Do you like keeping a secret —and love to travel? If you are a closet Smiley, or even a James Bond, you may think of a career thats not much talked of. The governments Research and Analysis Wing — known mostly as R&AW — is the place for those who seek adventure, but like to maintain a low profile.
A career in one of the most coveted services of the Indian government is not about chasing beautiful blondes in racing cars. Its a painstaking job, which involves gathering and disseminating information, mostly related to what is known as Indias interests.
Working for the R&AW is not just about being a spy. It is a challenging job that requires you to be alert about all the happenings around you, mundane or otherwise, says a former secretary at R&AW.
R&AW, Indias external intelligence agency, was formed in September 1968 and its primary function is to gather intelligence, counter terrorism and perform secret operations to safeguard Indias interests. Collecting intelligence, for instance, may mean gathering information about neighbouring countries military strength and activities.
Before 1968, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) handled both internal and external intelligence. After the Indo-Pak War of 1965, the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, felt the need for an agency that would deal with matters of external intelligence. So R&AW came into existence with R.N. Kao as the founder director. Ashok Chaturvedi is the current head.
Present members of the service are particular about keeping their identities a secret. A former senior officer, who was with the IB when R&AW was formed and saw the bifurcation, speaks on condition of anonymity. I was transferred to the new wing. Those days the majority of people who were recruited to the agency came from the Indian Police Force, says the officer who retired in 1990.
R&AW is a wing of the Cabinet Secretariat and it reports directly to the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) — its operations are not even revealed before Parliament. It remains out of the public eye owing to the highly secretive nature of the operations.
The secretary reports on an administrative basis to the National Security Advisor. Intelligence collected from different countries by field officers are processed by a large number of joint secretaries, who are the functional heads of various regions. At the lowest level, an official is designated an under secretary.
To begin with, people were recruited to R&AW primarily from the IB and the police force. But, today R&AW has its own service cadre, the Research and Analysis Service (RAS), to absorb talent.
Those who clear the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination and make it to the top ranks in the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Foreign Service or the Indian Revenue Service can hope to be recruited to R&AW. The UPSC provides a list of top candidates to R&AW which then looks for candidates who fit their profile. Candidates with a sound knowledge of international relations along with foreign languages (especially the less common ones such as Chinese, Arabic or Pushto) are given preference.
A potential recruit has to then clear a new set of exams, interviews and psychological tests. The officer then resigns from his or her cadre, and joins the RAS. R&AW also employs a number of language specialists, defence analysts, political analysts and engineers. Salaries are on a par with those paid to civil servants in other services. A bureaucrat at the junior level can earn anywhere between Rs 8,000 and Rs 13,500, depending on the branch of service. In addition to the salary, civil servants get various perks and allowances. Salaries increase when officers are posted abroad.
In the senior cadre, personnel are also recruited from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the income tax (IT) department, the customs department, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the state police. Recruitment at this level is generally done for a period of 5-7 years and can extend to 10 years.
After recruitment there are two levels of training. The initial training is basic and involves familiarising the candidate with the functioning of the organisation. New recruits are given a pep talk to help boost their morale. They are told about the functioning of various intelligence agencies across the world (CIA, ISI, Mossad, for instance) and made to understand their modus operandi. They are also taught the tricks of espionage.
During the advanced training period, the inductee is attached to the Field Intelligence Bureau (FIB). This entails learning clandestine methods of operation.
After getting to know the numerous ways of handling an intelligence mission, the recruit is made to learn martial arts and other modes of self defence. Fresh recruits are also drilled in various administrative disciplines so that they can take a position in Indias foreign missions without arousing suspicions. They have to excel in gathering information, and setting up their network of informers or operatives.
All this may sound interesting but at times it gets a little lonely during field operations. You are unable to share or discuss matters with others, says an official who has executed several clandestine missions. After leaving R&AW, an official is not supposed to work anywhere else for two years.
Not everybody can adjust to R&AW. As an officer puts it, You have to live with a dual personality as long as you are working with R&AW. Otherwise, it is like just another job where there are successes and failures. Once you enter R&AW, you have to make sure that you keep your professional life a secret. And, beware, you may have a limited social life. But if you are driven by national interest, dont think twice. The Indian government needs its Smileys.