It’s spy vs spy for top RAW job
New Delhi, November 18
The fast moving developments are not less than a cloak and dagger thriller film. Although the ball began rolling to ‘select’ new heads last Friday, aspirants have for several months been making efforts to ‘eliminate’ their competitors, reminding one of their covert operations.
The main focus is on the 42-year-old RAW, India’s foreign espionage agency, and the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) formed in 2004. Last Friday, three top PMO officers -- Principal Secretary, TKA Nair, National Security Advisor, Shivshankar Menon and Cabinet Secretary MN Prasad -- met to consider the profiles of several ‘candidates’ for top positions of RAW, NTRO, Aviation Research Centre (ARC) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB). A decision from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected soon.
Reliable sources told The Tribune that ‘manoeuvres’ were being made to shift current RAW chief KC Verma to the NTRO as its head, despite the fact that he has no experience in technical espionage. The NTRO works like America’s National Security Agency that specialises in the collection and analysis of foreign communications and signals intelligence.
In the Intelligence Bureau, in-house number two officer — Nachal Sandhu — has been tipped to succeed current Director Rajiv Mathur, who retires on December 31. If Verma’s name is okayed by the PM for the NTRO, he will replace KVSS Prasad Rao, who retired on October 4. Rao earlier served in the space department and the Defence Research and Development Organisation. Before becoming the NTRO head, Rao had tried to get this post but his efforts were torpedoed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who felt that a person found “unfit” to head RAW could not be posted as the head of another intelligence agency. But with help from the highest quarters in the PMO, Rao later succeeded, and this move again irritated Chidambaram.
Similarly, Verma, a 1971 Jharkhand cadre IPS officer, two years ago tried to become the NTRO chief but he was refused as he was brought to RAW on a fixed two years tenure on February 1, 2009. Earlier, he served in the Intelligence Bureau.
For some months, Verma has been trying to shift to the NTRO as this ‘manoeuvre’ may help a ‘friend officer’ Sanjiv Tripathi, heading the Aviation Research Centre, to become RAW’s 19th chief. This will benefit both Verma and Tripathi in getting fixed two-year tenure.
As RAW chief, Verma is scheduled to retire on January 31, 2011, and as the Aviation Research Centre head, Tripathi is slated for retirement on December 31, 2010. “There seems to be a mutual understanding between Verma and Tripathi and their well-wishers in the PMO,” commented a senior RAW officer.
The ARC deals in aerial surveillance, signal intelligence, photo reconnaissance flights, monitoring of borders and imagery intelligence operations. Though the ARC is an autonomous organisation, it is a sub-organisation of RAW.
Tripathi is the son-in-law of RAW’s seventh chief, Gauri Shankar Bajpai. The well-connected, Lucknow-based Bajpai has virtually stationed himself here for past several months to help Tripathi. He has also often been described as a protégé of 17th RAW chief Ashok Chaturvedi, in whose term the organisation was hit by several controversies. As the Aviation Research Centre chief, Tripathi has also faced allegations of allowing his mentor, Chaturvedi and his wife Asha, ‘unsanctioned’ use of helicopter to travel to temples around India on private visits.
During his earlier stint as a RAW officer in Mauritius, Tripathi had run into a controversy because of ‘unauthorised use’ of the cultural centre of the Indian High Commission by his wife for holding numerous exhibitions of her paintings.
Tripathi is facing a tough competitor from within RAW — Anand K Arni — who as Special Secretary is number two in the organisation. Considered to be an expert on Pakistan, Arni is from RAW cadre service. Before becoming the Aviation Research Centre head, Tripathi served as the additional secretary (personnel) in RAW.
Most of RAW chiefs so far have been experts on either Pakistan or China. Barring an exception of one case, RAW chiefs have been chosen from the IPS cadres. This has been resented by RAW’s own cadre officers. Technically, Tripathi is not an IPS officer. He had resigned from the IPS cadre to become part of RAW service cadre. Still, a powerful PMO and IPS lobby is backing Tripathi, claiming that he is a former IPS officer.
There is an interesting catch here. If for some reason, the PMO does not take a decision for another month about shifting Verma to the NTRO, Tripathi will retire from the Aviation Research Centre on December 31.
A 1974-batch IPS officer from Himachal Pradesh, Ajit Lal — also an expert in IB on north-east affairs — is also eyeing RAW’s top post or ‘proper adjustment’ somewhere else. Once Sandhu becomes IB chief, Lal will move to number two position, and he will have nearly one-and-a-half year to retire.
RAW works under the Cabinet Secretariat. It has more or less been developed on the lines of America’s foreign intelligence agency, the CIA, which operates worldwide, focusing on militarily and economically strong nations. Because of India’s limited requirements, RAW mainly concentrates on Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, though it has stations in global capitals.
RAW started with 250 employees and an annual budget of Rs 2 crore. Now, its budget is said to be in several hundred crores, which is free from Parliament or any government body’s scrutiny.
In the recent decade, RAW has acquired the reputation of being strong in technical intelligence but weak in human intelligence. The recent years have also witnessed few high profile defections and scandals which have tarnished RAW’s image. In 2004, when India was undergoing Lok Sabha elections, the agency’s Joint-Secretary, Rabinder Singh, defected to America.
The intelligence community was shocked when a director-level woman officer heading RAW’s training institute tried to commit suicide in front of the PMO on August 19, 2008, alleging inaction and wrong findings to a sexual harassment complaint filed against a joint secretary on deputation.