July 15, 2012 3:04:19 am
Ravi Mohan and (wife) Vijita landed at Dulles International Airport (Washington) at 3.40 am. As they came out of the aircraft,they were received by a man who introduced himself as Patrick Burns. He whisked them away,bypassing immigration and Customs and took them to a secluded house in the heart of Maryland woods… the fugitives stayed incognito,while documents were being arranged to permanently wipe out their real identity. Three weeks later,Ravi and Vijita were set free to live their American dream as fake individuals,burdened to carry the sin of betraying their nation for the rest of their lives….
The passage appears in the epilogue of a yet-to-be released spy story titled Escape to No-where. But its the blurb Inspired by a true story on the cover and the name of the author that sets this work of fiction apart.
For,the writer is Amar Bhushan,a former special secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). Bhushan was the head of the agencys counter-intelligence unit till he retired in 2005,and has now cleverly masked identities to reveal whats the unmistakable story of the detection and escape of Rabinder Singh the former Army major who was discovered to be a CIA mole.
Every name and several locations have been changed,but the narration of events from Day 1,when Jeevnathan (the head of the Security Division of the Agency) is informed by a whistleblower that the behaviour of Ravi Mohan was suspicious,to Day 96 when the agencys source in Kathmandu confirms the escape of the suspect with the help of the CIA Station Chief from there is a fascinating account of the manner in which RAWs security unit mounted an over three-month-long surveillance and then,for want of clinching evidence on who his handlers were,allowed Ravi (read Rabinder Singh) a window to escape.
Singh had been serving as a joint secretary in RAW when he fled to the US.
The surveillance drill that the RAWs security unit put the suspected spy through included tapping his telephone lines,fixing surveillance cameras in his office (in the AC ducts),and listening devices in the official car and residence (codenamed Alister). Teams of watchers monitored his movements,contacts and flamboyant spending habits.
The RAW even planted an operative at the gym where Ravi would work out in the evening,writes Bhushan. When video footage showed him making photocopies of secret reports daily in his office to carry home,it was replaced with a sophisticated machine that allowed officers to get copies of every document that had been xeroxed.
It was in mid-2004,says the book (by Konark Publishers),that Ravis peon was intercepted transferring 13 files to his car. Bhushan writes that the files were seized and to ensure that he didnt get suspicious,RAW conducted a search of each and every employee as they exited the high-security headquarters. The yield was a huge cache of secret documents (restricted from being taken home),DVDs and CDs as well as pornographic material.
This was also the turning point,Bhushan writes,with Ravi getting a hint that he may have been caught and beginning to plot his escape. The RAW chief,who was getting daily briefings,however,decided not to involve the Bureau (Intelligence Bureau) in laying the final trap and at one point almost called the surveillance off,writes the ex-RAW officer.
Most revealing are the sections apparently inspired by Rabinder Singhs escape to the US via Kathmandu. In the book,Ravi and his wifes US passports have been issued by the Authority.
Six weeks after Ravis escape even as the issue was being taken up by the RAW chief with his American counterpart the author describes that a certain Roben Singh applied for asylum in the US,but his plea was turned down by an immigration judge.
Writes Bhushan: Roben Singh was none other than Ravi Mohan. The tale of his so-called misfortune is what is on record. Also,on record are scratchy details of his lost Indian passport in the name of Roben Singh,which cannot be verified by Delhi,because it was never issued. The US passport issued to him in the name of Virdi at Kathmandu does not exist anywhere. Roben currently stays as a refugee in Florida. So where would the US State Department and Interpol look for Ravi Mohan and Vijita Mohan?
In his epilogue,Amar Bhushan also writes how Ravi left behind misfortune for his operatives and reprieve for his collaborators.
While the RAW faced flak for allowing the double agent to escape,the CIA Kathmandu station head was recalled from Nepal and retired compulsorily for badly handling Ravis escape and exposing the CIAs involvement. The CIAs director,Operations,for South east Asia at Langley (the CIA headquarters) was also reprimanded for failing to ensure that the Agent was evacuated covertly,writes Bhushan.
As for the agents collaborators,says the writer,57 employees who shared information regularly with Ravi,continue to serve RAW. While 26 of them were never asked for an explanation,31 who actively colluded and shared extensive operational details were posted abroad.
For 7 years,I dithered
In the preface,Amar Bhushan explains why he wrote the book:
For seven years,I deliberated whether to write this story. The worry was that it might appear to be a flashback to an incident of spying that was,not too long ago,passionately commented upon by pundits on security matters and extensively glamorised by the media. There was a concern if the story could be told without violating the provisions of the Secrets Act… Then one day my dithering was put to a severe test. An officer asked me to look back at my experience of handling espionage cases and reflect whether there was any reward for persuing them doggedly. He said that he would rather have arranged for counselling for suspects to stop them from committing irregularities that hurt the reputation of the Agency than follow my prescription. I was frightened to hear the officer. Was he suggesting that subversion of officers would be tolerated and contained as a matter of policy,while a countrys secrets made their way to unauthorised hands? It was at this point that the story began its journey….
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