“The Undending Game” (TUG) by former R&AW chief Vikram Sood, is the first book I am reading in espionage and spy genre. In recent time there have been few published books by ex-R&AW officers. But none had excited me. I am not sure why, may be because of bad reviews or emphasis on Pakistan specific intelligence stories. Subjects of the previous books seemed very narrow to interest me. But there was a different kind of buzz about TUG. People had very high expectation of the book, lovely praise kept pouring in by the people whose views I look forward to. Then I ended up reading Vikram Sir’s blog. It was refreshing to read his blog, it had very clear and impassionate analysis of situations. I immediately pre-order the book 3 weeks prior to its official release. Finally I received it on the 21st July, 2018.
Book starts with a quote from Kautilya’s Arthashastra- “A kind shall have his agents in the courts of the enemy, the ally, the middle and the neutral kings to spy on the kings as well as eighteen types of high officials.” The beginning of the book itself suggests it is not going to be a dramatic take on the subject of espionage. Book is divided into three parts and in this post, I will talk about the first part, ‘TRADECRAFT’.
As the name suggests, first part of the book provides a detailed insights into the world of espionage, its working principal and its information gathering techniques. First three chapter of the book delves into fascinating stories of espionage between the American allies and Soviet Union allies from the time of world war. It takes you deep into the recruitment of spies, walk in volunteers and disgruntle assets turning into double agents. The book takes you deep into the mind of an intelligence agency looking out for potential assets, from highly accomplished academics to an unhappy generals of military establishments, greedy politicians or even journalists. TUG takes you for an adventures ride into the global mind game of espionage, how enemy countries create assets deep into the most secured strategic assets by years and sometimes decade of hard work. There are stories of agents waiting for six years to talk to their handler to save their cover. Story of Cambridge five spies of Soviet Union and how they penetrated the US and its ally’s strategic assets to expedite the Russian nuclear program. Story of a decorated upward moving Russian military general who walks into US embassy to offer Russian state secret for money. The first part is full of such fascinating stories from the world war to cold war days. TUG also does one more important service, it destroys James Bond kind of spy drama myth.
The last chapter of the book delves into how spying and espionage is not only limited to the enemy or friendly countries involved in the war, rather it extends to any country were one can have strategic interest. How Asia became pivotal for both US and Soviet Union’s fight for dominance. The tools that were deployed to fight this war away from the shore of the primary countries. How CIA worked to embolden Jihadist in Afghanistan to thwart Russian forces. Both countries did everything to have an upper hand over other parties. From journalists to cabinet ministers of interested countries, all are approached and paid to create a favorable strategic asset and spy. There are stories of Indian journalists, bureaucrats and ministers being on payroll of agencies like CIA and KGB. One of the fascinating revelation for me was, stories of how spy from enemy countries have camaraderie and how sometimes expose are under played to save embarrassment of enemy agency.
The rise Asian agency from India, China and Pakistan, are also been dealt in the first. How Chinese consider their 50 million diaspora as intelligence gathering unit and collects every possible information from them to strengthen their position. Chinese had spied or steal major information from US strategic assets to grow rapidly both economically and militarily. How Chinese built their J-20 by reverse engineering on the shot down American fighter aircraft. The cyber Army of china have attacked into Boeing to steal technical documents on fighter jets. R&AW strategic inputs in its very early years that saved the day for India in 1971 wars. How R&AW team tapped Musharaf on radio communication to nail Pakistan in kargil, it speaks volume of Indian agency’s capability. TUG also explain how ISI is different from any other intelligence agency from the world, as it answers to the Army head and not Prime minister. ISi is not just another intelligence agency working for civilian government rather it is an army in itself and enjoys kind of power in Pakistan like no other intelligence agency in their respective countries.
I shall stopped writing more on the part else my blog might turn into another book. As a reader the first part reading has been riveting and great source of insight into the world of espionage. I am enjoying the next part and soon will be writing on second part. As writer, I am have feeling to write more on the subject and my take from reading it, but I know I can’t do complete justice to the content of the book. I encourage all readers of this article to buy and read this book.