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Paper No. 793

by B.Raman

This article is to be read in continuation of my earlier two articles on six recently-declassified documents of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) of the US relating to Pakistani sponsorship of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban before 9/11.

2. When the US intelligence community and lower level officers of the US State Department and the Pentagon feel aggrieved by what they perceive as the failure of their political leaders and senior policy-makers to act on any disquieting piece of information or assessed intelligence, they resort to one of two methods for bringing the information/intelligence to the notice of the public in the hope of thereby having pressure exercised on the decision-makers to act.

3. The first method is to have the information/intelligence leaked to media correspondents enjoying their confidence. They resort to this when the report containing the information/intelligence has no chance of being declassified in the near future. Examples of such reports are the intercepts of the National Security Agency (NSA), which is responsible for technical intelligence (TECHINT). Among instances of the use of this method, one could cite the leakage to sections of the US print media in 2001 of TECHINT showing that China had illegally sent to Pakistan a convoy carrying missiles and spare parts along the Karakoram Highway and the leakage earlier this year of a report about the use of a US-supplied C-130 plane by the Pakistan Air Force for airlifting missiles/spare parts from North Korea in August last Year.

4.The second method is to tip off analysts enjoying their confidence about the existence of classified documents containing serious information/intelligence and suggesting to them that they should apply for their declassification under the Freedom of Information Act, with a promise that the US intelligence agency concerned would not oppose their declassification.

5. In the US, all classified documents are automatically reviewed for declassification by the recording agency or department  25 years after they were recorded. In the case of documents less than 25 years old, a review for declassification is done on the receipt of an application for its declassification under the Freedom of Information Act.

6.Whether the documents are more than 25 years old or of recent origin, an agency or department can successfully oppose declassification on any of the following grounds: it will endanger an on-going clandestine operation or the life and/or career of a source or damage State-to-State relations.

7.Amongst such favoured analysts is a well-known writer on the US intelligence community, who generally writes positively of the performance of the intelligence community. In a book written by him in mid-1990s, he had levelled some allegations against Indian intelligence officers, evidently on the basis of a tip-off by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). His allegations were not noticed by the Indian policy-makers or media even though A.G.Noorani, the eminent columnist, had drawn attention to them in a commentary on the book written by him for the "Frontline" of Chennai.

8. In 2000, some documents of the sensitive NSA were declassified and made available on a web site with which he is reportedly associated. These documents, nearly 20 years old, showed that in the 1980s  the US intelligence was keeping an electronic surveillance of Indian nuclear scientists and tapping their telephone conversations, not only when they travelled abroad, but also when they were in India, thereby indicating that it apparently had access to their land lines. The motive for the declassification of these documents was not clear.

9. There is reason to believe that the six DIA documents relating to Pakistan's links with the Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been declassified now at his instance because they were first displayed on the web site with which he is reportedly associated and other analysts tipped off about it.

10. What is interesting about this is that all the six declassified documents are hardly two years old and at least two of them contain sensitive information reflecting adversely on Pakistan, which is being projected by the US policy-makers as the USA's frontline ally in the war against terrorism. Before and after 9/11, there must have been hundreds of reports and messages sent by the DIA officers based in Pakistan to their headquarters. How did the applicant for their declassification  under the Freedom of Information Act know of their existence and the inclusion in them of information about Pakistan's paternity of not only the Taliban, but also the Al Qaeda?

11. Most probably, some officers in the DIA, disturbed over the role of Pakistan in Afghanistan and aggrieved over the reluctance of the State Department to act against Musharraf, themselves tipped off the applicant about them and prodded him to apply for their declassification, with a promise that they would not oppose it.

12. What is the likely reason for their action? Since December last, reports from  reliable sources in Afghanistan have been speaking of unhappiness  amongst junior and middle level officers of the US Army deployed in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan over the continued backing of their superiors in the State Department and the Pentagon to Musharraf despite strong evidence of Pakistani complicity with the Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This unhappiness has increased after the Taliban and Gulbuddin Heckmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami (HEI) stepped up their hit and run raids into Afghanistan from sanctuaries in Pakistan in recent weeks.

13. There is anger amongst the US troops over the reluctance of their superiors in Washington DC to give them a free hand and to let them exercise their right of hot pursuit into Pakistani territory. Compare the trigger-happy actions and reactions of the US troops in Iraq, which have been given total freedom of action by the Pentagon and the State Department  to do whatever was called for, with the tremendous restraint in words and actions with which they have been operating in Afghanistan, lest any over-reaction by them destabilise Musharraf.

14. Unable to give public expression to their unhappiness over their hands being tied, these officers, through their friends in the DIA, have probably tipped off the applicant to apply for the declassification and facilitated it.

15, While these documents have definitely created some embarrassment for Musharraf, he is unlikely to spend sleepless nights over them so long as he is certain that Gen. Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, and other senior US policy makers look upon him as indispensable at present. 

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and, Convenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: )