Where is BJP and its mascot Narendra Modi – the man who used to spew venom against Pakistan and Musharraf and all their “home-bred terrorists” even in his sleep?
Now when a sanghi journalist meets the 26/11 mastermind (the one who organised the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai’s CST Railway station, Hotel Taj, Trident, etc. and killed hundreds) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) boss Hafiz Saeed?
Vaidik, a journalist, met Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan and circulated his photographs. Does anyone of our security agencies notice this? The Central Government has disowned total responsibility, in stead of probing the abuse of privileges.
Journalists have been part of track two diplomacy for a long time
Wednesday, 23 July 2014: DNA
Journalists have aided intelligence agencies in backchannel talks with militants
The BJP-led NDA government has washed its hands off the Pakistani sojourns of journalist Ved Pratap Vaidik and his meeting with the 26/11 mastermind and Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed in Lahore. But it is well known that governments and intelligence agencies across the world have been used to leveraging scribes and businessmen as conduits. Not just to track underground elements, but to keep communication channels open as well. Little wonder then that those into intelligence gathering have failed to finds fault with the Saeed-Vaidik meeting. Their only suspicion: the journalist has used the meeting for self-promotion rather than publishing the contents of the interview in media.
This is not the first instance of backchannel meetings. The government of India — in the past — has used unconventional methods to seek intelligence or establish contacts with militant leaders, in the North-East, Punjab as well as in Jammu and Kashmir. Recall the early 1990s when the killing of four top IB officials had withered intelligence gathering in Kashmir. It is an open secret that the agencies then had to depend on three lady journalists to know plans of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and of other militant leaders.
In 2000, a Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, believed to be working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had successfully led Indian intelligence agencies particularly the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) sleuths and Kashmir’s separatist politicians up the garden path. Ijaz worked as interlocutor — making the first contact between JKLF chief Mohammad Yasin Malik and then RAW commissioner (later its chief) CD Sahay, in a hotel, on the outskirts of Delhi. Yasin Malik however, even while admitting that Ijaz had taken him to his hotel room in Gurgaon, has denied introduction to Sahay.
Mansoor had also reportedly helped the RAW to pull off its scoop of decades, by successfully airlifting then Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) operational commander Abdul Majeed Dar to Srinagar via Karachi, Dubai and Delhi, in May 2000. The exercise was to enable him to announce a unilateral ceasefire. Such was its secrecy that neither the IB nor MI had any wind of the plan.
The Army and the para-military forces even began a relentless campaign of search operations in north-Kashmir’s Kupwara district in the spring of 2000, after their own contacts reported Dar missing from HM headquarters. Mansoor, himself describes the Hizb ceasefire, as “a momentous event in the tumultuous history of the Kashmir valley,” revealing the search for an earnest resolution to the conflict. He reveals that Khalid Khawaja, a former ISI official who piloted Osama bin Laden’s aircraft in Afghanistan during the Afghan resistance, had also taken unprecedented risks in bringing him in contact with the HM chief Syed Salahuddin.
Interestingly, Mansoor’s ‘Mission Kashmir’ did not take a toll on the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, for allowing a mediator, which is against India’s declared policy. But then unlike Vaidik Mansoor always maintained a low profile.
Its worthwhile in this context to recall the writings of the American investigative journalist and author Carl Bernstein on Joseph Alsop, a leading syndicate columnist. Alsop travelled to Philippines to cover the 1953 elections. It later appeared the journalist had gone there on a CIA mission. According to Bernstein, Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists to have carried out secret assignments for the CIA.
“Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services—from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go-betweens with spies in Communist countries,” writes the author. Some of them went on to win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. India too has its own share of such award winning journalists known for pitching their narratives on intelligence dossiers, without any cross-checking whatsoever.
According to CIA documents, journalists, on many occasions, were engaged to do the bidding of intelligence organisations —with the consent of America’s leading news organization managements. During the Cold War, they were the “eyes and ears” of the CIA; reporting on what was seen or overheard in an Eastern European factory, at a diplomatic reception, revealing the contours of a military base.
A former top sleuth told the dna that he believes that journalists and intelligence agents should enter into a quid pro quo because both carry out the similar job of collecting information. “In return for our giving them information, we may ask them to do things that fit their roles as journalists. We may suggest assignments that they wouldn’t have thought of on their own, ” he said. As as far as ethics is concerned, that’s for journalists and not intelligence agencies to ponder. Sleuths have used media credentials to infiltrate insurgent groups. Former IB sleuth MK Dhar, in late 1980s, had used the accreditation of a BBC journalist to gain access to Sikh militants in Punjab, and later arrange their meetings in Delhi.
Though Indian intelligence agencies cannot be scrutinised, an investigation into the CIA operations by the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Senator Frank Church in 1976 revealed the agency’s involvement with the media. But top officials of the CIA, including former directors William Colby and George Bush, persuaded the committee to restrict its inquiry and misrepresent its scope.
Of late, the relationship between media and the intelligence has evolved into a mutually beneficial relationship. Many believe the cooperation between media and intelligence is crucial for sharper intelligence gathering, and in gauging the emergence of new threats, ensuring public and national security.
In 1987, when India was undertaking a military exercises known as Operation Brasstacks , Kuldip Nayar interviewed then head of Pakistan’s nuclear programme Dr AQ Khan in Pakistan. Nayar’s interview with Khan was reportedly organized by Mushahid Hussain. According to V Balachandran, a former RAW officer, the interview helped the entire world to know Pakistan’s perception of the nuclear bomb. “He (Nayar) was criticised, but then the information he got helped all of us,” he said. Similarly a decade later, when India found itself isolated itself in the aftermath of nuclear detonations, the Shekhar Gupta travelled to Islamabad to secure an invitation for Atal Bihari Vajpayee to undertake the Lahore journey. Though, sabotaged by the Kargil intrusion, that journey ended India’s isolation.
The author is bureau chief, dna