Defection of a RAW agent from India

by Sachi Sri Kantha

As is repeated often, perfect timing is everything – whether in the battle field, sports, creative arts, science, politics and even in writing. Encouraged by my previous essay on the defection game, one of my young and alert readers from Canada sent me a mail requesting me to check the newsitem which appeared in the Sunday Express [Indian Express] of June 6th. Yup – its on defection of a RAW Agent, named Rabinder Singh, in India by reporters Shishir Gupta and Pranab Dhal Samanta. To be correct, it was the second report. The first on this topic has appeared in the Indian Express of May 27th which I had missed.

For their relevance to Eelam Tamils, I reproduce both reports in entirety. The dates mentioned in these two reports by Gupta and Samanta may be coincidental or, in fact, may implicate ‘special links’ [direct/indirect/tangential] to RAW’s involvement in the Karuna defection game as well. Do keep in mind that Karuna’s act was staged from March 3rd to April 11th, when he went into hiding. According to the two Indian Express news reports, Rabinder Singh is not a small fry in the RAW kingdom. He is identified as the ‘Joint Secretary in-charge of South East Asia in the RAW, one of the 15 Joint Secretaries in the agency’.

The First Report

Under watch by agency, senior R&AW officer goes missing

[courtesy: Indian Express, May 27, 2004.]

 

NEW DELHI, MAY 26 A senior officer of the country’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), who was under surveillance for alleged irregularities ‘‘in his official capacity,’’ is believed to be missing. Less than a fortnight ago, he reportedly left the country and since then, searches have been conducted at his office and New Delhi residence. The officer, Ravindra Singh, is the Joint Secretary in-charge of South East Asia in the R&AW, one of the 15 Joint Secretaries in the agency.

Sources said the R&AW’s counter-intelligence wing had confronted Singh when he was leaving office on April 19. Several files were recovered from his car and investigations are on to ascertain whether he was authorised to take these out of the office. After this incident, Singh apparently remained absent from work for a few days reporting sick. He was being monitored by the counter-intelligence department of the R&AW but since May 14, the day after election results were announced, Singh has been ‘untraced.’

The Second Report

A spy story: top RAW officer fled via Nepal on US passport

Shishir Gupta and Pranab Dhal

[courtesy:Sunday Express, June 6, 2004]

The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the country’s premier external intelligence agency, has now discovered that its missing Joint Secretary Rabinder Singh could have fled the country via Nepal on a United States passport. The agency has obtained a photocopy of the passport. A US Embassy official, when contacted by The Sunday Express here today, said: ‘We don’t comment on such matters.’

But on the recommendation of the government’s Committee of Advisors, which includes the Home Secretary and the Law Secretary, Singh has been dismissed from service for ‘jeopardising the nation’s security.’ More immediately, though, RAW is scrambling to assess how much damage Singh has caused.When The Indian Express first reported his disappearance on May 27, the agency had tried to suggest that he was not handling sensitive information. But a senior official now admits: ‘The fact that a third country issued a passport to help Singh flee shows how important he was.’ The suspicion, therefore, is that Singh’s handlers could be based in the US, reinforced by the fact that his wife and family live there.

Singh had two passports of his own—a personal one and a diplomatic passport that, records show, he last used to fly to London on March 24. He returned to India on March 29 aboard Air India Flight AI 112 which originates from New York. He has never used his personal passport. After RAW officials suspected that Singh could be leaking secrets, they kept him under watch for the past four months, on orders from agency chief C D Sahay.

On April 19, he was confronted for allegedly taking ‘sensitive files’ home from office. On May 4, RAW’s counter-intelligence wing submitted a report revealing that Singh had bank accounts in Singapore, Brunei and the US. It recommended freezing these accounts and arresting the officer. But Singh managed to escape on May 14, a day after the election results, and reached Nepal where, sources said, his handlers had the US passport ready for him. Whether he is now in the US hasn’t been established yet. After a preliminary investigation, RAW is said to have told the Prime Minister’s Office that Singh was copying classified intelligence reports and top secret unofficial intra-office memos relating to Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

After Singh’s disappearance, there are also reports that sophisticated transmission devices were found in some ‘sensitive sections’ in the agency, including the ‘Q-section’ where highly classified documents are kept. In a written reply to a query from The Sunday Express, S K Mehrotra, Director (R) in the Cabinet Secretariat, said: ‘I am authorised to deny the information therein is false and baseless.’

Meanwhile, RAW chief Sahay is expected to complete his internal inquiry by the third week of June. The PMO is considering a subsequent inquiry by the IB into the affair. This is in line with a recommendation made by the Intelligence Group, post-Kargil, which had suggested that the IB should act as the agency keeping an eye on RAW. One of the members of that group was former IB chief M K Narayanan, now special advisor to the PM.

The PMO also wants the security manual upgraded to prevent digital transmission of sensitive information. ‘As the prime suspect himself has defected to a third country, the next step is not to find scapegoats responsible for this fiasco but add teeth to the security manual,’ a top official said, adding that while the probe would look at the spread of Singh’s alleged net, the Government prefers to take a cautious, ‘step-by-step’ approach. Once chief Sahay submits the report, it will be discussed by Narayanan, National Security Advisor J N Dixit and Principal Secretary T K A Nair with the PM.

End Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

The abbreviation PMO refers to the Prime Minister’s Office. Now it seems that India’s newly appointed prime minister Manmohan Singh and the newly appointed Security Advisor J.N.Dixit have been served with a dose of headache over this defection. What piques my interest is the information in the second report that the latest defector Rabinder Singh “was copying classified intelligence reports and top secret unofficial intra-office memos relating to Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.” There you have it – the RAW is worried that whatever hanky-panky they were doing in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal and recording ‘in classified intelligence reports and top secret unofficial intra-office memos’ is going to be spread around.

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Posted June 8, 2004