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Strategic Defence

Why India Is A Top 5 Target Of American Spying
By Rakesh Krishnan Simha, June 2013 [[email protected]]

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The place: Skunk Works, Palmdale, California

The time: Early 2000s

In a meeting room that’s off limits to all but those having the highest security clearance, an elite group of aircraft designers and engineers is giving final shape to America’s newest and most expensive weapon – the F-35 Lightning stealth fighter.

Unknown to the employees at Skunk Works ( – Lockheed Martin’s secretive division – another group of people sitting thousands of miles away are watching their every move, monitoring each keystroke, recording every word spoken. These are hackers working for the Chinese military and they have been following the F-35’s development virtually in real time. Years before the American public is aware of their military’s latest toy, the F-35’s blueprints are sitting in downtown Beijing.

It’s not just the Lightning that’s been lifted. The Defence Science Board, a military advisory group, says China has purloined core elements of the United States military arsenal that include anti-missile systems, vital combat aircraft such as the F/A-18 fighter, the V-22 Osprey, the Black Hawk helicopter, and the Navy’s new combat ship.

China is the new KGB.

Bigger than big

China’s penetration of American industry, staggering as it is, pales before the scale of spying done by the National Security Agency (NSA). For, the “Never Say Anything” American espionage agency collects information not in gigabytes or terabytes but in yottabytes and exabytes – capacities that defy the imagination. The NSA, which makes the CIA look like a bank in comparison, is an outfit that has just one rule: Everybody that uses electronic communication is a target.

Espionage is a remarkably discrimination-free business in which everyone is a target. The globe-girdling American intelligence set-up, employing 854,000 spies, not only targets Iran, Russia and China but also snoops on allies such as Israel, Denmark, Finland, Britain and Sweden.

Israel in turn conducts extensive military and economic spying in the United States. The most celebrated example of fratricidal espionage was Mossad’s recruitment of Jonathan Pollard, a US Navy intelligence officer. In another instance, Mossad broke into the apartments of CIA agents in Tel Aviv. (

There is a compelling reason for spying on friends – to make sure they are really on your side. It can have other spinoffs too. In the early 1960s a wiretap operation conducted by the CIA against the BND, West Germany’s foreign intelligence service, revealed the BND employed a senior Nazi war criminal, Franz Rademacher, in Syria.

NSA, GCHQ: Going too far

Kim Philby, the KGB spy who singlehandedly wrecked Britain’s intelligence agency MI6, memorably said: “If one attempt in fifty is successful, your efforts won’t have been wasted.” NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is that one spy in 50 who has damaged the Anglo-American espionage establishment at the global level.

The revelation that the NSA and the British GCHQ hacked into computers and phones of foreign leaders, including Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev, during the 2009 G-20 summit is turning out to be a complete PR disaster for the United States and Britain.

Although it is not unusual for intelligence agencies to target top level leaders, this is the first time someone has been caught in the act. It only goes to show that the much heralded reset with Russia is a charade. And the spying on Commonwealth leaders in London should alert developing countries like India to the real intent of the British, who are still dreaming about their lost empire.

Spying to sell

The existence of an Anglo-American spy ring, which also includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand, has long been speculated. Whether these countries share intelligence data with their corporations is yet to be established, but if the past is any guide, then spying and commerce are not divorced from each other.

For instance, the 1973 assassination of Chile’s democratically elected President Salvador Allende was the direct result of two telephone calls by Donald Kendall, chairman of PepsiCo, to the company’s former lawyer, President Richard Nixon. ( In more recent times, BP (British Petroleum) has been revealed as one of the interested parties in the invasion of Iraq.

A big clue that espionage is the sharp end of the economic wedge is provided by Snowden’s revelation that Britain was looking for an edge during negotiations at the Commonwealth summit in London. Talk about cheating on home turf.

Clues to a changing world

In March 2013 the NSA picked up 9.6 billion pieces of information from India’s computer networks, making it the fifth tracked country in the world after Iran, Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt. The top four are all Muslim countries, with Jordan also a close ally, so it’s a no-brainer why the NSA is targeting them. But has the world shifted so much on its geopolitical axis that India is now a bigger target than Russia and China?

There are two possibilities. One, the Americans are making sure India remains on its side of the fence. Secondly, if the NSA has been able to steal more data from India than from Russia and China, it only shows how powerless developing countries are against well-equipped spy agencies.

Why India is a top 5 target

In March 2013 the NSA picked up 9.6 billion pieces of information from India’s computer networks, making India the fifth tracked country in the world after Iran, Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt. If India is now a bigger target than Russia in American eyes, it only shows how the world has shifted on its geopolitical axis.

Unlike China and Russia where the United States can pinch industrial ( secrets, India offers nothing equivalent. In almost every technological area, the Americans are ahead of India.

But India is far more important. As their economies surge, India and China are reverting to their ancient duopoly. Research conducted by Angus Maddison and his colleagues at the University of Groningen shows India had 25 per cent of global income from the year 1500 CE through 1700 CE. China accounted for 35 per cent. In the year 1 CE, India’s share was 33 per cent, China’s 26 per cent and the Roman Empire’s 21 per cent.

Historically India and China were the engines of global trade. Roman emperor Tiberius and the historian Pliny complained about the drain of wealth ( to India.

An India-China duopoly is a deep-rooted Western fear, and under the BRICS umbrella it might well happen. (Before the British created the border problems, the India-China border was as free as the United States-Canada frontier. Venetian traveller Marco Polo wrote in his memoirs that the Chinese emperor sent him on a fleet which carried a princess who was to marry an Indian prince.) In the 21st century as India and China are once again poised to be the two largest economies, both will be intensely targeted by Western spy agencies.

Weapon worries

Ironically, India’s improvement in ties with the United States is likely to lead to even more American spying. The Americans have always been paranoid about Russia acquiring their weapons technologies via India. Earlier, it simply banned arms sales to India; now with the decline of the American economy, India is a valued – though not trusted – customer. If only to feel assured that its high-tech armaments and aircraft are not being taken apart in Moscow, American spies will be keeping a close watch.

They have plenty of experience in that area. One of the earliest instances of American meddling in India was back in the 1950s when the CIA secretly provided cash to the Catholic Syrian Christian church to destabilise the democratically elected government of Kerala. On another occasion the CIA provided funds to discredit communists in West Bengal.

According to former US ambassador to India, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Both times the money was given to the Congress Party which had asked for it. Once it was given to Mrs Indira Gandhi herself, who was then a party official.”

Islamic angle

The increasing radicalisation of Indian Muslims and the big uptick in Islamic terrorist activity in India is a worry not just for India but also for the West, as India’s Muslim terrorists are now linking up on a multinational scale. It won’t be long before some of them are seen in Chechnya or other troublespots.

It is, therefore, understandable why the top four in the NSA list are Muslim countries. American espionage on India and Indian Muslims is, therefore, as inevitable as American spying on Saudi Arabia and Iran. In fact, American paranoia is justified as the Indian government – with an eye on Muslim votes – is victimizing its own agents who have played a key role in eliminating Muslim terrorists.

India and US: Trust deficit

The United States doesn’t implicitly trust India in a way it trusts Britain, Canada or Poland. After 9/11 the Americans encouraged the Indian government to send RAW and IB agents to enroll in counter-terrorism courses in the United States. This had two major consequences. One, it helped the United States identify hundreds of Indian agents who now cannot undertake undercover operations. Two, it has helped the CIA recruit Indian secret service agents. The most well-known case was that of RAW agent Rabindra Singh, who became an American double agent on one his many trips to the United States.

The Hindu’s Pravin Swami argues that India's establishment is more vulnerable now than at any point in the past. “The large number of politicians, bureaucrats and military officers whose children study or work in the US provide an easy source of influence. Efforts to recruit from this pool are not new. In the early 1980s, the son of then RAW chief N. Narasimhan left the US 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 US’ intelligence services. According to a senior RAW officer, not all would respond with such probity.”

Global backlash

The good money is on an international backlash against the United States and Britain. The Germans are already calling for the “United Stasi of America” to put a leash on the NSA. According to John Villasenor, professor of electrical engineering and public policy at UCLA, ( “The NSA leaks will put wind in the sails of non-US intelligence services aiming to ramp up espionage targeting American businesses. Budgets for spying on American businesses will grow, and people to do the work will be easier to hire.”

Also, the Defence Science Board says the United States is not prepared to counter a full-scale cyber conflict. China’s ability to penetrate the world’s most secure communication system indicates the Board is spot on.

No business like the spy business

In “Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB Archive” author Nigel West shows the extent to which countries will go to steal secrets. One summer day during the 1950s in Moscow, KGB agents were tailing the wife of the British ambassador. The woman had been obtaining classified documents from a Russian, while on her daily ‘walks’ through Moscow’s streets. Realising she was being followed the ambassador’s wife tucked the documents in her underpants and tried to run towards the embassy.

She was caught, the documents were retrieved, and the British envoy quickly quit his job.

Thanks to advances in communication, spies no longer have to steal documents in such comical fashion. It is precisely because of the vulnerability of spies on the ground that the NSA has taken electronic eavesdropping to a new level.

Ultimately, is all the effort and expense of conducting espionage worth it? The KGB’s vast intelligence apparatus gave it a God’s eye view of the world but its intelligence bonanza didn’t prevent the Soviet Union’s demise. Whether such surveillance will stop the slowmotion collapse of American – and by definition, Western – power remains to be seen.

This article was previously published at the ‘Russia India Report’.

Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a New Zealand based writer and a columnist with the Rossiyskaya Gazeta Group, Moscow. His articles have been used as reference at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; the Centre for Research on Globalization, Canada; Wikipedia; and as part of the curriculum at the Anthropology Department of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. His articles have been published at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, and Oped News, Pennsylvania

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