• Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - 05:30
  What does an average citizen think of intelligence agents and secret reports? There is an aura around intelligence agencies thanks to Hollywood spy thrillers. This perception helps agencies on both ends, their "reports" are lapped up immediately as the truth, and they are never really questioned. Questioning intel reports is even seen as seditious. For journalists too, once information is on government stationery, then its credibility becomes less relevant to the process of its public dissemination. While reading through Justice V Ramasubramanian’s 2014 judgment on Kal Cable’s appeal against MHA order denying security clearance to the company (the Maran family owns Kal Cables, they went to court against MHA order which would have shut them down), an interesting bit caught my eye. “Therefore, keeping in mind the narrow scope of the enquiry that is available to this Court, as per the opinion rendered by the Supreme Court in para 17 of the above decision, I called for the file from the Ministry of Home Affairs.” The judgment says later, “Though I have decided not to disclose the factual contents of the file produced before me, I should point out that the information contained therein is already there in the public domain in the form of Press Reports. The information available in the file is also available in Wikipedia upto this moment.” The judge points out that the file from MHA, presumable the security report on the company based on "intelligence" gathered by agencies like the Intelligence Bureau, is nothing but information available in press reports and on Wikipedia. What this reminds one, especially journalists, of is how pedestrian some of these "secret" reports can be, and how they are incessantly leaked into the public domain as official documents, thereby giving a factual aura to information which are highly questionable. This has little to do with the Maran case, but much to do with how internal intelligence is gathered by agencies to create "secret reports". These reports are shared at the highest levels of the government and are leaked to media house with a stamp of authority. This is not the first time intelligence reports have been questioned. The infamous report by IB on NGOs in India which was leaked last year grabbed the headlines for its content being ripped off from speeches of Narendra Modi and a book on foreign funding of activists. The report was not inconsequential, it was the beginning of the concerted action against NGOs which are operating in India and are alleged to have acted against the country’s interest. The allegations against some NGOs might very well be true, and the action against them warranted, but the quality of intelligence gathering within our borders. As journalists, we interact with several "intelligence" officers of central and state governments who are deployed by their political bosses to keep a watch on their opponents. In the state of Tamil Nadu, both Dravidian parties used the intelligence apparatus for monitoring the other, with some Intelligence chiefs often being seen more important and powerful than ministers of the state cabinet. In such a scenario, there is open interaction between officers and journalists, and information which is gathered in these circles is often used as "actionable intelligence". Not all the information is invalid, and most officers who gather information really are intelligent. But the reports which are prepared to please political bosses looking for an opportunity to hit out at political opponents, whether they are business houses, political parties or NGOs, could be simply put together from forgotten press releases, rumours from WhatsApp groups and gossip doing the round in press club. What further lends an air of credibility to these reports is the intrigue involved with "secret agencies" and "top secret information".  Once information is leaked into the public domain as sourced from an intelligence report, it becomes a unquestionable fact in the minds of average citizens. Very few journalists have the patience, capability and courage to reconfirm information fed to them and raise questions openly. A change this attitude would only add to the growing, healthy criticism by journalists questioning every word and move of the government.