India’s spies infiltrated West long before Canada’s murder claim

A India flag waves in the wind at the High Commission of India in in Ottawa, Canada on October 3, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 04 October 2023

India’s spies infiltrated West long before Canada’s murder claim

  • RAW was created under a government order with no formal constitutional backing and is exempt from legislative oversight
  • The Indian agency expanded its reach in Western nations after 2008 Mumbai attack and was emboldened by Modi administration

NEW DELHI: India’s external intelligence service is a feared foe in its neighborhood: Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal have all accused it of political meddling and involvement with outlawed groups that have perpetrated acts of violence.

Now, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegation last month that Indian government agents were involved in the June killing of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in a Vancouver suburb has thrust Delhi’s secretive Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) into the global spotlight.

India angrily denied the allegations and demanded that Canada — which expelled RAW’s station chief — furnish evidence. Ottawa said it shared proof with allies, but will not release it publicly.

Reuters spoke to four retired and two serving Indian security and intelligence officials familiar with RAW who said the agency was galvanized to play a more assertive international role after the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

Four officials said that RAW expanded its reach in Western nations gradually after 2008. One current official cited India’s failure to secure the extradition of a US citizen convicted of involvement in the Mumbai attack as a key motivation for RAW to increase its sway in the West.

While in its immediate neighborhood RAW has advanced signal and technical intelligence capabilities, in the West the agency remains largely dependent on human intelligence for its operations, according to one serving and one former official.

RAW, like other arms of India’s national security apparatus, has been emboldened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has bolstered India’s defense capabilities since his 2014 election and built a strongman image, five of the officials said.

Modi’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

RAW Chief Ravi Sinha, the only serving official publicly affiliated with the agency, did not return messages seeking comment. Sinha reports to Modi’s office through the powerful National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who also did not return a request for comment.

All six officials denied that RAW engages in targeted killings, noting that the agency has no mandate for such operations.

Fallout from the Vancouver incident has also raised concerns that RAW will come under greater global monitoring, Indian intelligence officials and analysts said.

“The current developments have undoubtedly increased global curiosity about RAW,” said Dheeraj Paramesha Chaya, an expert on Indian intelligence at Britain’s Hull University. He said that greater Western scrutiny of RAW’s activities might also bring a closer understanding of Delhi’s security concerns.

The West has expanded military and intelligence cooperation with Delhi as tensions with China have grown, with Washington agreeing in 2020 to share sensitive mapping and satellite data with India.

In the short term, Canada’s assertion might make it harder for Western countries to trust RAW, one of the officials said.

Ottawa and Delhi have been in a diplomatic standoff since Trudeau made his allegations in public. India has suspended the issuance of new visas to Canadian citizens and demanded that Ottawa reduce its diplomatic presence.

Canada had unsuccessfully pushed allies such as the US to issue a joint statement condemning India, the Washington Post reported.


RAW has long been identified as an arch-rival by Pakistani security leaders. Most recently, Islamabad — without providing evidence — blamed RAW for a suicide blast near a mosque on Friday that killed over 50 people. An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson did not return a request for comment on the accusation.

The Indian government publicly blamed Islamabad for the 2008 Mumbai attacks — widely seen by policymakers in Delhi as RAW’s most recent major failure — which Delhi says were carried out by Pakistan-based militants.

Islamabad denied that its agents were involved.

The agency enhanced its intelligence gathering operations in the West, including North America, due to the role of US citizen David Headley, now serving a 35-year prison sentence in Chicago on charges that included scouting locations for the Mumbai attacks, one of the officials said.

American law enforcement was warned before the attack that Headley had terrorism ties, according to US media reports. Top Indian policymakers have publicly suggested that he was a US “double agent,” and Delhi’s failure to secure his extradition frustrated RAW, the official said.

The United States, which gave India access to Headley, has denied he was a double agent. The American Embassy in Delhi did not return a request for comment.

RAW has had a small Western presence since its inception in the 1960s, when it inherited the London station of the Intelligence Bureau, a colonial-era agency that now focuses on domestic security, according to Chaya, the Hull professor.

The large Indian diaspora in countries like the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia is an asset, two officials said.

But the risk of Indian agents coming under surveillance in their host nations means they are used for political influence campaigns rather than security operations, they said.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported in 2020, citing government and intelligence sources, that the country’s security services were monitoring the possibility of India and China using their diaspora to influence candidates in that year’s federal election.

“Our footprint is growing in parts of the world which were not important earlier,” a recently retired senior RAW official said, without providing specifics.

RAW has “long been associated with direct action ... including targeted killings and disappearances” in its immediate neighborhood, said Adrian Levy, co-author of a book on South Asian spy agencies, adding that such actions were arranged via proxies, which gave India deniability.

Delhi has generally not seen a need for covert operations outside South Asia because it has friendly relations with many countries that enable it to secure aims such as extradition and getting access to people of interest, one official said.

The agency has been “super careful” about its operations in the West, said Levy. While RAW has arranged the movement of cash, weapons and men to other locations from Europe, “direct action was reserved for South Asia and Southeast Asia,” he said.


RAW operates from a drab office complex with no signage in central Delhi. Reuters was unable to determine specifics about the agency’s operations, such as its budget and its size.

It split off from the Intelligence Bureau in 1968 and was initially tasked with keeping a keen eye on China after Delhi’s humiliation in their brief 1962 war. RAW had close links to Israel’s Mossad and the CIA since its inception, according to a 2008 report by the US Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank that tracks Indian foreign and security policies.

One serving and one retired official told Reuters that RAW’s political masters in the Modi government demanded that it expand its “presence, significance and capabilities.”

“What they have done is to give confidence to the organization,” one of the officials said.

Two serving and one retired RAW agents told Reuters that some previous governments did not offer sufficient resources and political support.

Under Modi, India’s national security community “has become far more proactive, in terms of diplomacy (and) deal making but also direct action, analog and digital,” said Levy, the intelligence writer.

But as Indian intelligence services have gained more capabilities and far greater reach, the legal framework they operate in has not kept pace with how modern democracies manage espionage operations, he said.

RAW was created under a government order with no formal parliamentary or constitutional backing and is exempt from legislative oversight, according to PRS, a research group that studies India’s federal and state legislatures.

“This means there is less oversight, and fewer legal hurdles ... as real command and control is centralized” with the prime minister, Levy said.

Ukraine says Russian shells hit private homes, four killed

Updated 1 sec ago

Ukraine says Russian shells hit private homes, four killed

KYIV: Russian shells struck a residential building and private houses on Tuesday, killing four and injuring at least five people, local Ukrainian officials said.
A five-story building was hit in the morning in the southern town of Nikopol, Dnipropetrovsk region governor Serhiy Lysak said.
“A 63-year-old man was killed. Two women, aged 65 and 63, were injured. There may be people under the rubble,” he said on Telegram messenger.
In a separate attack in the afternoon, Russian shelling destroyed at least five private houses in a northern settlement just on the border with Russia, Sumy regional prosecutors reported.
Two bodies have been recovered from the rubble, and a 7-year-old girl died in hospital after a car she was in came under fire, the prosecutors said on Telegram. Three people have been injured.
Russia has denied deliberately targeting civilians although many have been killed in its frequent air strikes.

Sri Lanka eyes Saudi investment to modernize tourism sector

Updated 20 min 51 sec ago

Sri Lanka eyes Saudi investment to modernize tourism sector

  • Tourism is a key industry for Sri Lanka, accounting for 12 percent of GDP in 2019
  • Officials also discussed possibility of Saudia Airlines launching direct flight to Colombo

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is looking for Saudi investment to modernize its tourism and other sectors, top officials in Colombo have said following an official visit of Saudi Economy and Planning Minister Faisal Al-Ibrahim. 

Al-Ibrahim was in the Sri Lankan capital on Monday, where he met President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry to discuss ways to strengthen economic ties. 

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe … further highlighted that the tourism and agriculture sectors were areas open to greater investment, as the country is committed to modernizing these domains,” the presidential secretariat said in a statement. 

Tourism and agriculture are key industries for Sri Lanka, accounting for about 12 percent and 7 percent of its 2019 GDP respectively. The country has been working to revive its crisis-hit economy following a severe financial crisis that drove the country to bankruptcy last year. 

Al-Ibrahim said that he was honored to meet Wickremesinghe. 

“We discussed both countries’ ambitions and transformation journeys as well as strengthening our bilateral economic ties and trade and investment growth opportunities,” Al-Ibrahim wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. 

During Al-Ibrahim’s meeting with Sabry, the two officials discussed Saudi investment, as well as manpower and tourism cooperation, the foreign minister said.  

“We also discussed (ways) to improve the tourism traffic between the two countries and further strengthen people-to-people contact. We also discussed the possibility of Saudia Airlines commencing direct flights to Colombo,” Sabry told Arab News. 

“We decided to explore possibilities of Saudi investment in Sri Lanka and opportunities for the Sri Lankans for further skilled employment opportunities in Saudi Arabia in its planned construction boom,” he said, alluding to the Kingdom’s various megaprojects under Vision 2030.  

“All in all, we had a very productive discussion and agreed to have a clear plan to continue our cooperation.” 

Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka have expanded ties in the past year. They agreed to broaden their political consultation following their first joint committee meeting in May and earlier this year launched a new employment scheme aimed at boosting Colombo’s manpower exports to the Kingdom.

Finland closes Russian border for 2 weeks to stop asylum seekers

Updated 56 min 57 sec ago

Finland closes Russian border for 2 weeks to stop asylum seekers

  • Some 900 asylum seekers from nations including Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen have entered Finland from Russia in November

HELSINKI: Finland will close its entire border with Russia to travelers for the next two weeks in a bid to halt a flow of asylum seekers to the Nordic nation, the government said on Tuesday.
Finland last week shut all but one of its remaining border posts to travelers from Russia, keeping open only the northernmost crossing located in the Arctic. But this too would now close, allowing only goods transport, the government said.
Some 900 asylum seekers from nations including Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen have entered Finland from Russia in November, an increase from less than one per day previously, according to the Finnish Border Guard.
The decision means only freight traffic can pass between the two countries.

Singapore sees logistics, green energy opportunities under Saudi Vision 2030

Updated 28 November 2023

Singapore sees logistics, green energy opportunities under Saudi Vision 2030

  • Saudi Arabia, Singapore elevated their ties to strategic partnership during PM Lee’s visit last month 
  • Manpower Minister Tan See Leng tells Arab News about Singapore’s interests in deepening cooperation 

SINGAPORE: Singapore sees growth opportunities in logistics, transport and green energy under the Saudi Vision 2030, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said on Tuesday, as the two countries have recently elevated their ties to a strategic level. 

Saudi Arabia and Singapore agreed to strengthen relations during an official visit by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the Kingdom and his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last month. 

The visit was preceded by seven memoranda of understanding to facilitate investment opportunities, which were inked during the third session of the Saudi-Singapore Joint Committee held in Riyadh, led by Tan, who is also the city state’s second minister for trade and industry, and Saudi Transport and Logistic Services Minister Saleh Al-Jasser. 

“Minister of Transport and Logistic Services Eng. Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser and I reaffirmed our commitment to growing our countries’ bilateral ties,” Tan told Arab News. 

“With Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the country has seen new growth areas for Singapore’s businesses on many fronts, such as in logistics, transport and green energy. I had shared with His Excellency Al-Jasser Singapore’s interests to deepen our cooperation in the ports and logistics sectors and Singaporean companies’ interest to participate in projects arising from Vision 2030.” 

Singapore’s Manpower Minister Tan See Leng signs an agreement with Saudi Transport and Logistic Services Minister Saleh Al-Jasser, Riyadh, Oct. 17, 2023. (Tan See Leng)

Singapore, Asia’s top logistics hub, has been ranked by the World Bank as the first in the world for logistics competence, infrastructure and timeliness of services. 

During the Saudi-Singapore Joint Committee’s recent sessions, the Saudi Ports Authority, known as Mawani, and Saudi Global Ports, a subsidiary of Singapore’s port operator PSA, signed an agreement to establish an integrated logistics zone at the King Abdulaziz Port in Dammam. 

“The development of the integrated logistics zone is one of SGP’s partnerships with Mawani on its Vision 2030 roadmap to grow Saudi Arabia as a logistics hub,” Tan said. 

“On the energy front, I was pleased that Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and I signed the Energy Cooperation Roadmap. Through this, we will see closer cooperation in areas such as low-carbon solutions and technologies, renewable energy, energy efficiency and innovation for decarbonization. Prince Abdulaziz and I also discussed our countries’ commitment to our energy transition.” 

This year’s joint committee meeting also saw in attendance representatives of the private sector from the Federation of Saudi Chambers and the Singapore Business Federation, as well as members of a business delegation from Singapore, which signed five memoranda with the Saudi Ministry of Investment to facilitate their entry into the Kingdom. 

Tan said that Singaporean companies were also interested in working together with Saudis in the fields of oil and gas, tourism and hospitality, urban infrastructure and education sectors. 

He gave as an example Surbana Jurong, a Singaporean government-owned consulting company focusing on infrastructure and urban development, which has already established offices in Riyadh to work on design consultancy in NEOM, the Kingdom’s flagship smart-city megaproject under Vision 2030. 

“I am also glad that (the Saudi Ministry of Investment) has set up a Singapore office earlier this year in September, to promote investments into the Kingdom and facilitate Saudi companies tapping into Singapore to expand into Asia,” Tan said. 

“With these developments, I hope that in the years to come, there will be greater presence by Singapore companies in the Kingdom, and that more Saudi companies will explore using Singapore as a launchpad into Southeast Asia.”

Baltic nations’ foreign ministers pull out of OSCE meeting over Russian foreign minister attendance

Updated 28 November 2023

Baltic nations’ foreign ministers pull out of OSCE meeting over Russian foreign minister attendance

  • Lavrov said Monday he planned to travel to Skopje for the OSCE foreign ministers’ meeting
  • “For the past two years we have witnessed how one OSCE participating state has actively and brutally tried to annihilate another,” the Baltic foreign ministers said

SKOPJE: The foreign ministers of the three Baltic states have said they will boycott a meeting by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe being held this week in North Macedonia, in objection to the participation of Russia’s foreign minister.
The foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania issued a joint statement Tuesday saying they “deeply regret the decision enabling the personal participation” of Russia’s Sergey Lavrov. “It will only provide Russia with yet another propaganda opportunity.”
Lavrov said Monday he planned to travel to Skopje for the OSCE foreign ministers’ meeting, a trip which would mark his first visit to a NATO member country since Russia invaded Ukraine. In September, he was in New York to attend the United Nations’ annual gathering of world leaders.
The 57-nation OSCE was set up during the Cold War to help defuse tension between East and West. North Macedonia currently holds the organization’s rotating presidency and its foreign minister invited Lavrov to the two-day meeting starting Thursday.
“For the past two years we have witnessed how one OSCE participating state has actively and brutally tried to annihilate another,” the Baltic foreign ministers said in their statement. “Let us be very clear: Russia’s war of aggression and atrocities against its sovereign and peaceful neighbor Ukraine blatantly violate international law.”
They also accused Russia of “obstructive behavior within the OSCE itself,” citing Russia’s prevention of an OSCE presence in Ukraine and by blocking Estonia’s chairmanship of the organization in 2024. Lavrov’s attendance at the Skopje meeting “risks legitimizing aggressor Russia as a rightful member of our community of free nations, trivializing the atrocious crimes Russia has been committing,” they added.
Speaking to reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels Tuesday, North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, said he believed he would be meeting Lavrov in Skopje.
“Lavrov is not coming to Skopje, in a way. Lavrov is coming to the OSCE just as he went to (the) UN in New York a few months ago,” Osmani said. “I won’t be meeting him as the foreign minister of North Macedonia, but as the OSCE chairman in office.”
Asked what he would say to Lavrov, Osmani said: “I think the Russian Federation has violated (the) commitments of OSCE principles that we have voluntarily subscribed to 50 years ago.”
“We have condemned the aggressor throughout our chairpersonship. And also we have turned (the) OSCE into a platform for political and legal accountability of the Russian Federation for its deeds in Ukraine, and we will continue to do so. And this is what I am going to tell to Mr. Lavrov as well.”
There was no immediate reaction from the Russian Foreign Ministry to the statement by the three Baltic states.