Column | At stake is national security as State, Central intel radars miss a mafia gang's work

The State government was seemingly oblivious to the antics of Swapna Suresh, accused in the Thiruvananthapuram gold smuggling case, and her deep-throat influence in the Government Secretariat.

Sources said the alarm bells did not toll and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was not aware of a report in this regard by the State police intelligence wing, going by the admissions of the CM himself and CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.

(The smuggling ring was exposed after the customs, on July 5, made a 30-kg gold seizure at the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport. The consignment arrived on June 30).

The pertinent question now is how the intelligence failed to alert the government to a threat posed by an 'operative' like Swapna Suresh who could deceive the administration with a false degree certificate and apparent deceiving 'charms.'

The Intelligence Bureau, an agency of the Centre, which has a solid presence in every airport, also failed to detect the 'movement' of gold and such heavy-duty consignments.

The state's eyes and ears

The intelligence wing is the eyes and ears of every state government and thereby of the chief minister and the respective Home minister. The convention is that the Additional Director General of Police (Intelligence) briefs in person, or at least on phone, the chief minister of the major developments that carry a certain degree of import to the government.

Also, in the evenings, the CM gets a written brief of the important political and other happenings of the day. This could be why the previous leaders who helmed the Home Department, be it former Chief Minister Ommen Chandy or then Ministers Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, and Ramesh Chennithala, gave due importance to the intelligence function. It could be reliably understood that this system could not find that favour with Pinarayi Vijayan, and, no doubt, it cost him dear, too.

The current intelligence chief, T K Vinod Kumar, is an officer with an impeccable track record. But he is not counted in as a confidant of the CM. Also, informed sources said the officer was more or less treading a solitary path in a department headed by Loknath Behra and advised by Raman Srivastava.

Analysts say there is no wonder that an 'adverse' report would reach the CM when one like M Sivasankar was in charge of the highest office in the state, the CM's. The other option, adopted by some intelligence chiefs, is to call on the CM to brief him in such critical junctures. This also probably did not work out due to the 'lack of proximity' between the CM and T K Vinod Kumar. So, if the CM and the party had to pay a huge price for this 'proximity' problem, the former would need to admit that a change and course correction is needed.

Association and IB

There has been no time when the CPI(M)-controlled police association has interfered in the postings to the state police special branch. So, the essential checks in postings, from constable to the level of deputy superintendent of police, did not happen. The intelligence lost its edge as the officers on the ground flailed and the superiors lost confidence. This was evident in the fact that the intelligence wing, which should even be alert to small rumblings in the secretariat, failed to take cognizance of a 'huge' invasion in the CM's office by a devious gang.

The CM's office and the Government Secretariat, therefore, face the ignominy of handing over CCTV footage of the past year to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The NIA, as part of the gold smuggling investigation, is also looking into what transpired at the CMO. Also, the intelligence wing also failed to detect mafia acts at a critical installation like the airport.

Here is where the role of the IB also comes into question. The Immigration wing at the airport is literally handled by the IB and the agency too could not see anything amiss. This is especially so when the NIA has found that the smuggling ring involving Swapna Nair, Sandeep, and Sarith, had been bringing in gold for at least one year now.

So, the relevant point, beyond politicking, is that it is a disturbing fact that the state intelligence and the IB failed to detect a massive mafia operation right under its nose. The ruling dispensation and the CPI(M) should be more worried about the fact that it is a national security issue as much it is one that concerns the functioning of the Chief Minister's Office.

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