INDIA’S OPEN SECRETS
Effects on sovereignty and democracy
Junior strategic partner
American spying challenges comprise three categories, namely, friends, enemies and problems. The top two challenges are Brazil and Egypt. That India is No.3 challenge to U.S intelligence [Ref.1] is strange, considering that India’s PM Dr.Manmohan Singh is known to be submissive to U.S policies and pressures.
Perhaps this submissiveness began with the July 2005 India-USA strategic framework signed in Washington, between U.S president George W. Bush and Dr.Manmohan Singh. The main pillars of strategic cooperation were (1) civilian nuclear cooperation to revive the moribund American nuclear industry and, as claimed by the UPA-1 government, ensure India’s energy security, and (2) the knowledge initiative in agriculture to give better access to U.S GM giant Monsanto into Indian agriculture and, as claimed by the UPA-1 government, ensure India’s food security.
The 123 Agreement is a general nuclear agreement USA has with other countries. But with India, it was overshadowed by the India-specific “Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006“, that visualizes India having a foreign policy congruent with that of USA, and actively participating in USA’s efforts to implement sanctions against Iran for not conforming to USA’s checks on acquisition of n-weapons. [Ref.2] [Note 1].
Dr.Manmohan Singh staked his UPA-1 government for the 123 nuclear deal by making a political quid pro quo alliance with the Samajwadi Party for survival, after the Left withdrew support. It is less well known that at the same time he also staked India’s sovereignty, by implicitly aligning India’s foreign policy with the USA. From principled non-alignment of Nehruvian days, India became a client state of USA. This was amply demonstrated seven years later in June 2013, with India actually making excuses for NSA spying on India exposed by Edward Snowden. It appears that India has been “promoted” from Target No.5 after Iran, Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt [Ref.3] to Target No.3, neither friend nor foe, but a “problem”, even while being a submissive junior strategic partner of the world’s foremost warmonger. Thus, NSA, with presidential sanction, could well be monitoring the content of telephone calls, emails and cell phone messages of India’s PM, as happening with Brazil’s president. [Ref.1].
Edward Snowden’s expose caused international outrage for NSA infringing on individual privacy, and on friends and foes alike at governmental and public levels. USA’s NATO allies were vocal in their feigned outrage at the revelation that their cyberspace had been secretly invaded by NSA, even their embassies bugged, and data mining performed on their official and private citizens’ communications. True to this writer’s prediction that “there is unlikely to be even a squeak on this sovereignty issue” [Ref.3], India, far from even feigning outrage, has sought to play down USA’s presidentially-sanctioned spying, snooping and surveillance by terming it as “scrutiny” of India’s cyberspace. However, even “scrutiny”, the mildest of the terms [Note 2], is objectionable because it impinges on India’s sovereignty.
NSA has been mining all electronic data including official and personal correspondence and information at state and national level. USA’s enormous technological capacity to not merely intercept, copy and store data mined without the knowledge of the rightful owner of the data, but also to match and analyse it on desired parametric bases, makes the words spying, snooping and surveillance, all applicable. NSA’s “scrutiny” of India’s cyberspace would inevitably include the personal correspondence and political and financial affairs of members of state and central governments, legislatures and judiciary, besides ordinary citizens. Subsequent close and thorough examination of this data and sorting it by name and political party, etc., would allow profiling any and every bureaucrat, legislator and judge, who would then be open to manipulation and influence from USA.
It is not at all clear whether Mr.Salman Khurshid and other apologists for USA’s arrogant spying-snooping are aware of the personal and official risks of “mere scrutiny”. If they are, it may indicate that they are already compromised. However, it is inconceivable that the general approach if not the precise terms of Mr.Salman Khurshid’s supine equivocation was possible without the directions or approval of Dr.Manmohan Singh, an icon of submissiveness to American “superiority”.
There are people who opine that since India cannot do anything technically or politically about USA’s data mining in India, we should acquiesce. That is in line with the tame and unprincipled policy adopted by external affairs minister Salman Khurshid, in contempt of India’s Constitution that defines India as a sovereign Republic.
Without trace of embarrassment or apology, USA is brazenly maintaining that it has been secretly mining data and physically bugging foreign embassies and premises, all blatant acts of spying-snooping, in order to protect itself against terrorist threat by comprehensive surveillance over U.S and non-U.S citizens, associations and groups. It is now revealed that it has also been spying-snooping over the past many years to gain political, economic, trade and commercial advantage over its own allies and strategic partners, in addition to its ideological and military adversaries. USA’s hegemonic Project for a New American Century (PNAC) – or the new American Empire – is heavily based upon intelligence gathering by passive and offensive cyber operations, assisted by its four servile spying-snooping partners, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, all remnants of the erstwhile brutal and rapacious British Empire.
Surveillance and security
Surveillance by USA on India’s leaders and private citizens is bad enough, but India is preparing for its own internal surveillance. Surveillance assumes that the subject surveilled is a suspected spy or a criminal [Note 2]. This assumption for general public surveillance in a democracy is unwarranted because the general public becomes “suspect”. Surveillance of criminal suspects (targetted surveillance) is standard police and intelligence practice and, in a democratic society, is done with appropriate established, well-defined checks and safeguards, so that the power of surveillance is not misused to gain advantage or blackmail or settle scores for political or partisan purposes. Even with checks and balances in place, targetted surveillance has led to innumerable cases of staged or false “encounters” resulting in extra-judicial killings based on questionable intelligence reports, mere suspicion or motivated political orders.
The general public surveillance envisaged by India’s Centralized Monitoring System (CMS) is unwarranted, because it is blanket sanction to monitor any or all activities of any or all citizens, associations and groups, and permits secret profiling on the basis of any parameter or combination of parameters such as religion, language, association, ethnicity, etc. Public surveillance thus assumes that any or every citizen is a suspected criminal who can be profiled or picked up at the discretion of an anonymous surveillor.
In this dispensation, instead of the citizen critically watching the State for performance, the shadowy, anonymous surveillors of the State watch the citizen for criminality, thus inverting the constitutional supremacy of the We the People over the State. It marks the beginnings of a police state with unaccountable power to persons in control, not unlike Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy or the former Soviet Union or the People’s Republic of China, all notable for peremptory, brutal and vicious State power.
It is not at all clear whether these grave implications of implementing CMS are in the knowledge of India’s USA-philic legislators, judiciary or middle class intelligentsia. However, it is a good guess that India’s corporate captains who wield enormous influence of money and opinion in the corridors of state and central power are not merely aware, but are actively encouraging CMS and appurtenant organizations like UIDAI and NATGRID.
The ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, in his seminal work “The Art of War”, advises, “… use information to influence the adversary … by exploiting, even creating, vulnerabilities of the enemy, even while hiding (and not creating) one’s own vulnerabilities … to subdue the enemy without fighting”. While Sun Tzu wrote only of enemies, USA’s spying-snooping exploits the cyber and intelligence vulnerabilities of friends, enemies, allies and partners to subdue them to hegemony that will “shape a new century favourable to American principles and interests” and “make the case and rally support for American global leadership” [Ref.4].
It is necessary to note that India’s cyberspace vulnerability would likely not have been revealed were it not for Edward Snowden’s courageous expose. With growing public anger that India’s cyber vulnerability was secretly exploited by U.S spying-snooping, India hurriedly issued its policy on cyber security. According to the National Cyber Security Policy-2013 (NCSP-2013) dated 02 July 2013, produced by Department of Electronics and Information Technology under the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, “Cyberspace is vulnerable to a wide variety of incidents, whether intentional or accidental, manmade or natural, and the data exchanged in the cyberspace can be exploited for nefarious purposes by both nation-states and non-state actors. … The protection of information infrastructure and preservation of the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information in cyberspace is the essence of a secure cyber space.” Also, “This policy therefore, aims to create a cyber security framework, which leads to specific actions and programmes to enhance the security posture of the country’s cyberspace.”. The NCSP-2013, sent to Cabinet Secretariat, PMO and Planning Commission among other addressees following USA’s brazen cyber-snooping, is admission of abject failure to protect India’s security and sovereignty. India’s belated acceptance of the possibility of “nefarious purposes by both nation-states and non-state actors” while at the same time playing down U.S spying-snooping as “scrutiny”, sadly reveals shameful servility.
U.S spying-snooping in India was perhaps only to gather information and intelligence, and cannot be termed cyber attack. Cyber attack, whether by nation-states or non-state actors, deliberately destroys, corrupts or renders useless or defective, critical or strategic military, economic or political systems. This has been authorized by U.S president Obama as Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (OCEO), to advance “U.S national objectives around the world”. Without doubt, countries like China, Russia, Israel, EU and some others which have strategic vision and cyber capability, have a defined cyber operations doctrine. Further, both USA and Russia have stated that they will interpret cyber attack on themselves as an act of war, which can attract military response. The reason for most countries objecting to U.S spying-snooping is that gathering information and intelligence, and gaining access into information systems, enables USA to very rapidly slip into OCEO at a time of its choice, crippling the target country’s military and government, and subdue it without firing a shot.
The U.S “Intelligence Community” consists of 16 spy agencies including NSA, FBI and CIA, and in terms of expenditures would be the fourth largest military after USA, China and Russia, according to SIPRI. Based on Snowden’s revelations, Washington Post reports [Ref.5] that “The governments of Iran, China and Russia are difficult to penetrate, …”. By implication, such a well-funded and powerful spying establishment penetrating India’s government would be easy. USA’s super-surveillance combined with India’s political supineness and cyber incompetence, could make CMS a mere tool for furtherance of USA’s global ambitions.
Lack of strategic vision
India’s apologetic position regarding USA’s snooping, and the present lack of strategic vision and credible intelligence capability [Ref.6] is exacerbated by its dependence upon foreign IT hardware, foreign IT security software and even system expertise.
This opinion is predicated upon the fact that, with the possible exception of India’s Armed Forces, Indian central and state governments and their agencies have purchased security software in the form of firewalls from international vendors, and contracted out sensitive system and database creation to foreign vendors which are closely connected with intelligence agencies. Such actions could only be because of ignorance, negligence or active complicity of the heads of these institutions.
Specifically, UIDAI Chairman Nandan Nilekani claims that the Aadhaar system is safe because it has “concentric rings of security”. It is shocking that a technocrat of his eminence, elevated to cabinet status, should be unaware of the risks of a hacker breaching every ring of security when each ring is compromised. UIDAI has contracted formation of its Central ID Repository and other critical work to U.S firms having intimate links with the U.S intelligence community [Ref.3], but nevertheless falsely stated that it has not dealt with any foreign companies. It later denied access to its on-going contract documents with foreign companies, when called for under the RTI Act. Could this be interpreted as active complicity? NSA operatives would be smirking at Nilekani’s innocence.
Sovereignty is complete power or authority over territorial and material assets, independence and integrity of political and economic policy, and ownership, control & jurisdiction over all national assets and properties. Today, data is the new property, the compromise of which is compromise of sovereignty. USA’s data mining in India is a threat and insult to India’s “sovereign secular socialist democratic Republic”.
While India’s Prime Minister takes an oath to abide by the Constitution and the laws, the President of India has a more onerous role, swearing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law. Therefore the President of India, thus far studiously standing out of the controversy, needs to recall his solemn oath and begin to voice his view and opinion on the issues arising out of Edward Snowden’s expose, including providing guidance to his government operating under the executive power of the Prime Minister and his cabinet.
With regard to protecting India’s sovereignty and political self-respect, President Pranab Mukherjee, needs to advise his government to demand (1) an explanation from USA for physical and cyber spying and snooping on India, (2) a guarantee that further physical and cyber spying and snooping will be stopped with immediate effect, and (3) a certificate from USA that all copies of data pertaining to India and Indian citizens mined so far will be irretrievably deleted.
It is worrying that BJP, the largest opposition party and contender for power in the 2014 general elections, has not raised the issue in Parliament nor expressed any serious objection to USA’s blatant assualt on India’s sovereignty. Perhaps the silence and shameful equivocation of India’s political-bureaucratic establishment stems from the fact that India’s bureaucrats and top politicians in the ruling coalition and the opposition, are in awe of America, or have personal assets in USA, or own off-shore assets which are in the knowledge of USA. Is India’s military top brass similarly compromised?
State of vulnerability
Intelligence can control systems and the people who control political and economic systems. NSA’s program code-named GENIE employs U.S computer specialists to break into foreign networks so that they can be placed under surreptitious U.S control. This enables access to personal and organizational data to control people.
India’s political class is unaware that their personal and party secrets are known to USA. The personal details and secrets of India’s judiciary, bureaucracy-police and military have undoubtedly been acquired and stored by U.S intelligence for future use. It is undoubtedly the same for the captains of Indian industry. The “foreign hand”, hitherto scoffed at as a product of overheated imagination, is a stark reality. Those who control India and guide its destiny are slaves to U.S diktat. It is a moot point whether India’s sovereignty as a democratic republic has been irretrievably lost.
USA has a history of effecting regime change in foreign countries by covert and overt means, in pursuance of its global domination policy. India has been a “problem” to USA because of the strong democratic traditions built by its founding fathers and its robust Constitution. But with the secrets of huge corruption, phenomenal greed and personal peccadillos of its bureaucrats and political class cutting across party lines, known to U.S intelligence, USA can have substantial influence on the outcome of India’s 2014 general elections.
To paraphrase Robert Jensen [Ref.7], no matter who votes in elections and how they vote, powerful unelected forces set the parameters of political action. India, now in a politically fragmented condition only different in detail from India of the 18th Century, is vulnerable. Will a modern-day Robert Clive bribe, coerce, blackmail, threaten or otherwise influence modern-day Mir Jafars to bring the military boots of American empire into India? Only time will tell.
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1. Shoban Saxena; “NSA picked content from Brazilian President’s phones, emails and texts”; <http://www.thehindu.com/
2. S.G.Vombatkere; “The Nuclear Deal and some Strategic Considerations: A South Asia Perspective”, Mainstream, New Delhi, Vol XLVI No 34, August 9, 2008, p.23.
3. S.G.Vombatkere; “Edward Snowden’s Wake-Up Call – Cyber Security, Surveillance and Democracy”; <http://www.countercurrents.
4. Zia Mian, “America’s Time and Place”; Economic & Political Weekly; Vol.XL, No.16, April 16, 2005.
5. Zachary Keck; “U.S Intelligence Community: The World’s Fourth Largest Military?”; The Diplomat; <http://thediplomat.com/
6. S.G.Vombatkere; “Rational National Security”; Indian Defence Review; Vol 27.3 Jul-Sep 2012; November 5, 2012; <http://www.
7. Robert Jensen; “Our Democracy?”; <http://www.countercurrents.
Note 1. The relevant portion of the Hyde Act states, “It is the sense of Congress that … it is in the interest of the United States to enter into an agreement for nuclear cooperation … with a country that has never been a State Party to the NPT if … the country has a foreign policy that is congruent to that of the United States … “. Also, “The following shall be the policies [to] … secure India’s full and active participation in United States efforts to dissuade, isolate, and if necessary, sanction and contain Iran for its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction … including … the capability to enrich uranium or reprocess nuclear fuel …”. [Ref.2].
Note 2. According to the Oxford Dictionary, snoop = investigate secretly; spy = collect and report secret information; surveillance = close observation of a suspected spy or criminal; scrutinize = closely and thoroughly examine.
** Major General S.G. Vombatkere retired as the Additional Director General, Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ, New Delhi. The President of India awarded him the Visishta Seva Medal in 1993 for distinguished service rendered over 5 years in Ladakh. He holds a PhD degree in Structural Dynamics from IIT, Madras. He is Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA, and is a member of NAPM and PUCL. He writes on strategic and development-related issues.
Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere (Retd) // 475, 7th Main Road // Vijayanagar 1st Stage // Mysore – 570017