||A Review --
The Kaoboys of R&AW � Down memory lane by B. Raman
B.Raman, a prolific writer on security and intelligence matters gifted with a phenomenal ,sometimes unbelievable, memory, has written a book purported to be personal reminiscences of his long association with R&AW. It has turned out to be much more than that. This is a response from another insider who served the organization little longer than Raman having entered the intelligence community almost at the same time. In the R&AW we were expected to be working in compartments and not infrequently many chiefs of the organization used to invoke the principle of restrictive security to justify their actions/inactions as well as to keep away officers considered to be inconvenient. I had developed some expertise in the areas of counter intelligence and security of the organization, VIP security as well as counter terrorism. I do not claim to know anything more than this and this response is based on my limited knowledge. Serving and retired intelligence officers, by and large, believe that we have to abide by certain canons of professional ethics mainly to safeguard the operational capabilities of the intelligence organizations and the larger interests of national security.
What stands out in the book are : (1) it is eminently readable though it gives the impression of having been written in a hurry to publish;
(2) it is a fairly accurate and balanced account of the outline of the history of the R&AW as well as shortcomings which afflict the organization at the end of nearly four our decades of its existence; the crying need for some form of external oversight as well as the rather weak counter intelligence capability of the organization to prevent, detect and deal with possible infiltration of the organization by hostile elements have been rightly stressed.
(3) there are numerous references to events, incidents, meetings etc involving personalities who are no longer alive, notably the former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, Kao and Suntook.
(4) the "I" factor dominates some of the chapters tending to convey the impression to the reader that the author was far too important and significant to the organization; However it should be conceded that Raman has not resorted to any cheap or dirty tactics by naming names, desire to settle scores etc.
(5) Raman had served under nearly a dozen heads of R&AW between 1968 and 1994 and a reading of the book could give the impression that he knew much more that what the combined knowledge of all the heads of the orgnaisation he had worked under . This is somewhat surprising in an organization which has been functioning on the principle (rather one of the principles) of restrictive security. No doubt Raman was a cut above the rest , including sometimes the concerned head of the orgainsation. Almost all the heads of the organization found in him an officer of unquestioned competence and commitment and they could not resist the temptation of relying on him much more than any other officer of his status and rank. It should be conceded that Raman served the organization with distinction.
(6) the book contains some rather sweeping and ill considered statements / judgements ( including on some leading political personalities and foreign policy related matters) seemingly based more on personal prejudices/experiences than on calculated reasoning and logic. To this extent it ceases to be an objective account of men, matters and issues. These avoidable judgements and formulations could become controversial impinging on foreign policy issues.
(7) the book contains some factual inaccuracies �generally of an inconsequential nature � on some of the specific events/incidents dealt with in the book I am not going into the details of these in the interest of restrictive security.
Raman has conceded that his initial reaction to a suggestion that he write a book on his years in the R&AW was that he did not like the idea. But sooner than later he allowed himself to be persuaded to write this book.. If the intention was to be taken note of and not forgotten it was an avoidable exercise since Raman is sufficiently well known in security circles , both in India and outside. The question whether an intelligence officer should write a book on his association with and achievements in a clandestine organization is not irrelevant. More so, as in the past 2-3 years 3-4 books of this nature have been published and continues to be on sale in the bookshops. Has Raman or others who have been privy to official secrets violated the oath of secrecy administered to them ? Has he disclosed or written anything which has not been published in one form or another in the past and if any or all of these involved violation of official secrecy why no action was taken against the concerned till now ? Intelligence officers and in fact senior officials of the Government are required to take prior permission from the Government to publish anything, even after their retirement, based on information including secrets acquired by them while in service. Was this vetting procedure gone through in the cases of recent publications relating to Indian security agencies and was their publication approved by the Government? These questions may be relevant more to bureaucrats and intelligence officers (serving and retired) than to politicians and the journalistic fraternity , and much less to the general public. The relevance of these questions to the interests of national security cannot be wished away.
It is neither necessary nor relevant to seek to find out whether Raman was as important and significant player in the R&AW as the contents of the book would lead the readers to believe. Many of the incidents dealt with and quoted in the book relate to sensitive security issues which is normally dealt with at the level of the head of the organization. And if any other officer is privy to any of these it is on the basis of a tacit understanding that he or she will not disclose any association with such incidents/meetings etc . What if the concerned Secretary of R&AW come out and deny publicly knowledge of such incidents? Would some or all of them feel betrayed by Raman ? I do not know. After all one cardinal principle guiding the functioning of a clandestine intelligence agency is deniability. It is this deniability which the politician in power and out of power would relish and cherish.
Raman has justified disclosing and owning his R&AW background. But this is different from disclosing and owning what he did and was called upon to do in the interest of national security from time to time. Is it sufficient and sensible argument that why not own everything since almost all or most of it is already public knowledge? Will a book of the kind Raman has penned help encourage public debate on crucial issues relating to the intelligence apparatus of the country? Hopefully it should. Right now it is the novelty of it and a temptation to sensationalism which will guide the reaction of the public as well as the politician. It is not irrelevant to keep in mind that Raman, after retirement, was associated with planning and formulating security policies in the late 90s and early part of this century as member of the NSAB. Sooner than later, in some form or another the Government may be called upon to respond to some statements/ claims made by Raman.
Intelligence officers serving in a countrys foreign intelligence organizations make friends only to forget them sooner than later. They also hope that they will be forgotten by friends at the appropriate time. Intelligence officers are supposed to be unseen and unheard and their existence and activities could at best be inferred from intelligence failures and achievements. Intelligence officers are nothing but cogs in a wheel and often times much less than that . It will be preposterous even to imagine that some individual officers are bigger than intelligence machinery of the country. No intelligence officer can function in isolation without organizational backing and cover. Any action which damages the cause of the organization should be viewed with disfavour and needs to be strongly condemned/ discouraged.
Rating: [3 of 5 Stars!]