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CIA activities in India

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Title: CIA activities in India  
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Subject: India–United States relations, CIA activities in Israel, CIA activities in Afghanistan, CIA activities in Iraq
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CIA activities in India

The Intelligence Bureau (IB) is responsible for domestic intelligence handling. The military has a separate Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). India prides itself as having a history of skilled intelligence going back to antiquity.[1]

CIA activities in India need to be seen in the context that India and its neighbours involve a complex interplay among their intelligence services, as well as interested services from the US, UK, Russia, Israel and China.

India 1955

A chartered Indian airliner, Kashmir Princess, was bombed. There is substantial evidence that the Kuomintang (Taiwan) service may have planted it, attempting to assassinate Zhou Enlai, who had been expected on it. CIA involvement is much less clear, although some general claims are made in the linked article.

In a 1971 face-to-face meeting in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Zhou directly asked Henry Kissinger about US involvement, whose response included the line "As I told the Prime Minister the last time, he vastly overestimates the competence of the CIA."[2] Kissinger denied any US policy to kill him, and the two discussed the CIA at some length, in a manner unusual to find in US records.

India 1958

India's nuclear programs were assessed.[3]

India 1965

SNIE 31-1-65 examined India's nuclear weapons policy for the remainder of the 1960s. In doing so, it examines India's technical capabilities, the pressures for a weapons program, and the opposition to a weapons program. A final section, "The Indian Decision," tries to assess India's decision calculus and notes that India might try to represent any underground test as being for peaceful purposes.[4]

India 1968

When India's intelligence community was built around RAW in 1968, RAW's first director, R.N. Kao, held meetings with his CIA counterparts in the U.S., as well as the United Kingdom's SIS and the Soviet Union KGB. Much of the liaison was essentially political in character — what is today known as `back channel diplomacy' — but RAW's special operations and SIGINT/IMINT unit, the Aviation Research Centre, received technical assistance from the U.S. in return for information on China.[5]

India 1969-1974

India 1974

India's first nuclear test, on India's May 18, 1974, was a surprise to the Intelligence Community, although the overall nuclear program and incentives to build a bomb had been discussed.[6]

"India conducted an underground nuclear test at a site in the desert at Pokhran - making it the world's seventh nuclear power and the sixth to test (Israel having achieved nuclear status in 1966 without testing). India claimed as CIA analysts had previously suggested it might that the test was for peaceful purposes. This Top Secret Codeword item in the Central Intelligence Bulletin relays press reporting and public statements by officials of other governments, including Pakistan, and contains analysts assessments of the implications for China.[7] As predicted in the 1965 SNIE 31-1-65, the test was described as being for peaceful purposes.[4]

India 1984

Sheel Bhadra Yagee claimed that the CIA orchestrated the Sikh uprising which later led to Indira Gandhi assassination by her Sikh body guards.[8]

India 1985

In 1985, according to Frontline magazine, RAW counter-intelligence obtained a confession, from a field officer in Chennai to admit that he had passed on sensitive information to the CIA and Sri Lankan intelligence. RAW confronted him with footage showing him making contact with a U.S. national on a beach in Chennai and at a resort in Kerala. RAW had sought to tighten in-house security after the public fracas that broke out in the wake of the scandal. The Chennai case was a particular embarrassment because it came hot on the heels of another spy scandal involving French and Polish intelligence.[9]

India 1987

In 1987, when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was in Sri Lanka, Paranthan Rajan came into contact with RAW officials.[10] He came to Indian intelligence officials’ attention when he formed a political group, Tamileela Iykkia Viduthalai Munnani. Given his background, observers feel Rajan’s alliance with Karuna might be RAW’s handiwork.

India 1992

In 1992, the US State Department threatened to impose economic sanctions on India after it refused permission for US sleuths to go on an aerial-photography mission along the Sino-Indian border.[5]

India 2001

India's ballistic missile capabilities were addressed in a National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that New Delhi believes that a nuclear-capable missile delivery option is necessary to deter Pakistani first use of nuclear weapons and thereby preserve the option to wage limited conventional war in response to Pakistani provocations in Kashmir or elsewhere. Nuclear weapons also serve as a hedge against a confrontation with China. New Delhi views the development, not just the possession, of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles as the symbols of a world power and an important component of self-reliance.[11]

India 2002

Until recently, only RAW was authorised to have contacts with foreign intelligence agencies — and the job was restricted to a select few within its ranks. Under the National Democratic Alliance coalition government, RAW, IB, and DIA could interact with counterpart organizations in other countries. Former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, for example, met the heads of the CIA and Israel's Mossad along with Intelligence Bureau staff.[12] Brajesh Mishra, former Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is known to have had direct contact with the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence as well. While meetings in themselves are not inappropriate, they can lead to the breakdown of protocols - for example, that intelligence officers will meet a foreign contact only in teams of two - and eventual penetration.[9] There is little oversight of this process, which has had the unexpected consequence that "hundreds of Indian agents have been exposed, the term professionals use to describe individuals whose real jobs are known to foreign intelligence organisations.

Rabinder Singh has been described, in Indian media, as a CIA asset inside the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the national intelligence service. It is not clear if he is a member of a larger clandestine HUMINT network. The suggestion has already been made by a number of well-placed observers that he had acted as a conduit or cutout for a number of highly placed US 'assets' operating deep within the Indian intelligence community, the military and scientific centres working on nuclear and missile development, and others inside the political establishment.

The issue also involved problems with the Intelligence Bureau, the domestic security agency, and an overall concern with trust of security officers.

In 2002, Singh visited the US under a liaison initiative based on counter-terror, teaching skills for hostage negotiation and dealing with hijackers. Singh, however, is a Southeast Asia analyst not working on terror issues.[13]

In 2002, the last year for which figures are available, the U.S. hosted 80 courses for officers from India, along with 17 other countries in Asia and Africa. "Intelligence cooperation and liaison have always been chaotic," says former RAW officer and analyst B. Raman, "but we cannot afford complacency any more."

India 2004

Singh disappeared from India in May 2004, and applied for asylum in the US.[12] Frontline, an Indian newsmagazine, described him as "Joint Secretary handling South-East Asia" for RAW.[13] He came to RAW as an Indian Army major, who had "served with distinction in Amritsar during Operation Bluestar, the counter-terrorist assault on the Golden Temple in 1984. At some point after this, he again attracted the attention of his superiors, this time by procuring classified U.S. government documentation.

"Rabinder Singh's source seems to have been one of his relatives, a U.S. citizen who has worked for over two decades with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Rabinder Singh's relative is alleged to have visited India regularly on official work, sometimes staying at his residence. This relationship, RAW investigators claim, enabled Rabinder Singh to pass on documents with only a minimal risk of exposure.

"In the early 1980s, the son of then RAW chief N. Narasimhan left the U.S. after efforts were made to approach the spy chief through him. Narasimhan's son had been denied a visa extension, and was offered its renewal in return for his cooperation with the U.S.' intelligence services. "Not all," says a senior RAW officer, "would respond with such probity."[9]

India 2006

Charges against Singh were filed in 2006. The RAW charges said that they had located Singh in New Jersey and the process should start to seek his extradition.“Now, we will be moving to extradite Singh from the US,” stated the complaint. The Home Ministry had earlier invoked the National Security Act and issued orders to attach Singh’s property.[14]

After losing a first petition for asylum in the US, Singh won on appeal.[15]

Singh is not the only person in international controversy. Sri Lanka’s Army-backed Tamil paramilitary group, the ENDLF, is seeking recruits amongst Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu, offering hefty salaries. The recruitment is being conducted with the knowledge of India’s external intelligence agency, RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), the report added. The ENDLF, reportedly headed by Paranthan Rajan, has been recruiting cadres for the Karuna Group (named after the renegade LTTE commander who heads it) from refugee camps in Tamil Nadu.[10]

“Rajan’s unusually lengthy stay in India — he first arrived in India in 1990 — and his unrestricted movement here, coupled with his anti-LTTE activities on Indian soil, are seen as concrete proof that he is a RAW agent,” the website said. The recently defeated Jayalalithaa government had arrested Rajan in 2004 – observers feel that he misread signals following Jayalalithaa’s crackdown on pro-LTTE groups in Tamil Nadu and felt he could have a free run with his anti-LTTE propaganda. But he was released at the behest of RAW, the report said.

The ENDLF is being used by RAW to as a rallying point of anti-LTTE groups, the report said. Rajan’s actions could have had RAW’s blessings as it might have had an interest in promoting Karuna and neutralising LTTE leader Vellupillai Pirapaharan’s appeal in Tamil Nadu, the report said.


  1. ^ Hali, SM (February–March 1999), "Raw at War-Genesis of Secret Agencies in Ancient India", Defence Journal (Pakistan) 
  2. ^ Memorandum of conversation (Henry Kissinger, Zhou Enlai, and staff), Foreign, Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume E-13, Documents on China, 1969-1972,  
  3. ^ Office of Scientific Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, (February 18, 1958), Indian Nuclear Energy Program (PDF) 
  4. ^ a b Central Intelligence Agency (October 21, 1965), SNIE 31-1-65: India's Nuclear Weapons Policy (PDF) 
  5. ^ a b Chaulia, Sreeram (August 18, 2007), Book review: India's silent warriors,The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane by B Raman 
  6. ^ Richelson, Jeffrey, ed. (April 13, 2006), U.S. Intelligence and the Indian Bomb: Documents Show U.S. Intelligence Failed to Warn of India's Nuclear Tests Despite Tracking Nuclear Weapons Potential Since 1950s, National, Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 187 
  7. ^ Central Intelligence Agency (May 20, 1974), India [Redacted] (PDF), Central, Intelligence Bulletin 
  8. ^  
  9. ^ a b c  
  10. ^ a b "India & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam: RAW aiding paramilitary recruitment in India", TamilNet, June 25, 2006 
  11. ^ Central Intelligence Agency (December 2001), Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat Through 2015; Unclassified Summary of a National Intelligence Estimate 
  12. ^ a b Bennett, Richard M (September 7, 2004), "For the US: India's untrustworthy", Rediff India Abroad 
  13. ^ a b Swami, Praveen (June 14, 2004), "Open doors for mole recruitment", The Hindu 
  14. ^ Tripathi, Rahul (November 2, 2006), "Rabinder in US, we want him back: RAW in court", 
  15. ^ Surender Jeet Singh vs. John Ashcroft (United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit November 1, 2004). Text
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