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India's long history of spies in the establishment

April 28, 2010 19:10 IST

Diplomat Madhuri Gupta, arrested on charges of spying for Pakistan, joins a list of several top Indian officials accused of leaking sensitive information or falling into honey trap in the past few decades.

The last such case is that of Navy officer Commodore Sukhjinder Singh, now being probed for his alleged liaison with a Russian woman between 2005 and 2007 -- when he was posted in Russia as the head of Indian team overseeing the refit of aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. A board of inquiry, set up against Singh after his objectionable photographs with the unidentified woman surfaced, is now probing whether his "loose moral conduct" and indiscretions have any connections with the Gorshkov deal which has been signed after a lot of negotiations due to the cost hike of the carrier.

In May 2008, a senior Indian Embassy official in Beijing was called back to New Delhi for falling to the charms of a Chinese honey trap. Manmohan Sharma, a senior Research and Analysis Wing officer, was alleged to be in a romantic affair with his Chinese language teacher. Indian authorities suspected the woman could be an informant of the Chinese government and gathered information about India's moves and counter-moves on the border talks.

In October 2007, a 1975 batch Research and Analysis Service officer Ravi Nair was called back from Hong Kong for his 'friendship' with a girl believed to be working for a Chinese spy agency. However, within a brief time Nair was again given a foreign posting in Colombo where the woman also came and allegedly started staying with him, raising suspicion. The officials of other departments, posted at the Indian High Commission, sent reports about Nair to their respective departments paving way for his recall.

Like any other snooping agency, India's external Intelligence agency RAW has also a history of officials switching their loyalties to foreign agencies. The most infamous case which shook RAW out of reverie was that of Rabinder Singh who became a mole of American intelligence agency CIA and flew to the US despite being under RAW surveillance. Singh initially worked with the Indian Army and held a very senior position with RAW handling Southeast Asia. By the time the agency sensed his affiliations, Singh escaped to the US through Nepal in 2004.

The second blow came in 2006 with the discovery of another alleged CIA mole in India's National Security Council Secretariat, which is part of the Prime Minister's Office.

In the early 90s, an Indian Naval attache posted in Islamabad reportedly fell in love with a Pakistani woman working in the Military Nursing Service in Karachi. The attache was interrogated and then forced to resign. Reports said the official, who had initially claimed having recruited the woman as a spy, was being blackmailed by the ISI, which wanted his services after his return to the Naval Headquarters in Delhi.

Then a personal assistant to a very senior RAW official disappeared in London in the early 90s. Ashok Sathe, another official was also believed to have defected to the US after his mysterious disappearance. Sathe was said to be behind burning down of RAW office in Khurramshahr in Iran.

In the early 1980s, a senior field officer disappeared in London. As attache in Kathmandu, he was alleged to be liaisoning with foreign intelligence agencies In another case, a senior Intelligence Bureau official, who was due to take over as the chief of counter-intelligence, had an "unauthorised" relationship with a female US consular officer. His meetings with her were recorded on camera by the IB, and he was forced to retire following interrogation.

However, in the history of Indian intelligence, the most written about case was that of K V Unnikrishnan, a RAW officer dealing with the LTTE. He had developed a relationship with an air hostess believed to be an intelligence scion. He was arrested just ahead of a peace accord signed between India and Sri Lanka. The oldest case of 'honey trapping', when an Indian diplomat during the time of the first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was trapped by a Russian girl in Moscow. When the Russian spy agency KGB presented him with the pictures of his activities with the girl, the diplomat informed his ambassador about his relationship and the KGB's attempts to blackmail him. The ambassador raised the issue with Nehru, who was himself in charge of the External Affairs Ministry. Nehru just laughed it off, warning the young diplomat to be more careful in future.

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