Radha Vinod Raju- A tribute

Photo courtesy: deccanchronicle.com

An exceptional officer, a soft spoken human being, devout Hindu and not to mention this strange love for singing Malayalam songs- that is how friends and colleagues of Radha Vinod Raju, founding Director of the National Investigation Agency would remember him.

Despite holding many high profile positions in an extremely lucrative career, Radha Vinod Raju who passed away at the age of 62 at Kochi, is remembered more for the lead role that he played in cracking the case pertaining to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. In fact it was he who signed the document which sought the extradition of LTTE Chief Tiger Prabhakaran.

R Shrikumar, retired police Chief of Karnataka and Padma Bhushan award winner Prof. Chandrashekar, forensics expert who worked very closely alongside Radha Vinod Raju during the high profile Rajiv Gandhi assassination case tell rediff.com about this quintessential who has made India proud.

Raju was born in the year 1949, July 27th and started his career as a bank official before he was selected to the Indian Police service in the 1975. He was assigned to the Jammu and Kashmir cadre and it was clear that his job since day one was fighting terror. Colleagues of this meritorious officer would remember him as one who went out of his way to try and eradicate the menace of terrorism. However for him terrorism was a problem that needed to be fought-not on the basis of caste or religion. Loved and revered by his juniors, they fondly recall him always saying, “ hit the terrorist before he strikes and do not wait for him to come in.”

His work earned him many laurels and medals which include the Police Medal for Meritorious Service in 1992, the President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service in 1999, a Director-General’s Commendation Certificate in January 2000 and the Sher-e-Kashmir Medal for Meritorious Services in 2003.

R Shrikumar says that it is difficult to imagine that he is no longer there. I have worked with him for 3 decades and I have not seen a finer officer and gentleman like him. It is difficult to withstand the los of a person whom you have known for the past 30 years. I worked with him in the CBI and the quality that struck me the most about him was that he was a gentleman to the core and a thorough investigator.

I would call him a role model for every police officer and the manner in which he investigated cases is something that every police man should follow. His love for the job, his commitment and the manner in which he conducted himself are all worth mentioning. He studied each and every document so thoroughly. Each dot was connected and each blank was filled up and he would not go to sleep until the hunch he had was proven.

What struck me the most about Raju was that he was meticulous and was extremely sure about what he did. He handled such great assignment which were anything but easy with such ease. I really do not have the words to describe as to what a great loss this is, but I shall always remember with pleasure the years that I have shared working alongside him. It was always a pleasure.

Professor Chandrasekar recalls the days when he was called to Kashmir on a secret mission. I had to give him a forensic report and I spent two months at his home over there. The first time that I met Raju was during the Rajiv Gandhi assassination probe and since then I have been professionally very deeply involved with him.

I would say that he is the only person that I liked in the CBI at that point of time. Some officers of the CBI had their own reservations about forensics and it was he who acted as the bridge between my department and the CBI. In the midst of such a high profile case it was natural for anyone to lose their nerve and let tempers flay. Raju was the calming factor and I admire the manner in which he encouraged me to do my work.

When he was posted at Jammu and Kashmir, I was invited over for two months for a secret mission. It was very scary at point of time. There were explosions everywhere and I often wondered whether I would even return home. Raju stayed with me all the time. When we used to return home late at night, he would ensure that I forget my fears. He used to cook Mangalore and Kerala styled food for me and I was very surprised when he used to cheer me up by singing Malayalam songs. This was a very different side to him that I had never seen.

When it came to work there was no looking beyond. At that time none could be trusted in the valley. The mammoth report that I had prepared had impressed him. He had told me that none should see this report and can you believe it he sat down and typed the entire report by himself. He said there was a good chance of it leaking had it gone even to his stenographer. After the report was typed out we took it directly and handed it over to the Chief Minister.

I really mourn the death of this great friend and police officer. I wish he had lived longer.

For Raju his job was only about challenges. After handling such high pressure cases, he was handed over charge of the NIA after the 26/11 attack. During his various interactions with rediff.com he spoke a great deal about the NIA and manner in which it should function. He stint at the NIA was very short and he believed that he had set the foundation and hoped that the agency would function well. He however was very clear that the NIA would need some time for it to take shape completely and often said, “ don’t be too critical, it takes sometime for things to take shape. Moreover it cannot be the only agency probing terror related cases and there is the joint cooperation of all wings of the police in order to solve this problem.”

Even after his retirement he remained busy. He served in a task force on security reforms and spent most of his time shuttling between Kerala and New Delhi. Despite being so extremely busy, what struck me the most was that every call used to be picked up in less than three rings, a email replied to in less than 15 minutes and text responded in less than a minute. The Sentence that struck me the most was this remark which he made in one of the interviews, “ no officer worth his salt will ever be swayed by political pressure during an investigation.”

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NIA’s poor record- Who is to blame?

Three years have gone by since the National Investigation Agency has been formed. The report card for India’s premier agency probing cases of terror does not look all that good, but the question that we must ask is whether the agency has been allowed to function in a manner that it ought to have.

In all the NIA is in charge of around 35 cases which also include the high profile David Headley probe. On paper if one looks at it the NIA has managed to solve just one case- the bomb explosion at a bus depot in Kozhikode, Kerala, in 2006. The other high profile cases that the NIA has on its hand are the Mecca Masjid, Malegaon, Delhi High Court blasts case among others.

When the NIA was formed after the horrific 26/11 attacks there was a great deal of hope and it was expected that it would solve each and every case pertaining to terrorism in no time. However that has not been the case and on many occasions it has been found that the NIA has been left clueless and not to mention the delay in cracking cases.

However it would be unfair to blame the NIA entirely for this slow progress rate. It has had its share of problems and more often than not it has found to be undoing a mess caused by shoddy investigators. The Mecca Masjid, Samjautha and Malegaon cases are a typical example of this. First the Muslims were arrested in these cases and now the investigations have taken a turn around. The NIA is too busy clearing this mess. When the NIA took over the files there was not an inkling as to who the real culprit was. First a process of discharging the innocent took place and only then did the real investigation begin. Any investigator worth his salt would point out that it is difficult to probe a case in which the accused has been given years together to flee. The main culprits in the above mentioned cases have had nearly 5 years to wipe out evidence, move out of the country and also mislead investigators thanks to the fact that the first investigators were too busy probing a completely wrong angle to the case.

Take the case of David Headley and also Tawwahur Rana. The NIA faced similar problems as they were at the mercy of the United States of America. All the information that could trickle by came out only when the US wanted it. Moreover the US had permitted Headley to enter into a plea bargain which was probably one of the biggest stumbling blocks for the NIA. Moreover after waiting for months they managed to get access and Headley refused to speak even a sentence more than what he had already told the FBI. Hence the entire case was built up based on what was already known.

Now coming to the fresh cases such as the 13/7 and also the Delhi High Court blasts. Not much progress was really made and even today the investigators remain clueless. At first the NIA was roped in to probe the 13/7 case. But then they ran into problems with the Maharashtra ATS as a result of which the NIA backed out. After all these tussles that took place almost three months had passed and investigators started from scratch and the worst part is that both agencies had different information which was never really shared thanks to this fight. Even in the Delhi High Court blasts despite the government stating that the NIA would probe this case, the Delhi police probed this case simultaneously. Once again the information was not shared and this led to a hazy probe.

Radha Vinod Raju who was the first chief of the NIA had said in an earlier interview with rediff.com that the cases taken by the NIA are tough to crack. The NIA needs to collect evidence before taking action and should not arrest suspects only to deflect pressure.  The NIA comprises officers who have had exposure to terrorism and terror-related case. They are a committed lot and there is sincerity in their approach towards work. The output of their effort clearly reflects their enthusiasm. In this respect, it’s the best investigating agency that India has seen so far.
C D Sahay, former Chief of the Research and Analysis Wing points out that the NIA is very essential to deal with crimes with ramifications all over the country.

For it to succeed it must be empowered and enabled not only through federal legislations, but by a change of heart amongst all investigating agencies across the country. In Delhi and also the 13/7 case there was an issue about dealing with cases. The NIA remained a spectator. This territorial approach will not allow any organisation to function properly.

We should try out the American experience where the agency is involved in every aspect of the investigation right from collection of evidence to prosecution. Sadly in India the bureaucracy gets involved in a turf war where none should exist. I really hope I am proven wrong for the betterment of the system.

Looking at our threats 3 years later

Three years have passed since India witnessed one of its worst terror attacks. While the National Investigating Agency tries to pile on the evidence in the case specific to David Headley and Tawwahur Rana, security agencies across the country find themselves being foxed by a new wave of terror-Uroganised Hell.
All agencies including the NIA which probes terror cases say that the biggest threat perception for India would be from within. Home grown terror which would be carried on smaller scales will continue to haunt the country. We do not dispute the fact that the Lashkar-E-Tayiba will look to launch bigger attacks. However there would be these smaller cases every now and then which would continue to cause an irritant to security forces. Radha Vinod Raju, former boss of the NIA too points out that such fringe groups would continue to trouble agencies thus making the job ahead very tough.
The Indian Mujahideen in particular which has been revamped as the Bullet 313 is capable enough to carry out smaller strikes even in their weakest form. Although they are lying low today, there continues to be splinter groups within the outfit which carry out individual attacks. In addition to this there has been some movement within this group which indicates they are trying to strenghthen themselves. Intelligence Bureau reports suggest that some members of the Student Islamic Movement of India have been moving into the I’m. This is largely because of the frustration of the ban. Many members feel that the government is being unfair towards them and the better way to hit back is to join the IM which is a clearly a destructive outfit.
While the threat from the IM would continue to haunt India, the other headache comes from the Babbar Khalsa International which has shown all signs of a major come back. Although the area of focus for the BKI would be mainly Punjab, the ISI has been coaxing them to widen their area of operation to New Delhi also. The recent Ambala haul is testimony to that fact. This outfit would however focus on hitting out using political reasons. Unlike the IM which carries out attacks on innocents, the BKI would be used for bigger operations such hostage crisis and political murders. The BKI which has been sheltered by the ISI too has insisted on such type of attacks since they do not want to divert from their original cause.
Security experts also do not downplay the threat by some Hindu groups in the days to come. The recent spate of investigations have sure put the breaks on them, but it is a threat that cannot be ruled out completely. Their attacks would however be retaliatory in nature, police and Intelligence sources point out.
The areas of concern in India in the days to come would be Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. The IB has sounded alerts regarding these states as they are considered to be the epicente of terror. A lot of movement especially by Islamic organisations have been found in these states and reports suggest that most of the modules are very much active in these parts of the country.
On the international front, the threat perception for India is largely from the Lashlar, Harkat-ul-Jihadi and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. The HuJI has been making moves and have had sucess to a certain extent. The investigations into the Delhi High Court blasts point towards HuJI. This outfit had warned of an attack at Delhi recently. Their modules are active mainly in Hyderabad, Delhi West Bengal and Kerala.
The biggest threat from over seas however is from the Lashkar. The ambitious Karachi project is something that continues to be a concern. Although Pakistan does claim that it is doing everything to curb terror, all reports from across the border show that the Karachi project which is a combine between Pakistani and Indian Home grown jihadis is on. Stephen Tankel, an expert on matters pertaining to this outfit pointed out that Lashkar is still India’s biggest enemy and the outfit could unleash fury.

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Probes not altered according to political weather-Radha Vinod Raju

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The National Investigating Agency was set up less than 3 years back with an intention of probing all terror related cases in India. The response to the NIA has been a mixed one and like usual results were expected in very quick time.

There is however a long way to go before matters are cleared out and the NIA becomes India’s premier investigating agency for cases of terrorism. Radha Vinod Raju, who headed the NIA when the agency was formed discusses at length the teething problems faced by the NIA and what needs to be done in future. In this interview with rediff.com, Raju makes a very interesting point when asked about probes being altered according to the political weather in the country. “No investigator worth his salt would ever do this, “ is what the former NIA chief has to say.

How do you rate the NIA on the basis of the work it has done so far?

The NIA consists of officers who have had exposure to terrorism and investigation of terrorist cases. They are a committed lot, and dedicated and sincere in their approach. There is experience mixed with enthusiasm in their work out-put. In this respect, they are the best in the country, and they have the requisite data-base and technology to support their work. They have established working relationship with officers of the state ATS units. While a lot more ground needs to be covered by all stake holders, the NIA can be said to be shaping well, professionally. Of the fairly good number of cases, especially old ones, that they were asked to investigate, they have done a decent job till date. They need the continued support of the centre and the states to grow to their full potential.
There is a lot of confusion that prevails during a probe thanks to the involvement of several agencies including the local police. There are also alleged ego clashes between the agencies which hampers a probe. Do you think no other agency should be allowed to handle terror cases other than the NIA?

These are teething problems, in the context of our federal set-up, and should be patiently and tactfully, handled. Cases will be, mostly, registered in the local police stations, and as per the scheme in the NIA act, first investigated by them. It will be only later that, if necessary, it will be transferred to the NIA. There is bound to be some confusion during this process. These initial problems will be, and can be, tackled professionally. NIA cannot be the only agency that can investigate terrorist cases. But a regimen will have to be worked out by which the NIA and the ATS units are able to work out all cases jointly, some led by the ATS units, some by the NIA.

How do you rate the quality of investigations done by the NIA so far?

The NIA has secured a conviction in the only case decided so far. The first two or three cases registered by the NIA had been completed before I handed over charge as their DG. The quality of these investigations was simply outstanding. They include the cases against the Black Widow gang of Assam and FICN case of Mumbai.
Do you feel the media is not giving the NIA enough time and always pressurizes it for quick results?

Cases taken up by the NIA are difficult ones. There will be a conspiracy angle, and investigations will be spread across the country and even outside. The boys have to get evidence before taking action, and should not go for arrests to please anyone or to deflect pressure. Officers of the NIA will never indulge in such tactics. Media has to be realistic.

There is a complaint of staff shortage in the NIA. Has the government done or funded it enough to ensure that it becomes India’s premier investigating agency to handle terror cases?

NIA was set up less than 3 years ago. It has strength of about 300 staff. It is learned that the government have sanctioned more posts and branches in Mumbai, Lucknow and Kochi. It is obvious that the government wants the NIA to become the premier agency to tackle terrorist cases.

Why is there such slow progress in the Headley and Rana case? Do you think we are relying too much on the US for information which eventually is leading to a delay in filing the charge-sheet?

In the Headley case, from media reports it appears that the NIA has sent letter rogatory to Pakistan to tie up loose ends there. In the case of Rana, they are waiting to interrogate Rana to complete the case against him. It is not depending on the US so much. We have no control over their systems of law. The US has given us unprecedented cooperation in the Headley case. We cannot set the time-table when investigations have to be carried out in foreign countries.

Cases such as the Mecca Masjid and Malegaon cases which the NIA is looking into have a long way to go since various things are being undone. Earlier it was blamed on Islamic organizations and today it is on Hindu outfits. What are your views about this sir?

NIA has to go by evidence and make all efforts to collect all available evidence before coming to any conclusion. In old cases, it is bound to be a time consuming process, especially because the accused would get time to destroy vital clues and leads. I am glad the agency is going about its tasks in a fair, professional and transparent manner.

Do you find probes being modified according to the political weather?

No investigator worth his salt would ever do this. I know each SP, DIG and IG in the NIA, and many of the junior officers. They are professionals, and would not deviate from the principles of rule of law.

Investigators today are in a hurry to file the charge-sheet, but more than often they do no stand the judicial test. Why do you think this is the case- is it due to hurry or lack of investigating skills?

This is a general statement, and does not apply to the NIA if you go by the only charge-sheeted case of the NIA in which there has been a positive judicial pronouncement. Professional investigation organizations have systems where the investigation is scrutinized by several levels of investigating superior officers and law officers. Chance of failure in these cases is less, as can be seen by the results of organizations like the CBI.

Post 26/11 how do you think India has managed to secure itself? What suggestions do you have sir to step up our security?

Since 26/11, many steps have been taken to strengthen investigating machinery as well as preventive mechanisms like augmenting coastal security, immigration points etc. But India is a huge country and unlike in the case of the US, we live in a highly unstable region, characterized as the epicenter of terror. We will therefore have to be more alert, and strengthen all our systems, preventive and detective, and the justice system for optimum results.

We have seen a spate of terror strikes like the one in Delhi and also at Varanasi. These are unsolved mysteries still. Do you see a new trend in terror operations by fringe elements?

NIA has worked out some clues and leads in the Delhi case and has made arrests. There are also media reports quoting NIA sources that there is a trend where fringe jihadi elements have started acting on their own. This is quite possible, and would make the job of the intelligence and investigating agencies more difficult. The best results would come if these cases are correctly solved and the perpetrators brought to book.

 Is the danger to national security today more from a country like Pakistan or is the enemy within?

Pakistan has been a constant source of trouble for us these sixty odd years. We also have fault lines in our polity which our enemy exploits. We should address our fault lines ourselves, and we can do this, certainly. A strong India cannot be troubled by anyone for long.

How strong do you think the Indian Mujahideen is today?

It is difficult to say. We will have to account for each of its members, and then, by our fair governance, ensure their ranks are not increased. That is the way forward.

Is our government serious about dealing with the problem of terror? Do you think it has been fair in dealing with both sorts of terror- both Islamic and Hindu?

The government, to the best of my knowledge, has never interfered in any investigation or prosecution, be it against the jihadi terror or right wing terror. It depends on the investigating and prosecution machinery to deliver on this, not the government.

NIA’s first chief on the Headley case

The Tawwahur Rana trial is on in full swing and the National Investigating Agency has already started building its case. The NIA was set up immediately after the horrific 26/11 attack exclusively to investigate terror cases in India. Radhavinod Raju was appointed as the first director general of the NIA. The immediate challenge before the NIA was the 26/11 case which eventually branched out into a much larger case with an American angle which we today call as the David Headley case. Today the trial is underway in Chicago and Headley has spoken a lot in his testimony. Now India and the rest of the world will wait for what Rana has to say and in the Indian concept their investigation would be complete once they examine Rana.

R V Raju who paved the way for S C Sinha as the director general of the NIA speaks about the role that the NIA will play from here onwards where both Headley and Rana are concerned. In this interview with rediff.com, Raju who was also the Special Director General of Police in Jammu and Kashmir says in this entire case, the ISI stands exposed and there will be pressure on Pakistan to restore civilian rule. More importantly the onus will be upon the United States of America to lead this initiative. He also goes on to say that the NIA has collected a lot of evidence in this case and adds that there is a great need to examine Rana now.

What role will the NIA have to play from here onwards in the David Headley
case?
The NIA’s case is different, it looks at the conspiracy to attack various Indian targets. Headley’s statement, in so far as it advances this case, will be useful for us. We will try to examine Rana to advance this case, and will look forward to all evidence that Headley’s testimony throws up to buttress this case, including role of ISI officers and LeT operatives.

Do you think that the FBI has been cooperative with the NIA where this case
is concerned?
The FBI did cooperate with us within professional limits. We have ourselves collected quite a lot of evidence. But we need to examine Rana, and make all efforts to collect evidence from Pakistan for which efforts are being made.

Will the testimonies by both Headley and Rana have any relevance in the
Indian courts?
If Headley and Rana give statements to Indian investigators within the ambit of the Criminal Procedure Code of India, we can use them in our proceedings. Proceedings in courts other than where the trial is held can be used during the trial if properly introduced. But the
proceedings in a foreign court, whether they can be used in India, needs to be seen. In principle, I see no objection, because a court is a court.

It appears that both these men will have to be tried in absentia in India. Does this have any meaning for us or is it just a routine procedure?
Trial in absentia is no option. We can, under law, record a statement of a witness in court even though an accused is absent. But, unless opportunity is given to the accused for cross examination, or the witness who gave the statement dies, such statements do not become evidence. In our system, the accused has to be present for the trial
to go ahead.

How do you see the ongoing case impacting the ISI which is at the centre of
this trial?
The ISI stands exposed. There will be demands, within and outside Pakistan to control the agency, and to establish civilian supremacy. The Americans should lead this effort.

Rana says that he was working for the ISI and not the Lashkar-e-Tayiba. How
do you think this helps his case?
Rana is using a tactic mostly suggested by his lawyer-that he was working on behalf of the state, and not of a terrorist organization. Beyond semantics no value.

Do you think there is any chance of India being able to extradite at least
Rana since he has not entered into a plea bargain as yet?
The Americans have the first shot at the trial and further legal action against both Rana and Headley. Rest is only academics.

Will the NIA be able to get direct access to Rana?
Whether NIA gets access depends on Rana; he can refuse under the US system, and there is nothing that the US can do. Headley agreed to meet us.

NIA has been seeking voice samples from Pakistan. Do you see that country
handing over the same?
As per reports, Pakistan has agreed to try to get the voice samples. But depends on the court procedures. If the person whose voice sample is required objects, then it can be a problem. Ideally, the ISI will be worried, for we will be able to fix at least some identities of
those who were operationally directing the Mumbai attacks. In view of
this, I am not very hopeful of getting the samples.

What are the practical problems before the NIA in this case since it
involves the cooperation of other countries as well?
NIA has a case against Rana and Headley, but we cannot get them in the foreseeable future. We need to investigate in Pakistan, but that is not in our control. These are our practical difficulties.