A paper trail that went nowhere
By V Sudarshan
09th September 2012 12:04 AM
After Rabinder Singh, the CIA mole in RAW, escaped right under the watchful eyes of the RAW counter-intelligence cell (CI), two laptops were recovered from his home. The cyber cell of RAW went through them with a fine-tooth comb and determined that Rabinder managed to upload over 23,000 pages directly onto a server using his Internet connection at home, a mindboggling figure. That is how Rabinder passed on RAW’s secrets. How many pages does it work out per day? I am not really sure how long he was posted at RAW headquarters but let’s say he was there for three years. This meant he was uploading 21 pages of sensitive documents RAW headquarters produced every day he went to office (much more if he had been in headquarters for a lesser duration), which is quite a treasure trove.
Rabinder’s method was simple. He had a photocopier in his room where he xeroxed documents he obtained from various colleagues, reports on activities and developments on a wide range of issues and countries, especially the neighbourhood, source profiles from various foreign stations, intelligence on Kashmir, anything that came his way through his regular interaction with as many as, Amar Bhushan’s fictional character Jeevanathan suggests, 51 colleagues. These documents Rabinder took home scanned/photographed them and uploaded on to a server. It was ingenious, and did not require him to physically do the drops familiar to readers of Cold War spy fiction. He did not have to meet his handler.
Bhushan had cameras installed in Rabinder’s office, had bugs and camera put in his car and home as well. His character Jeevanathan knew Rabinder had a paper shredder and computer at home and he was taking documents home. The paper trail began in his office and ended at his home. It went nowhere else. Everyday it was the same: Rabinder photocopied documents in his office and took them home. Yet, never once in three months did it occur to Bhushan to look into Rabinder’s Internet habits and seek help from the Internet service provider to track his activities. He did not consider the Internet route at all. Perhaps he was out of touch with the new realities; perhaps he did not consult widely enough. Bhushan’s knowledge on technology seems outdated: it takes too long for the RAW CI sleuths to figure out that there are photocopiers out in the market with memory functions. Reading Bhushan’s Escape to Nowhere is like reading a 1960s’ spy novel with a startling 21st century twist in the end.
Part of the problem seems to have been the somewhat nascent/primitive state of counter-surveillance in the RAW. Yet, it is tempting to conclude that as Bhushan and his sleuths took one baby step after another in the prolonged and seemingly never-ending quest for the double agent’s elusive foreign handler, they may have been learning on the job, without adequate mentoring or supervision. The question becomes inevitable: Was it more important to wait for Rabinder to lead the CI to his handler or to stop him from transmitting intelligence, interrogate him, break him into confessing? It seems strange that the CI watched while every day secret documents leaked to the CIA. Indeed, it was apparently established (through a sting operation) within three weeks of the first tip-off that Bhushan got from the cyber cell desk about Rabinder’s suspicious behaviour that he could be working for no other agency but the CIA.
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