India’s intelligence woes

I had mentioned in my last post that the government has to answer why the Mumbai attack inquiry report (Pradhan Committee) has not been tabled in the Maharashtra Assembly till now. And why has it been designated as classified? Was happy to read that Home Minister P Chidambaram announced on November 26 that the report will be made available to the public.

Despite this, the challenges faced by the Indian intelligence set-up are huge. Reports have suggested that the Home Minister has undertaken a thorough review of the intelligence operations and is working towards increasing the efficiency of the agencies like RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB).

Newspaper reports have suggested that the Central Government is considering a proposal to establish a National Intelligence and Security Authority. Creating a post of Director of National Intelligence (on the lines of the US), who would head the entire intelligence community in the country, is also under consideration. The proposed agency would integrate all external, internal, and military intelligence inputs in order to make informed decisions.

While all this is under consideration, the Home Minister also has to address the serious issues that India’s external intelligence agency (RAW) is facing. One of the major issue that the agency had faced in recent times was the episode of Rabinder Singh’s disappearance. Singh, a Joint Secretary level officer of RAW, was under surveillance when he disappeared and defected to the US.

Details that emerged after his disappearance clearly suggested that he was working for US’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and was passing valuable information to them. Normally in such cases, a detailed investigation is carried out to determine the level of damage the mole might have done to the agency. Such an investigation was carried out by RAW and some of the details that emerged from it were quite shocking. An article written by a very well known and respected journalist, Rambahadur Rai, in a hindi magazine Pratham Pravakta recounts the chilling details of Singh’s escape and whether there was an attempt on the part of the senior officers of the agency to let him escape.

Some of the important points highlighted in the article are:

1. RAW’s internal inquiry into Singh’s disappearance found that as many as 55 officers had provided information to Rabinder Singh.

2. Rabinder Singh was allowed to flee because had he been caught, it would have brought the role of many senior officers under scrutiny.

3. Singh, along with hiw wife, fled to Nepalgunj in May 2004 where he was received by a US embassy official (First Secretary David Wasla) . They went to Kathmandu and Singh and his wife were given new passports in the name of Rajpal Prasad Sharma and Deepa Kumar Sharma. Both of them boarded an Austrian Airlines flight (No 05032 – via Vienna) on May 7 from the Tribhuvan Airport and reached the US.

4. The article also details how Singh was recruited by the CIA.

5. Questions have also been raised on the capability of RAW as an agency as they were clueless for a long time about his activities. The extent to which he has compromised the agency’s and the country’s secrets is still not clearly known.

Almost all the intelligence agencies of the world face the challenge of protecting their organisation from penetration by other agencies. Almost most of the leading agencies (MI6, CIA) have been penetrated by their rivals in the past. Britain’s MI6 had Burgess, Philby, Blunt and McLean, while the CIA had Aldrich Ames. All these were double agents who worked for Russia’s (formerly Soviet Union) KGB. But these agencies did not sweep the issue under the carpet and conducted extensive inquiries both within and outside the agency and took necessary measures.

Agencies like MI6 and CIA are subject to parliamentary and US Congress oversight. Apart from being answerable to the National Security Council – that includes the President, Vice President, the Secretaries of State and Defense – the activities of the CIA are also monitored by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

MI6 is also subject to parliamentary, ministerial, judicial and financial oversight. This oversight is based on two key pieces of UK legislation, the Intelligence Services Act 1994 (ISA) and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).

But there is no such mechanism in India. The findings of the internal inquiry of RAW into the Rabinder Singh episode will never be known even to the Indian Parliament or a parliamentary committee. How then can we be sure of their effectiveness in gathering information and protecting the country.

The Home Minister has to ensure that an oversight mechanism be created to ensure that such vital issues (Rabinder Singh episode) affecting national security are not swept under the carpet and appropriate lessons are drawn from it.

Waiting for the next terror attack

A Kashmiri militant organisation, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, kidnapped a 23-year-old girl in Kashmir on December 8, 1989. The kidnapped girl, Rubaiya Sayeed, happened to be the daughter of then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

The kidnappers released her after the government of the day accepted their demand and released five jailed terrorists. The entire episode questioned India’s capacity to deal with such threats and it showed that we will always be a soft state in dealing with terrorism. The incident occurred in the same year when insurgency erupted in Jammu and Kashmir.

As India observes the first anniversary of the deadly terror strike in Mumbai, we have forgotten the fact that its also the 20th anniversary of terrorism in India. Violence against the Indian State that began in Jammu and Kashmir in 1989 has now spread to almost all of India. Year after year, the country has been hit by terror strikes of greater magnitude, but all we do is organize candle light vigils for the victims, observe the anniversaries, and talk about resilience, and courage.

We forget things very easily and hence never learn from our mistakes. Nobody seems to be questioning the government as to why the Mumbai attack inquiry report has not been tabled in the Maharashtra Assembly till now. And why has it been designated as classified? If the US can make public the 9/11 Commission report and own up to the mistakes made by the administration, why can’t the Indian Government? The spineless politicians of India have really failed this country.

Even after a year of the Mumbai attack, there are so many missing links in the entire incident. A very vital question of the local involvement in the attack was conveniently overlooked and never addressed. With security experts claiming that a large number of sleeper cells are active across the country, overlooking such a vital point will only increase the possibility of another attack in the future. But we have got used to it now. The Headley-Rana episode has proved beyond doubt that Pakistan-based terror organisations, with the help of ISI, have penetrated deeply in India and we are not simply equipped to counter their evil designs.

Also, has the situation on the ground changed since the November 26, 2008 Mumbai attack?

  • The coastal security is still in doldrums as we don’t have the resources.
  • The state of intelligence can be gauged from the fact that David Headley and Tahawwur Rana traveled the length and breadth of India during 2006-2009 and nobody had a clue until the Federal Bureau of Investigation (a US agency) arrests them on charges of plotting terror attacks in Denmark and India.

While we observe the 20th anniversary of terrorism in India and the first anniversary of Mumbai attack with the same old rant of courage, resilience, and hope, the actual situation is summed by this week’s (November 21-27) issue of OPEN Magazine. The cover story headline explains everything that I have written in just two words. Take a look.

Open Mag Cover Image

Koda scam: Reveal the identities of bribe givers

The Rs 4000 crore bribe reportedly received by former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda, who is currently under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Income Tax Department, confirms  the suspicion that most of the natural resources of the country are being handed over on a platter to select industrialists who illegally gratify the political establishment.

The Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) entered into by the state (Jharkhand) will show that these are dictated by the industrialist to maximize their profits in a manner that neither the local residents nor the nation gains from it.

In this context, the vast number of power project MoUs signed for over 10,000 MW with the private sector (Jindals 2640 MW, Ispat 1980 MW, India Bulls 1320 MW, Lanco Infratech 2640 MW, Reliance Energy and ATEL for 100MW each) are based on allocation of coal mines of the state. Under the terms of the MoUs, the private developer will be obliged to sell only 25 percent of the power to the state and the rest will be sold as merchant (non-price cap) power. Usually the state has a right to 80 to 85 percent of power, in which the price of the fuel is a pass through. This is not the case with these projects.

Similarly, MoUs for 90 million tonnes of steel have been signed with the Mittals, Jindals and Essar, based on iron ore deposits of the state. Aditya Birla group has signed an MoU for a Rs 7800 crores aluminium smelter plant.

Jharkhand has 2 percent of India’s population but 40 percent of the total mineral resources. Forty percent of its population fall in the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe category. And most of these people live in abject poverty.

All the MoUs are based on expropriation of the tribals from their land and source of livelihood. The business agreements are motivated by profiteering by a handful of individuals and are bribe driven. It is not surprising then that a large number of poor people have embraced ultra Leftism as the only alternative to state tyranny.

The situation is no different from the “blood diamonds” in Africa where communities with physical access to rich natural resources are among the poorest.

To salvage the alarming situation the government should immediately take following steps:

  • The investigation agencies should also concentrate on the bribe givers and reveal their identities. The government and agencies should not act in a partisan manner (as they usually do) of revealing what is in their political interest and not in their economic interest. Is the government also culpable of bribe taking like Koda allegedly is?
  • All the MoUs signed by Koda should be canceled as they are anti-nation and anti-people. They have been signed for bribes and do not benefit the nation.
  • Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) should be amended to introduce criminal provisions and money laundering should be punished with minimum of five years of imprisonment. India has been dubiously slow in complying with the provisions of the Financial Action Task Force that seeks to control money laundering. In the USA the corresponding jail term for money laundering is 20 years.
  • The government should hand over these projects to the listed and profitable PSUs in the mining, power, steel and aluminium sectors.
  • If projects result in expropriation of the tribals, the victims should have 25 percent equity allotted to them and 26 percent should be owned by the government. The rest should be given to the PSUs or the private sector on a competitive bidding in respect of the equity they are willing to offer to the tribals/government.

Selling India’s natural resources

I was watching an interesting television debate on Naxalism on a leading news channel last night. One of the Naxal sympathiser on the discussion panel argued that poor tribals have taken weapons in their hands to fight against the government’s attempt to sell their lands to imperialist multinational companies.

Till a few months away even I was of the view that the tribals should support the government’s attempt to develop the remote areas. The argument that the government is selling the country’s valuable natural resources for peanuts to big companies seemed unconvincing till I came across some really shocking details regarding the so-called developmental projects the government is claiming to undertake.

To understand the point, here are some of the facts from the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was signed between the South Korean steel giant Posco and the Orissa Government. Some school level arithmetic on the figures mentioned in the MoU is mentioned below.

  • Posco needs 600 million tonnes of iron ore (Para 6-ii of the MoU). The current price of iron ore is Rs 5000 per tonne and it is likely to go much higher over the next thirty to fifty years. So, 600 million tonne multiplied by Rs 5000 comes to Rs 300,000 crore or $60 billion at Rs 50 (approx) a dollar.
  • The total cost of mining, transport, cess, duties and royalty adds up to about Rs 800 per tonne. According to the Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde’s report, it is actually around Rs 400 per tonne. Even if we take the cost of Rs 800 per tonne, the cost comes to roughly Rs 48,000 crores (Rs 800 multiplied to 600 million) or around $10 billion.
  • The profit on the ore alone — after all costs, taxes, and royalty etc are met — would be around $50 billion.
  • The MoU is for producing 12 million tonnes of steel per annum for thirty years with an option to renew for another 20 years (Clause 6-xii of the MoU for iron ore). Steel (hot rolled coil) sells for Rs 30,000 per tonne and has a margin of around Rs 10,000 (likely to go higher) per tonne which doubles the profit.
  • In the present case, the foreign capital “attracted” is Rs 51,000 crores ($10.2 billion at Rs 50 a dollar) spread over a nine year period — Clause 4(1) of the MoU.

Now who would not invest $10 billion to get back $50 to $100 billion? The justification for handing over the valuable mines belonging to the people of the country is to attract foreign capital.

The issues before us are elementary: Isn’t domestic savings (Rs 18,00,000 crores or $360 billion per annum) channelised through the banking sector and the stock market not adequate to meet the capital demand of $10.2 billion over a period of nine years?

And what about the huge amount of foreign investment through debt and equity flowing into the economy of the country? Is there any justification to hand over our valuable natural resources to foreign and private interest on such demeaning and humiliating terms?

Lack of capital is a bogey that is used by the politicians and the bureaucrats with great regularity to enable them to line their pockets with bribes which may be substantial for them but a mere pittance in the context of the benefits passed on to the bribe giver.

What’s worse is that all the infrastructure including thousands of acres of land  — 6000 acres (Clause 5ii and 5iii) — and another 25 acres in the State Capital (Clause 5i of the MoU) belonging to the government and the poor will be acquired and handed to the company at subsidized rate. This does not include the mining land.

Handing over the mining area will result in additional displacement of people from tens of thousand of acres (actual figure not stated in MoU). The economic cost incurred by the people who are displaced along with  the cost to the government in fighting the ultra Left will be far greater than the Rs 51,000 crore that Posco will invest.

Our iron ore is finite, unlike the venality of our politicians and kleptocrats. And so, according to conservative estimates, it will last for another 60 years. Under the circumstances, should we start exporting it to China at a throwaway price (compared to what it will fetch when the commodity gets scarce) to  the detriment of the future generations? Or should we be conserving the resource and exploiting only that which is needed for the development of the country? Are we not stealing from the future generations?

Can corrupt politicians who get elected on mine mafia money (applies to every state government which is rich in minerals) and is in power for a limited period (five to one year) be allowed to collect bribes by entering into MoUs for fifty years?

An example from the past will suffice to prove the point that successive Indian governments have not learnt anything from its past mistakes.  A Minister of Petroleum and Gas from the Congress gave away the discovered oil fields of ONGC to RIL in 1994 for a pittance. All royalties, cess etc were frozen at $16 to a barrel and the oil reserves were deliberately understated. As a result the government gets about a dollar on every barrel that RIL sells for $80.

Is there any solution:

Both the private and the public sector of India is competent to exploit the natural resources of the country. Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and Corus are case in point. We do not need Posco or any other foreign company.

Further, the economics of the mining industry has changed drastically in the last six years. The industry was not so profitable when iron ore was selling for Rs 400 a tonne. But at Rs 5000 a tonne now, there is absolutely no justification to hand over the mines for free.

PSUs like  National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) and SAIL have the means to exploit the national resources without relying on the government for money.

In case national companies cannot exploit natural resources for national good and private sector has to be brought in then the resources (land, iron ore, coal etc ) should be valued correctly. In the Posco case the value of the mines, as explained above, is $50 billion while the investment is around $10 billion. Is it too much to demand 60 percent equity in the venture for free when the contribution of iron ore alone is 84 percent of the total project cost?

The private companies should be made to compete through competitive bids on the project (not bribe based MoUs) on how much equity they are willing to offer to the government in lieu of the mines with a minimum at 50 percent. For example, Mittal may offer 50 percent of the shares for free, Esssar 55 percent, and Tata 60 percent. Half of this free equity should be reserved for the development of the local people and held in trust for them. The private company can earn its profit after making the investment from the remainder of the shareholding. By this method the government would be able to capture the future value of the mineral resources which are going to get scarce with each passing year.

But sadly, this is not the logic with which the government operates when it gives away the land of the poor for the benefit of the Poscos of the world.

LeT plot to attack India: Were Indian agencies sleeping

The American investigating agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), recently arrested two people for planning terrorist strikes in Denmark and India.

David Coleman Headley, a US national, was arrested by the FBI in early October. And Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Canadian citizen of Pakistani origin and also a resident of Chicago, was arrested on October 18. Both Headley and Rana were planning to target the facilities and employees of Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper which published the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed on 30 September 2005.

The affidavit filed by the FBI in a Chicago court states that Headley was in touch with operatives of Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba. It also details the terror plans of the duo. The premier US agency tracked Headley’s phone and e-mail communications between Oct 2008 to October 2009.

The arrest of the duo and the subsequent details of a possibility of them being used by the LeT to carry out terror strikes in India has sent shockwaves in the Indian security establishment. With each passing day, the news reports (quoting security sources), are unraveling the terror trail of Headley and Rana. Here are the details of their India plan that are in public domain:

  • David Headley and Tahawwur Rana traveled to 24 places in India including Agra, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, Kochi, and Pune between 2006-09.
  • Headley and Rana were part of a LeT plan of a major terror attack on the National Defence College in Delhi.
  • The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has registered a case against Headley and Rana to probe their role in various terror strikes in the country, including the 26/11 Mumbai attack. Infact, the investigators are serioulsy pursuing the the leads pointing to their crucial role in the Mumbai attack.
  • NIA has formed 20 teams to probe the Headley-Rana trail and information is also being gathered from the places the duo visited/stayed in India between 2006 and 2009.
  • Nuclear installations across India have been put on high alert after investigations revealed that Headley had visited some states having atomic installations.
  • The Indian Consulate in Chicago issued multiple entry visas to Tahawwur Rana and his wife without the mandatory clearance from the Home Ministry for visas to any Pakistani born person.

With more details of the terror duo’s visit to India emerge, one question that remains unanswered is WHAT WERE THE INDIAN SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES DOING WHILE THESE TWO WERE ROAMING FREELY ACROSS THE COUNTRY?

Had FBI not tracked and arrested them we would never have known about their activities in India. They might have visited the country again and gathered information for the next terror attack.

MNS’s rowdy act in Maharashtra Assembly

Just a few days back the nation observed the 25th death anniversary of late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. While all media channels were competing with each other to portray her as India’s greatest leader, almost no one highlighted the lesson that should have been learnt from her violent death. One of the prime reason of her unfortunate assassination was her strategy of creating Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to marginalise the influence of the Akalis.

The Congress Party, it seems, has not learnt the lessons of history. By giving a long rope to Maharashtra Navnirman Sena Chief Raj Thackeray and his goons the party hoped to marginalise the Shiv Sena. The strategy worked well as the results of the recently concluded state assembly polls showed. But the grand old party has failed to realise that it has created a Frankenstein’s monster.

The MNS leader and his violent cadres have repeatedly taken law and order in their hands in the last two years. But the Congress-NCP combine did not take any strong action against him, letting him raise the issues Shiv Sena raked up in the past and hence cutting into its votebank.

The media too is responsible for giving huge air time and print space to Raj. The leading editors of national news channels lined up outside the door of Raj Thackeray for getting his “EXCLUSIVE” interviews. Instead of taking on his divisive politics and the game the Congress-NCP combine was playing by giving him a long rope, the media highlighted him as some sort of a visionary leader.

The goonda act that the MNS legislators displayed in the Maharashtra Assembly today is a blot on the democracy. There have been many such shameful acts in the state assemblies across the country in the past, but preventing an elected MLA from taking oath and physically harming him in the assembly is a new low the Indian politics has fallen to. The Congress-NCP are also to be blamed for the incident as it is because of their incompetency that things have come this far.

Playing such opportunistic and short-sighted political policy is not exclusive to the Congress Party only. Presently, even Mamata Banerjee is playing the same game in West Bengal. By supporting and taking help from the Maoists, she hopes to dislodge the decades old Left Front government in West Bengal. While, the Central government is ready with a battle-plan to taken on the Maoists across the country, one of its senior cabinet minister is covertly using the Maoists to fight a political battle against the CPI-M in West Bengal.

It is said that “those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” But the Indian politicians have never learnt anything from history. They are busy playing opportunistic politics, which is harming the country immensely.