Interview of Jayadeva Ranade, former additional secretary R&AW
Jayadeva Ranade, a former additional secretary in R&AW (Research & Analysis Wing, has built his reputation almost entirely on his mastery of running the assets and his intelligence analysis. Colleagues say that he can be a principled to the point of rigidity. He is a stern disciplinarian and a workaholic. During his 35 years long career in the agency, he served as he says in ‘different situations and environments. His last foreign posting, prior to his retirement in late 2008, was as under cover RAW station officer (Minister) in at the Indian embassy in Washington. In an exclusive interview to THE WEEK he disclosed that the CIA is extending its espionage activities in India and the agency is sending Indian origin and South Asian origin officers to gain information about India’s strategic planning. In a wide raging interview he spoke of the CIA covert activities in India, counter intelligence attacks, RAW officer Ravinder Singh who defected to the US and how the CIA monitors neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan from India. Under the ground rules, he refused to discuss specific cases and methods of covert operations but repeatedly insists that as India’s grows it has to anticipate that countries will have an interest in it and they will try to penetrate to gain critical information. During the interview he was disarmingly forthright, with an easy laugh.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q. The US diplomats are alleged to have been asked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in July 2009 to spy on the diplomats of other countries including that of India at the United Nations. Where is the line drawn between the usual diplomats business and the intelligence world?
A. Countries have generally always kept a clear distinguishing line between intelligence officers and diplomats. And while you have cases of intelligence officers posted as diplomats, but diplomats don’t engage in activities that are not commensurate with their accepted diplomatic status. The reason is very simple. The diplomat is supposed to represent his country and present his point of view, build bridges with the government of the country to which he is posted, collect assessments and keep his government informed. He is supposed to share his ideas, collect assessment and information. He is not supposed to go around trying to steal secrets or blackmail people into parting with sensitive information or getting them to engage in espionage. If a diplomat does that, he will cease to have the kind of access or immunity he currently enjoys.
Q. So it was unusual that the US asked its diplomats to spy on other countries.
A. Yes, it is unusual for her [Hillary Clinton] to sign a directive to her diplomats to spy on other countries. Though, my impression is that her direction might have been to collect as much of these details as might come to their [the US diplomats] notice through visa forms etc. To actively seek out credit card numbers, bank accounts, passwords and frequent flyer numbers is certainly strange. But such details will augment the US Intelligence capability to monitor activities of people worldwide.
Q. The US calls India a close and strategic ally. Yet they spy on India?
A. There are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. While they [the US] are friendly with us and our relationship with them is growing, they would like to know what we are doing; what are our plans and our intentions are. They don’t expect that we will share our secrets with them and they will, therefore, certainly continue with their activities. You would be aware that some time ago there was a lot of unhappiness in Europe that the US was allegedly actively spying on them in the commercial field. The European countries were upset that despite being so close to the US yet the US was spying on them. Spying is something everyone does to everyone.
Q. You obviously handled a wide-ranging network of sources of the RAW during your long and distinguished service. What is your assessment of the US’s interests in India? What does the US want to known about India?
A. As would most countries, I think they will be very keen on ascertaining our political leaderships’ thinking. They would be keen to know about our nuclear policy and arsenal, about our military plans and they would be very keen to know how we appraise our situation viz-a-viz Pakistan and China. There will be lot of issues regarding which they will be interested.
Q. You have studied and watched the American intelligence agencies for years. What is your experience, personally, about CIA? How does CIA run its network of spies?
A. The CIA is a huge agency with lots of money. Both the number of employees and size of the Agency’s budget are not officially disclosed. But they are widely spread and active, including here [in India] for a long time now.
Q. The CIA has been operating in India for a long time.
A. Yes, the CIA has been operating in India. From what one reads they are now expanding their operations here. They are recruiting, or rather I should more correctly say, sending Indian origin and South Asian origin officers to India so that they can merge better. Their basic approach will remain the same, namely to befriend senior bureaucrats, senior military officials, politicians etc. That is how they start penetration.
Q. Can you cite any example of CIA’s intelligence attack on India?
A. Well we have had well publicised cases in the past. More recently there was Ravinder Singh’s case and also some other cases [Rabinder Singh was a joint secretary in RAW. He defected to the US on June 5, 2004]. And Indian Agencies have foiled many attempts. I don’t have details about these things so I am unable to discuss them.
Q. You are saying Ravinder Singh was a CIA agent?
A. Yes, that was Government’s conclusion. There is a case filed against him in the court.
Q. There was a report prepared on Ravinder Singh and his alleged links with the CIA. Why were not the findings of the report made public?
A. I’ve not seen the report. But the way he managed to leave the country clearly suggested that he was a spy. There cannot be bigger proof of guilt than his escape. His escape was reportedly managed by his American handlers.
Q. Are the Indian agencies aware of the CIA growing interest and activities in India?
A. Yes, they were aware about the CIA’s growing espionage activities in India and the region. It is not a secret and was reported in the US media. Particularly after 9.11 the CIA launched a program to recruit more South Asian people, to recruit such people as have language skills in certain areas of their interest, and India was one of them.
Q. Was the CIA covert operation given any name?
A. I’m not aware, but it was part of their general expansion.
Q. So in India RAW and other intelligence agencies were aware that CIA is sending more people to India?
A. Yes, India would be aware that CIA has plans to expand its activities in India. I don’t know whether the CIA has added to its numbers here. People who monitor the embassies can tell us that. CIA personnel also come to India in the guise of diplomats.
Q. They used the diplomatic passport as a cover to enter India.
A. Yes, that is how intelligence agencies work across the world. The FBI has no business to be here so if they want to visit they come as FBI agents. But the CIA uses diplomatic cover.
Q. So the CIA men are hard to detect?
A. Yes, the CIA, as all Intelligence officers, are difficult to detect.
Q. Did the Indian intelligence agencies launch any counter intelligence attack against the CIA?
A. Yes, Indian Intelligence does counter foreign intelligence attacks. The IB plays a major role in these counter intelligence operations.
Q. Was there any success in counter intelligence attacks?
A. I don’t know details and, in any case, wouldn’t talk about them if I did!
Q. Many believe that one of the reasons that the American intelligence agencies have expanded their activities in India is the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Your comment?
A. That is true. They do monitor Pakistan, Afghanistan closely and may be parts of the Gulf, from India. The US has a large embassy here. I would guess they use India to meet visitors from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The visitors would come here and meet the American intelligence officials as it may be unsafe for them to meet the officials in their respective countries.
Q. Nigel Inkster, a former assistant chief of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), recently said that Western espionage agencies may look closer at the decision-making and military and cyber might of rival powers such as Russia, China and India. How do you read his assessment?
A. While on the one hand we might feel happy that we figure in that global power list, but at the same time we should also understand that America and the West will take all steps to retain their supremacy. This means they will allow the rise of others up to a point, up to a level till it doesn’t hurt their interests.
Q. What are the areas where India needs to tighten its intelligence security?
A. We’ve to anticipate that countries will target us. And as we start growing and start becoming an economic power, people will have an interest in us. They will try to penetrate the sectors where we are doing well. They will try to monitor these areas closely. There are certain things which we have to keep to ourselves. For example, our nuclear establishments, our science and technology capabilities or the advanced research we are doing in different fields. We would not like other countries or agencies to know about these things. Even the research we are doing in pharmaceuticals or IT is vital for us in many ways. We need to harden our security structure to protect our vital areas from espionage. We also need to harden our cyber security systems.
Q. Despite galaxy of spy satellites, U.S. Intelligence agencies failed to detect India’s preparation for the India nuclear test. Was the nuclear test in 1998 a turning point of the CIA’s dealing with India?
A. Yes, I think it was. The CIA was very embarrassed that they missed our nuclear test. A third world country, as they call us, did a nuclear test and they missed it. They had this wrong belief that they have got India covered. They were pulled up by their President after they failed to detect the test. It was after the nuclear test that the CIA began paying special attention to India. They don’t want to get surprised a second time!