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Why we should be wary of the US

By B Raman
July 06, 2006 18:21 IST
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Ironically, the first anniversary of what some consider as the historic India-US deal for civilian nuclear cooperation (July 18) has coincided with the unearthing by the Intelligence Bureau of a case of suspected penetration of our National Security Council Secretariat by the US Central Intelligence Agency through the Indo-US Cyber Security Forum set up in 2002.

One understands that the idea of the Forum came from Richard Armitage, the then deputy secretary of state, who had spent some years of his colourful career in the Defence Intelligence Agency and in the CIA.

He was a blue-eyed boy of the late General Zia-ul Haq, who had decorated him for his contribution, as an intelligence officer, to the cause of US-Pakistan friendship.

The Indian government, which was seeking US assistance to strengthen the security of our computer networks, reportedly accepted his offer of assistance through the Forum with alacrity.

Selected representatives of India's Information Technology industry were also associated with the Forum, which met periodically in Washington DC and New Delhi. It also organised seminars and conferences on cyber security for the benefit of Indian experts --governmental and non-governmental.

If media reports are to be believed, this Forum was misused by the CIA to penetrate the NSCS, which was reportedly coordinating the work of the Forum.

In the history of cooperation among nations in sensitive fields, penetration is an occupational hazard. The dangers of penetration can be reduced through appropriate security measures, but cannot be totally eliminated.

The dangers of penetration are considerably higher while dealing with the US than while dealing with other countries because of its material, human and technical resources and its ruthlessness in pursuing its national interests.

Since India became independent in 1947, the CIA has penetrated many sensitive departments of the Indian government, including the intelligence agencies.

But there were two departments which, to my knowledge, the CIA could never penetrate through a human source -- namely, our Atomic Energy Commission and the Indian Space Research Organisation.

A perusal of declassified US State Department documents of the 1980s shows that while the US' National Security Agency, which is responsible for technical intelligence, had apparently been monitoring the telephone communications of our Atomic Energy Commission, they had never succeeded in planting a human mole.

That is why they were totally taken by surprise by our nuclear tests of May 1998. They did not have any inkling of the preparations being made by our scientists for the tests.

The reason for the difficulties faced by the CIA in penetrating our nuclear and space establishments is simple. Right from the moment these organisations were established, their heads and all other scientists serving under them had nursed a healthy skepticism of the US and developed a clear understanding of the need to be perpetually on guard while dealing with the US.

They were convinced that whatever the US might say, it was not a genuine well-wisher of India's nuclear and space programmes and that it would use every means at its disposal to undermine our programmes, if we were not cautious. Their conviction in this regard was strengthened following our bitter experience over the way the US wriggled out of its solemn contractual commitments relating to the Tarapur nuclear power station.

If our nuclear and space programmes have progressed despite all the difficulties sought to be created by the US in the past, and if we have successfully thwarted the efforts of the CIA to penetrate our nuclear and space establishments, the credit for this should largely go to our dedicated and highly-motivated nuclear and space scientists.

The nation owes a deep debt of gratitude to them.

It was not surprising that many retired scientists expressed reservations over the way the India-US nuclear deal was sought to be implemented and drew attention to the dangers involved. While serving scientists could not naturally express openly any misgivings they might have had on this subject, one should not be surprised if they share the reservations of those retired.

Instead of respecting and understanding their reservations and paying heed to them, an attempt was made by some New Delhi-based analysts to ridicule them and treat their concerns with derision, if not contempt.

One analyst, an alumni of the US Institute of Peace, who is an unabashed votary of close Indo-US cooperation, even described those expressing reservations as 'fast-breeding reactionaries.'

I have myself been a strong advocate of Indo-US cooperation in certain fields such as counter-terrorism. At the same time, I have been pointing out the dangers involved in too close an embrace of the US. I have repeatedly pointed out how the US has been trying to protect Pakistan from the consequences of its sponsorship of terrorism against India.

I have also pointed out the skilful manner in which it has tried to divert the focus of our navy away from the West -- from which all our energy supplies come -- in order to address Pakistani anxieties, and instead keep it focused to the east of us, from where not a drop of our energy supplies come. Pakistan is not concerned over the presence of our navy in the waters to the east of us.

Look at the articles coming out of our maritime security experts. Most, if not all, reflect the US line that our focus should be on the Malacca Straits. There is hardly any reference to the Straits of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.

There are many other issues where US motives are suspect.

Whenever I express my reservations about the disturbing, uncritical fascination for the US, which we have been seeing in this country since 2000 and more particularly since US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to India in March last year, I have myself been the target of derisive remarks by many of these votaries of a headlong rush into the arms of the US.

'A cold warrior unable to come out of the cold war', 'still living in the 1950s', 'a retired police officer who cannot understand strategic issues; he should restrict his writings to police matters.' These are some of the epithets which have been used against me for advising caution while developing our relations with the US.

The orchestrated campaign against those advising caution should be a matter of concern. It is hoped that the case relating to the NSCS will temper our fascination for the US with a dose of healthy caution.

Complete coverage: The Bush visit | The Bush visit Chats | The nuclear deal

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B Raman