Duane Clarridge

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CIA agent who tried to stall the Left in India

The Times of India, Apr 13 2016

1932-2016 - The CIA agent who tried to stall Left in India

Chidanand Rajghatta 

Duane Clarridge died this past weekend in Leesburg, Virginia, at 83, and there are numerous tributes in the US media calling him everything from a “brash spy“ (New York Times) to “a legendary CIA officer“ (Fox News).Most obituaries mention only in passing that he served undercover in India and Nepal before moving on to headliner career operations, including messing around in LatinAmerica, getting enmeshed in the Iran-Contra affair (for which he received, not a Presidential medal, but a Presidential pardon), and late in his life as a private citizen, dabbling in the Af-Pak theatre. “Dewey“ as he was nicknamed and called by friends, fancied himself as “a spy for all seasons“. Indeed it was the title of his memoir about his life in the CIA, an organisation he held in much disdain late in his life.One of his early postings was in the sub-continent, and it was a theatre that held him in much thrall and introduced him to the Cold War spy v spy skirmishes that he recounted with much relish later.

Dewey arrived in New Delhi in 1960 with Washington worried about the inroads the Soviet Union was making into Nehru's India. The mandate for Clarridge and his spook associ ates in New Delhi was clear: stop the Communist advance.

It all began with the formation of Kerala in 1956 and the first election that brought the Communist party to power in the state -for the first time in a free and fair election anywhere in the world. The US was rattled, and the CIA was asked to undermine the Kerala government by bankrolling the Congress party with clandestine funds, because, it was argued, the Soviets were funding the Communist regime.

In fact, the operation was considered so important that Washington moved out Harry Rositzke, who was the first chief of the CIA's Soviet division, to New Delhi as the station chief in 1957.

In one passage, Clarridge recounts the bane of all spycraft -the role played by alcohol. “The trouble is you cannot ply your target with alcohol while you take notes over iced tea,“ he writes of his efforts in New Delhi. “What you do is you excuse yourself, go to the bathroom and write notes like crazy . The next morning, you tend to your hangover, go to the office, and write up what you can decipher from your notes of the previous night.“

Clarridge recalls another incident where a CIA agent stationed in the New Delhi embassy accidentally drops what in CIA parlance was called the `Who Me?' vial -a stink bomb that emitted a foul fecal odour that they had been supplied to disrupt Communist gatherings in India. The entire embassy had to be aired out to clear the odour, which was attributed to Delhi's nallahs (sewage gutters).

Clarridge went on to serve in Madras, where he recounts further escapades, mainly trying to bring about mistrust between the various Communist factions in India.Although he did not return to the India theatre after the mid-60s, Clarridge remained sentimental about the subcontinent.

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