Islamabad MI and information gathering exercise
Abdul Zahoor Khan Marwat
There have been some reports and columns in the media that the Military Intelligence (MI), an important arm of the armed forces, is approaching journalists in Rawalpindi and Islamabad besides Lahore and giving forms to fill about their addresses, activities and other relevant information.
The reports appearing in this connection in the media have found fault with the exercise, implying that the questionnaire was mala fide or an intrusion in private or professional activities of the journalists.
While one may appreciate the concerns shown by some journalists, other factors should also be looked into while discussing the exercise undertaken by the MI.
In the present circumstances, when the country is in great turmoil and an actual war is affecting the life of the common man, it is no surprise the intelligence agencies have become more active. It is their job to learn about the developments taking place in the society and as journalists are valuable and important members of the society serving the country, they are being approached for pertinent information.
Moreover, there is nothing hidden or sinister about the information gathering exercise.
The questionnaire is courteously presented by those who properly identify themselves. Most of the information in the concerned document could have also been gleaned from other sources but it was not done and media men were approached directly. This shows that there are no secret agendas with regard to the whole exercise.
It should also be taken into account that the rationale of such surveys, an eminently sensible precaution, is not to harass anybody. The aim of the exercise is to gain information that could be helpful to both parties. For example, it could help gain invitations to journalists from the military once the relevant information and security clearance is there. Also, when journalists, army and civilian officials are being threatened by militant groups and terrorists, such information at the hands of agencies could be beneficial for security purposes.
The information is being collected in the open. Most recipients of the questionnaire are satisfied the way they were approached and the information gleaned. There has been no coercion at all as some reports have implied.
It would do wonders if our people check at what transpires in many countries, including the Western world, besides the Middle East. It should be noted that even in the western world, no invitation is given by the military or the White House without security clearances. One may quote the definition of security clearance put up the US Defense Security Service: “A security clearance investigation is an inquiry into an individual’s loyalty, character, trustworthiness and reliability to ensure that he or she is eligible for access to national security information. The investigation focuses on an individual’s character and conduct, emphasising such factors as honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, financial responsibility, criminal activity, emotional stability, and other similar and pertinent areas. All investigations consist of checks of national records and credit checks; some investigations also include interviews with individuals who know the candidate for the clearance as well as the candidate himself/herself.” Are there no security clearance checks on journalists in the US, the UK or for that matter in rest of the countries of the world?
While the case does not exactly concern us, one may nevertheless mention the New York Times reporter Judith Miller who had been given a security clearance as she was embedded with a US Army unit that was searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. “During the Iraq war, the Pentagon had given me clearance to see secret information as part of my assignment embedded with a special military unit hunting for unconventional weapons,” she said according to a report.
Admittedly, for some it
may only be natural to feel uneasy about the questionnaire, which is certainly not a cynical exercise in opportunism, one sincerely hopes that all professional journalists would cooperate and support the exercise.