Monday, June 1, 2009

American record talks about CIA agents; Indian don't

Days after the Central Information Commission received by complain about the Ministry of External Affairs not complying with their order, the Ministry has sent me a reply in response to the CIC order. And guess what it implies? That a declassified US State Department record cited by me is full of fabrications.

Before I get down to explaining this piece of joke, let me recapitulate the matter.

The CIC had on 16 April this year ordered the MEA to give straightforward answers to my pointed queries. The matter had to be taken to the Commission because the Ministry had been side-stepping the issue. May be they did not want to get embroiled in what was best left to the secret vaults. In the process, they wasted their own precious time, and mine and that of the CIC. What really annoyed me was their assertion that the Government of India did not take note of cognizance of so-called "unsubstantiated" reports published in foreign papers and even in their official record.

During the hearing, I provided the Central Information Commission a proper rebuttal by citing two classified records detailing the nervous anticipations of the Ministry over a cock and bull story published in a non-descript Russian journal in early 1990s to the effect that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Prince of the Patriots as Gandhiji called him, was an MI-6 agent. Well, when the Ministry could take note of such an absurdity whatever stopped them taking note of the reports based on intelligence leaks published in the New York Times and Washington Post? These reports talked about the presence of a highly placed CIA agent in the Indian establishment.

A couple of years back the United States Government made their records about the 1971 war public. Despite the CIA holding back its records, the State Department released some of them without proper coordination with the agency. This was good news for researchers.

Now the records made it official what had for long been a media speculation. That there was a CIA agent operating out of the Indira Gandhi Cabinet. This man caused India considerable damage. Had it not been for him, India would have completely overrun Pakistan, resolved the Kashmir problem and, as the US feared, would have made things uneasy for the Chinese with the Russian assistance. Remember, those were Cold War years.

So, don't we want to know who the traitor was? That's why I filed a coupled of RTI requests. The best thing would have been to put straight questions to the RAW and IB, but those folks don't reply under RTI Act. So I put some queries to others. The following were put to the MEA. Question 1 was based on a declassified State Department record where India's foreign minister was shown as bragging that India knew who all CIA was in contact with. Well, we gotta know who they were -- one of them could be the Mir Jafar of 1971.

i. Complete record of the meeting between External Affairs Minister Swaran Singh and US Secretary of State William Rogers dated 5 October 1972. This meeting took place in New York.

ii. Names and other details about the suspects who the EAM told Secretary Rogers were in touch with the CIA and leaked out the details of the proceedings of the Congress Working Committee.

iii. Photocopies of the documents on the basis of which the EAM asserted that the "GOI had information that proceedings of Congress Working Committee were known to US officials within two hours of meetings".

vi. Photocopies of all records dealing with the allegations that a minister betrayed the nation by leaking out information to the CIA during the 1971 war.

v. Photocopies of records, if any, relating to the widely-reported claims made by columnist Jack Anderson in the Washington Post and elsewhere in December 1971 on the basis of information provided to him by his sources within the United States Government. Anderson had asserted that during the Bangladesh war the CIA had "uncovered reports from a source close to Mrs. Gandhi."

vi. Photocopies of records, if any, relating to the controversy generated by the subsequent claim of Thomas Powers, a Pulitzer-winning journalist, in his 1979 book The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms & the CIA that an "Indian politician in Gandhi's cabinet" was on the Agency's rolls. I understand this issue made news in both India and the US in 1979.

vii. Photocopies of records, if any, relating to the accusations made by journalist Semour Hersh in 1983 in his book The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House that late Prime Minister Morarji Desai had spied for the CIA, subsequent court case initiated by Shri Desai in the US and all such related records.

This is what the MEA has replied:

(i) The Record of Discussions (ROD) of the meeting between the then Minister of External Affairs Shri Swaran Singh, and then US Secretary of State William Rogers on October 5, 1972 is a classified document. It cannot be provided under Section 8 (1) (a) & (f) of the RTI Act, 2005. However, it may be noted that there is no reference to any CIA agent, as raised in subsequent points in your RTI application, during the course of the meeting/in the ROD.

(ii) & (iii) No records available with the Ministry of External Affairs.

(iv), (v), (vi) & (vii) These points have been transferred to MHA.

(viii) This point has been transferred to PMO.

That is that. The MEA has no records on the basis of which the External Affairs Minister spoke to the US Secretary of State about the CIA activities in India. And indeed he did not seem to have raised the issue at all -- the MEA's own record implies. That is, the American record is based on fabrications. I don't think so it is possible for a variety of reasons. It is a historical fact that at the time Swaran Singh met Willam Rogers India was in the grip of CIA-phobia. To give someone a bad name in those days was to brand him a "CIA agent".

The US government made repeated attempts to ally India fears, and in the course several high-level contacts were made with our top people. The Rogers-Singh meeting was one such instance. In this meeting, shows the US record, Singh said "it has not been difficult for GOI [Government of India] to come to know of CIA activities. GOI has its own sources and knows that CIA has been in contact with people in India in 'abnormal ways'." He added: "GOI had information that proceedings of Congress Working Committee were known to US officials within two hours of meetings."

The above is the reasons why I put questions i, ii and iii. But the MEA has denied that they have any of the information. But someone must be having it. No minister will make such sweeping statements without going through facts on records.

Besides, there is no reason to doubt the US records in this case. They have declassified hundreds and thousands of pages and, therefore, their case is more convincing. We continue to sit on ours, and so reliance must be placed on the party that has put its cards on the table. One's got to be fair when searching for facts.

Now I will wait for the MHA to respond. The CIC will sooner or later ask the MEA the reasons for not replying in time. I would have overlook this had the MEA in their answer apologised for the delay. This is routinely done in nations where such things are taken seriously. And ofcourse, the MEA just can't say that the document is classified and can not be given. You have got to give some reasons, madams and sirs. This is the RTI age.

Media coverage: TOI, HT, Deccan Herald, Manorama online, Zee, Rediff, Hindu, Kerala Next, Express India, Big927FM and more

5 comments:

nadeem said...

It is ironical and shocking to see the MEA's response to pointed RTI queries. The response only indicate delaying and eye-wash tactics. Some MPs must be roped in to put pressure on MEA, MHA and PMO to come out with full facts on Netaji and past misdeeds of so called CIA agents in India. A question may be raised in the Parliament through some alert and watchful MPs to unravel the mystery.

Anuj Dhar said...

Nadeem, the basic problem with this country is too much obsession with secrecy.

Vinod said...

My Dear Anuj
Post Election Scenario, all types of 'DECKS' more or less cleared if u r able to elicit information of vital nature, I may call you a lucky guy. Wait , watch and see things to unfold in near future after all 'important posts are filled up'. TV Kumar

Chinmay Gavankar said...

Anuj

This country is still living in british raj era and they are too much obsessed with "The official secrets act 1923".

But the sustained efforts of activits like you will help our country to be more responsive to citizen queris.

I am fully with you and we also use RTI in a big way through our initiative "Jagruk Nagrik Sangh" (jnsvasai.ning.com)..albeit for smaller local issues...

But in the fight for facts we are with you

Anuj Dhar said...

Chinmayji...thanks for your kind words and all the best for your work. Rgds.