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Thanks, but no thanks

India may be giving far more than what it?s getting from the US on military intelligence. New Delhi should treat American offers of help with caution.

india Updated: May 23, 2006 01:30 IST

While assessing Jardine’s offer, the Indian government would do well to recall the guidelines which Ram Nath Kao, founder of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), had formulated to govern cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies. These included keeping the PM constantly informed on all intelligence cooperation with foreign agencies that should be done only through the R&AW. Foreign intelligence agencies should not be allowed to interact directly with any government department or individual officer, bypassing the R&AW under any pretext.

While intelligence cooperation with the US has intensified of late, India has had some unfortunate experiences with US intelligence agencies. Immediately after the Mumbai explosions of March 1993, India sought the assistance of Austrian and US agencies to examine the hand grenades of Austrian origin and a chemical timer of US origin recovered from the blast sites.

The Austrian experts examined the grenades at the blast sites itself. Vienna officially reported that these grenades had been manufactured in a Pakistani ordnance factory with technology and machine tools sold by an Austrian company to Pakistan’s Defence Ministry. Austria told India that it was free to use this report to build its evidence about the complicity of Pakistan’s ISI in the Mumbai blasts.

But the US experts insisted that the chemical timer could be examined only in a particular specialised forensic laboratory in the US, insisting that forensic laboratories in India lacked the necessary technology. Indian officials were reluctant to cede possession of the timer. India permitted this only when senior US State functionaries gave their personal word of honour to New Delhi that the timer would be returned intact. They sent India an unsigned report which stated that the timer was of US origin and was part of a consignment given by the US to the ISI to be passed on to the mujahideen during Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet campaign in the early Eighties. But the US specified that India should not use this unsigned report for any purpose.

Even when India pointed out that the timer was the clinching evidence for the ISI sponsoring terrorism in India, US officials retorted that there were widespread diversions or thefts of weapons from the Pakistani army arsenals to hundreds of arms dealers, and that Dawood Ibrahim and other suspects in the Mumbai blasts “very probably obtained the timer from one of these arms dealers without even one single ISI officer being aware of it”.

The timer was never returned. US officials claimed that it had been “accidentally destroyed during testing by a young scientist”. Several Indian intelligence officials were of the view that this timer was not of Eighties’ Afghan war vintage but was made around 1990-92.

In sharp contrast, India received cooperation from the West German government when Dubai captured the Khalistani hijackers of an Indian Airlines flight in which the revolvers recovered were of West German origin. After forensic examinations, Bonn provided India a signed report that these revolvers were part of a consignment which a West German company had sold to the Pakistani army. India was told that it was free to use this report to build its evidence about the ISI’s complicity in the Khalistan movement.

There is a growing feeling in Indian intelligence circles that India is providing far more information to the US in the war on terror than it is receiving in return. India has provided the US with vast quantities of communications intercepts of terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan and photographs of terrorist training camps, but has not received information of commensurate value (the US has provided some help in decryption and pattern recognition). Other areas where India is giving much more are high-altitude warfare, jungle warfare, urban warfare and close-combat warfare, which no other country can provide the US.

While India should tap America’s technological expertise in tackling militancy in the North-east, India should not allow US intelligence agencies to acquire significant contacts in that sensitive region or to develop long-lasting relationships with local security and police personnel. The interactions between local police personnel and the Americans should be strictly for specific objectives, and be under the direct supervision of the Chief Ministers of those states.

The writer heads a group on C4ISRT (Command, Control, Communications and Computers Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targetting) in South Asia