The Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW or RAW) is the primary foreign intelligence agency of India. It was established in 1968 following the intelligence failures of the Sino-Indianand Indo-Pakistani wars, which persuaded the Government of India to create a specialised, independent agency dedicated to foreign intelligence gathering; previously, both domestic and foreign intelligence had been the purview of the Intelligence Bureau.
During the nine-year tenure of its first Director, Rameshwar Nath Kao, R&AW quickly came to prominence in the global intelligence community, playing a role in major events such as the independence of Bangladesh and the accession of the state of Sikkim to India. The agency’s primary function is gathering foreign intelligence, engaging in counter-terrorism, promoting counter-proliferation, advising Indian policymakers, and advancing India’s foreign strategic interests. It is also involved in the security of India’s nuclear programme. Many foreign analysts consider the R&AW to be an effective organisation and identify it as one of the primary instruments of India’s national power.
Headquartered in New Delhi, R&AW’s current chief is Rajinder Khanna, a 1978-batch officer of the Research and Analysis Service. The head of RAW is designated “Secretary (Research)” in the Cabinet Secretariat, and is under the direct command of the Prime Minister and reports on an administrative basis to the Cabinet Secretary of India, who reports to the Prime Minister.
Prior to the inception of the Research and Analysis Wing, overseas intelligence collection was primarily the responsibility of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), which was created by the British. In 1933, sensing the political turmoil in the world which eventually led to the Second World War, the Intelligence Bureau’s responsibilities were increased to include the collection of intelligence along India’s borders.
In 1947, after independence, Sanjeevi Pillai took over as the first Indian Director of the IB. Having been depleted of trained manpower by the exit of the British, Pillai tried to run the bureau on MI5 lines. In 1949, Pillai organised a small foreign intelligence operation, but the Indian debacle in the Sino-Indian war of 1962 showed it to be ineffective. Foreign intelligence failure during the 1962 Sino-Indian War led then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to order a dedicated foreign intelligence agency to be established. After the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965, Indian Chief of Army Staff General Joyanto Nath Chaudhuri also called for more intelligence-gathering. Around the end of 1966 the concept of a separate foreign intelligence agency began to take concrete shape.
The Indira Gandhi administration decided that a full-fledged second security service was needed. R. N. Kao, then a deputy director of the Intelligence Bureau, submitted a blueprint for the new agency. Kao was appointed as the chief of India’s first foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing.:259 The R&AW was given the responsibility for strategic external intelligence, human as well as technical, plus concurrent responsibility with the Directorate-General of Military Intelligence for tactical trans-border military intelligence up to a certain depth across the Line of control (LOC) and the international border.
R&AW started as a wing of the main Intelligence Bureau with 250 employees and an annual budget of ₹20 million (US$297,200.00). In the early seventies, its annual budget had risen to ₹300 million (US$4.5 million) while its personnel numbered several thousand. In 1971, Kao had persuaded the Government to set up the Aviation Research Centre(ARC). The ARC’s job was aerial reconnaissance. It replaced the Indian Air Force’s old reconnaissance aircraft and by the mid-1970s, R&AW, through the ARC, had high quality aerial pictures of the installations along the Chinese and Pakistani borders. Presently, the budget of R&AW is speculated to be as high as US$450 million to as low as US$100 million.
Slowly other child agencies such as The Radio Research Center and Electronics & Tech. Services were added to R&AW in the 1970s and 1990s. In the 1970s the Special Frontier Force moved to R&AW’s control, working to train Bengali rebels.:262 In 2004 Government of India added yet another signal intelligence agency called the National Technical Facilities Organisation (NTFO), which was later renamed as National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO). It is believed to be functioning under titular control of R&AW, although it remains autonomous to some degree. While the exact nature of the operations conducted by NTRO is classified, it is believed that it deals with research on imagery and communications using various platforms.
The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), under the Cabinet Secretariat, is responsible for coordinating and analysing intelligence activities between R&AW, the Intelligence Bureau and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). In practice, however, the effectiveness of the JIC has been varied. With the establishment of the National Security Council in 1999, the role of the JIC has been merged with the NSC. R&AW’s legal status is unusual, in that it is not an “Agency”, but a “Wing” of the Cabinet Secretariat. Hence, R&AW is not answerable to the Parliament of India on any issue, which keeps it out of reach of the Right to Information Act. This exemption was granted through Section 24 read with Schedule II of the act. However, information regarding the allegations of corruption and human rights violations has to be disclosed.
The present R&AW objectives include, and are not limited to:
- Monitoring the political, military, economic and scientific developments in countries which have direct bearing on India’s national security and the formulation of its foreign policy.
- Moulding international public opinion and influence foreign governments with the help of the strong and vibrant Indian diaspora.
- Covert Operations to safe guard India’s National interests.
- Anti – Terror Operations and neutralising terror elements posing a threat to India.
In the past, following the Sino-Indian war of 1962 and due to India’s volatile relations with Pakistan, R&AW’s objectives had also consisted the following:
- To watch the development of international communism and the schism between the two big communist nations, the Soviet Union and China. As with other countries, both these powers had direct access to the communist parties in India.
- To control and limit the supply of military hardware to Pakistan, from mostly European countries, America and more importantly from China.
R&AW has been organised on the lines of the CIA. The head of R&AW is designated “Secretary (Research)” in the Cabinet Secretariat. Most of the previous chiefs have been experts on either Pakistan or China. They also have the benefit of training in either the USA or the UK, and more recently in Israel. The “Secretary (R)”, although is under direct command of Prime Minister, reports on an administrative basis to the Cabinet Secretary, who reports to the Prime Minister (PM). However, on a daily basis the “Secretary (R)” reports to the National Security Adviser. Reporting to the “Secretary (R)” are:
- An Additional Secretary responsible for the Office of Special Operations and intelligence collected from different countries processed by large number of Joint Secretaries, who are the functional heads of various specified desks with different regional divisions/areas/countries: Area one – Pakistan; Area two – China and Southeast Asia; Area three – the Middle East and Africa; and Area four – other countries. Two Special Joint Secretaries, reporting to the Additional Secretary, head the Electronics and Technical Department which is the nodal agency for ETS, NTRO and the RRC.
- The Director General of Security has two important sections – the Aviation Research Centre is headed by one Special Secretary and the Special Services Bureau controlled by two Special Secretaries.
The internal structure of the R&AW is a matter of speculation, but brief overviews of the same are present in the public domain. Attached to the Headquarters of R&AW at Lodhi Road, New Delhi are different regional headquarters, which have direct links to overseas stations and are headed by a controlling officer who keeps records of different projects assigned to field officers who are posted abroad. Intelligence is usually collected from a variety of sources by field officers and deputy field officers; it is either preprocessed by a senior field officer or by a desk officer. The desk officer then passes the information to the Joint Secretary and then on to the Additional Secretary and from there it is disseminated to the concerned end user. R&AW personnel are called “Research Officers” instead of the traditional “agents”. There is a sizeable number of female officers in R&AW even at the operational level. In recent years, R&AW has shifted its primary focus from Pakistan to China and have started operating a separate desk for this purpose.
Designations at R&AWMost of the Directors/Secretaries of Research and Analysis Wing have been Indian Police Service (IPS) officers. RN Kao and Sankaran Nair belonged to the Imperial Police (IP), of the British colonial days which was renamed as the Indian Police Service after Indian Independence in 1947. N.F. Suntook had served in the Indian Navy, then in the Indian Police Service and in the Indian Frontier Administration Service. Vikram Sood was from the Indian Postal Service and was later permanently absorbed in the RAS cadre. Now he acts as Advisor to Fair Observer. A.S. Dulat was an Indian Police Service officer deputed from the Intelligence Bureau, while K.C. Verma is an ex-Intelligence Bureau officer. All the chiefs have been experts on China or Pakistan except for Ashok Chaturvedi, who is an expert on Nepal.
Initially, R&AW relied primarily on trained intelligence officers who were recruited directly. These belonged to the external wing of the Intelligence Bureau. In times of great expansion, many candidates were taken from the military,police and the Indian Revenue Service. Later, R&AW began directly recruiting graduates from universities. However owing to allegations of nepotism in appointments, in 1983 R&AW created its own service cadre, the Research and Analysis Service (RAS) to absorb talent from other Group A Civil Services, under the Central Staffing Scheme. Direct recruitment at Class I executive level is from Civil services officers undergoing Foundation course at Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration. At the end of the course, R&AW conducts a campus interview. Based on a selection of psychological tests and the interview, candidates are inducted into R&AW for a lien period of one year. During this period, they have an option of rejoining their parent service (if they wish to) after which they can be permanently absorbed into the Research and Analysis Service. Delhi-based security think tank Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses noted in one of its reports that R&AW suffered from the ‘tail-end syndrome’ where the ‘bottom of the entrance lists’ of those qualifying the UPSC examinations were offered jobs. Additionally, recruitment is also by lateral deputation from the Officer corps of Armed Forces or Group A Civil Service Officers. The Civil and Defence Service Officers permanently resign their cadre and join the RAS.However, according to recent reports, officers can return to their parent cadre after serving a specific period in the agency if they wish to. Most of the secretaries have been officers from the IPS and other posts are held by IRS and IFS officers. R&AW also employs a number of linguists and other experts in various fields. The service conditions of R&AW officers are governed by the Research and Analysis Wing (Recruitment, Cadre and Service) Rules, 1975.Recruitment
- Basic training
Basic training commences with ‘pep talks’ to boost the morale of the new recruit. This is a ten-day phase in which the inductee is familiarised with the real world of intelligence and espionage, as opposed to the spies of fiction. Common usages, tradecraft techniques and classification of information are taught. Financial and economic analysis, Space Technology, Information Security, Energy Security and Scientific knowledge is imbibed to the trainees. The recruit is made to specialise in a foreign language and introduced to Geo strategic analysis. Case studies of other agencies like CIA, KGB, ISI, Mossad and MI6 are presented for study. The inductee is also taught that intelligence organisations do not identify who is friend and who is foe, the country’s foreign policy does. Basic classroom training in tactics and language are imparted to R&AW officers at the residential Training and Language Institute in Gurgaon. A multi-disciplinary school of economic intelligence is also being set up in Mumbai to train intelligence officers in investigating economic crimes like money laundering for terror purposes etc.
- Advanced training
After completing ‘Basic Training’ the recruit is now attached to a Field Intelligence Bureau (FIB). His/her training here lasts for 1–2 years. He/she is given firsthand experience of what it was to be out in the figurative cold, conducting clandestine operations. During night exercises under realistic conditions, he/she is taught infiltration and exfiltration. He/she is instructed to avoid capture and if caught, how to face interrogation. He/she learns the art of reconnoitre, making contacts, and, the numerous skills of operating an intelligence mission. At the end of the field training, the new recruit is brought back to the school for final polishing. Before his deployment in the field, he/she is given exhaustive training in the art of self-defence mainly Krav Maga, and the use of technical espionage devices. He/she is also drilled in various administrative disciplines so that he could take his place in the foreign missions without arousing suspicion. He/she is now ready to operate under the cover of an Embassy to gather information, set up his own network of informers, moles or operatives as the task may require. Field training is provided in the Indian Military Academy Headquarters at Dehradun. The training model has been criticised as being ‘archaic and too police-centric’ and not incorporating ‘modern technological advances in methods of communication’ etc.
Functions and methods
Activities and functions of R&AW are highly confidential and declassification of past operations are uncommon unlike agencies like CIA, MI6 and Mossad who have many of their activities declassified. The Secretary (R) reported to the Vohra Committee that R&AW offices abroad have limited strength and are largely geared to the collection of military,economic, scientific and political intelligence. R&AW monitors the activities of certain organisations abroad only insofar as they relate to their involvement with narco terroristelements and smuggling arms, ammunition, explosives, etc. into India. It does not monitor the activities of criminal elements abroad, which are mainly confined to normal smuggling without any links to terrorist elements. However, if there is evidence to suggest that certain organisations have links with Intelligence agencies of other countries, and that they are being used or are likely to be used by such countries for destabilising India’s economy, it would become R&AW’s responsibility to monitor their activities.
The primary mission of R&AW includes aggressive intelligence collection via espionage, psychological warfare, subversion, sabotage and assassinations. R&AW maintains active collaboration with other secret services in various countries. Its contacts with FSB of Russia, NDS, the Afghan agency, Israel‘s Mossad, the CIA and MI6 have been well-known, a common interest being Pakistan’s nuclear programme. R&AW has been active in obtaining information and operating through third countries like Afghanistan, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Myanmar and Singapore.
R&AW obtains information critical to Indian strategic interests both by overt and covert means. The data is then classified and filed with the assistance of the computer networks. International business houses, information technology sector and media centres can easily absorb R&AW operatives and provide freedom of movement. A task force report prepared by a New Delhi-based security think tank highlighted that R&AW operatives have inadequate non-official cover for overseas operations which ‘limits access to spot real targets’ and causes issues on handling ‘high-value assets’.
- ELINT operations aimed at China: After China tested its first nuclear weapons on 16 October 1964, at Lop Nur, Xinjiang, India and the USA shared a common fear about the nuclear capabilities of China. Owing to the extreme remoteness of Chinese testing grounds, strict secrecy surrounding the Chinese nuclear programme, and the extreme difficulty that an Indian or American would have passing themselves off as Chinese, it was almost impossible to carry out any HUMINT operation. So, the CIA in the late 1960s decided to launch an ELINT operation along with RAW and ARC to track China’s nuclear tests and monitor its missile launches. The operation, in the garb of a mountaineering expedition to Nanda Devi involved celebrated Indian climber M S Kohli who along with operatives of Special Frontier Force and the CIA – most notably Jim Rhyne, a veteran STOL pilot – was to place a permanent ELINT device, a transceiver powered by a plutonium battery, that could detect and report data on future nuclear tests carried out by China. The monitoring device was near successfully implanted on Nanda Devi, when an avalanche forced a hasty withdrawal. Later, a subsequent mountain operation to retrieve or replant the device was aborted when it was found that the device was lost. Recent reports indicate that radiation traces from this device have been discovered in sediment below the mountain. However, the actual data is not conclusive.
- In more recent time, under a security agreement with Mongolia, R&AW along with NTRO have set up cybertapping infrastructure on the main internet communication cable in Mongolia which links rest of the world to China. Giving India unparalleled access to monitor and intercept outgoing and incoming internet traffic from China.
- Creation of Bangladesh and aftermath: In the early 1970s the army of Pakistan launched military crackdown in response to the Bangladesh independence movement. Nearly 10 million refugees fled to India. R&AW was instrumental in the formation of the Bangladeshi guerilla organisation Mukti Bahini and responsible for supplying information, providing training and heavy ammunition to this organisation. It is also alleged that R&AW planned and executed the 1971 Indian Airlines hijacking as a false flag operation to ban overflight by Pakistani aircraft and disrupt Pakistani troop movement in East Pakistan. Special Frontier Force, the paramilitary wing of R&AW actively participated in military operations especially in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The war ended in the successful creation of Bangladesh.However, four years later Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated on August 15, 1975 at his residence. RAW operatives claimed that they had advance information about Mujib-ur-Rahman’s assassination but Sheikh Mujib tragically ignored inputs. He was killed along with 40 members of his family. R&AW thus failed to prevent the assassination which led to the loss of a charismatic leader who was appreciative of India for its help. Later, R&AW successfully thwarted plans of assassinating Sheikh Hasina Wazed, daughter of Mujibur Rahman, by Islamist extremists.
- Operation Smiling Buddha: Operation Smiling Buddha was the name given to India’s nuclear programme. The task to keep it under tight wraps for security was given to RAW. This was the first time that R&AW was involved in a project inside India. On 18 May 1974, India detonated a 15-kiloton plutonium device at Pokhran and became a member of the nuclear club.
- Amalgamation of Sikkim: In 1947 Sikkim became a protectorate under India, which controlled its external affairs, defence, diplomacy and communications. It is alleged that in 1972 R&AW was authorised to install a pro-Indian democratic government there. After widespread rioting and demonstration against the King of Sikkim in 1975 a referendum was held in which 97.5% of the electorate (in a nation where 59% of the population could vote) voted to join the Indian Union. On 16 May 1975, Sikkim officially became the 22nd state of the Indian Union, and the monarchy was abolished.
- Kahuta‘s Blueprint: Kahuta is the site of the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), Pakistan’s main nuclear weapons laboratory as well as an emerging center for long-range missile development. The primary Pakistani missile-material production facility is located at Kahuta, employing gas centrifuge enrichment technology to produce Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU). R&AW first confirmed Pakistan’s nuclear programs by analyzing the hair samples snatched from the floor of barber shops near KRL; which showed that Pakistan had developed the ability to enrich uranium to weapons-grade quality. RAW agents knew of Kahuta Research Laboratories from at least early 1978, when the then Indian Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, accidentally thwarted R&AW’s operations on Pakistan’s covert nuclear weapons program. In an indiscreet moment in a telephone conversation one day, Morarji Desai informed the then Pakistan President, Zia-ul-Haq, that India was aware of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. According to later reports, acting on this “tip-off”, Pakistani Intelligence eliminated RAW’s sources on Kahuta, leaving India in the dark about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program from then on.
- Operation Lal Dora: In February 1983, Mauritian Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth requested assistance from Mrs Indira Gandhi in the event of a coup by Berenger. In March 1983, Gandhi ordered the Indian Army and Navy to prepare for a military intervention against a possible coup against the Jugnauth government. But the military intervention was put off by Mrs. Gandhi, after a squabble between the Indian Navy and Army, on who would lead the operation. Instead, she chose to task the Research and Analysis Wing’s then chief, Nowsher F. Suntook, with supervising a largely intelligence-led operation to reunite the Indian community whose fracturing along ideological and communal lines had allowed Mr. Berenger to mount a political challenge.
- Operation Meghdoot: R&AW received information from the London company which had supplied Arctic-weather gear for Indian troops from Northern Ladakh region some paramilitary forces that Pakistan too had bought similar Arctic-weather gear. This information was shared with Indian Army which soon launched Operation Meghdoot to take control of Siachen Glacier with around 300 acclimatised troops were airlifted to Siachen before Pakistan could launch any operation resulting in Indian head start and eventual Indian domination of all major peaks in Siachen.
- Kanishka Bombing case: On 23 June 1985 Air India’s Flight 182 was blown up near Ireland and 329 people died. On the same day, another explosion took place at Tokyo’s Narita airport’s transit baggage building where baggage was being transferred from Cathay Pacific Flight No CP 003 to Air India Flight 301 which was scheduled for Bangkok. Both aircraft were loaded with explosives from Canadian airports. Flight 301 got saved because of a delay in its departure. This was considered as a major setback to R&AW for failing to gather enough intelligence about the Khalistani terrorists.
- Special Operations: In the mid-1980s, R&AW set up two covert groups, Counterintelligence Team-X(CIT-X) and Counterintelligence Team-J(CIT-J), the first directed at Pakistan and the second at Khalistani groups.Rabinder Singh, the RAW double agent who defected to the United States in 2004, helped run CIT-J in its early years. Both these covert groups used the services of cross-border traffickers to ferry weapons and funds across the border, much as their ISI counterparts were doing. According to former RAW official and noted security analyst B. Raman, the Indian counter-campaign yielded results. “The role of our cover action capability in putting an end to the ISI’s interference in Punjab”, he wrote in 2002, “by making such interference prohibitively costly is little known and understood.” These covert operations were discontinued during the tenure of IK Gujral and were never restarted. As per B Raman the former RAW cabinet secretary, such covert operations were successful in keeping a check on ISI and were “responsible for ending the Khalistani insurgency”. He also notes that a lack of such covert capabilities, since they were closed down in 1997, has left the country even more vulnerable than before and says that developing covert capabilities is the need of the hour.
- Operation Cactus: In November 1988, the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), composed of about 200 Tamil secessionist rebels, invaded Maldives. At the request of the president of Maldives,Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Indian Armed Forces, with assistance from RAW, launched a military campaign to throw the mercenaries out of Maldives. On the night of 3 November 1988, the Indian Air Force airlifted the 6th parachute battalion of the Parachute Regiment from Agra and flew them over 2,000 km to Maldives. The Indian paratroopers landed at Hulule and restored the Government rule at Malé within hours. The operation, labelledOperation Cactus, also involved the Indian Navy. Swift operation by the military and precise intelligence by R&AW quelled the insurgency.
- Sri Lanka: RAW started training the LTTE to keep a check on Sri Lanka, which had helped Pakistan in the Indo-Pak War by allowing Pakistani ships to refuel at Sri Lankan ports. However, the LTTE created a lot of problems and complications and the then Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi was forced to send the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in 1987 to restore normalcy in the region. The disastrous mission of the IPKF was blamed by many on the lack of co-ordination between the IPKF and RAW. Its most disastrous manifestation was the Heliborne assault on LTTE HQ in the Jaffna University campus in the opening stages of Operation Pawan. The site was chosen without any consultation with the RAW. The dropping paratroopers became easy targets for the LTTE. A number of soldiers were killed. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi is also blamed as a fallout of the failed RAW operation in Sri Lanka.[better source needed]
- Anti-Apartheid Movement: R&AW trained the intelligence officers of many independent African countries and assisted the anti-apartheid struggles in South Africa and Namibia. Retired R&AW officers were deputed to work in training institutes of intelligence agencies of some African states.
- Operation Chanakya: This was the RAW operation in the Kashmir region to infiltrate various ISI-backed Kashmiri separatist groups and restore peace in the Kashmir valley. R&AW operatives infiltrated the area, collected military intelligence, and provided evidence about ISI‘s involvement in training and funding Kashmiri separatist groups. RAW was successful not only in unearthing the links between the ISI and the separatist groups, but also in infiltrating and neutralising the militancy in the Kashmir valley. RAW is also credited for creating a split in the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Operation Chanakya also marked the creation of pro-Indian groups in Kashmir like the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen, Muslim Mujahideen etc. These counter-insurgencies consist of ex-militants and relatives of those slain in the conflict. Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen leader Kokka Parrey was himself assassinated by separatists.
- Help to the Northern Alliance: After the rise of Pakistan backed Taliban in Afghanistan, India decided to side with the Northern Alliance By 1996, R&AW had built a 25 bed military hospital at the Farkhor Air Base.This airport was used by the Aviation Research Centre, the reconnaissance arm of RAW, to repair and operate the Northern Alliance’s aerial support. This relationship was further cemented in the 2001 Afghan war. India supplied the Northern Alliance high altitude warfare equipment worth around US$8–10 million. R&AW was the first intelligence agency to determine the extent of the Kunduz airlift.
- Kargil War: R&AW was heavily criticised in 1999, following the Pakistani incursions at Kargil. Critics accused R&AW of failing to provide intelligence that could have prevented the ensuing ten-week conflict that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of a full-scale war. While the Army has been critical of the information they received R&AW has pointed the finger at the politicians, claiming they had provided all the necessary information. However, R&AW was successful in intercepting a telephonic conversation between Pervez Musharraf, the then Pakistan Army Chief who was in Beijing and his chief of staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Aziz in Islamabad. This tape was later published by India to prove Pakistani involvement in the Kargil incursion. In 2011, a think tank report stated that RAW had warned in its October 1998 assessment that Pakistan Army might launch a limited swift offensive with possible support of alliance partners, however the government ignored such reports.
- Operation Leech: Surrounded by Arakanese and dense forest, Myanmar had always been a worrisome point for Indian intelligence. India has sought to promote democracy and install friendly governments in the region. To these ends, RAW cultivated Burmese rebel groups and pro-democracy coalitions, especially the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). India allowed the KIA to carry a limited trade in jade and precious stones using Indian territory and even supplied them weapons. It is further alleged that KIA chief Maran Brang Seng met the RAW chief in Delhi twice. However, when the KIA became the main source of training and weapons for all northeastern rebel groups, R&AW initiated an operation, code named Operation Leech, to assassinate the leaders of the Burmese rebels as an example to other groups. in 1998, six top rebel leaders, including military wing chief of National Unity Party of Arakans (NUPA), Khaing Raza, were shot dead and 34 Arakanese guerrillas were arrested and charged with gunrunning.
- War on Terror: Although R&AW’s contribution to the War on Terror is highly classified, the organisation gained some attention in the Western media after claims that it was assisting the United States by providing intelligence on Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban‘s whereabouts. Maps and photographs of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan along with other evidence implicating Osama bin Laden in terrorist attacks were given to US intelligence officials. RAW’s role in the War on Terror may increase as US intelligence has indicated that it sees RAW as a more reliable ally than Pakistani intelligence. It has further come to light that a timely tip-off by RAW helped foil a third assassination plot against Pakistan’s former President, General Pervez Musharraf.
- 2008 Mumbai attacks: About 2–6 months before 26/11 Mumbai attacks R&AW had intercepted several telephone calls through SIGINT which pointed at impending attacks on Mumbai Hotels by Pakistan-based terrorists, however there was a coordination failure and no follow up action was taken. Few hours before the attacks, a RAW technician monitoring satellite transmissions picked up conversations between attackers and handlers, as the attackers were sailing toward Mumbai. The technician flagged the conversations as being suspicious and passed them on to his superiors. RAW believed that they were worrying and immediately alerted the office of the National Security Advisor. However the intelligence was ignored. Later, just after the terrorists had attacked Mumbai, RAW technicians started monitoring the six phones used by the terrorists and recorded conversations between the terrorists and their handlers. On 15 January 2010, in a successful snatch operation R&AW agents nabbed Sheikh Abdul Khwaja, one of the handlers of the 26/11 attacks, chief of HuJI India operations and a most wanted terror suspect in India, from Colombo, Sri Lanka and brought him over to Hyderabad, India for formal arrest.
- Snatch operations with IB: In late 2009, investigative journal The Week ran a cover story on one of India’s major clandestine operations that the R&AW ran with Intelligence Bureau to nab terrorists infiltrating India, via Nepal and other neighbouring countries. To bypass the lengthy extradition process, R&AW conducts snatch operations to nab suspects from various foreign countries. The suspect is brought to India, interrogated in black sites, later shown as arrested at an airport or border post and is usually produced before a court. With emergence of Nepal as a terror transit point R&AW and the IB started closely monitoring the movement of suspected terrorists in Nepal. According to The Week, in last decade there has been close to 400 successful snatch operations conducted by R&AW and/or IB in Nepal, Bangladesh and other countries. Some famous snatches netted Bhupinder Singh Bhuda of the Khalistan Commando Force, Lashkar militant Tariq Mehmood and Abdul Karim Tunda, Sheikh Abdul Khwaja, one of the handlers of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Yasin Bhatkal founder leader of the proscribed terrorist organization Indian Mujahideen etc. most of the suspects are kept at Tihar Jail.
- Sri Lankan presidential election, 2015 It was alleged by the Sri Lankan newspaper The Sunday Times, that R&AW had played a role in uniting the opposition, to bring about the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa. There had been growing concern in the Indian government, on the increasing influence of economic and military rival China in Sri Lankan affairs. Rajapaksa further upped the ante by allowing 2 Chinese submarines to dock in 2014, without informing India, in spite of a stand still agreement to this effect between India and Sri Lanka. The growing Chinese tilt of Rajapaksa was viewed by India with unease. Further, it was alleged, that a RAW agent, helped co-ordination of talks within the opposition, and convincing former PM Ranil Wickremasinghe not to stand against Rajapaksa, but to choose a common opposition candidate, who had better chances of winning. The agent is also alleged to have been in touch with Chandrika Kumaratunga, who played a key role in convincing Maithripala Sirisena to be the common candidate. Further, it was alleged, that the Rajapaksa government had expelled the involved R&AW agent in the run-up to presidential election. However these allegations were denied by the Indian Government and the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
- Other operations: On 25 March 2016, Pakistan announced that they arrested a RAW operative by the name of Kulbhushan Yadav who was operating in Balochistan province under the covername Hussain Mubarak Patel. Pakistan claimed that he was carrying a passport under that fake identity and used to operate a jewelry shop in Chahbahar, Iran. He is believed to be a retired commander-ranked officer in Indian Navy. According to a section of Pakistani media, He was involved in terrorist incidents in Karachi and Balochistan, most notably the terrorist attack on a bus full of Shia passengers in Safoora Goth, Karachi. However, Indian MEA said that though Yadav was an Indian Navy officer who retired prematurely, but he has no link with the government. The Indian High Commission has also sought consular access to Yadav but Pakistan has not agreed to it.According to Indian sources, Pakistan has fabricated the documents on the retired naval officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav, and leaked them without realising glaring loopholes in the same. The Iranian President Hassan Rouhanialso, dismissed Pakistan’s claim and state them as mere a rumour. According to Indian official, Yadhav owns a cargo business in Iran and had been working out of Bandar Abbas and Chabahar ports. “It appears that he strayed into Pakistani waters. But there is also a possibility that he was lured into Pakistan sometime back and fake documents were created on him by the ISI.
From its inception R&AW has been criticised for being an agency not answerable to the people of India (R&AW reports to Prime Minister only). Fears arose that it could turn into the KGB of India. Such fears were kept at bay by the R&AW’s able leadership (although detractors of R&AW and especially the Janata Party have accused the agency of letting itself be used for terrorising and intimidating opposition during the 1975-1977 Emergency). The main controversy which has plagued R&AW in recent years is over bureaucratisation of the system with allegations about favouritism in promotions, corruption, ego clashes, no financial accountability, inter-departmental rivalry etc. R&AW also suffers from ethnic imbalances in the officer level. Noted security analyst and former Additional Secretary B. Raman has criticised the agency for its asymmetric growth; “while being strong in its capability for covert action it is weak in its capability for intelligence collection, analysis and assessment. Strong in low and medium-grade intelligence, weak in high-grade intelligence. Strong in technical intelligence, weak inhuman intelligence. Strong in collation, weak in analysis. Strong in investigation, weak in prevention. Strong in crisis management, weak in crisis prevention.”
- In the 8 February 2010 edition Outlook Magazine reported on former R&AW Chief, Ashok Chaturvedi, utilising Government of India funds to take his wife along on international trips. After retirement, Chaturvedi had a diplomatic passport issued for himself and his wife. Per Outlook Magazine: “Only grade ‘A’ ambassadors—usually IFS officers posted in key countries like the UK and US—are allowed to hold diplomatic passports after retirement. The majority, who do not fit that bill, hold passports issued to ordinary citizens. In fact, all former R&AW chiefs Outlook spoke to confirmed they had surrendered their diplomatic passports the day they retired. And their spouses weren’t entitled to diplomatic passports even while they were in service.”
- In September 2007, R&AW was involved in a controversy due to a high profile CBI raid at the residence of Major General (retired) V K Singh, a retired Joint Secretary of R&AW who has recently written a book on R&AW where it was alleged that political interference and corruption in the intelligence agency has made it vulnerable to defections. One of the instances of corruption mentioned in the book was the preference given by R&AW departments towards purchasing intelligence from the Rohde and Schwarz company. A reason for such corruption as explained by the author is that “…R&AW was not answerable to any outside agency – the control of the Prime Minister’s Office was perfunctory, at best – many officers thought that they were not only above the law but a law unto themselves.“ A case under the Official Secrets Act has also been filed against V K Singh.
- On 19 August 2008 the R&AW Director (Language) who was also head of the R&AW Training Institute in Gurgaon from 2005 tried to commit suicide in front of Prime Minister’s Office, alleging inaction and wrong findings to a sexual harassment complaint filed against a Joint Secretary, who was on deputation to R&AW. She was discharged from duty on the ground that she was mentally unfit and that her identity was disclosed. She was later separately charged with criminal trespass, human trafficking and for her repeated attempts to commit suicide. The Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) ordered R&AW to reinstate her however R&AW filed an appeal against the CAT order which is pending before Delhi High Court. On 20 January 2011 she was sent for psychological evaluation and medical detention by a Delhi High Court judge when she tried to strip herself in the court protesting over the slow pace of her trial. The psychological evaluation report stated that ‘she may be suffering a mental problem due to loss of job and her continuous run-ins at the courts, but she was certainly not suffering from any permanent or grave mental disorder.’ On 15 December 2014, the Supreme Court of India quashed the 2008 media release, which proclaimed Ms. Bhatia as mentally unstable, on the ground that it affected the “dignity, reputation and privacy of a citizen”.
- A senior technical officer was arrested by CBI on graft charges, on 4 February 2009. The scientist, a Director level employee, worked in the division that granted export licenses to companies dealing in “sensitive” items, including defence-related equipment. He was accused of demanding and accepting a bribe of Rs. 100,000 from a Chennai based manufacturer for obtaining an export license.
- In September 2009, seven Additional Secretaries from the RAS cadre had gone on protest leave after A. B. Mathur, an IPS officer, superseded them to the post of Special Secretary. Over the years the tussle between the RAS cadre and officers on deputation from IPS cadre has caused friction in the working of the agency.
Defections & spy scandals
- In the early 1980s, K.V. Unnikrishnan, a 1962 batch IPS officer, who was posted at R&AW station in Colombo was honeytrapped by CIA. Between 1985–87 when he was deputed as the station chief at Chennai, co-ordinating Sri Lanka operations, he gave away information to his handler on training and arming Tamil groups including LTTE, the Indian government’s negotiating positions on the peace accord with Sri Lanka and the encryption code used by the agency. He was caught by IB counter-intelligence in 1987, spent a year in Tihar jail and was dismissed from IPS cadre.
- In 2004, there was a spy scandal involving the CIA. Rabinder Singh, Joint Secretary and the head of R&AW’s South East Asia department, defected to America on 5 June 2004. R&AW had already become suspicious about his movements and he was under surveillance for a very long time. Soon he was confronted by Counter Intelligence officials on 19 April 2004. Despite all precautions, Rabinder Singh managed to defect with ‘sensitive files’ he had allegedly removed from R&AW’s headquarters in south New Delhi. This embarrassing fiasco and national security failure were attributed to weak surveillance, shoddy investigation and lack of co-ordination between the Counter Intelligence and Security (CIS), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and R&AW. According to unconfirmed reports, Singh has surfaced in Virginia, USA. Recently in an affidavit submitted to the court, R&AW deposed that Singh has been traced in New Jersey. It has been speculated in the book Mission R&AW that although the CIA was found directly involved in compromising Singh and Unnikrishnan, at least eight other R&AW officers managed to clandestinely migrate and settle in foreign countries like the US and Canada with the help of their spy agencies.
- In 2007, there was a spy scandal involving Bangladesh. A Bangladeshi DGFI agent concealed his nationality before joining R&AW, and was known by the name of Diwan Chand Malik in the agency. He was known to have some important intel which was damaging for the national security. He joined the agency in 1999 and used to live in East Delhi. A case of cheating and forgery was filed against him at the Lodhi Colony police station on the basis of a complaint by a senior R&AW official.
In popular culture
Unlike in the Western cultural sphere, which has portrayed its foreign intelligence agencies (such as the CIA and MI6) in different media forms, Indian authors and actors have been shy to explore the area of espionage, especially R&AW, until the 1990s. Unlike CBI, the federal investigative agency of India, whose existence is known to the majority of people, R&AW receives little to no attention from the populace, which seems to be unaware of the existence of such an organisation or even India’s internal intelligence agency, the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Excessive secrecy surrounding activities and rare declassification of the information are considered to be the major reasons behind this.
Nevertheless, there were films which refer to ‘agents’, ‘espionage’ etc. like Aankhen (1968, Ramanand Sagar Production, starring Dharmendra, Mala Sinha), Prem Pujari starring Dev Anand in 1970, and Hindustan Ki Kasam(starring Raaj Kumar, Priya Rajvansh in 1973). However, since the late 1990s and early 2000 the following Bollywood and other regional films have openly mentioning R&AW and its allied units, with the intelligence agencies at the centre of the plot.
Some academic commentators have linked the increasing surfeit of Indian films and TV series on espionage thriller genre, where an Indian hero staves off impending global catastrophe, as a marker of an aspirational Pax Indicanot based on ‘older paradigms of internationalism based on universal brotherhood and non-violent pacifism associated with Gandhi and Nehru‘ but on the motif of an increasingly assertive potential superpower.The thriving entertainment channels in India have started to tap into the theme of Intelligence agencies. 2612 which used to air on Life OK, featured Cabir Maira as a R&AW agent Anand Swami who helps a STF officer Randeep Rathore to save the country from a terrorist attack. Time Bomb 9/11, a series aired on Zee TV, featured Rajeev Khandelwal in the role of a R&AW field officer who attempts to defuse a nuclear bomb set in India, as well as saving the life of the Indian prime minister. Zee Bangla featured a serial named Mohona where the chief protagonist is a R&AW officer. Sajda Tere Pyar Mein a series on Star Plus, features Shaleen Bhanot in the role of a R&AW officer who asks a young woman named Aliya for help in catching a spy named Mahendra Pratap. The Indian version of 24 has a host of characters affiliated to R&AW.