Remembering B. Raman: A Tribute to India’s Stalwart Defence Analyst and Spy Master

B. Raman's journey, marked by dedication, intellect, and foresight, led him to become a formidable force in the realm of national security.

12 mins read
File Photo of B. Raman

In the annals of India’s history, certain figures shine with an unwavering brilliance that transcends time. Their contributions leave an indelible mark on the nation’s identity, shaping its trajectory in ways both visible and unseen. One such luminary is the revered defence analyst and spy master, B. Raman. As we commemorate his birth anniversary on August 14th, we reflect on his life’s work and the profound impact he had on India’s security landscape.

B. Raman’s journey, marked by dedication, intellect, and foresight, led him to become a formidable force in the realm of national security. Born on August 14, 1936, his early years were indicative of the incandescent mind that would later influence policies and perspectives. His innate curiosity and thirst for knowledge propelled him forward, setting the stage for a career that would define him as a visionary.

One of the most remarkable aspects of B. Raman’s legacy was his prolific writing. His words flowed like a river of insight, carving a path through the complexities of national security, espionage, and international relations. His daily write-ups, an invaluable resource, served as a beacon of awareness in an era when information was often obscured or selectively disclosed. With unwavering dedication, he unraveled intricate webs of geopolitical intrigue, enabling citizens and policymakers alike to grasp the nuances that shaped the nation’s security landscape.

But B. Raman was not merely a commentator; he was an active participant in safeguarding India’s interests. His years of service in the intelligence community earned him the title of “seasoned spy master.” A title richly deserved, as he navigated the clandestine world with a blend of intellect and shrewdness, always putting the nation’s welfare at the forefront. His dedication to protecting India from external threats was resolute, and his commitment to his duty was unwavering.

In an era where information is abundant yet often unreliable, B. Raman’s assessments stood as pillars of accuracy and depth. His analyses were marked by a rare clarity, cutting through the fog of ambiguity to present a realistic perspective. His writings acted as a countermeasure to misinformation, offering an informed narrative that citizens could rely on. In this way, he not only educated but also empowered individuals to engage thoughtfully in discussions about national security.

As we remember B. Raman on his birth anniversary, it is vital to recognize the lasting impact he has had on India’s security infrastructure. His insights have contributed to shaping policies, guiding decisions, and fostering a culture of vigilance. The principles he espoused continue to resonate, reminding us that national security is a collective endeavor requiring informed engagement from all quarters.

B. Raman’s legacy extends beyond his time on this earth. His writings remain a treasure trove of wisdom, accessible to those who seek to understand the intricate tapestry of global politics and security concerns. His example serves as an inspiration to future generations of analysts, diplomats, and citizens who aspire to contribute meaningfully to their nation’s well-being.

As we pay tribute to this remarkable man on his birth anniversary, let us remember B. Raman not only for his analytical acumen but also for his unwavering dedication to India’s security. Let his life be a reminder that individuals, armed with knowledge and integrity, can truly shape the destiny of a nation. Just as he illuminated the path for us, may we endeavor to carry forward his legacy, working tirelessly to ensure India’s sovereignty and security in an ever-evolving world.

Here, we present an excerpt from his book, ‘The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane.

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Kao’s tenure as the Senior Adviser saw the beginning of an activist policy by India in Sri Lanka. Indira Gandhi’s close interest in Sri Lanka and concerns about it went back to 1971, when, to her annoyance, the then Sri Lankan Government allowed planes of the Pakistan Air Force to re-fuel at the Katunayake airport while on their way to and from East Pakistan after she had banned their flights through the Indian air space. Her strong expression of unhappiness over the Sri Lankan action led to a discontinuance of the re-fuelling.

Despite her cordial relations with Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Indira Gandhi did not close her eyes to the threats that could be posed to India’s security by Sri Lanka’s close relations with China. However, her unhappiness over Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s flirting with the Chinese did not inhibit Indira Gandhi from promptly responding in April, 1971, to an SOS from the Sri Lankan leader for Indian assistance when the then ultra-Marxist Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) launched simultaneous attacks in many places and came very near to capturing power. On the instructions of Indira Gandhi, Kao, who was then heading the R&AW, rushed to Colombo an IPS officer of the Maharashtra cadre serving in the R&AW, who had acquired an expertise in counter-insurgency. He had also been trained by the British security services, which had successfully put down the communist insurgency in Malaysia. This officer stayed in Colombo for some time and closely advised her and her officers on how to deal with the JVP insurgency. He returned to Delhi after the initial JVP threat had been overcome by the Sri Lankan security forces. Collection of intelligence about the JVP, its contacts with China and North Korea and its likely contacts with Marxist elements in India became an important task for the R&AW.

More than the Pakistani, the Chinese and the Marxist threats to India through Sri Lanka, what caused a major concern to Indira Gandhi was the possibility of American threats. After she returned to power in 1980, reports started coming in of increasing American activities in Sri Lanka and the hobnobbing of the United National Party (UNP) Government with the US. Indira Gandhi as well as Kao were concerned over the implications of an American interest in the hiring of a large number of petrol storage tanks in Trincomallee, which had been constructed by the allied forces during the Second World War. After the war, these tanks had remained unutilized. After the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, the US Navy started showing interest in expanding its presence and activities in the Indian Ocean region—–mainly to monitor and counter the activities of the Soviet Navy and also to keep an eye on the movements of a large number of Soviet fishing trawlers in the Indian Ocean. The CIA suspected that they were being used by the TECHINT division of the KGB, the Soviet intelligence agency, for intercepting the communications of the US naval ships in the Indian Ocean region.

Apart from developing Diego Garcia as a US naval base, the US started showing an interest in acquiring a presence in Trincomallee. After the war of 1971, Kao ordered an exercise to examine the various possibilities of strengthening the R&AW’s capability for the collection of maritime intelligence about the US Naval activities in the Indian Ocean region. One of the decisions taken was to enter into a triangular co-operation agreement with the French and Iranian intelligence agencies, to which a reference has already been made in a previous chapter. Another was to acquire a fishing trawler to be manned by officers of the R&AW and the Indian Navy and use it for the collection of TECHINT with equipment and technical advice to be obtained from the TECHINT Division of the KGB. The first project did not produce satisfactory results. The second for a fishing trawler was a non-starter due to mental reservations in the Navy and the Finance Ministry. After Morarji Desai came to power in 1977, the project report was given a quite burial. It was not revived again since there was not much enthusiasm for it in the R&AW itself. The IPS officers, who constituted the majority in the organization, tended to be over-cautious and to avoid ideas beyond their comprehension.

Some months after Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980, reports started coming in that a Singapore-based company was negotiating with the Sri Lankan authorities for taking the petrol storage tanks on hire. Enquiries made by the R&AW indicated that the Singapore company was acting as a front for the US intelligence community—- for either the CIA or the NSA (the National Security Agency). The R&AW, which had a long-established liaison relationship with the intelligence division of the Sri Lankan Police and the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence, immediately took up the matter with them. They denied the report.

The MEA took it up with its counterpart in Colombo with negative results. The negotiations with the Singapore-based company slowed down, but were not called off. In the meanwhile, another report was received that the Voice of America (VOA), which is funded by the US State Department, was negotiating with the Sri Lankan authorities for permission to considerably expand its presence and broadcasting capabilities in Sri Lanka. The ostensible reason given by the VOA was that it wanted to expand its broadcasts to Asia. The R&AW’s TECHINT officers suspected that the real purpose was to enable the CIA use the VOA set-up to monitor the communications of the Indian naval establishments in South India and of the Indian and Soviet naval ships in the Indian Ocean region. This matter too was taken up with the Sri Lankan authorities, but with similar negative results.

Though the Sri Lankan authorities ultimately abandoned the petrol storage tanks proposal and considerably scaled down the expansion of the VOA, Indira Gandhi was upset over the frequent instances of their insensitivity to India’s security concerns. In the meanwhile, the relations between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Sri Lankan Tamil communities kept deteriorating. This resulted in widespread anti-Tamil riots in Colombo in 1983 and the start of the movement for an independent Tamil state to be called Tamil Eelam under the leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The riots and the Tamil Eelam movement had their echo in Tamil Nadu. Indira Gandhi always had a soft corner for South India in general and for Tamil Nadu in particular. They had stood by her in the best of times and in the worst of times. Reports of the sufferings of the Sri Lankan Tamils at the hands of the Sinhalese moved her to go to their help. The R&AW was asked to start an activist policy in Sri Lanka to assist the Sri Lankan Tamils. Indira Gandhi’s unhappiness over the insensitivity of the Sri Lankan authorities to India’s security concerns and her desire to help the suffering Sri Lankan Tamils both influenced her decision to embark on an activist policy. This activist project of the R&AW, which started during the tenure of Kao as Senior Adviser, under the over-all supervision of Saxena, continued after his exit, despite some embarrassment caused by a media leakage of some aspects of the project.

There was considerable nervousness in the Pakistani Armed Forces over the return of Indira Gandhi to power and her action in recalling Kao from retirement and appointing him as Senior Adviser. Zia-ul-Haq, the military dictator who had overthrown Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and seized power in 1977, and other Armed Forces officers had not forgotten what happened to Pakistan and its Army in December 1971, when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister and Kao headed the R&AW. Zia was very happy with the Morarji Desai Government, which refrained from any fraternization with the opponents and critics of the military regime in Pakistan.

Moreover, Morarji Desai, A.B.Vajpayee and Charan Singh hardly knew any Pakistani political leader. The Pakistani political leaders did not think much of them. Those, who had escaped from Pakistan and gone into exile in Afghanistan, the UK and other countries of West Europe, were greatly excited by her return to power and by the appointment of Kao as her Senior Adviser. The Pakistani political class in Sindh, Balochistan and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) admired her and began hoping that she would help them in their movement against the military regime for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. They started visiting India—–many secretly, some like the late Khan Adul Wali Khan, the son of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, openly. They came either to meet her or Kao or Saxena. The R&AW made discreet arrangements for these visits and for their meetings with Indira Gandhi and others. Many of the Pakistani leaders had a wide circle of friends in the Congress (I) party, originating from the days of the party’s freedom struggle against the British before 1947. They renewed their contacts and old friendships during their visits.

Since its inception in 1968, the R&AW had a close liaison relationship with the Khad, the Afghan intelligence agency, which was an important source of information for the Indian intelligence on Pakistan. This relationship was further strengthened after Indira Gandhi and Kao returned to office and Saxena took over as the head of the R&AW. The foundation was laid for a trilateral co-operation involving the R&AW, the Khad and the KGB. Many of the training camps for the Khalistani terrorists run by the ISI were located in the tribal areas of the NWFP. The arms and ammunition for them came from the Pakistan Army stocks kept in the NWFP. The R&AW, therefore, greatly valued the co-operation of the Khad for monitoring the Khalistani activities in that area.

The R&AW was also greatly interested in details regarding the covert operations of the CIA in Afghanistan—how the CIA and the ISI were training the Afghan Mujahideen, what kind of arms and ammunition and explosives were being given to them etc. Under the leadership of William Casey, the CIA started following in Afghanistan a policy of using the methods practised by the Hezbollah, the terrorist organization of the Lebanon, for making the Soviet and Afghan troops bleed. To avoid Congressional allegations of their resorting to terrorism in their proxy war against the Soviet troops, the CIA avoided directly training the Afghan Mujahideen and the Arab terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, who had flocked to Afghanistan via Peshawar.

Instead, they helped the ISI in creating a covert action division headed by Brigadier Mohammed Yousef to train the Afghan Mujahideen and the Arab volunteers in the techniques of the Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations. Brig. Yousef and his officers were secretly taken to the US and imparted the necessary training. Experts of the U.S. Special Forces trained the ISI officers in the fabrication of high-tech explosive devices such as the ammonium nitrate-fuel oil (ANFO) vehicular bombs and in sabotage techniques. The CIA supplied to the ISI large quantities of explosive material of different kinds, detonators and timers. The ISI officers trained by the CIA and the US Special Forces, in turn, trained the Afghan Mujahideen and the Arab volunteers.

The ISI, while carrying out the instructions of the CIA, secretly transferred some of these techniques and materials to the Khalistani terrorists in the camps run by it for them. The Khalistanis started using these techniques and materials against the Indian security forces and civilians, when they stepped up their acts of terrorism after Operation Blue Star. Thus, while the CIA-ISI collaboration was supposedly directed against the Soviet and Afghan troops in Afghanistan, India too started feeling their effect on its internal security. The R&AW’s co-operation with the Khad and the KGB had two purposes—- to get information regarding the ISI-imparted techniques and the ISI-supplied materials being used by the Afghan Mujahideen and the Arab volunteers and to get details of the equipment captured by the Soviet and Afghan troops from them.

While keeping a wary eye on the activities of the CIA and the ISI in Afghanistan, Kao, Suntook and Saxena did not allow concerns over this come in the way of the R&AW’s liaison relationship with the CIA. In fact, the R&AW sought the assistance of the CIA for training some of its officers as well as some from the IB in counter-terrorism techniques such as dealing with hijackings, hostage negotiations etc. The CIA happily obliged. Thus, one had one more bizarre example of how international intelligence co-operation works. The CIA trained the officers of the ISI in the use of terrorism against an adversary. At the same time, it trained the officers of the R&AW and the IB in some of the techniques of countering that terrorism.

Even while actively co-operating with the CIA against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, the military dictatorship in Pakistan pressed on with its efforts to acquire a military nuclear capability, without facing any serious opposition from the US. Its dependence on Pakistan for its operations in Afghanistan made the Reagan Administration close its eyes to Pakistan’s feverish quest for acquiring a military nuclear capability. Pakistan not only continued with its clandestine procurement activities in the West, but it also entered into a secret collaboration project with China on this subject. The Science and Technology (S&T) Division of the R&AW, headed by Dr.K.Santanam, did outstanding work in closely monitoring Pakistan’s clandestine activities in this regard.

Shortly after the formation of the R&AW in September 1968, Kao, with the approval of Indira Gandhi, had set up a secret liaison relationship with Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency. This relationship used to be handled through R&AW officers posted in West Europe. Senior officers of the two services, including the chiefs, periodically used to exchange visits. The main purpose of this liaison relationship was to benefit from Israel’s knowledge of West Asia and North Africa and to learn from its counter-terrorism techniques. The secrecy of India’s contacts with Israel and of the liaison relationship between the R&AW and the Mossad was successfully maintained till 1977. Some aspects of it leaked out during the Prime Ministership of Morarji Desai. The media had come to know of a clandestine visit by Gen.Moshe Dayan, the legendary military hero of Israel, to Kathmandu. It did not take them long to establish that the main purpose of the visit was for a clandestine meeting with representatives of the Government of India.

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SLG Syndication

SLG Syndication is committed to aggregating excerpts from news published by international news agencies and key insights on contemporary issues published by think tanks. Our aim is to facilitate the expansion of its reach while giving due credit to the original source.

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