In 1940 he was commissioned in Imperial Police and alloted UP cadre. At the Police Training College, Moradabad he was uncomfortable with his British colleagues, who had merely passed their senior Cambridge and were too boisterous and crude for his liking. On June 3, 1947 he was deputed to Central Intelligence Bureau. That time the organisation had few Hindus and was stuffed heavily with British and Muslim officers. At independence IB had lot of empty desks. Kao was chosen by Nehru to handle the charge of VIP Security. It was during this assignment, when Queen Elizabeth appreciated his good handling of the job. At a reception in Bombay Kao dived and caught a bouquet that was flung at her, fearing that it might be a bomb. She could not restrain remarking in humour ‘Good Cricket’. After 1962 debacle and then the failure to predict ‘Operation Gibraltar’ (1965), Kao, who was Deputy Director IB then, and K Sankaran Nair came up with a blueprint to set up a new agency devoted exclusively to external intelligence. The name of the new agency was chosen by Cabinet Secretary, DS Joshi as R&AW (Research and Analysis Wing). Kao never liked it to be called RAW. R.N. Kao along with 250 of his chosen colleagues from China and Pakistan desks and the DG (Security) of IB were transferred to the new agency. After 1971 war Kao was promoted to the rank of full secretary. The meticulous work done by Kao and his colleagues at RAW was visible when within seven years of its formation Bangladesh became an independent country and Sikkim, 22nd state of India. Pt. Nehru, whom Kao accompanied on foreign trips and Mrs. Gandhi knew him closely and thought well of his professionalism. Kao built R&AW into a competent and aggressive foreign intelligence agency. Kao had unlimited access to M a d a m Gandhi. She r e p o s e d c o m p l e t e faith in him. “Normally, Kao’s was the last appointment of the day with Mrs. Gandhi, when all her other engagements were finished”, remembers a politician close to Gandhis. Victor longer, long-time Kao associate said, “Intelligence is the only government business that depends upon the spoken word. Sometimes, you can understand signs and body language. Kao had that rapport with Mrs. Gandhi”. After nurturing RAW for 9 years, Kao retired. He was due to retire in 1976 but Mrs. Gandhi insisted on giving him an extension. When Mrs. Gandhi came back in 1980, Kao was appoint as Security Advisor. He did valuable and quiet work during this period--engaging Americans and Chinese. He oversaw both IB and R&AW, coming close to the position of an intelligence Czar. He was the first to float the idea of a special security unit for the Prime Minister. During this tenure as National Security Advisor, he helped the process of internal re-organisation of RAW, leading to the establishment of Research and Analysis Service (RAS). It was also around this time Kao began working on internal security issues to counterbalance- Pakistan’s moves to exploit Punjab troubles. During Reagan administration when Mrs. Gandhi visited US Kao had gone ahead of her visit secretly to prepare the ground. He knew elder George Bush, then Vice- President very well since the days when the latter was head of the CIA. They jointly d i s c u s s e d M a d a m Gandhi’s visit with President Reagan. K a o helped in smooth transition of power in the wake of assassination of Mrs. Gandhi in 1984s. When Rajiv Gandhi sent subtle hints to the old guard to leave room for Arun Nehru and Arun Singh gracious Kao did not wait for a moment.
Kao has been described as a suave, brilliant, loving and caring, self-effacing and superbly dedicated personality. His colleagues who called him Ramji with veneration admired his judgement of men, matters and events, tremendous vision, great humility and mental generosity. He hated pomposity and never made a public statement. Whenever he was asked about some sensitive issue his reply used to be ‘These matters will go with me to the funeral pyre’.
Kao was a fiercely private man and was rarely seen in public. He never allowed himself to be photographed. Once during a marriage function of Shargas, his relations, in Lucknow Ratan Sharga took a photograph of him while enjoying community feast, Kao felt strongly annoyed and made enquiries about the photographer. In view of sensitivity of Kinship he remained silent. On another occasion in 1996 he happened to attend a function in New Delhi, organised to commemorate 25th anniversary of Bangladesh liberation. Kao Sahib was seated in one of the backrows. A Bangladeshi national, who spotted him stood up and came to him saying:
“You should have been sitting in the Centre of dais. You are the man who made 1971 possible’.
Kao replied, ‘I did nothing. They deserve all the praise’. Embarrassed at being recognised, Kao quietly left the hall. Kao was a consummate conversationalist, a patient listener, listening each word with care and never gave impression that he was not listening. He knew Persian, Sanskrit and Urdu so well and could speak fluently all these languages. In his conversations he mostly spoke in Urdu with Lucknowi accent, though he spoke good Hindi also. He would never give affront in conversation. Kao Sahib was tall, handsome, elegant but shy. He was always dressed immaculately, with fetish for cleanliness.
Kao lived in utmost grace. He was self-effacing, never spoke to the media but kept in touch with old contacts from Moscow, London, Tehran and Beijing. He never sought gubernatorial assignments or any role. He maintained a lively interest in the world around him till his last moment. He was a voracious reader of Indian newspapers but disliked their superficiality and fragmented character. He invariably reacted to good, thoughtprovoking articles. Kao had tastefully done up iron sculpting, Gandhara paintings and loved the hobby of raising horses . A few months before his death at the instance of a retired IFS officer he recorded his memoirs. After personally correcting the transcripts he deposited these with a prestigious NGO of New Delhi with which he was closely associated. He wished that these be published 30 years after his death. Kao passed away in the early hours of 20th January, 2002 and was cremated at Nigambodh Ghat cremation grounds. There were none of the trappings of a VIP funeral that the capital accorded to much lesser men. On this one of his admirers said, ‘He lived inconspicuously and left this world inconspicuously.’