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R&AW in for a major shake-up?

There are reports that several Western intelligence agencies are reluctant to share classified information with its top officials, reports Pankaj Vohra.
By Pankaj Vohra | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 21, 2008 01:34 PM IST

The country’s top spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) of the Cabinet Secretariat, could be in for a major shake up following reports that several Western intelligence agencies were reluctant to share classified information with its top officials, sources said.

They added that in all likelihood RA&W chief Ashok Chaturvedi could be removed, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other senior officials of his secretariat were unhappy with him. If that happens, it will be the first time when a serving R&AW chief will be removed. Senior government officials were not immediately available to comment on the matter.

There was also concern that the top position at the Aviation Research Centre was yet to be filled despite names of four special secretaries of the department – Gurinder Singh, Sanjiv Tripathi, Rana Banerjee and Vijay Kumar – being considered. Government sources said a turf war that had broken out among India's top spymasters was harming the establishment, especially since questions about competence of officers were being raised.

Chaturvedi, who took over the agency last year, has also figured in the international media and a recent article by Claude Salhani, editor, Middle East Times that appeared in an Egyptian newspaper spoke about the rumblings within the R&AW. It is believed that the information against Chaturvedi was leaked by some of his adversaries.

According to Salhani’s article that can be accessed on the Internet, the list of gaffes Chaturvedi has made in the past year could be turned into a novel. Many times the R&AW chief did not even know whom he was meeting, the article says. On one occasion, last year, he could not place Timothy J Keating, the visiting commander of the United States Pacific Command. “Chaturvedi did not seem to know who Keating was, and much to everyone’s embarrassment kept referring to him as John Negroponte, the US deputy secretary of State,” Salhani writes.

Chaturvedi is understood to have earned the Prime Minister's ire when he briefed him on China before his recent trip. He apparently put together a report that called Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji president and premier of China. The two retired in 2003.

Salhani has written that Singh was perplexed over why the head of his intelligence agency had such limited intelligence, particularly about a country India needed to keep close tabs on.

Intelligence sources said Nepali politicians have been upset with Chaturvedi's frequent trips to Kathmandu, which have been written about in detail in Nepal's newspapers. The Nepali media has also published names of the R&AW officials stationed in the Indian embassy in Kathmandu.

The agency has been in the news in the past few years for various reasons. In 2004, Rabindra Singh - a joint secretary looking after South East Asia - defected. He is believed to have fled to the US. Last year, it became known that a Bangladeshi national was working with the agency and passing secret documents. A book written by former R &AW official Major General VK Singh was also mired in controversy. A case under the Officials Secret Act was then registered against him.

The R& AW was founded by RN Kao in 1968 and in its initial years functioned mostly as an outfit of close friends and relatives. Later it became broad based. Chaturvedi is its 14th chief.

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