch by Indian agencies, he fled to US in 2004 via Khatmandu using an American passport issued by a CIA officer in the US embassy in Nepal! Singh’s recruitment to CIA in India was not however the first. Earlier, another officer from RAW and Ratan Sehgal of IB were recruited by CIA. In fact Ratan Sehgal at the time of his exposure was the No. 2 in the IB set up. The alacrity with which the CIA arranged for Ravinder Singh’s escape to US implies that the agency was afraid that Singh may spill the beans to Indian investigators regarding the specific details of the penetration had he fallen in their custody. Singh’s escape to the United States was in 2004 on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections and the then incumbent NDA government (because of the obvious political repercussions) wanted to hush up the controversy and facts are coming out only now in the wake of Paul and Saini’s arrests.




Two very serious questions arise out of this obvious serious security breach which will surely unfold further to reveal the magnitude of the breach. Paul allegedly handed over two pen drives (used for computer data storage). One does not know what were their contents. The NSCS was handling National Security Advisor M K Narayanan’s coordination work regarding all crack Indian intelligence agencies, prepared notes and assessment for the prime minister and the strategic policy group and issues pertaining to India’s nuclear command. It also serviced the task force headed by K Subramaniam on strategic developments and Indo-US relations and the work of the National Security Advisory Board. Given the nature of the NSCS,  it is not surprising for the CIA to be interested in penetrating this agency. But it is surprising why the intelligence and the security establishment in our country was so benign to this possibility, particularly given the CIA’s record. In fact, a security analyst has pointed out in his recent column in “Since 1947, India has had a long history of intelligence cooperation relationship with the intelligence agencies of the US and other western countries as well as with those of the erstwhile USSR, Russia and other East European countries. Underlying all such relationships is an unwritten gentlemen’s agreement that the agencies would not take advantage of this relationship to penetrate each other.


“Most intelligence agencies of the world try to observe this, but not the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They are aggressive and do not care for any dos and don’ts in intelligence cooperation relationships. They do not hesitate to clandestinely penetrate their sister agencies with which they have an official relationship if they get an opportunity to do so.”


The only plausible explanation to the lowering of guards to the possibility of a CIA penetration is the cozying up towards a “strategic partnership” with the US. We had earlier in a statement forewarned about the implicit dangers of such a course:  “the UPA government must face up to the fact that the strategic partnership with the United States is facilitating strategic spying.”


The BJP started this drift. Advani mooted the idea of opening an FBI office in New Delhi. And Jaswant Singh, the ideologue for BJP in these matters, turned the very concept of National Security upside down and has in his book `Defending India’ actually recommended an alliance with the US. Susan George in her perceptive book – Lugano Report -- has emphasised a steady and increasing surrender of economic decision-making and suggests that information technologies will be paramount in the construction and consolidation of a renovated world order. She has observed that elites are already linked through dedicated networks and these links will be necessarily reinforced as the need for global political consultations and managements become even more apparent. Information technology will enhance surveillance, infiltration of any nascent opposition. Given the present context of Indo-US strategic partnership, Susan George’s observations appear to be prophetic. While the present government is ecstatic with the “bear hug”, it will be foolhardy for the UPA government to remain blind to the downside of the inclinations and preferences of its much-touted “strategic partner”.  In this ruthless world of global power play, the US foreign policy premises itself on the principle that there are no ‘permanent friends or permanent enemies but only permanent interests’. And it is in the interests of global hegemony that the ‘Big brother’ has to put Indian strategic thinking on its watch list. Unless this inherent asymmetry in the relations with the US is not properly understood and internalised, the rot in the prime security and intelligence establishment of the country cannot be stopped.




The second question is institutional. The National Security Council was established by the NDA government in 1998 through an executive order. But the holistic nature of national security and the need for bipartisanism, transparency and accountability which is the hallmark of such an institutional framework was nowhere in sight. The NSC objectives were outlined in the 1998 election manifesto of the BJP.


“….Establish a National Security Council to constantly analyse security, political and economic threats and render continuous advice to the government. This Council will undertake India’s first-ever Strategic Defence Review to study and analyse the security environment and make appropriate recommendations to cover all aspects of defence requirements and organisation.” (page 31)


This was further fine-tuned in the National Agenda for Governance:


“…The state of preparedness, morale and combat effectiveness of the Armed Forces shall receive early attention and appropriate remedial action. We will establish a National Security Council to analyse the military, economic and political threats to the nation, also to continuously advise the government. This council will undertake India’s first ever Strategic Defence Review. To ensure the security, territorial integrity and unity of India we will take all necessary steps and exercise all available options. Towards that end we will reevaluate the nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons.” (page 6)


However, that the NDA government never went ahead for a statutory enactment through parliament was proof enough that it was not interested in making the NSC accountable to parliament. Parliamentary accountability marks the functioning of security and intelligence establishments in most of the major parliamentary democracies. It is such sense of accountability that insulates these establishments from being caught off guard. The present UPA government must unlearn the narrow views of the NDA on this very sensitive area.


The least that the government can do at this juncture in the wake of embarrassing revelations about the security breach in the NSCS is to come clean with facts and explanations in the coming monsoon session of the parliament. It must also wake up to the harsh realities of the present global power play of their widely advertised “strategic partner”.