India and the Boundless Informant
The Guardian newspaper’s startling disclosures regarding United States National Security Agency’s top-secret data-mining tool called Boundless Informant pose a big intellectual challenge for Indian strategists and political class. Simply put, it transpires that we are being spied on by the US’s top intelligence agency as a nation of naked apes.
Just consider that James Clapper, Director of the NIA knows everything that is needed to know about our political class. Our senior politicians – and the elites as a whole – almost without exception use Blackberry; they “google”; they do social networking; they converse over “Skype”. Conceivably, the movers and shakers of India’s power calculus – be it Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi, P. Chidambaram, A.K Antony, L. K. Advani, etc. – all depend on the US-based internet servers. In fact, the government has freely distributed iPads to our parliamentarians to improve their efficiency at work.
Most certainly, our top intelligence czars and army commanders use cellphones. Conceivably, US knows more about Maoist leader Muppala Lakshmana Rao’s daily routine than Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde does. So, what does it all add up to? Clearly, the damage to national security and our dignity and self-respect as a sovereign nation is incalculable.
Yet, President Barack Obama rationalizes the US’ cybercrime on the world community. He says, “In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential programme run amok, but when you actually look at the details, we’ve [US] struck the right balance.” Pray, what is the “right balance”? In Obama’s own words, “You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make choices as a society. There are trade-offs involved.” Obama thinks it is fine that for the US’ absolute security, it has the prerogative to invade the privacy of the world community.
But then, the US also has a deplorable record of double speak when it comes to “counter-terrorism”. Didn’t Headley use a cell phone? Didn’t he use email? There can be no beating around the bush now that the US didn’t know anything about what David Headley spoke and did during his numerous covert missions to India for planning the horrendous terrorist strike in Mumbai in November 2008. The Big Brother used the information carefully, discreetly and selectively to the extent that it impacted on the US’ national security interests. Period.
Without doubt, Boundless Informant challenges the very foundations of the US-India security partnership. India happens to be one of the principal targets in the Boundless Informant’s “global heat map” where countries are graded in colours – green (for the least amount of surveillance), yellow, orange and red. India is coded orange and out of the total 97 billion pieces of information culled out by the Boundless Informant in March alone, India accounts for 6.3 billion. That works out to around 7 percent of all information being tapped worldwide by the US’ ace spy agency.
It is time our pundits reworked their trade and learned to view the paradigm shift in world politics through the Indian prism. They are focused on China’s rise – rightly so – but they blithely assume the US and India are “natural allies.” Yet, India is a key target country for the US’ surveillance. Clearly, the US factors in India’s future potential to become at least half a superpower.
Suffice to say, going up the greasy pole is not going to be easy for India, as evident from the reluctance of the world powers to admit it as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council – or from the Pentagon project to establish a military base in the Maldives so as to replace India as that island’s provider of security. The Boundless Informant comes as a wake-up call to the effect that what are Beijing’s woes today from the US’s containment strategy might as well be Delhi’s tomorrow if and when India begins to get its act together as a booming economy and world power.
Make no mistake that the West hopes to perpetuate the flow of modern history since the Industrial Revolution. That is at the core of the struggle for the control of cyber space. Therefore, don’t ask against whom is the US’s missile defence system being deployed in the Persian Gulf. The Americans may tell the Sheikhs the ABM will “contain” Iran, but its radars and interceptors will also monitor India’s rapidly growing missile capabilities, which Washington consistently disapproved. The Boundless Informant reminds us that history has not ended.