“James Bond is fantasy, George Smiley is reality.” – The Unending Game by Vikram Sood
We have implanted our minds with an idea of how a successful spy looks like. In most of the films, they portray spy as an officer who wears flashy clothes, drive a fancy car. On the contrary, the work of a spy is drab but nonetheless hair-raising. However, Ian Fleming’s James Bond is to woo an audience because fantasy seems to earn bigger than reality.
James Bond is fictionalized and absurd. This is not how a spy works. Vikram Sood has written an utter portrayal of a spy in his book, “The Unending Game”. As a matter of fact, the skills of spies lie in being able to move around inconspicuously while being present. Behind an unnoticeable person, lives an intelligent and ruthless agent who we call an actual spy. Sood writes, “It is safe to say that James Bond wouldn’t get through our recruitment process…”
Not a memoir or sensational revealings
This book is not an insider account of R&AW or any memoir. Vikram Sood, former R&AW Chief chief is not an ordinary spy. He has worked in Research and Analysis Wing for 31 years. In this book, he traces the world of espionage, global jihad, cold war, CIA, KGB, present scenario, and future of intelligence. He delves into areas that concern India and alongside busted myths around spies, which is the second oldest profession.
In the style of John le Carre, “The one thing you can bet is that spying is never over. Spying is like wiring in this building, It’s just a question of who takes it over and switches on.” In espionage, Sood asserts that the enemy has kept shifting, especially in the tumultuous 21st century. Sood is quick to explain that ‘Secret Intelligence is one commodity on which states spend considerable effort and finances’.
In India, we still regard espionage as unethical and vaguely dirty. There is an infinitesimal discussion on strategic intelligence. The realism in this book is beyond of the glamourous world. This is a beginner’s guide to the world of espionage.
Father of Pakistan’s Bomb
It’s unimaginable that the intelligence of India is complete without even having a discussion about Pakistan. India’s glory in 1971 has agitated Pakistan’s new President, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Vikram Sood pulled out his humor in writing as he wrote, ‘Zulfiqar Bhutto was a gifted man, even in the art of sycophancy. He could be Uriah Heep one moment and an arrogant Sindhi feudal lord the next with equal conviction’. Sood calls him the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb.
In the initial pages of the book, Bhutto’s retail shopping for a bomb has started. Intelligence officers were busy in India finding from where Pakistan is getting material and expertise for a nuclear bomb. It’s almost a tailspin because of the support from powerful nations like the US and Islamic states. Bhutto was so desperate to make a bomb, he even said that “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own. We have no other choice”.
Vikram’s calmness in narrating the complete bomb-making scene by Pakistan is what makes this book worthy to read. He even savagely hit out on people who suggest talking with Pakistan peacefully. Peace with India is not part of Pakistan’s ideology, ‘Pakistan is hardly going to share intelligence about terrorists and the terror attacks it has had a hand in sponsoring on Indian soil and there is little else on the basis of which mutual trust can be built.’
Known by their failures
The reality is there are no grey areas in intelligence. Intelligence wars are fought differently. An act of protecting national interest in the most ruthless way is the work of intelligence. Well, how much not known or deliberately leaked is worrisome for the intelligence agency. Vikram Sood clarifies, “Intelligence collected and analysed according to the rule book becomes useless if it is ignored by the consumer or assessed wrongly”.
Hitting out at the instance of Rajiv Gandhi’s murder, he wrote, there was definite intelligence of this. New Delhi was placed under security clampdown and he was safe. Five years later, while campaigning in Tamil Nadu, he was killed after a suicide bomber blew herself up next to him. This was due to slack in security.
One of the failures of Intelligence was the suicide attack to kill Gamini Dissanyanke, a prominent Sri Lankan politician. Inadequate follow-up action was the result of his killing. Another failure was in Kargil, when Pakistani soldiers were disguised as shepherds.
Future Is Troubling
Sood points out, “The underlying principle was that intelligence collection and operations should be performed by a dedicated service whose men and women wished to devote their entire careers to intelligence work and had been specially trained for it.” We hope people in power will notice it and take care of it. Undoubtedly, technology is taking over everything, but still, Sood believes good intelligence is not possible ‘without sound HUMINT (Human Intelligence)’. To achieve this, intelligence agents must be physically present in the target country, and within that, in the target of the operation.
Not to mention, HUMINT must coexist with SOCMINT. Every day, lakhs of data upload on the internet and it could be dangerous. Social media platforms have given terrorists an unprecedented advantage. Therefore, Social media intelligence must be in the framework. Without this, we will lose everything. It’s important to realize that to be up to date is necessary for intelligence.
Former R&AW’s chief said that India must assert itself internationally if it wishes to achieve what it has set out to do. A combination of intelligence, diplomacy, effective military, with national socio-economic effort will do wonders.
Hence, this book is an addition to the section of intelligence in the bookshelf. Without blabbering, Vikram Sood points out on major chunks of Intelligence, Espionage, future of Intelligence. It offers invaluable insights into the world of Espionage. A reader with an interest in intelligence will cherish this for sure.