By B. Raman
The R&AW has been the target of considerable criticism in sections of our media over what they have perceived as its serious blunder in disseminating a HUMINT report regarding plans of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Pakistani terrorist organisation, to carry out major acts of catastrophic terrorism in Gujarat and Mumbai. There has even been a campaign of ridicule against the organisation which has been sought to be projected as nincompoop.
“The Hindu” of May 11, 2012, has carried an eight-column report on Page 15 under the title “R&AW Left With Egg on Its Face As Terror Plot Unravels” contributed jointly by Praveen Swami, who enjoys a tremendous reputation in media circles of New Delhi, and his colleague Muhammad Ali.
To quote from the first paragraph of the report: “ The Research & Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence service, is facing allegations of incompetence after three Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives who, it claimed, were about to conduct a suicide squad operation in Western India turned out to be living at their home in Lahore and to be businessmen, not terrorists.” This gives the essential gist of the story.
There has been a negative projection of the R&AW not only by “The Hindu”, but also by others. Along with its HUMINT report, the R&AW had disseminated pics of the three alleged terrorists of the LET who, according to it, had infiltrated into India along with two others to carry out the feared acts of terrorism. The Mumbai Police correctly released to the public the salient points of the report along with the pics as received from the R&AW. These pics were carried by a journal of Delhi on its web site. The three persons concerned, living in Lahore, thereupon appeared in public in Lahore and sought to ridicule the R&AW.
The definite embarrassment to the R&AW has been sought to be exploited in Pakistan for discrediting it. It has been projected as an example of the kind of baseless reports which the agency disseminates regarding terrorism allegedly emanating from Pakistan. The main objective of the campaign in Pakistan has been to discredit the R&AW in the eyes of the Indian public and the international community and to project its reporting on Pakistan-based terrorism as untrustworthy.
The brunt of the criticism in the Indian media has been over what many have seen as the propensity of the R&AW to disseminate uncorroborated reports and create false alarms and its perceived naivete in walking into a trap laid from Pakistan.
There are certain standard operating procedures followed by intelligence and security agencies all over the world regarding the handling of HUMINT or TECHINT reports which speak of an imminent act of terrorism. The most important point of this procedure is: Act on the report as if it is true until or unless it is proved to be false. Hence, all intelligence agencies immediately disseminate such reports with appropriate qualifications and simultaneously undertake a verification to establish the veracity of the report. If the veracity is not established, they call off the alert.
That is exactly what the R&AW has done and it would be totally uncharitable and unprofessional to find fault with it and ridicule it for doing what it was expected to do under the standard operating procedures. If one reprimands and ridicules an agency for doing what it was required to do because its report proved to be incorrect, it could hesitate in future to sound alerts on the receipt of HUMINT reports and that could prove catastrophic.
That is what those orchestrating the anti-R&AW campaign from Pakistan— whether the Inter-Services Intelligence or the LET or both—want—- to create in the R&AW a mental hesitation in disseminating future HUMINT reports so that they can take advantage of it for carrying out an act of terrorism. The R&AW officers should not let themselves be inhibited from future reporting because of this campaign against it in Pakistan as well as in sections of the Indian media.
At the same time, there are some disturbing follow-up questions arising from this incident that need to be attended to. The first question is who was the human source— is he a trans-border source or one based in Pakistan or some third country? If he is a trans-border source, is he based in India or Pakistan? The second question is, is he a new and untested source or is he an old and tested source?
If he is a new and untested Pakistani source, all that the R&AW has to do is to discard him. If he is an Indian source, there could be reason to suspect that he is a Pakistani mole. He would need to be arrested and interrogated .
If the source—whether Indian or Pakistani—is an old source all his past reports need to be re-examined in order to see whether any action had been taken against any Indian national on the basis of reports from this source who has now turned out to be tainted.
The other aspect needing attention is how did those behind the campaign in Pakistan notice so quickly the pics released by the Mumbai Police, unless they were expecting this to happen, and exploited it to embarrass the R&AW. This would clearly show a well-planned and well-executed operation to damage the reputation of the R&AW.
Normally, it may not be possible to carry out such operations without the support of accomplices in India. Are there such accomplices who played a role in this?
Incidents such as these are occupational hazards in the intelligence profession. This is not the first time this has been happening. We have had such incidents in the days of Khalistani terrorism. This is not the last time this will be happening.
There is no need for the R&AW to be defensive or be apologetic about it. It should take it in its stride and hold a thorough enquiry into the whole affair to avoid the possibilities of such incidents in future.