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Spy vs spy: Sarabjit wasn’t even a poor man’s James Bond

In an Israeli advertisement that went viral last month, a woman texts her husband with a mundane, everyday sort of query: “How was your day at work?”

“Don’t ask,” he texts back, evidently reflecting a rough day at the office that a lot of us face.

There’s a familial, feel-good quality to the ad, which is calculated to press all the right buttons and induce a warm, glowing emotion in the viewer. Perhaps it’s an ad persuading you to buy a lifestyle product? Perhaps it’s about selling insurance, and the importance of providing for your loved ones? Perhaps it’s a travel agency selling an exotic holiday?

 Spy vs spy: Sarabjit wasn’t even a poor man’s James Bond

Outrage is easily to summon up against the Pakistani government or its Army – when, for instance, a Sarabjit Singh is killed in a high-security prison or when Col Saurabh Kalia is mutilated during the Kargil war. AFP

Wrong, wrong and wrong. The tagline at the end of the ad marks it as a recruitment pitch – put out by an unlikely employer: Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. “Mossad is open,” the ad concludes. “Not to everyone. Not to many. Maybe to you.”

The idea that a spy agency, and that too one acclaimed for its ruthless efficiency, would take out public advertisements like some corporate entity, to recruit agents, is perhaps hard to get our heads around, particularly in a country where we pick our spies off the street at cut-price wages and send them across the border untrained and left to their own device.

But the sordid story of Sarabjit Singh, which ended in his death in a brutal attack by fellow-inmates at the prison in Lahore where he had been incarcerated, has trained the spotlight on how India’s dehati ‘James Bonds’ operate literally in the shadows, bearing all the risks, while simultaneously providing ultimate deniability to their puppet masters.

It’s a story that ought to shame us because it shows up the underbelly of our intelligence system, which operates without any legal framework or accountability, and picks on the economically vulnerable sections of society – farmers, and daily wage-earners – to do the dirty footwork, putting, as we’ve seen their lives and liberty at grave risk.

Appearing on an NDTV talk show on Thursday, defence commentator Ajai Shukla pointed to the hypocrisy of Indian politicians playing partisan blame-games over Sarabjit Singh’s dead body without acknowledging their own failure – as lawmakers – to provide an institutional framework for the intelligence community to carry out its thankless job.

“Nobody is asking why a man like Sarabjit Singh is being sent across the border,” Shukla noted. “We have not yet put our intelligence systems in place. We have no legislation, no organization, and no operational framework for putting agents into other countries.” In such a situation, our intelligence agencies are all illegal, he added.

Leading intelligence agencies around the world — from the CIA to Mossad – recruit openly through advertisements, largely in response to the changing career preferences of people. There was a time when they were a magnet for any adventure-seeker who put a premium on “loyalty’’ to one’s country, and yearned for the adrenaline rush.

At such times, Mossad, for instance, used to rely on word-of-mouth campaigns and front companies to screen potential applicants. But these days, the agency evidently needs a large pool of applicants because not everyone who thinks of himself as the next James Bond has what it takes to make it.

In fact, in the past, Mossad has even been known to set up false foreign intelligence agencies — staffed by men and women from other countries — to entice Israelis to spy on their own governments, as the first ‘loyalty’ test for potential recruits. Those Israelis who refused to carry out these “spying assignments” against their own country were deemed to have passed the ‘loyalty test’.

The CIA has for some years now even been attending Intelligence Community Virual Recruitment Fairs – sort of like a Jobs Fair. A whole host of jobs were filled thus, including ‘Special Agents’ – field operatives who are doing their Jason Bourne routine right now.

And as the film Zero Dark Thirty, revealed in the form of the character Maya (who was involved in taking down Osama bin Laden), the CIA even has a student recruitment programme that “catches them young” while simultaneously providing them a scholarship to undertake an undergraduate program.

In India, on the other hand, as the case of Sarabjit Singh and others show, we pick our ‘spies’ from among farmers, daily wage-earners and others in indigent situations, and send them off without any rudimentary training. And leave them out in the cold when they are caught in hostile territory.

Outrage is easily to summon up against the Pakistani government or its Army – when, for instance, a Sarabjit Singh is killed in a high-security prison or when Col Saurabh Kalia is mutilated during the Kargil war. But as Shukla noted, if we, as Indians, don’t respect our own ‘spies’ enough and send them across at their own risk, how can we expect the Pakistanis to treat them any better?

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Updated Date: May 03, 2013 15:43:59 IST

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