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Osama's horoscope

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October 10, 2006 16:18 IST
One of the most successful operatives of the Research and Analysis Wing, R&AW, India's external intelligence agency, was a Tamil police officer, who rose from the ranks.

B N Mallick, the legendary head of Intelligence Bureau, for nearly 15 years, took him into the IB because of his reputation as a palmist and reader of horoscopes. He was very successful in the IB because many Indian politicians used to show him their palm or horoscope and consulted him on their future.

When R&AW was formed on September 21,1968, after the bifurcation of the IB, R N Kao, its founding father, took him into R&AW and posted him in quick succession to a number of South and South-East Asian countries. He was a roaring success.

Not only local political leaders, but also many senior local army officers used to seek his advice on their future. He read their hands, prepared horoscopes for them, gave them predictions, suggested ways of placating Saturn, which is supposed to bring bad luck, and in return collected information and documents.

He proved that a horoscope trap is a more enduring way of collecting intelligence than a honey trap. He is no more. It is a pity he did not record his memoirs as the spy who read horoscopes.

There was a small station in South-East Asia where only the US and India had consulates in the late 1960s. The Indian consulate was headed by this horoscope-reading officer and the US consulate by an officer from the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA.

The CIA officer, who had seen how popular the R&AW officer was because of his ability to read palms and horoscopes, requested him to teach him the art. The officer asked Kao for orders as to whether he should teach him.

I was his controlling officer at the headquarters. I put up the message from him to Kao with the recommendation that the officer should agree, but teach the CIA officer all the wrong things so that his predictions went wrong. Kao did not agree and asked me to tell our officer not to teach him.

One of the problems with a horoscope-reading intelligence operative is that you cannot keep him at the same station for too long. You had to shift him quickly before he was exposed due to his predictions proving wrong. That was why Kao rarely kept him at any station for more than 18 to 20 months. He used to have quick transfers. As a result, he had more foreign postings than any R&AW officer of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I was reminded of this officer and his exploits as I read a report in the Pakistani media on how the mullahs of the Ummah are greatly worried over the faith Muslims had in astrology and horoscopes. They may read all the fatwas and rantings of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and others, take them seriously and act on them, but they also, equally seriously, read the astrology columns in their media and acted on them. If there is a conflict between a bin Laden fatwa and the predictions of their favourite astrologer, one does not know whose advice they follow.

The creeping faith in astrology is undermining the Islamic faith even in Saudi Arabia, the sanctum sanctorum of Wahabism. The Daily Times of Lahore reported as follows on October 9, 2006:

'RIYADH: Clerics in Saudi Arabia have warned Arab media against publishing "forbidden" horoscopes, which are hugely popular despite a clerical ban. "This is astrology, which is forbidden and is considered as a form of magic," a committee of senior Saudi clerics said in a statement published on state news agency SPA late on Saturday. "The committee reminds Muslims and journalists in particular that it is their obligation to take advice from God, His Prophet and the clergy," it said, adding that all schools of Islamic law forbid such practices. "Believing that a certain star can be the cause of happiness or misfortune is a superstition from the pre-Islamic age...," the prominent clerics said.'

'Saudi-owned newspapers based in London such as Asharq al-Awsat and al-Hayat have started publishing horoscopes in recent years and fortune tellers appear on Saudi-owned television stations based outside the kingdom,' the report continued. '"Many Saudis don't know their birth date on the Christian calendar so they don't care about horoscopes, but the new generation is obsessed by them," the editor of a popular Saudi daily told Reuters. He did not want to be identified. "It's blatantly un-Islamic, we won't do it," he added."

Ever since the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, intelligence agencies have been worried as to how to penetrate Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorist organisations, how to counter them ideologically, how to improve the psychological warfare (psywar) against them etc. Can palm and horoscope reading prove better weapons than Predator aircraft and helicopter gunships? These are ideas worth exploring.

One of my Muslim sources told me recently that Osama carefully chooses the dates and days for his operations and that certain numbers have a deep religious significance for him. He does not use the Christian calendar. While choosing the dates for his operations, he goes by the Muslim calendar.

The source said it is not sufficient to alert the physical security set-ups on the anniversary of 9/11 according to the Christian calendar. One must find out what was the date according to the Muslim calendar on 9/11 and be careful on that day. He said all intelligence officers and counter-terrorism experts should know how to read and use the Muslim calendar.

B Raman

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