Minchews Homework Market

Praveen Swami

Facing an exodus of key personnel and increasingly vulnerable to penetration, India's external intelligence service is beset by crisis.

"ALL WISH to be learned," wrote the Roman satiric poet Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, "but few are willing to pay the price." Those who depend on India's covert services to help them negotiate an increasingly dangerous world ought to be considering the dictum with care.

Last week, the Delhi Police arrested S.S. Paul, a computer systems operator at the National Security Council Secretariat, on charges of espionage. Intelligence Bureau counter-intelligence personnel believe Paul was passing on NSC documents to Rosanna Minchew, a Central Intelligence Agency operative who operated under cover at the United States of America's embassy in New Delhi.

Just how serious the damage is remains unclear NSC assessments provide an overview of India's strategic options and intentions rather than specific operational details but the case has highlighted the growing vulnerabilities of India's covert services to the subversion of their agents. Counter-terrorism and strategic intelligence cooperation has increased since 2001 and with it, the prospect of penetration.

Paul is thought to have been introduced to Ms. Minchew by Mukesh Saini, a former naval officer who recently left the NSC to join the private sector. Mr. Saini was involved in the Indo-U.S. Cyber Security Forum, a body set up in 2002 that includes representatives of RAW, the IB, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Revenue Intelligence. Ms. Minchew was able to leverage the introduction to good effect.

Lessons unlearned

If nothing else, the espionage scandal demonstrates the absence of serious thought on the 2004 defection of Rabinder Singh, a senior RAW officer who turned out to have been a CIA mole. Singh, who among other tasks handled operations against Khalistan terrorists based outside of India, is thought to have been recruited in the course of legitimate counter-terrorism liaison with the CIA a mirror image of the Paul case.

Singh's activities were first detected by a middle-rank officer in RAW's operations wing itself. S Chandrashekhar one of several key personnel who has now left the organisation to join the private sector amidst concerns about poor service conditions drew the attention of counter-intelligence chief Amar Bhushan to the fact that Singh had been asking for information outside of his professional areas of concern.

Singh was fed genuine but dated cipher traffic generated by the U.S. mission in Islamabad which RAW signals intelligence personnel had intercepted and confirmed the suspicions about his conduct by promptly seeking more.

At this point, RAW made a series of errors. Searches were carried out at RAW's offices in New Delhi, alerting Singh to the existence of a hunt for a traitor. Intelligence Bureau counter-intelligence experts were not informed of the case, even though RAW lacked the capabilities to monitor Singh's multiple phone and Internet accounts. Finally, physical surveillance against Singh was minimal, allowing him to escape through Nepal to the U.S.

None of these decisions has ever been explained, fuelling suspicions that the real reason for RAW's opaque handling of the case were political. Before Singh was allowed to escape, RAW had after all succeeded in identifying the traitor in its ranks and built up evidence against him. But on election eve, the National Democratic Alliance simply could not afford a scandal that would call its warm relationship with the U.S. into question.

For RAW, the latest demonstration of the vulnerabilities of India's covert services couldn't have come at a worse time. Even though Paul was employed by the NSC, RAW's computer services director, Ujjwal Dasgupta, is being investigated for failures of supervision. Dasgupta's less-than-energetic watch on his subordinate, sources say evidence of what is being described as the worst-ever crisis of morale in the organisation.

Frustrated by poor service conditions and promotion prospects, at least five top officers have resigned from RAW since 2003 to pursue opportunities in the private sector, an unprecedented haemorrhage of cadre. Apart from Mr. Chandrashekhar, Ashok Vajpayee, Jyoti K. Sinha, S. Chandrashekhar, Sandeep Joshi, and Vijay Tewatia are among the officers who had occupied sensitive operational positions but have chosen to leave.

Moreover, RAW is also facing problems retaining new recruits. Of the six officers recruited by the covert organisation from the civil services in 2002, informed sources said, four have already chosen to return to their parent organisations. Given that RAW's strength of first-class officers only just exceeds a hundred, the exodus marks a significant loss of badly-needed specialists.

Paradoxically, the exodus from RAW is in large part the consequence of efforts to reform the organisation. A core group of bureaucrats will meet later this month to consider allowing more Indian Police Service officers to serve on indefinite deputation to RAW, reflecting National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan's belief that its in-house cadre lacks the enterprise and determination to face emerging challenges.

Experts, however, believe the proposed changes evade the real issue. RAW is exceptional amongst major covert services in maintaining no permanent distinction between covert operatives who execute secret tasks, and personnel who must liaise with services such as the CIA or public bodies, such as analysts and area specialists. As a result, personnel with sensitive operational information are exposed to potentially compromising contacts.

Underpinning this curious state of affairs is the lure of the big prize for those who work at RAW: overseas assignments. Postings in major western capitals and training opportunities in the U.S. or Europe are seen as payoffs, not jobs. Senior officers without language or area skills often hold sensitive western postings. Typically, RAW sent senior officers abroad for hostage-negotiation training in 2000 all of whom retired soon afterwards.

Will bringing in more IPS officers help make RAW less vulnerable to penetration? If history is a guide, no. Several of those involved in past controversies involving RAW were individuals who came to the service from the IPS, including Samsher Singh, K.V. Unnikrishnan, and Suchit Das. Others, like Singh himself, had military backgrounds. No espionage allegations, notably, have ever been drawn by RAW's own direct recruits.

Organisational architecture

Organisational architecture, not individual background, is clearly the real issue. From RAW's inception in September 1968, it drew personnel with a wide spectrum of specialist skills, including scientists, civil servants, policemen and soldiers a significant break with the IPS-led Intelligence Bureau, which evolved out of William Sleeman's East India Company-era Thugee and Dacoity Department.

RAW's first chief, R.N. Kao, emphasised the need for his service to have its own cadre so the special professional skills it needed could be developed. Part of that legacy still survives. Unlike staff taken on deputation, directly-recruited RAW personnel must learn a foreign language, spend time with armed forces on India's frontiers and acquire what spies call "tradecraft" special espionage-related skills.

However, credible allegations of nepotism led the Janata Party to terminate RAW recruitment in 1977. In 1986, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi reconstituted the organisation, and all those on deputation were offered the option of joining its own cadre or leaving. But allegations of nepotism again surfaced and, under Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, the Union Public Service Commission was discreetly involved in the recruitment process.

Over time, though, the IPS again came to exercise significant influence with the organisation. Growing numbers of IPS officers remained in RAW without joining its cadre even after the expiry of their eight-year deputation.

In some cases, there were good reasons for bending the rules. For example, one of RAW's stellar operatives in east Asia could only receive a well-earned promotion once deputation rules were bent.

Sadly, though, influence-peddling also often played a role in IPS deputations to RAW, and its in-house cadre personnel were left feeling that their career interests were being ignored.

While IPS leadership of the Intelligence Bureau has served that organisation well, RAW insiders argue that their organisation needs both diverse skills-sets and staff willing to commit themselves to a lifetime in the covert services.

Action is needed to address these grievances and to bring about the kinds of institutional reforms India's covert services desperately need. As early as 2002, former RAW officer B. Raman had asserted that "we might find one day that the sensitive establishments of this country have been badly penetrated under the guise of intelligence cooperation" a warning that India can no longer afford to ignore.

Intelligence Bureau director E.S.L. Narasimhan and his counter-intelligence staff deserve applause for terminating the penetration of the NSC just months after it began. Without serious reform, though, the next scandal is most likely just months away.

More In

Renewable energy can drive enormous job growth, and local investment, with some reports estimating that it will generate over 55,000 additional job-years worked right here in Virginia by 2030.  The key to tapping this potential is integrating new sources of energy into the existing electric grid. Since the grid is heavily regulated, this means finding policy solutions that give new sources of energy the space they need to grow.

That is why many in the solar industry strongly advocate for continuing on a path – utilized between the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions – that delivered material successes in this past legislative session.  Starting last May the solar industry and the electric utilities – Appalachian Power, Dominion Energy, MD-DC-VA Solar Energy Industry Association, Powered By Facts, and Virginia’s Electric Cooperatives – engaged in an intensive and collaborative dialogue focused on the byzantine rules of these markets and the complex economics of the business models.  (Southern Environmental Law Center and Virginia League of Conservation Voters supported the development of the Bill creating community solar pilot programs discussed below.)

Our local utilities perform a colossal task in safely balancing a myriad of unique electricity supply sources and unique demand sinks, each minute of the day in each neighborhood and for your house.  This operating complexity coupled with a regulatory regime crafted over one hundred years – providing for safety, reliability, and just and reasonable rates – requires that we carefully consider the implementation of new electricity policies.

SolUnesco CEO, Francis Hodsoll, discussing energy legislation at a Senate Subcommittee meeting


For a long time, those of us in the solar community would craft policy and legislation mostly independent from the utilities.  While we devoted significant resources to this process, time and again, we would take our solutions to the General Assembly only to realize that the utilities would not support our implementation approach to these often broadly supported policies.  This process led to some frustrating conversations, to say the least, and at the end of the day, we’d be no closer to advancing solar power in the commonwealth. All the while, we’ve watched North Carolina and Maryland enjoy tremendous success, creating both jobs and investment opportunities just over our borders.

This past year, we tried a different tack. We realized that we needed the utilities and the solar industry to engage from the beginning of the process, do our analytical homework, put in time face-to-face, and find common ground. With some tacit support from the General Assembly, we formed a working group that included representatives of the solar industry, the electric utilities, and other advocate groups.

This collaborative approach has generated tangible proof that the solar industry and the utilities can find common ground.  In just a few months, we have produced several pieces of legislation that the participants all recognize improves the operating environment and creates new market opportunities.  We thank the legislative leadership for their guidance as we navigated the General Assembly.

We are filled with optimism when we think about the future of energy in Virginia. The following conditions will continue to propel an open and dynamic market for solar – strong and growing demand, political awareness of the job growth and investment potential, and a sufficient local industry base. We need to enable entrepreneurs to build innovative businesses that can develop a skilled Virginia-based workforce.  Through a locally grown workforce, local innovation and entrepreneurial hunger we will capture the economic benefits and job growth here in Virginia.

The General Assembly has approved the following legislative Bills which the Rubin group developed through the above-described process.

SB 1393 (Electric Utilities; community solar pilot programs) requires that Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power Company conduct a Community Solar Pilot Program for their retail customers. Community Solar provides solar energy for interested customers that cannot or chooses not to install solar panels at their residence or place of business.  This three-year pilot program will develop “community-scale” solar energy generators using third-parties to develop, construct and finance projects.  The electric utilities will administer, market and manage the subscriptions to the program.  Utilities also bear the risk of non-subscription, causing this Community-Solar program to blend competitive market realities with the regulated electric utility model.  We designed this program to deliver the following benefits to the subscribing customer:

  • no upfront costs – panels on a rooftop can require tens of thousands of dollars cash or financing
  • no requirement for a long-term agreement
  • the option to remain on the program for the life of the system, providing a hedge against energy price increases
  • a streamlined process (signing up is through the electric utility, and the transaction is on your normal electric bill)

    Francis, Ethan, and Seth of Solunesco with Delegate Minchew, the sponsor of HB2303. HB2303 is the House of Delegates version of SB1394.

SB 1394(Small agricultural generators) will expand the opportunities for local farmers to benefit from solar on their land by raising the maximum allowable system size from 500 kW or 100% of consumption, to 1,500 kW or 150% of consumption.  This Bill provides the rules under which these small agricultural generators may sell their production to the local utility.  Given the relatively small scale of these generators, requiring the local electric utility to purchase the energy at a fair price provides a market for year-round revenue to farmers.  The pricing structure allows for these generators to benefit from the correlation between peak solar production and peak demand when market prices are at their highest.

SB 1395 (Permit by Rule Modifications, PBR)increases the upper limit from 100 to 150 MWs for renewable energy generators utilizing the PBR and allows regulated utilities to utilize the PBR rather than the State Corporation Commission process if all project costs are isolated and not passed onto the general customer base.  Previously, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s ‘Permit by Rule (PBR)’ process limited its application to project under 100MWs.  Relative to the alternative State Corporation Commission ‘Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN)’ the PBR provides a streamlined and significantly less costly regulatory process.  Both processes require the same state oversight on the environmental and social impacts, and both provide the same protections to all Virginians.

As the renewable industry grows and evolves in Virginia, we see increased demand for projects exceeding 100 MWs. The influx of private investors and large, corporate buyers has fueled growth in larger projects. As such, the somewhat arbitrary number of 100 MW had become a self-imposed ceiling.

Posted by SolUnesco / Taged as MDV-SEIA, policy, Solar, solar development, SolUnesco, Utilities, Virginia

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