October 01, 2005

MITROKHIN ARCHIVE : They spy, we spy, so what's the big deal?

They spy, we spy, so what's the big deal?
Saturday October 1 2005 19:11 IST

T J S George

KGB's spy money to Indians is a subject that should have produced a yawn in India. Instead it has triggered a furore. Some political parties have protested, others have announced a national agitation. Some newspapers
publish columns of reports while TV channels run profound interviews.

Never has so much been done by so many for so little purpose. For the simple fact is that every nation in the world has fully-funded espionage agencies and it is the business of these spy departments to bribe and blackmail and kidnap and, where necessary, kill in the service of their governments.

India has been a pioneer in the field. Two thousand four hundred years ago, Kautilya provided textbook instructions on how to conduct foreign policy, trick the enemy, carry out assassinations, instigate sedition and engage spies. He even elaborated on the kind of people who were best suited to work as spies. His list: the sharp pupil, the apostate monk, the seeming householder, the poison-supplier, the begging nun.

After Arthasastra was composed (4th Century BC), has one sharp student or begging sanyasin protested against the aspersions cast on them? Yet, hell breaks out when KGB archives reveal that Indira Gandhi's cabinet members and diplomats, the Communist Party and even journalists were regularly funded by Soviet agents.

We should in fact give credit to the Russians and the Americans (the CIA's exploits would dwarf the KGB) for following the civilised practice of making old archival material available to the people. This is an essential ingredient of democracy because, ultimately, the people are the state and there can be no state secret that should be kept permanently hidden from the people.

It is India's drawback that this system of throwing open classified files after a 30-year embargo is frowned upon. we should have used "The Mitrokhin Archive" book as a powerful argument in favour of unclassifying our old files.

Alas, we get only a trickle of information and that comes, not from archives, but the reminiscences written by conscientious bureaucrats. Former Cabinet Secretary B.G. Deshmukh's book published last year gives a vivid account of how RAW was asked to make payment for the training of Rajiv Gandhi's security men in Italy. The money was to be paid to "a certain Italian (who was) named" but problems arose when the Italian insisted that it be delivered in Italian lira. According to Deshmukh, "carrying about a quarter of a million US dollars in Italian currency in a big suitcase was sure to invite trouble" and the idea was given up.

RAW is India's KGB. Or shall we say, India's CIA. And that payment to Italy was not even for patriotic spy work in Italy. Which only shows that if KGB and CIA do a better job in India than RAW does in Russia or America, the fault is ours, not theirs.

India is known as an easy place for foreign spies to work. Often it takes only liquor or a free foreign holiday to buy informants. We have a system where documents of industrial espionage value could be photocopied in dozens in the Prime Minister's office (during P.C. Alexander's era) and naval warfare plans secreted away in the Defence Ministry's high security areas land up in Pakistani hands (most recently).

The Congress and the Communists and the BJP should expend their energies on such shameful lapses and what they reveal about our national character. To complain about other countries doing their jobs is adding to the shame.

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