India must upgrade counterintelligence as its geopolitical environment becomes complex

The death of a Russian businessman and politician – who was a known critic of Putin – and his friend in Odisha under mysterious circumstances should alert India’s intelligence and security apparatus. At present, the politician’s death is described as accidental, although the fact that the local police did not preserve the viscera after the autopsy, as is the case with the SOP, raised many questions. Note that the president of the second largest oil company in Russia died from a hospital window in Moscow. He too had called for an end to the Russian 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 well known. The fact is that countries, at least the big ones, are trying to increase the cost of these comeback operations by foreign agencies through superior counterintelligence. As India’s strategic profile rises and New Delhi is seen as a key player in burning geopolitical issues – from the Ukraine conflict to tensions in the Taiwan Strait – there is a danger that foreign agents will bring their battles into this country.

Recall that in 2012, a car with the wife of the Israeli defense attache in India was attacked with a sticky bomb in Delhi. This was when Israel and Iran targeted each other’s diplomats and scientists through covert operations on foreign soil. Or note recent reports that China has set up secret police stations in other countries to coerce or intimidate Chinese nationals there. This should particularly concern India deeply. Apparently, more than 100 overseas Chinese police stations have been established in countries like the Netherlands, Ireland, South Korea, Japan, Germany, and the United States, among others. The same modus operandi could also be used by Beijing in India, not only to monitor Chinese nationals here, but also to execute plans that could have greater security implications for New Delhi.

Since very little is in the public domain about India’s intelligence and counterintelligence capabilities, we can only hope that, given the new challenges, its counterintelligence will be upgraded or will be upgraded. So far, India’s security apparatus has been largely focused on combating and preventing terrorism. But we may increasingly have to deal with much more sophisticated threats. Well-resourced, highly-skilled espiocrates are an integral part of becoming a great power.


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



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