We live in the times of media trial. In the mad rush for TRPs, the news channels seldom approach an issue with the seriousness it deserves. The escape of CIA mole Rabinder Singh in 2004, then a joint secretary in our premier external intelligence organisation R&AW,was treated with a kind of sensationalism that titillates the prime time news audience. Unfortunately, like several other cases, here too the infection spread to print media. The truth would have remained a casualty but thanks to the man who was largely blamed for escape – Amar Bhushan, the head of counter intelligence in R&AW at that point of time, who has now written a book,Escape to Nowhere, on the case.
It takes courage of conviction to rise and report the truth when the whole world seems to be eager to condemn you. One such similar attempt was made by Captain RS Rathaur, the main accused of Samba spy scandal. The truth never came out in the infamous case reported from the border area of Jammu and Kashmir in the 1970s. Rathaur made several attempts at it, even writing a book on the subject but did not succeed beyond a point.
Amar Bhushan has succeeded where Rathaur failed. Bhushan in fact had the failures of the Samba spy scandal at the back of his mind when he mounted surveillance on Rabinder Singh. In the course of the narrative, the protagonist Jeevnathan, head of agency’s counter-intelligence wing, on several occasions cautions his officers that they need credible evidence to stand scrutiny of court before they could arrest Ravi Mohan, the mole.
The book is a thinly fictionalised account of the incident which caused a big dent into the image of the agency. It has a racy narrative and manages to hold attention of the reader all through. It reveals to the world Bhushan as a master story teller. But Bhushan certainly did not write the book to showcase his skills as a word smith. His motivation is clear – to counter the perception that R&AW was incapable of keeping its house in order.
The message of the book lies in the comment on the utility of Ravi Mohan as a spy for the CIA. He is categorised as being high on cost and low on inputs. All through the book, there is an unstated narrative that Rabinder Singh in his two-decade long spying for foreign agency could not manage to dig out much and that the evaluation systems in agency were such that he never got to get personal access to core information.
The book also makes a exciting reading for the insight it gives into the monumental surveillance launched against a high-profile mole. Kamath and Kutty, the lynchpins of the operation, match the guile of the much superior operatives by sheer dint of hard work. They succeeded in establishing the identity of the handler though the mole may have managed to escape. But for some luck on his side, Ravi Mohan could not have made his escape good. The book tells us that the officers of counter-intelligence suffered in ignominy after the operation was exposed. That’s the risk every spy runs. The book is a must for those who aspire for a career in intelligence.
The reviewer is consulting editor, Millennium Post