Recently, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta was forced to quit as editor of the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) after the Sameeksha Trust, which publishes the magazine was threatened with legal action by lawyers acting on behalf of the Adani group. Within days another senior journalist and editor found himself out of job suddenly because of issues with management. This time it was well known journalist Nikhil Wagle whose popular Marathi television show had been cancelled by the TV9 channel’s management without any explanations leading to charges of political pressure.
The last couple of years have not been great for journalists, editors and section of a press in general. However, it has been a joyride for the budding ‘fake news’ industry. While mainstream journalists are being hounded for thinking critically, the mass-producers of fake news are lauded by the authorities with no counter official policy in sight. More often than is realized, behind the veil of this fake-news industry it is the foreign intelligence agencies that operate the show – as has been seen during the US Presidential Elections of 2016.
One such instance is a CIA operation during the early 60s where CIA operative Duane R. Clarridge had infiltrated a certain Indian newspaper peddling ‘fake news’ stories against the Chinese in India and blaming it on the Communist Party of India. The objective of the operation was to exploit and whip up the already existing tensions between India and China thereby making room for the Western capitalist ideology.
Duane Ramsdell “Dewey” Clarridge was an American senior operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and supervisor for more than 30 years. Clarridge was the chief of the Latin American division from 1981 to 1987 and a key figure in the Iran-Contra Affair. In his book A Spy For All Seasons: My Life in the CIA, Clarridge explains in detail his operation in Madras. This story is just one example of how the “Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai” narrative was turned on its head into “Hindi-Chini Bhow-Bhow.” While there is an #IndiaChinaStandOff over the Doklam border it would be prudent to approach the issue more sensibly in the context of historical facts.
In South India, I became aware of a minor weekly newspaper that, if not an official organ of the pro-Chinese faction, supported it completely. I devised a plan to push this newspaper further and further to the left – so far into Bolshevik extremism that two things would happen. One, the Indian government would be forced to come down on the newspaper and hopefully take the leadership of the pro-Chinese Communists with it; and two, its vitriol would add to the already serious tensions between the pro-Chinese and the pro-Soviet Communists.
The publisher was a Tamil, and to get in touch with him I borrowed a support agent named Petros from outside India. Petros didn’t look Chinese, but on the other hand, he didn’t look Indian either. “Eurasian” might fit. I brought him to Madras and gave him specific instructions: “Go see the pro-Chinese publisher. Tell him you have come from Beijing, or ‘the Centre,’ as they call it. Offer him this stipend that he can’t refuse, and recruit him on behalf of Beijing.”
This would be a “false flag” recruitment – when an intelligence service recruits a target while pretending to represent another nation – a common piece of tradecraft. When you finally recruit the target, he believes he is providing information to some other nation. The Israelis have often used this technique by impersonating CIA officers when trying to recruit Arabs.
Petros brought off the charade brilliantly. The pro-Chinese publisher eagerly took the bait and was proud that his work had come to Beijing’s attention. Petros told him that he would soon begin receiving instructions on what party line the Centre wanted him to take in his newspaper. The plan was for me to write up the bogus instructions, orders from “the Centre,” which would form the basis for the newspaper’s editorial policy. In some ways the key to the operation was communication with publisher.
I had to have a secure way of communicating with him, that kept me entirely separate so that our linkage was in no way detectable. In alias, I recruited a fellow who worked for a foreign Communist installation (I thought this was a nice touch) to serve as our go-between, or cutout as it is called in the trade, and then ensured that both men had matching bicycles.
Every two weeks, the publisher came to Madras by train. He had his bicycle in tow, which was not unusual on an Indian train. Upon arrival, he cycled to a specific location identified in the previous orders from the Centre – a location that was changed each time for security reasons. There, he would find a matching bicycle with instructions and funds concealed in the seat. Earlier, I would have passed these to the cutout, who placed the bicycle at the location only shortly before the designated time to reduce the likelihood or theft. I always ran the risk that the curiosity of one or both of these fellows would cause them to stake out the location to determine who was involved. However, I was insulated from the publisher by the cutout, which was my main concern. I cautioned them severely about the dire consequences of such curiosity: the drying up of remuneration and cessation of contact with the Centre. After a suitable time, the cutout would retrieve the publisher’s bicycle to repeat the scenario the next time. I felt the operation was compartmented about as well as possible.
My secretary and support officer and I had an amusing time composing these instructions from the Centre. I was pretty well versed in Communist jargon and was able to run off a credible approximation of Red Chinese prose. I always ended my messages with the Chinese Communist saying “Revolution is the locomotive of history. Signed, the Centre.”
The editor/publisher ate it up. As far as he was concerned, I was Chinese. Slowly and deliberately, I began to move this newspaper further and further to the left. I could tell from the reaction in the major newspapers of the pro-Chinese Communist Party that they were getting concerned about how radical this fellow was becoming. They actually commented on it in print, but it was difficult for them to be too critical. I knew my Communist orthodoxy well and stayed within the gospel according to Chairman Mao. Because none of it was quite heretical, they really couldn’t find fault with it. To a certain extent, the rest of the pro-Chinese found themselves compelled to fall into line and sidestepped further left as well.
The denouncement to this operation happened after I left Madras. I remember being shown a press report early in 1965 from New Delhi. It reported that the Home Ministry (which is like the Ministry of the Interior) had arrested and imprisoned the entire leadership of the Communist Party of India. When the head of the ministry rose in the parliament to defend his actions, one of the first justifications out of his mouth was the radical position the newspaper in south India was taking.