Arun Shouries Articles

Arun Shourie on the Mitrokhin Archives OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

May 29, 2008
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Part-I

Standard Operating Procedure
The weekly organ of the CPI(M), People’s Democracy, September 2005, declaims, ”The Mitrokhin balloon of lies has been well burst recently. The statement of the secretary of the Bengal unit of the CPI(M), Anil Biswas on September 21 may well perhaps be the last nail on the coffin of the ‘archival misdemeanour’. Anil Biswas told the media at the Muzaffar Ahmad Bhavan that ‘after having procured the so-called Mitrokhin archives and poring over it, we find no reference of the kind alleged or otherwise, to the late Promode Dasgupta’.”

There are just two short chapters in this book about India. On the very second page of the very first of these, we read, ”As KGB operations in India expanded during the 1950s and 1960s, the Centre (that is, the KGB headquarters in Moscow ) seems to have discovered the extent of IB’s previous penetration of the CPI. According to a KGB report, an investigation into Promode Das Gupta, who became secretary of the Bengal Communist Party in 1959, concluded that he had been recruited by the IB in 1947 . Further significant IB penetrations were discovered in the Kerala and Madras parties…”

Did the ”poring over” not reach even the second page? But this is standard procedure for Marxists — lie outright!

In the full confidence that no one will look up the original material.

The second, adopted this time round by the Congress too, is to just dismiss revelations. Extracts from The Mitrokhin Archive had but to appear in the press, and they, and their favoured commentators pronounced, ”No evidence…,” ”Fiction…,” ”An author in search of lies.” And simultaneously, ”There is nothing new…. These things have been well known for long!” Well known for long, but require new proof!

The third device also has been on display this time round: paste motives on all concerned. A favourite of Marxists, it has been deployed even by ”intelligence experts” this time. One of them writes that the book has three aims. The first, he says, is ”To discredit the present Russian leadership.” Presumably this is accomplished by indirection: as Putin is known to have been in the KGB, as it is well known that he has appointed his former colleagues from the KGB to vital posts across Russia, pointing to what the KGB used to be doing, tarnishes ”the present Russian leadership”. Second, our expert says, the purpose of the Mitrokhin account is ”to drive a wedge between the present leaderships of Russia and India .” And, third, the British secret service has always been hostile to leaders of the Labour Party in the UK , this has been a plot to discredit the Labour Government and leaders of Britain.

Assume all this to be true, does it amount to a reason for India not to examine what the disclosures spell for our national security and governance? The fourth device is to smear whoever has brought out facts that are inconvenient. ”A former low-grade clerk of the KGB archives,” they write about Mitrokhin, he was not the head of KGB archives. Assume that to be true: low-grade clerks are as useful sources of information as heads of departments! Mitrokhin was an incompetent officer, they say — if he had been any good at field work, he would not have been assigned to a backroom tending old records. But the point is whether, having been relegated to backrooms, he had access to thoe tell-tale records. Just one who ”stole” those ”clandestinely obtained” documents, they say. But does that suggest that the records he transcribed were genuine and valuable or does that establish that they were fakes?!

As it isn’t just Vasili Mitrokhin who was involved in this project, the British professor, Christopher Andrew who collaborated in writing and editing the volumes also comes in for the standard treatment. The professor, we are told, ”was alleged to have been embedded in the intelligence agencies.” He becomes ”the ever-obliging Christopher Andrew.” The CPI(M) mouthpiece, People’s Democracy, is even more elaborate: ”No wonder, these scions (those running the ‘corporate media’ here in India) have now picked up the Soviet defector’s ramblings, which have been put together in a fashion in a book by an English author who is not only not known for his scholarship but also just not known in the academe as a practicing historian.” That phrase is literally standard issue.

When ”Why?,” does not work, ask, ”Why now?” That is the standard device since Lenin’s time! And this time too we have had it in full display: Mitrokhin defected in 1992, why is this book being released now, in 2005? demands one of these tele-Communists. In fact, the six cases full of notes that were brought over were examined threadbare for years, and the first volume was printed in 1999! But again, standard.

In truth, there never is a right time to talk the truth about them! Communist journals in India used to be full of glowing accounts about the industrial excellence of East Germany and Czechoslovakia, about the achievements of Ceausescu and his Romania, about the unequalled might of the Soviet Union; about how unemployment had been abolished, how ills that plagued capitalist societies — divorce, crime — were non-existent in Communist countries. If before 1989 you questioned the claims, you were denounced, ”Do you think one-third of humanity is wrong, and you alone are right?” And after 1989, when the entire Soviet bloc collapsed?

True to form, this time also we read in the CPI(M)’s mouthpiece, People’s Democracy, ”The principal reason why this cheap thriller (the phrase for the Mitrokhin record) is being played out in the corporate media now more than ever is not difficult to guess. The recent resurgence of the communists, socialists, and the Left across the globe has certainly made the imperialists press the panic button…. In India, the presence and growth of the CPI(M) has long since been a worry for the ruling classes and their friends and patrons out in the West. The corporate media has, as a willing handmaiden, been periodically albeit regularly feeding out stories maligning the Party and its leadership.”

Facts about Mitrokhin’s records:
To gauge the worth of these denunciations, recall that Vasili Mitrokhin defected in 1992. Between 1992 and 1999, his notes were subjected to minute and most careful examination by various levels of the British Government. They scrutinized the information, they examined who to engage as co-author, they weighed how the material ought to be published. Questions such as these were considered by senior civil servants, intelligence agencies, by an interdepartmental committee, by Ministers, by two Prime Ministers. The way the material was handled was subsequently debated in the House of Commons and was examined threadbare by the Intelligence and Security Committee of the UK Parliament. The Committee was tasked in October 1999 to examine whether it had been handled well. The Parliamentary Committee submitted a detailed report in June 2000. This report was debated extensively.

The first volume of the present work was published in 1999. No one in India made the kinds of allegations that are being hurled now. While we are being fed insinuations to belittle Mitrokhin; while we are being fed the line, for instance, that the entire project has been a conspiracy of British intelligence agencies to discredit British Labour Party leaders, this is what Jack Straw, then Home Secretary and currently the Foreign Secretary of the Labour Government – to tarnish whom we are being told this plot has been engineered — said about Mitrokhin. He told the House of Commons on 21 October, 1999,

”….I entirely endorse what the right hon. Gentleman says about Mr. Mitrokhin’s courage. It required huge courage to do what he did. I do not doubt that a great many other people working in the KGB during that long period were pretty disgusted with the work that they were asked to engage in, but very few of them had the courage and tenacity to work, as Mr. Mitrokhin did, to record the huge amount of what was passing across his desk and then to make himself known to intelligence agents in Moscow and have himself and his family brought out at considerable risk. I pay tribute to his courage and acknowledge the benefits that the whole of the West has received as a result of his disclosures”

Similarly, the Parliamentary Committee observed, ”The Committee, during the course of the inquiry, had the opportunity to meet Vasili Mitrokhin. The Committee believes that he is a man of remarkable commitment and courage, who risked imprisonment or death in his determination that the truth should be told about the real nature of the KGB and their activities, which he believed were betraying the interests of his own country and people. He succeeded in this and we wish to record our admiration for his achievement….” But in India, ”a former low-grade clerk,” one who ”stole documents,” one who was so incompetent that he had to be consigned to a backroom dusting archives….

Similarly, while in India the account has been dismissed as ”vague”, ”complete fabrication,” ”fiction”, ”a spy thriller,” Britain’s Parliamentary Committee had this to say about the value of the material that Mitrokhin had brought over, and on which the Mitrokhin-Andrew volumes are based, ”We are aware that the Western intelligence communities are extremely grateful for Mr Mitrokhin’s material, which has shown the degree to which the KGB influenced and penetrated official organizations. Historians also find The Mitrokhin Archive of tremendous value, as it gives a real insight into the KGB’s work and the persecution of dissidents.”

But in India , to use Lenin’s phrase, ”a shroud of angry words to cover inconvenient facts”! The one question we should be asking, is not being asked: Indian and British intelligence agencies have had close relations; was the material offered to us, as it was offered to other agencies? What did we do about it?

Instead, all sorts of red-herrings are being thrown in the way. Why was this unknown professor, why was this person who was ”alleged to have been embedded in intelligence agencies,” why was he of all persons chosen as co-author? It just so happens that this question too was examined by the UK Parliamentary Committee. It concluded that in Professor Christopher Andrew of Cambridge University, just the right man had been chosen for the project. Andrews had previously worked on the Gordievsky books. He had been security cleared and had signed the Official Secrets Act, the Committee noted. ”The Committee regards Professor Andrews as a distinguished academic who has specialized in the espionage field,” the report stated. ”He was a good choice to undertake this work.” But in India….

Part-II
A society and state in denial In his justly famous memoir, Encounters with Lenin, (Oxford University press, 1968) Nikolay Vladislavovich Volsky, who wrote under the pen-name Valentinov, narrates what is for Communists the hadis in such matters. He recounts what Lenin said to him: ”Marxism is a monolith conception of the world, it does not toler ate dilution and vulgarisation by means of various insertions and additions. Plekhanov once said to me about a critic of Marxism (I’ve forgotten his name) ‘First let’s stick the convict’s badge on him, and then after that we’ll examine this case.’ And I think we must stick the convict’s badge, on anyone and everyone who tries to undermine Marxism, even if we don’t go on to examine his case. That’s how every sound revolutionary should react.”

As that is the operating procedure for the much lesser offence — that of mere ”dilution” of the doctrine — you can imagine how much greater must be the zeal with which the ”convict’s badge” is stuck on one guilty of the much greater crime — the crime of revealing the truth about them.

In a word, we should see that the put-on derision with which Communists and the Congress spokesmen have been trying to bury Mitrokhin’s records is just standard procedure, and not let it deflect us from the revelations. For there can be no doubt at all that, as far as India is concerned — our governance, our national security — Mitrokhin’s records point to the gravest danger. Remember that the two brief chapters in this volume are but the distillation of trunk-loads of scrupulous notes taken down over twelve years. Even this briefest of brief accounts speaks of penetration by foreign agencies of departments of our Government, including intelligence agencies; of Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s coterie; it speaks of the foreign agency’s intervention in what we regard as our hallmark, our ”free and fair” elections; it speaks of the confidence with which the agency maneuvered to build up preferred successors to Prime Ministers; it speaks of funding of Left parties, of trade unions, of the Congress itself; it speaks of how one of the prides of that period — Indo-Soviet trade — became such a handy channel for secret funds; it speaks of infiltration of our other hallmark, our ”free and fair” media — it recounts the ease with which the KGB and the CIA were able to plant stories; it speaks of the ease with which, and the paltry sums for which the KGB was able to organize ”spontaneous demonstrations” by Muslims….

Consider just a single paragraph from the chapter: ”Oleg Kalugin, who became head of FCD Directorate K (Counterintelligence) in 1973, remembers India as ‘a model of KGB infiltration of a Third World Government’: We had scores of sources throughout the Indian Government — in intelligence, counterintelligence, the Defence and Foreign Ministries, and the police.’ In 1978, Directorate K, whose responsibilities included the penetration of foreign intelligence and security agencies, was running, through Line KR in the Indian residencies, over thirty agents — ten of whom were Indian intelligence officers. Kalugin recalls one occasion on which Andropov personally turned down an offer from an Indian minister to provide information in return for $ 50,000 on the grounds that the KGB was already well supplied with material from the Indian Foreign and Defence Ministries: ‘It seemed like the entire country was for sale; the KGB — and the CIA — had deeply penetrated the Indian Government. After a while neither side entrusted sensitive information to the Indians, realising that their enemy would know all about it the next day.”

Even if we have become so immune to shame by now that we are not led to hang our heads on reading a passage such as this, at least we should consider what that kind of information implies for our national security. Moreover, as the KGB had such ingress into our governmental structures, agencies of other countries too would have had no greater difficulty in suborning persons and influencing policies and decisions. And can that surprise us? When every corporate house is able to plant stories, what difficulty would a foreign government face? And remember, that passage is about the state of affairs thirty years ago. Since then, there has been a precipitate deterioration in both the quality and integrity of persons in public life as well as in the civil service.

For none of the things that Mitrokhin records is the KGB is to blame. That agency was just doing its job for its country. The question is, what were we doing for our country? The question is, what are we to now do to protect our interest? Recall what the British Parliamentary Committee reported about the worth of Mitrokhin’s disclosures, and how invaluable these had been to agencies of other countries to neutralise dangers those countries faced — ”Western intelligence communities are extremely grateful for Mr. Mitrokhin’s material…,” ”a case of exceptional counter-intelligence significance, not only illuminating past KGB activity against Western countries but also promising to nullify many of Russia’s current assets”…. ”the most detailed and extensive pool of CI (counter-intelligence) ever received by the FBI”…. ”the biggest CI bonanza of the postwar period” — contrast these acknowledgments, contrast the way agencies of other countries put the material to work, contrast all that with the resolute shutting of eyes in India.

Several lessons leap out from this episode. Notice first what the Communists, their megaphones and their current dependents would have been blaring had even one-thousandth of such disclosures come out about some organization or individual affiliated to the RSS. Two points arise from that contrast. First, is such penetration a threat to our national security if it relates to the RSS and not a threat when it relates to the Communists or the Congress? Second, where do the disclosures leave the high moral ground that the Left appropriates?

It is entirely true that just because someone is named by a foreign intelligence agency or agent, that does not establish him to have been a spy. But surely the right response would be to inquire, at least to find out whether British agencies had offered the information to us and we had failed to follow it up. Nor is this a one-off. Professor Patrick Moynihan was one of the most respected of American academics. He was appointed Ambassador to India during Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s time. As Mrs. Gandhi’s speeches about the ”foreign hand” — that always meant the CIA — became incessant, Moynihan commenced an inquiry into what Americans had been doing. In his memoir of the period he wrote that he came across two occasions on which the CIA had provided funds to counter Communist candidates. He wrote, ”Both times the money was given to the Congress Party which had asked for it. Once it was given to Mrs. Gandhi herself, who was then a party official.” His book was published in the US as well as in India . If what he had said was untrue, what could be a clearer occasion for a defamation case? But absolutely nothing of the kind was done. Just the standard operating procedure: denounce, smear, bury. When the Government so resolutely refuses to make any inquiries, whether the account is of Moynihan or Mitrokhin, what should one conclude?

In the case of the Communists, disclosures about their having received money are the least of the matter — and it does seem to me that the Mitrokhin figures are gross understatements, as if some few zeros have got left out. The figures of Indo-Soviet trade, the quantum of Indian purchases of Soviet arms, and what was said in those days of the sudden wealth of the private parties through whom the Soviets insisted these transactions be made, would suggest transfers of much, much larger amounts. But in their case, money is the least of the matter. Their entire outlook, their ”line” has been foreign, it has been derived from, to use Mao’s phrase, ”the dung-heap of textbooks written abroad.” And, as has been documented time and again, from instructions received from abroad.

As a result, working for the interest of heir ”international movement”, specifically for the ”fortresses” of that ”movement” — the USSR, China — is in their very genes. They traduced Gandhiji and the freedom movement from 1939 for not taking advantage of Britain’s difficulties — the war in Europe is just an ”Imperialist war”, they shouted; Gandhi is guilty of collaborating with the Imperialists by not launching a movement to liberate India when Britain was caught defending itself against Hitler. Hitler was, of course, on the side of history then as he had signed a non-aggression pact with Stalin.

Then they switched suddenly — the ”Imperialist war” became ”People’s war”, not because India ‘s interests had changed but because Hitler had attacked the Soviet Union. They now denounced Gandhi for launching the Quit India Movement! And there was no doubt about the reason: the Soviet Union is ”The Only Fatherland” for us, they proudly announced in their resolutions, and, in accordance with this new ”assessment”, they entered into a secret understanding with the British Government in India to sabotage the Quit India Movement. In 1947, apart from the Muslim League, they were the only party that advocated the vivisection of India. When India became independent, they declared that India was in fact still under the tutelage of capitalist, Imperial powers, and so its Government must be overthrown.

In 1962, their thesis was that India is the aggressor, not China — which, by definition, could never launch aggression as it was a ”workers’ State”. In 1975, they — they, we now see, at the goading of their KGB minders – were all for the Emergency. When China exploded its atomic bomb, they proclaimed it to be a great triumph — a fitting answer to the Imperialists, a decisive step that breaks the monopoly of Imperialist powers. When India went in for atomic weapons, they denounced it — a blow at world peace!

The Mitrokhin disclosures are particularly disturbing for them as they remind us once more, among other ”well known” facts, of how they and their fellow-travelers, unable to work their Revolution, worked at securing the same goal by infiltration — of the Congress; a sort of ”Revolution-by-stealth”. This was the famous ”Kumarmangalam thesis” that, as Mitrokhin reports, got such enthusiastic assistance from the KGB. But surely that is not just a reminder of what is past. The Communists have never been closer to attaining that goal as they are today — what with a supine Congress so completely at their mercy.

Nor is it just that the Congress is so completely at their mercy. As Swapan Dasgupta pointed out the other day, the danger is twice compounded — the Congress is completely dependent on the Communists, and the Communists are completely compromised. The Communists have been busy denouncing Mitrokhin’s revelations. But as Dasgupta points out, there are several other caches that are coming to light. He draws attention to the fact that the private diaries of a former Soviet Ambassador to India, I. A. Benediktov can now be accessed on the Internet — at the website of the Cold War International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington, DC ( http://wilsoncentre.org) In these diaries, Benediktov records plaintive pleas of Bhupesh Gupta, Secretary, National Council of CPI, for funds. He records Gupta’s plea that, with Ajoy Ghosh through whom the monies used to be received and disbursed, gone, Namboodripad should be allowed to be brought in to handle funds from the Soviets.

A little later, during China’s invasion of India in 1962, Benediktov records Namboodripad’s fevered appeals to the Soviets that they abandon their support for India, and the sycophantic gratitude Namboodripad expresses for an editorial that Pravda has carried that suggests a shift away from India. Namboodripad asks Benediktov to inform the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union ”that the publication of this article and the advice of the CPSU contained in this letter of the CC CPSU, truly will help our party get out of the extremely difficult position it is now in. Before this, there were moments when we felt ourselves to be simply helpless, but now the party will be able to help this situation. We are grateful to the CC CPSU for this help. You can transmit this personally from me and from Comrade B Gupta.” In a word, the Congress is completely in the hands of the Communists, and the Communists can be ”motivated” by so many — those who gave them assistance and guidance, as well as those who may reveal what they got, and with how much gratitude they received it.

So, first of all we must see through their invective. As the Government is in their grip; as, given what Mitrokhin records about infiltration into Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s circle, of its own accord the Government itself will not want to pursue the matter, inside Parliament and outside, citizens must put pressure on the Government to institute a full and public inquiry. It must be made to request the British Government for access to Mitrokhin’s records, and it must be made to make public what those records reveal about India. But we do not have to go on waiting for the Government to do something in the matter. Papers of several senior Soviet officials are now in various archives. We should form teams of scholars on our own and scrutinize that heap of material for entries that pertain to India.

These are important steps, and they must be taken. But even they are but tiny ancillaries to the main debility we must overcome. The reaction in India, that is the non-reaction to The Mitrokhin Archive is but a symptom — of a state and society in denial. On every matter — what Pakistan was doing in Punjab; what it has been doing in Kashmir as well as its current stratagem to acquire it ”peacefully”; infiltration from Bangladesh; jihadi curricula; the threat Naxalites pose and their links in Bihar, in Andhra; the threat ULFA poses and its links in Assam; the militarization of Tibet, the modernization of Chinese defence forces and their deadly implications for India; the opportunity that the breakdown of governance in vast tracts like Bihar spells for the country’s enemies — on each and every matter, our society and state just do not want to face the facts.

The media must see how it assists in this shutting of eyes. By the current ”your reaction journalism” for one. Mitrokhin’s volume is published. It goes to someone from the BJP, ”Sir, this new book by this Russian alleges…, what is your reaction? In brief.” And then to a Communist, ”Sir, this new book by this Russian alleges…, what is your reaction?” Both sides covered. Balanced story on air. End of matter. This is the condition that we have to reverse, and disclosures of the Mitrokhin kind are yet another occasion when we can commence to do so. On each of these questions, at each of these turns, induce readers, compel governments to face the facts, and thereby take steps that would save the country.

(Concluded)


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