India must upgrade counterintelligence as its geopolitical environment becomes complex

The deaths of a Russian businessman-politician – who  was a known critic of Putin – and his friend in Odisha under mysterious circumstances should alert India’s intelligence and security apparatus. As of now, the politician’s death is being termed accidental, although the fact that the local police didn’t preserve the viscera after post-mortem, as is the SOP, has raised many questions. Let’s note that the chairman of Russia’s second largest oil company fell to his death from a hospital window in Moscow. He too had called for an end to Russia’s military operation.

Suspicious deaths are of course as old as international intrigue and conflict. And that various intelligence agencies occasionally target individuals in other countries for what Americans call extreme rendition is known. The point is countries, at least major countries, try to raise the cost of such back operations by foreign agencies through superior counterintelligence. As India’s strategic profile increases and New Delhi is seen as a key player in hot-button geopolitical issues – from the Ukraine conflict to the Taiwan Strait tensions – there is a danger of foreign agents bringing their battles to this country.

Recall that in 2012 a car with the wife of the Israeli defence attaché in India was attacked with a sticky bomb in Delhi. This was when Israel and Iran were reportedly targeting each other’s diplomats and scientists through covert operations on foreign soil. Or note recent reports that China has been setting up secret police stations in other countries to coerce or intimidate Chinese nationals there. This especially should deeply worry India. Apparently, more than 100 such overseas Chinese police stations have been established in countries such as the Netherlands, Ireland, South Korea, Japan, Germany and the US among others. The same modus operandi could be used by Beijing in India too, not just to monitor Chinese nationals here but to also execute plans that may have bigger security implications for New Delhi.

Since very little is in public domain about India’s intelligence and counterintelligence capabilities, we can only hope that given newer challenges, its counterintelligence is upgraded or will get upgraded. So far, India’s security apparatus has been largely geared towards fighting and preventing terrorism. But we may have to increasingly deal with far more sophisticated threats. Well-resourced, highly trained espiocrats are part of becoming a major power.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.


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