Writers' block


Government wants to stop retired bureaucrats and former spies from revealing 'state secrets' in tell-all books

  • "It is a bit immoral to adopt a holier-than-thou image after an officer has served the government" - V.K. Duggal (above), former home secretary and governor

With the NDA government mulling over the issue of 'state secrets' making bestsellers, the creative freedom of retired bureaucrats and former spies is threatened. When Maloy Krishna Dhar, former joint director of the Intelligence Bureau, wrote a memoir, Open Secrets, in 2005, the government had discussed ways to clamp down on such disclosures. However, it soon backed off, realising that any such attempt could spell more trouble.

In 2007, General V.K. Singh wrote India's External Intelligence: Secrets of RAW, detailing instances of corruption, nepotism and negligence within the Research and Analysis Wing. The Central Bureau of Investigation charged him under the Official Secrets Act for “wrongful communication of information”.

Last year, former R&AW chief A.S. Dulat's book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, gave insights into the behind-the-scenes activity that led to the freeing of terrorists during the IC814 plane hijacking in 1999. This caused a major flutter in government circles. Dulat claimed the response of the then government—led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee—was “goofed up”, and no clear instructions were given to the police when the plane landed in Amritsar. Because of this, the hijackers could take it to Kandahar in Afghanistan.

“With more and more persons, who have been privy to confidential government decisions, penning down their experiences and thoughts, a need was felt to create a set of rules and regulations,” a top government official told THE WEEK. “The department of personnel and training and the home ministry have held discussions on how to handle such matters.”

There was talk at the senior level in the government on whether penalties can be imposed to deter bureaucrats and spies from exposing 'state secrets', some of which could cause embarrassment to the government.

A section in the government said the issue needed a review, not only to flag national security concerns, but also to bring in checks and balances that can keep pace with the changing times.

While the proposal has not taken a formal shape, the broad-based discussions were about retired bureaucrats, some of whom take up jobs with foreign entities soon after retirement or write books with vivid accounts of the goings-on in the government.

24Dulat Secret stories: Former R&AW chief A.S. Dulat.

“I don't think we need to be so touchy,” Dulat told THE WEEK. “Memoirs and books are being written across the world. Recently, Stella Rimington, a British author and former director general of MI5, wrote a book and the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency George Tenet wrote his memoir, At the Center of the Storm. Many authors have been boldly writing about the workings of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. So, today, if the government wants to tighten things and that becomes the flavour of the day, then we have to decide which way we want to go.”

Former Intelligence Bureau chief T.V. Rajeswar wrote his account in a book, India: The Crucial Years, in 2015, a good part of which was devoted to the Emergency years and the move to ban the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Many other former spies, including one of the founders of R&AW, B. Raman, have written books over the years. Raman released his book, The Kaoboys of R&AW, in 2007, detailing the military operations at the Golden Temple in 1984.

Officials in the government said the fresh norms being suggested included curtailment of pension benefits if retired bureaucrats write books exposing 'state secrets' that are detrimental to national security. The cooling-off period for retired bureaucrats—during which they cannot work in the private sector—might also be increased from one to three years to prevent conflict of interest or possible misuse of official position. The government is also thinking of continuing with the background checks of bureaucrats for nearly a year even after retirement.

The proposed norms would be supported by the Official Secrets Act, among others, which serves as a tool for the government to safeguard classified and sensitive information.

Former home secretary and governor V.K. Duggal said government servants should be able to document their views, register their dissent and participate in the process “while they are in service” instead of taking a “holier-than-thou” stand later on.

“It is a bit immoral to adopt a holier-than-thou image after an officer has served the government,” Duggal told THE WEEK. “I think all officers should discharge their duty well and not tom-tom their role later. India has a very complex administration and multiple pulls and pressures are always there. This definitely results in larger interests taking over anything else, which sometime become part of the decision-making process. It cannot be questioned out of context later on.”

Officials conceded that while the need to rein in spies-turned-authors is debatable, the issue has been flagged for the government to take note of before the cat is out of the bag once again.

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