Morarji Desai CIA Agent. BAL PATIL’S CORRESPONDENCE IN 1983 WITH INDIRA GANDHI ON MORARJI DESAI HAVING BEEN A CIA INFORMER
Prime Minister’s House
Dear Shri. Patil,
Just a line to acknowledge your letter of the 22nd June.
Your must have seen Shri. Desai’s comments and also Mr. Hersh’s reply.
Shri Bal Patil,
54, Patil Estate,
278, Tardeo road,
Shri. Bal Patil
Dear Prime Minister,
Yours reaction regarding an American Journalist’s charge that Mr. Morarji Desai was a C.I.A. agent: “ I hope it’s not true” and further that although the allegation relates to a period when Mr. Desai served in your administration “I would be the last person to know about it” has caused some ill-considered comment in a section of the press.
A striking example is the editorial ‘A petty tactic’in the Indian Express dt.21.6.83. The editorial says:
“This is a most damaging and unfair innuendo. It lends credibility to the charge and casts doubt on Mr. Desai without quite saying so. For one so concerned with that “foreign hand” and with India’s image, Mrs. Gandhi seems to be treating the matter very lightly which suggests that she herself does not believe the charge for a moment. If so, she is open to the accusation of using the Hersh plant as a handle with which to beat Mr. Desai, a patriot and respected Opposition leader. Indeed, it would have been in the fitness of things for the Government of India to have issued a statement dismissing the Hersh charge as a malicious fiction and a slander on the Indian Government. On the other hand, Mrs, Gandhi has joined the smear campaign, By so doing she has further undermined political etiquette and public standards in India and hardly served the cause of the country.”
I would contrast this with the Blitz Newsamagazine’s response to a readers question: How Mr. Morarji Desai would have reacted had he been the Prime minister had Mr, Hersh accused Indira Gandhi of being a foreign agent. by saying; “He would have got her hauled up before a special Commission under Justice J.C. Shah to investigate the charge.”
I cannot resist commenting that had Mr. Desai failed to haul you up before a Special Commission Mr. Charan Singh would have hastened to dismiss the Government as a pack of impotents!
I cannot help recalling in this context that the very same section of the press which is so anxious to vindicate the values of patriotic honour of the nation, political etiquette, governmental probity had no compunction in publishing day in and day out pieces of rank defamation and wild accusations about you. I refer to one particular article entitled ‘Indira scoring over Bhutto’ by a socalled veteran Gandhian worker, Shripad Joshi, published in the Marathi daily Loksatta, a sister publication of the Indian Express groupdt.26.2.1978:
Starting with some wild observations of how as a ruthless dictator competing with Pakistan’s Mr. Bhutto you killed democracy, the article went on to say: “At least in onc instance Indiraji can be said to have outdone Bhutto in so far as she took sufficient care not to get involved in any of the crimes which were perpetrated by her. For example, it is an inalienable tactic of dictatorial regimes to get rid of the opponents and of one’s own colleagues likely to prove a liability. Therefore, even though many voiced their suspicions often that Indiraji might have been involved in the murder of L.N. Mishra and Nagarwalla or even the attempted murder of Jay Prakash Narayan, Indiraji took ample precaution that there was no evidence of any kind to implicate her.”
But that is what they call freedom of the Press, and Madam, you have been far too long magnanimously tolerant of the same.
Smt. Indira Gandhi
Prime Minister, Prime Minister’s House, New Delhi-110011.
US CourtTurns Down Appeal
The US Supreme Court has refused to review an unsuccessful libel lawsuit by former Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai against investigative reporter Seymour Hersh over charges that he spied for the CIA.
Hersh, in his 1983 book “The Price of Power: Kissinger in the White House” accused Desai of selling secrets to the Central Intelligence Agency during the Johnson and Nixon administrations, especially in 1971 when India and Pakistan went to war.
Desai, prime minister from 1977 until 1979 filed the lawsuit against Hersh immediately after the book ws published . The case went to trial in 1989 before a federal judge in Chicago.
At the trial, Desai testified by a videotaped deposition and strongly denied he had been a paid informant for the CIA.
The trial judge said Hersh, a well known investigative reporter who once worked with The New York Times, could testify about the reliability and background of his sources but did not have to disclose their identity.
Hersh told the jury he relied on six confidential sources to support his charges that Desai was a CIA informer.
A US Court of Appeals in Chicago then ruled in January that the trial judge properly allowed Hersh to testify about his sources and upheld the judgment against Desai.
Attorney for Desai then appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme court denied the appeal without comment.
Our Staff Reporter adds from Bombay :
Kanti Desai, Moraji’s son said this morning.
“We do not know anything about it. We are not fighting the case. We are not concerned.”
The appeal was filed by Bhailalbhai Patel, a Chicago based businessman, on behalf of the Gujarati community there.,
He added that Patel did not take Desai permission before going in appeal and that they had not been informed of any developments.
THE PRICE OF POWER
By Seymour Hersh
“The Kissnger Antimemoirs.. invites us to think about fundamental question.” STANLEY HOFFMANN, Harvard University.
“An astonishing book.” Walter La Feber, Cornell University
“A bombshell… The evidence he amasses is overwhelming.” Peter Prescott. Newsweek
“A formidable piece of work.” Anthony Lewis. The New York Times.
“And Nixon learned “from sources heretofore reliable.” That “Mrs. Gandhi had ordered plans for a lighting ‘Israeli-type’ attack to take over East Pakistan.” The evidence, taken at face value in the White house, confirmed his and Nixon’s view that as “Pakistan grew more and more isolated internationally, she(Gandhi) appeared to seek above all Pakistan’s humiliation.” There was no doubt,Kissnger added, that the millions of refugees fleeing from East Pakistan and certain death were a factor in her concern, but “as the weeks passed, we began increasingly to suspect that Mrs. Gandhi perceived a larger opportunity.”
For the next six months , until the final defeat of Yahya Khan at the hands of India, Nixon and Kissinger constantly invoked their “reliable sources” to justify the White House’s hard line towards India. The source was never named, for an obvious reason: The informant was reporting from India through the Central Intelligence Agency. Nixon and Kissinger may have been honorable in protecting the man, but the few in the American government who knew his identity must also have known that his information was highly biased. The Informant was undoubtedly Moraji Desai, a prominent Indian politician who was fired from the post of Deputy Prime Minister by Indira Gandhi in 1969 but stayed in her cabinet after a bitter political dispute. Desai was a paid informer for the CIA and was considered one of the Agency’s most important “assets”. He had been in public life since the late 1940s, serving as chief minister of the state of Bombay, as Finance Minister , and , briefly , as Deputy Prime minister.He was a political reactionary and a bitter opponent of Prime minster Gandhi; his hostility showed repeatedly in his three volume The Story of My Life, published in India in the mind 1970s. Former American intelligence official recall that Desai was a star performer who was paid $20000 a year by the CIA during the Johnson Administration through the 303 Committee, the covert intelligence group that was replaced by the 40 Committee under Nixon and Kissinger. One official remembers that Desai continued to report after Nixon’s election, much of his information having to do with contacts between the Indian government and the Soviet Union. According to this official, Kissinger was”very impressed with the asset. He couldn’t believe it was really in the bag. “During meeting with CIA and other official dealing with international crises, he would occasionally smile knowingly and say to Helms or one of his disputies, “Why can’t you have a source in the cabinet ?”
Kissinger’s visit to New Delhi in early July 1971 was part of his carefully worked out scheme to get into Peking secretly. His meetings with Prime Minister Gandhi and other officials were part of a ruse whose ultimate purpose would become known within days. The price of such duplicity, renewed Indian distrust of the American role in the East Pakistan crisis, was, in the view of the White House, a small one to pay for the entry to China. While in India Kissinger went out of his way to mislead the gandhi government.” (pp.450-51)
In a Note on Page 450 Hersh states:
*I have been able to establish firmly that Desai was reporting through 1970. After that year, the officials who were willing to discuss Desai’s information with me were no longer in a position to see his reports, which presumably continued to flow to Washington . American official inadvertently provided another hint that the reports were continuing by stressing The high position and proven reliability of the source they used in late 1971 to try to justify the administration’s policy in the war. Desai became Prime Minister in March 1977; Mrs. Gandhi returned to office in July 1979. (p.450
From : <span>Desai v. Hersh, 954 F.2d 1408 (1992)KANNE, Circuit Judge. </span>
Courts and scholars alike have expressed their concern that the public’s interest in a free press and open news dissemination might be severely inhibited if journalists were required to reveal the identity of their confidential sources. The disclosure of these sources, however, is often critical to a defamed individual’s hopes for preserving his or her reputation, particularly in those instances where the individual is a public figure who must establish that the defendant published the statement at issue with actual malice or reckless disregard of the truth. New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686 (1964). These competing interests come into conflict in this libel action, where we are asked on appeal by the former Prime Minister of India to find that the district court improperly allowed author Seymour Hersh to testify at trial concerning the background and reliability of his sources — without ever disclosing their identity.
The plaintiff, Morarji Desai, has played a prominent role in Indian politics and public life throughout his career. From 1930 to 1947, he participated in the nonviolent movement to gain India’s independence from Britain. In 1957, he was elected to the Indian national parliament where he served for more than two decades. During his parliament tenure, he held several positions in the Indian Cabinet, including Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister under the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He ultimately became Prime Minister of India on March 24, 1977, and remained as such until July 15, 1979. Currently, he is the vice-chancellor of the Gujarat Vidyapith, a university founded by Mahatma Gandhi.
In his book, The Price of Power: Kissinger and Nixon in the White Housedefendant Seymour Hersh examines how former National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger conducted U.S. foreign policy during President Richard Nixon’s first term. Included in Hersh’s commentary is a chapter reviewing the U.S. foreign policy decisions concerning the 1971 India-Pakistan War, a crisis in which the United States adopted a controversial, hard-line policy against India and in favor of West Pakistan.  According *1410 to Hersh, President Nixon and Dr. Kissinger justified this policy based largely on information received from a “reliable source” reporting from India through the Central Intelligence Agency. The identity of the source who furnished this information was never revealed by the National Security Council or the CIA.
Desai’s libel claim focuses on Hersh’s assertion that the Indian-CIA source was “undoubtedly Morarji Desai.” In the passage at issue, Hersh specifically cites several unidentified government “officials” to establish Desai’s link with the CIA:
“Desai was a paid informer for the CIA and was considered one of the Agency’s most important “assets.”
“Former American intelligence officials recall that Desai was a star performer who was paid $20,000 a year by the CIA during the Johnson Administration through the 303 Committee, the covert intelligence group that was replaced by the 40 Committee under Nixon and Kissinger. One official remembers that Desai continued to report after Nixon’s election, much of his information having to do with contacts between the Indian government and the Soviet Union. According to this official, Kissinger was “very impressed with the asset. He couldn’t believe it was really in the bag.” Price of Power at p.450.
Desai’s pleadings denied that he ever had any connections with the CIA, and alleged that Hersh published these statements knowing they were false or with reckless disregard as to their falsity.
The Court concludes that the proper exercise of the “newsman’s” privilege will not be penalized by precluding defendant’s reliance on confidential sources….
However, the court did permit Desai to inquire into the existence and reliability of Hersh’s confidential sources — but without requiring them to be identified.
During his testimony at trial, Hersh explained that he relied on six separate confidential sources to support his assertion that Desai was a CIA informant. Hersh testified that of the six sources, “two were out of government, one was in the CIA, one was in the world of the NSA, National Security Agency, which is the communications intelligence people, and two were working in the White House.” Two of these sources he characterized as “active sources” who “were telling me details, a lot of detail.” And, at one point during his direct testimony, Hersh stated that “I thought the most important thing was to know that the sources upon which I was relying were sources that I had the utmost confidence in, and that was the driving force of what I wrote.”
1.Soon after West Pakistan commenced a war against the secessionist forces of East Pakistan on March 25, 1971, reports of war atrocities — including systematic elimination of women and children — began reaching the international press. Hersh observes that while “most nations” immediately reacted by denouncing West Pakistan, “the United States — at the specific direction of the White House — remained mute.” Price of Powerat 445. According to Hersh, Nixon and Kissinger were reluctant to criticize East Pakistan because they viewed its president, Yahya Khan, as “their conduit to the Chinese” and a potential summit meeting in Peking. Id. Thus, when Khan carried the war to the Indian front by launching a surprise attack against eight Indian airfields on December 3, 1971, the White House was groping for some rationale for “tilting” towards West Pakistan. Hersh concludes:
[A] miraculous new element emerged to buttress the seemingly incomprehensible White House policy: highly classified evidence that Mrs. Gandhi was planning to attack East Pakistan. In mid-MayKissinger wrote, he and Nixon learned “from sources heretofore reliablethat Mrs. Gandhi had ordered plans for a lightning `Israeli-type’ attack to take over East Pakistan.” The evidence, taken at face value in the White House, confirmed his and Nixon’s view that as “Pakistan grew more and more isolated internationally, she [Gandhi] appeared to seek above all Pakistan’s humiliation.” at 450.