“Former Senior Indian Intelligence Officer” – R&AW Special Secretary Vappala Balachandran
Andrew Hammond: Welcome to "SpyCast", the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, the museum's historian and curator. Every week we explore some aspect of the past, present or future of intelligence and espionage. Please consider leaving us a five-star review so that other listeners can find us and subscribe to the show if you haven't already. Coming up next on "SpyCast".
Vappala Balachandran: I specialized in, in a way, international terrorism. And that is why in '92 and '93, I led the Indian intelligence teams for our annual dialogue with the USA.
Andrew Hammond: This week is our fourth installment of our five-week special on spy chiefs around the world. This week's guest is Vappala Balachandran. Vappala was a talented policeman who rose to become the deputy commissioner of Bombay, present-day Mumbai. But the story doesn't stop there. He was talent spotted and went on to work for India's foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, a.k.a. RAW, rising to become the special secretary, which is the number two position at that agency. He was later appointed a member of the high-level committee to look into the police response to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. He's an active columnist in Indian newspapers and is the author of several books, including his most recent, "Intelligence Over Centuries", which looks at intelligence from pre-biblical times all the way up to the current war in Ukraine. In this episode, Vappala and I discuss India's Research and Analysis Wing, the Tamil Tiger's threat to Indian national security, intelligence considerations within India-Pakistan relations, and lessons in intelligence from ancient India. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are "SpyCast". Now sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Well, thanks ever so much for taking the time to speak to us. I just wondered if you could tell us, Vappala, where are you just now, sir?
Vappala Balachandran: I am in Mumbai, Maharashtra. I originally hailed from Kerala, which is the southwestern state of India. But for my education, I went to a neighboring state called Madras. And that's where I studied. And then I became a member of the federal services. Now, what happens is that you have to appear for a federally conducted examination of all over India. And then depending upon the marks that you get, you are selected. But you will not get your home state. Now, that was a deliberate measure that was done for the national integration. As you know, we have a number of languages. We have various tribes. India is a huge country. So the founding fathers at that time felt that the an officer who is selected for the these services should serve in outside state. That's how I came to be allotted to Maharashtra state. And so I'm here from 1960 onwards. I joined as a police officer of the Indian Police Service.
Andrew Hammond: And just to set the scene for our listeners, this is on the west coast of India and the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea. And there's a strong maritime influence. And the state that you're in at the moment and Kerala, they are both very developed states and very literate states.
Vappala Balachandran: Yeah. You see, Kerala has had an ancient history. You know, it is popularly known as a spy state.
Andrew Hammond: Oh, really?
Vappala Balachandran: The Romans were attracted. The Arabs were attracted and the Romans were attracted with the spies. There was an ancient port called Mosaris. It is there in the Roman chronicles and the ships used to come regularly before Christ era because the multilingual or other multireligious composition of the population is also partly because of that. And the Christianity came in 52 Christ era. Thomas the Apostle came to Kerala. And then in fifth century Christ era, Islam arrived through trading. And the 10th century Christ era, the Jews also came. There was a flourishing Jewish enclave in Kerala. So that's briefly the state.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. Just briefly, I mean, I think Kerala is interesting for all sorts of reasons. And as I understand it, it's a matrilineal culture. It's got the highest level of literacy in India. It's just a really, really, really fascinating state for some of the reasons you just mentioned. It's had lots of different people flow through over the centuries.
Vappala Balachandran: And the literacy rate is very high, the highest in India, 94%.
Andrew Hammond: Wow.
Vappala Balachandran: And the Hindus are 55%. The Islam is 27%. Christians are 19%. So you will not find this sort of mixture in any other state in India. So that is something very unique about Kerala that it has been open to the foreign influence, mostly peaceful. There has been no war. Nobody came as an invading power to Kerala.
Andrew Hammond: And I love the food from there. I've tried some of the cuisine from there. Hopefully I will get to visit in person one day. So you're this young man who grows up in Kerala, go for the civil service exams. You move state, and then tell us about how you end up as a police officer.
Vappala Balachandran: Yeah. I worked 17 years in Maharashtra. And even from the British days, the intelligence was mostly police dominated. Depending upon the record of performance of an officer, he or she is picked up by the federal government. And that's how I joined the newly constituted foreign intelligence organization called RAW, Research and Analysis Wing of the Cabinet Secretariat. This is something like what happened in USA also. If you remember, OSS also started as a Research and Analysis Division. At that time, it was attached to the Library of Congress. So here in this case, this is attached to the Cabinet Secretariat. And it is nothing but foreign intelligence, but it was deputed there. And that's how I worked throughout there. And then I retired in 1995 at the rank of a special secretary. Secretary is the head. Special secretaries are not the head, but they are the number two. You can call it number two. So that's how I did.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. And just very briefly, so Maharashtra, that's also where Mumbai is. And that's going to be part of the story later on in our conversation. So when you're in the police, is it what people think of when they think of police work? Is it investigating, arresting people? Or were you involved in more of the intelligence stuff or does that come later?
Vappala Balachandran: What happens in the police is you work in rural areas. That is called the districts. And then depending upon how you perform, you are brought to the big cities. So I came to Bombay city in 1972. Till then I was in the district. I was superintendent of police of a district. And then what you do is the crime and law and order and various other, you know, attending to the natural calamities and all that. But once you come to city, you start getting into the urban police system. Bombay police is something like the London Metropolitan Police. And there is a very old special branch which deals with the intelligence. Now, this intelligence, exactly like in London, the special branch has got certain extra commitments for a national level. And so I was in charge of that for about two, two and a half years. And that's how my work could be noticed by the federal authorities. And then they wanted me to join them. But I didn't have any foreign intelligence responsibility. But it was a higher level of intelligence that I was doing in Bombay. For example, the protection of the VIPs, very important persons, including the president and prime minister coming, that is my personal job. Collecting foreign intelligence of foreigners operating in Bombay was my job. So something like that. But then when I went to RAW, it was something totally different. I mean, it's not like any law and order intelligence. It is something totally different. That's how I landed up in RAW in 1976. I worked in Delhi and did various other responsibilities and then retired in 1995.
Andrew Hammond: Is it true that for the Research and Analysis Wing, you know, the head of MI6 is called C and the James Bond movies is M. Is it true that the head of the Research and Analysis Wing is called R?
Vappala Balachandran: Yeah. In the British days, also something like this was there, but there was no foreign intelligence at all. It was the Intelligence Bureau, which came in 1887 here. And so they were doing all the entire, the external as well as the internal. But in those days, in the British days, the entire foreign intelligence was collected by the MI6. And then they used to coordinate with the Intelligence Bureau. But after the independence in 1947, we did not have any such facility. So that is why the Research and Analysis was born. There was need for a specialized organization independently to collect the foreign intelligence. And that is how 1968 Research and Analysis Wing was formed or the Cabinet Secretariat was formed. Otherwise, there's no particular reason why this particular name was given.
Andrew Hammond: It's quite interesting to me, the symbol for the Research and Analysis Wing, the lion capital of Ashoka, which I think is really fascinating. It's four lions facing in every direction.
Vappala Balachandran: No, we have no symbol that way for a long time. We were totally anonymous in the sense that there was not even a mention in the reports or other official reports about the existence of Research and Analysis Wing. And for about at least, even when 1971 war took place between India and Pakistan, where RAW plays a very important role, there was no official mention that RAW was doing this, et cetera. So this came much later. This came much later. I think it is sometime in 1990s when they started mentioning about the organization called RAW. I do not know how far that was correct, but I know we followed the British tradition of being a deniability.
Andrew Hammond: So you go there in 1976. So tell us what was your first job when you get there? What is it you're doing?
Vappala Balachandran: Well, I was doing the analysis work, you know, because I was new to the organization. So I was studying what you call the area studies. We have various deaths, China, Pakistan. Then there is always international terrorism. And I specialized in, in a way, international terrorism. And that is why in '92 and '93, I led the Indian intelligence teams for our annual dialogue with the USA, with the US agencies. So that was set up because by that time, the international terrorism had assumed considerable importance. And it was felt both by the British government and by US government that we should have periodical meetings with India, because we were the major sufferer. I mean, apart from some European countries like France, et cetera, et cetera. So that is my specialization.
Andrew Hammond: So you go to the Research and Analysis Wing and you're an analyst?
Vappala Balachandran: That's right. Yeah. Yeah. That is what I did for about 10, 15 years. I specialize in that. But as a senior officer, as special secretary, I was supervising other departments also.
Andrew Hammond: So for those first 15 years, when you were a counter-terrorist specialist, where were some of the main places that you looked at? Was it all over the world? Was it in the region? Was it Pakistan, Bangladesh?
Vappala Balachandran: We had a serious threat from the Tamil force called LTT, Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam. That was from Sri Lanka. That is a major threat for us for a long time. In fact, our former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was murdered, assassinated by LTT. So that was a major thing. It was not only Pakistan, but also we have a problem of Northeast terrorist units also. We have a Northeast, you know, several states are there and there are a number of ethnic communities are there. And they are also affected by the cross-border terrorism. It is not only Pakistan terrorism that we suffer from. Traditionally, this particular LTT was a major threat to India. And by way of sabotage, by way of disturbance in the South India. So it was a combined almost like the Northern, Western and Southern borders. You see borders also. We were worried about them.
Andrew Hammond: And the Tamil Tigers, did they also have some presence in the very Southern part of India or was it only in Sri Lanka?
Vappala Balachandran: Yeah. They had a very important presence in South India. And they used to -- you know, it's very easy to cross over the very narrow sea between Sri Lanka and the tip of India. So it's very easy for them to take even an ordinary boat and land somewhere where there is no surveillance. So they were infiltrating. Then what happened was that in 1982 or '83, there was a wholesale massacre of Tamils by Simhalas. And there, because of that, a number of refugees, thousands of refugees came out to South India. So these LTT people used to take the cover of refugees and come and set up camps in different areas in Tamil Nadu, which is Madras state, old Madras state. And they turned out to be a very big problem for us. And that was, you know, ultimately, about 10 years ago, the LTT was completely smashed with the help of India by the then Sri Lankan government. And since then, it is not there. But then in between, they created havoc for us. As I mentioned, a former prime minister was killed when he was doing the political canvassing, election canvassing. And so that was a very serious threat that we were getting from South India. And from the Northeast, it was a Chinese help in those days with certain ethnic groups like Nagas. And Bangladesh also was cooperating with Pakistan and sending certain Islamic terrorists to India from the East and from the West. Of course, we used to get cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. So it was a major threat for our existence, as 26-11 terrorist attack revealed in Mumbai in 2008.
Andrew Hammond: And we'll come on to speak about that in a little bit. And just for our listeners, and my memory is a little rusty here. But can you just explain to our listeners why the Tamil Tigers were a threat to India? As I recall, the Tamils are a group that was traditionally persecuted in Sri Lanka. And they wanted to create an independent Tamil state in the north part of the island of Sri Lanka. So why did they kill the Indian prime minister? Why was it a threat to India?
Vappala Balachandran: Yeah. It all started when there was what is called a language issue. That is how it started. When the British were there in Sri Lanka, the Tamils were the favorite sort of community. As you know, Sinhalas are the original people. And then the Tamils went there in two ways. One was in the old days when there was an empire in South India. A part of that empire also covered the northern tip of Sri Lanka. So there is some old settlers, Tamils, who were staying there. Then the British took thousands of Tamils to the southern part of Sri Lanka to work in the plantations. And so they were very loyal and they were English speaking. And the British liked them and they patronized them. And so at that time the language formula was that you will have English, official language, and then Sinhala and Tamil. Then suddenly what happened is that after the independence in Sri Lanka, the Sinhalas completely cut out these Tamils. They started discriminating against them because they were the British government's favorite people. So it started like that. And one thing or the other led to the denotifying Tamils and not recruiting Tamils from the government. So 1982-83 there was a big massacre of Tamils in Colombo. So that led to waves of refugees coming. So the Tamil government in South India, that is Madras state, it is now Tamil Nadu. They impressed upon our Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi that we have to do something to help them. So all the refugees were accommodated in Tamil Nadu. Thousands of them were there in various camps. And then they started negotiations. And finally so many things happened. And what really happened was there was a Prime Minister called JR Jayewardene, a Sinhala Prime Minister. He said, look, we can't tackle the Tamil Tigers because they are very, very violent people. And you have to send your troops, Indian Army vendor. And they stayed there helping JR Jayewardene in tackling the Tamil Tigers. So that turned the LTT against India, saying that, look, you came to help us and now you are turning against, you are helping JR Jayewardene. So then one thing or the other misunderstanding started. And our troops had to help the Sri Lankan government. And then the Indian troops became their enemies. So the one thing led to the other, various misunderstandings.
Andrew Hammond: Okay.
Vappala Balachandran: And in 1992 elections, there was a possibility of Rajiv Gandhi coming back to power through the elections. So they felt that if Rajiv Gandhi comes back, he will not help the Tamil Tigers, although he may help the Tamils in general. So that is the reason why they hatched up a conspiracy and killed him when he was addressing a gathering in Tamil Nadu in a place called Sri Perumbattu. So it's a very convoluted story. And it's because of the leader, a man called Prabhakaran, his paranoia. Actually, Rajiv Gandhi had no such intention. He wanted to help them, but Tigers will not play ball. So that is why they were isolated. Ultimately, the Sri Lankan government waged a war against them. They were annihilated. And now that particular threat is not there. From Sri Lanka, we have no threat right now. India has no such threat. Because these armed elements who are absolutely desperadoes, they are very, very violent people. And otherwise, there was no reason for them to kill Rajiv Gandhi.
Andrew Hammond: And that conflict came to an end in 2009 when the Tamil Tigers were defeated and peace came to Sri Lanka.
Vappala Balachandran: Yes.
Andrew Hammond: I remember as well reading the, just very briefly before we get back to your work with RAW, but I'm assuming that you looked at this, the Tamil Tigers, they actually were the originators and the perfectors of suicide bombing.
Vappala Balachandran: Yeah.
Andrew Hammond: It's often thought that this was a religious practice, but the Tamil Tigers didn't have anything to do with religion, but they're the people that kind of perfected it in the modern sense. Is that correct?
Vappala Balachandran: That's right. You see, this suicide, cyanide bombing, each volunteer of LTTE will carry a small capsule of cyanide. Because if they are caught for interrogation, they will consume the cyanide and then die. So that culture was started by LTTE. And that went on. A number of people committed suicide like that. And they used to have boys' brigade. Young children were abducted from their families. You know, the majority of the Tamils in Sri Lanka didn't want LTTE to do this type of atrocities, you know. And they used to go and, in the beginning, they were quite friendly with the Muslims, but they started raiding and massacring the Muslims. So all sort of because of this man's paranoia, and he suspected his own associates and killed them. So it was like, almost like a demon. He became finally something like a demon. And he had the baby brigades. And they used to be sent. They used to go and ram explosive laden boats, they will go and ram against a battleship. And then another boat will take a video and then circulate, saying that this is how you have to do it. Something like worse than what Osama Bin Laden was doing. Something like that.
Andrew Hammond: One thing that Vappala and I spoke about, but that didn't make the cut, was an interesting twist of fate. That is, that the current leaders of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Scotland, all descend from the Indian subcontinent, at least in part. Rishi Sunak is the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and formerly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the second most important role in the British system. His parents are of Indian Punjabi descent. Leo Varadkar is the current Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, and was the deputy to a previous Taoiseach. His father was born in Bombay, present-day Mumbai, while his mother is from the south-east coast of Ireland. He is also Ireland's first openly gay head of government. Humza Yousaf is the current First Minister of Scotland, assuming office in March 2023, after winning a leadership contest upon the resignation of his predecessor. He was born into a Pakistani Muslim family, his father coming to Scotland from Punjab, Pakistan, barely speaking a word of English to work in a sewing machine factory. His mother was born in Kenya to a South Asian family. I always find it interesting to ask people like yourself, how did you deal with all of the pressure? There's lots of things going on, and there's lots of things that you have to bear in mind. So, just on a personal level, how did you deal with all of that pressure?
Vappala Balachandran: There was a lot of pressure. There was a lot of pressure, especially, for example, certain incidents happening, what will be the repercussions on India. Now, for example, anything that happens in Pakistan, it will have some repercussion in India. And the same thing, Afghanistan, then all the neighboring countries, we have to watch them. You see, there's what is called third country operations, and many of them. And then in between, what happened was that in the 1980s, the Pakistani clandestine bomb making was started. That was again a priority for us to find out exactly. And they were doing a totally clandestine route. And so, that was another problem for us. So then what happens is that even sometimes for some reason or another, as I mentioned, for a long time, an unfriendly regime was there in Bangladesh. So Pakistan and Bangladesh intelligence services used to cooperate. It's not there now. The Prime Minister Sheikh Aziz has put a stop to all that. And as long as Sheikh was there, we had no problem. But when Sheikh was not there, we had a serious problem. And then another thing is that we have to inform the government, prior hand, if there is any incidents which are happening, even the political realm, the Prime Minister would like to be briefed about something surprising happening, even in non-intelligence sectors. For example, politically supposing something happens. It is actually a multifaceted role of the external intelligence. So it is not just -- like for example, there is economic intelligence. That is another thing. And we had a fairly big military division also. Of course, the military intelligence was separately collecting. But we also used to help them, help the government independently. Not along with the military, but we had no control over the military. They used to do their own work. But we used to do it in addition. So these are all various things. And as you rightly said, it was a lot of tension. There was a lot of tension. Tension means the work pressure. And if there is a VIP visit, then again, the security, we are not really in charge of the Prime Minister's security or the President's security. But if there is any threat coming from the foreign country, it was our responsibility. Just as it was our headache to see whether there was any threat to the visiting VIPs. As I mentioned, I had to make a special trip all the way to South Africa to get a briefing. They suspected that there could be an attack on Mandela when he comes to India. So I had to go there and get a briefing and take precautions. We have no role to play within India, but we have to brief our counterparts. That is the VIP security cell and the Intelligence Bureau. So this coordination between the foreign and domestic, that also is a big responsibility.
Andrew Hammond: One thing that I was going to ask was, can you just tell us a little bit, I think that a lot of our audience will be quite fascinated to hear a little bit more about your time on the High Level Committee. This was set up in 2008 to investigate the Mumbai attacks. Maybe you can just refresh our listeners' memories. What were the Mumbai attacks?
Vappala Balachandran: Yeah.
Andrew Hammond: And what were you doing when you were a member of the High Level Committee?
Vappala Balachandran: The Mumbai attack took place on November 26th, it went on till the 29th. Actually, it happened on the 26th night. That is why it is called 26-11. It went on till the 29th. I was not in India. I was actually in the USA attending a Stimson Center conference. So my friends in the State Department asked me to give an idea about who would have done that. Media people also asked me. So I gave a preliminary assessment that it could be Lakhvi Rehman. Then I returned to India after my visit. The Maharashtra government, what happened was that since the attack took place, 10 terrorists came by the sea route from Karachi. Then they played havoc with Mumbai. 10 terrorists are holding the city to ransom. 45,000 policemen were not able to save the city from the destruction done by these 10 terrorists. So there was a very big political storm in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. So the Chief Minister announced that we were going to inquire into this. So he appointed a two-member committee. The Chairman was a former Governor who was also a senior civil servant. The number two was me because I had the police experience of having worked in Mumbai. In those days, it was called Bombay, Bombay Police. I also had the intelligence experience. So I was the number two. Number two means the second member. But practically, the whole report was written by me. Now what I found was that -- that is where we found that OSI, Open Source Intelligence, was not studied properly. Because there were any number of, from 2006 onwards, there were intelligence reports coming from the Central Government that Pakistan is training a special squad of marine terrorists. That means, this time, they would use the sea route to come to India. So then, from 2006 onwards, there were any number of intelligence alerts coming from the Government of India. Now, some of them must have been even given by outside, maybe friendly intelligence services also. But then, the intelligence reports were there. But what happened was that no action was taken by Maharashtra Government by intensifying the sea patrolling or extra vigilance of the sea coast with the effect that these 10 terrorists came without any opposition. They came through a boat and then they stopped their boat a distance away. And then they got into a rubber dinghy which they had bought. And then they divided themselves into five groups and they started their attack. One group went to a hotel called Trident. Trident is also Oberoi. They started operating there. A second one went to a restaurant called Leopold Restaurant, killed about 17 people there. Then from there, they went to Taj Palace, which is one of the very famous hotels in India. They were there till about 29th. Third group went to the very busy railway station. That railway station, anytime you can get about 2,000 people waiting for the trains. And there, they killed the maximum number of people. And the same people went to another hospital where they killed some people. And it was really mayhem. There was no way in which they were resisted by the police, because these 10 commandos had AK-47, they had grenades, they had satellite phones, they had cell phones, and as I mentioned, they had grenades. And they were very well-trained commandos. So for about two, three days, the city was completely devastated. And so, in our inquiry, we found that there was no sea patrolling, there was no intelligence assessment, open-source intelligence. Just in September only, there was a major attack by the Taliban to a Pakistan hotel. And what was significant was, after the threat by the government of India that sea-borne attacks will come, there was a TV channel, television channel, popular television channel, they took a recce of the sea coast because we have a number of vital installations on the sea, like the Bawa Atomic Energy Department, our port, Bombay port is there, then seafront hotels are there. So was there any improvement in security? And the TV channel said that there was no perceptible police presence at all. Still the Maharashtra government did not do anything. That means that they completely neglected the secret intelligence which came, about 16 intelligence reports were there and open-source intelligence. So that is why I am telling that when I keep on saying that OSI gives valuable pointers and then you have to work on that. That is a lesson from 2011. And only one terrorist was caught alive and they had done such deception. They had identity cards in Hindu names and they were speaking, they were specially trained in the special Hindi that is spoken in Bombay. And so they were well-trained in case they are caught and shot dead, they would all say that they were Hindu, they were not Muslims at all. So it was a perfectly well-trained team which set off alarm even in USA. I remember I read in USA Today that this particular attack, the USA at that time felt that a similar attack will come on seacoast installations in USA because the Department of Homeland Security had formalized a protection plan. So there was a panic not only in India but also in USA.
Andrew Hammond: And I just want to go back in time. Your recent book, you look at intelligence over the centuries around the world.
Vappala Balachandran: yeah.
Andrew Hammond: And in the beginning you outlined that one of the reasons that you wrote it was that other books of a similar kind, they overlook the contribution of intelligence practices in ancient India. So I was just wondering if you could tell our listeners a little bit more about that. This could easily be a whole entire podcast in of itself and it would be a really fascinating one. I'm sure most people have heard of Sun Tzu. So just tell us a little bit more about the Indian tradition of intelligence back in the past.
Vappala Balachandran: Yeah. You know, we had, even ancient India had a tradition of having intelligence right from, you know, we called the pre-biblical era as the Vedic age. Vedas were the holy texts that the Aryans who came into India. And so even the Vedic texts, there used to be mentioned about the spies. You know, there were these various, the Aryans, it is reported that they came from either Iran or from Central Asia. And they had employed -- I mean, this Vedic age is 1500 to 1200 before Christ era. And the Vedic texts say that they were employing spasas, is actually spies, to find out what the other tribes are doing. And gradually, you know, the tribes came and then they expanded their territory. And then finally, when the Greeks came to India, Alexander came to India, that was around 350-290 before Christ era. There was a kingdom called Magadha, which is the most, you know, prosperous and very powerful country, I mean, empire. And the emperor was Chandragupta Maurya. And he had his advisor called Chanakya. He was also called Kaudilya. He had two names, one is Chanakya and Kaudilya. And Chanakya, he wrote a book called "Arthashastra". Arthashastra actually, it only means the science of ruling or rather the administrative rule. So he had written this in 15 different books. And the period of Kaudilya or he is also called Chanakya was 4th to 3rd century BC, that is before Christ era. And he had written 15 books and this was almost forgotten. But at the same time, other historians have said that in the Magadha, they were used as -- you know, the spies were used. For example, Bill Durant, the legendary author of the 11-volume "Story Of Civilization", has given a case study of Chandragupta Maurya, who as a ruler of Magadha had unified most of India under one rule. Now, he says that Maurya, Chandragupta Maurya divided his daily schedule into 16 periods, each of 90 minutes. It's something very interesting. And he said that during the 8th period, I quote, he again met his council, council minister and heard the reports of his spies, including the courtesans whom he used for this purpose. The good English translation had come in 1915 in a princely state called Mysore. Mysore was a Maharaja. So one of the historians translated from Sanskrit and wrote a very good English book in 1915. But again, our historians did not know much about it. Now, the description of spies are scattered in 15 different books. Spies are meant to collect domestic and foreign intelligence for various requirements, for internal stability, for detecting traitors and for war and for subverting the earlier rule in captured territories by causing turbulence and stabilizing the invaders' sovereign regime. He had laid down also instructions on deception and covert operations. Now, it's quite possible that the Western world did not know anything about it except through the writings of Max Weber or German-American political scientist Hans Morgenthau. But they didn't lay much emphasis on the spying part. Alan Dulles mentioned in his book, The Craft of Intelligence about Sun Tzu, who also operated around the same age, 400 BC. But he did not mention Chanakya at all. So even in India, the surprising aspect is, the Intelligence Bureau also did not know much about Chanakya. It is not that Chanakya's book was taught in our spy schools or anything like that. In fact, we mostly were teaching the Westerners, the British authors and the American authors. So there was a total ignorance about the contribution of Chanakya. Now, it is quite possible as the foreign authors have said that many of the kings in those days have followed his instructions how to organize a spy service and also how to employ the spies et cetera. Now, there was another most important person called Thiruvalluvar. He is from the South. His name is, you know -- nobody knows really speaking when he lived, but it is assumed that he lived in South India in the 1st century BCE or 2nd century Christ era. Now, he wrote a masterly book called "Thirukkural". Kural means holy couplets, you know, and that particular book had 133 chapters and it is in a poetic form. He was a poet. Basically, he was a poet. He was also supposed to be a sage. And he was giving instruction to the various kingdoms in South India. You know, those days 1,330 Kurals. Kurals are couplets. And 581 to 590, he has mentioned how intelligence is to be obtained. And especially 590 is what we call the trade craft. Even now, you know, we follow certain things like, for example, the need to know restrictive security, how, what deception, what disguise the spy should adopt. All those things are there. And then another thing is that the king should not believe if one spy gives the information and it should be, you know, verified through another spy. This I call intelligence adjudication. This particular thing I started calling it as intelligence adjudication. So that is actually to fill in the gaps to make the picture, you know, complete.
Andrew Hammond: And is this the first podcast that you have done on your book, Bala?
Vappala Balachandran: This is my first.
Andrew Hammond: So we are also the first podcast ever to distribute this knowledge.
Vappala Balachandran: Yes.
Andrew Hammond: You're welcome. You're welcome, History.
Vappala Balachandran: Yeah, that's very kind of you.
Andrew Hammond: You're welcome. Yeah. I mean, I think that the Arthasastra is really fascinating. This is lost for centuries, as I understand it. And then it's only rediscovered a 140 years ago or something. And I mean, it's really, really fascinating when you go through it. It even talks about things like triangulating knowledge or corroborating information. If you get information from three sources, then you can trust it, which is what analysts look for these days. To help you digest the episode, here is a brief snippet on the Sino-Indian War of 1962 between India and China that Bala mentions. Like many modern wars, this was a border dispute. Essentially, where does India end and China begin? We are talking about a 2,100-mile border featuring snowcaps, rivers and lakes at the roof of the world. Yes, the Himalayas are part of the story. And sometimes the line of actual control, a notional demarcation line, is at a height higher than any mountain in the entire Western Hemisphere. Border patrols often bump into one another in the remote region, and both sides are competing to build infrastructure along the border, which in turn can lead to clashes that are sometimes fatal. On October 20th, 1962, Mao Zedong ordered the People's Liberation Army to attack, and a war was fought over the border, which India lost. If you think about the date, at this point, the United States was locked in the Cuban Missile Crisis with the Soviet Union. You may ask, is it a coincidence? Not really. The Indians went on to ask the Kennedy administration for air support, which would lead to the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. But China announced a unilateral ceasefire, withdrawing from much, but not all of the invaded territory. The result was the withdrawal of the USS Kitty Hawk, sweeping changes in the Indian military and the underlying issue, which remains a live one to this day. I know that you're retired now, but you still have your eye on the spy game, on intelligence, because it's your past and you've just written this book on it. So I just wonder if you could just tell our listeners a little bit more about your book.
Vappala Balachandran: So there's always a problem of the economic resources and that is the reason. So that type of fight is going on, which is still not under control. So that is one. The second one is we have, of course, a major problem with the Chinese. You see, because after 1962 war, this is now the time when our relationship with China is quite uncertain. And so we have had border clashes in 2020 in which some of our Indian soldiers are killed. And the problem with China is there was a CIA estimate in 1960 when the Chinese were clashing with the Soviet Union that the CIA had very rightly mentioned that China will rake up the border problem when the political relationship is strained. At that time, Khrushchev and Mao Zedong were having their own fights. So over that, the border clashes took place. And this particular assessment is still valid even with us. Our political relations with China are strained because India is a member of the Quad, the four grouping. That is Australia, Japan, India and America. So because of that, there is a suspicion that we are ganging up with the United States in the South China Seas also, Indian Ocean also. This is the major threat that we may have because they have a large border with us. We had a border in Xinjiang. There is a place called Aksai Chin, which they are claiming as theirs. And then there is a middle sector where again we are facing China near Bhutan. And then the Northeast in Arunachal Pradesh, there is a place in the Northeast called Arunachal Pradesh. And there they say that that is there. Whenever an Indian VIP goes there, they lodge a protest. And so this is going on. The intelligence is connected with this type of threats which are coming. I am not saying that there will be a war or anything like that, but then border skirmishes are likely to happen. They will come and our borders are not demarcated at all. And due to uncertain nature and also the length of the -- we have 2,100 miles of border with China. To demarcate that, they have one interpretation, we have another interpretation. Whatever it is, the problem is we have a double front threat that is from Pakistan. And Pakistan, we don't know what will happen. And Pakistan and China relations are good. And China by itself, even in international forum also, we are sort of facing hostility, more so because of the Quad. So that is the big problem I think we are facing. And then this can happen in various other ways like cyberattack on us as they have been doing with US vital concerns. You know, Pentagon has been attacked by them. So similar thing can happen here also. I don't want to be speculative in my assessment, but these are the major threats that I can flag as an outsider. I am now a student. I am no longer an intelligence operative. I have no access to any secret intelligence. I only have media. So I had based my assessment only on that. These two I have to flag.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. And I think that it is really fascinating because India recently overtook China as the world's most populous country. And I think that also the fact that India is a democracy is quite interesting. Because if countries that don't buy into democracy can undermine Indian democracy, then that is quite an interesting statement on the world stage. So it sounds like there is lots of challenges there. So people that work for the Research and Analysis Wing are not going to close up. They are not going to close the business anytime soon.
Vappala Balachandran: No, no, no. We can't afford to relax. We cannot afford to relax.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah.
Vappala Balachandran: The economic reasons also, because now it is commonly known that India is a very good investment destination. Many foreign countries are coming. Taiwanese corporations are coming. Western, American companies are coming. So there will also be an economic, you know, if they sabotage some of our economic progress, that also will be a danger to India. So we have to be very watchful on various fronts, military, border, economic, cyber, and also with the tie-up with the neighboring countries. They are extending their cooperation with Nepal. They are having a very warm relation with Pakistan. I believe they are now having a very warm relation with Afghanistan also to get into their natural resources. So all these things we have to sort of, you know, we have to be very careful about that in days to come
Andrew Hammond: Wow. Well, thanks ever so much for your time. This has been a fascinating conversation. I really appreciate you sharing your story and your expertise.
Vappala Balachandran: Thank you. Thank you.
Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of "SpyCast". Please follow us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Coming up on next week's show.
So I was very conscious being the first. Not that I had to do it better than my male counterparts, but to be as inclusive as I could be, to make those opportunities available to other women, to just be present and be very available across the community.
Andrew Hammond: If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @IntlSpyCast. If you go to our page at thecyberwire.com/podcast /spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes and full transcripts. I'm your host, Andrew Hammond. My podcast content partner is Erin Dietrich. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincey, Memphis Vaughn III, Emily Coletta, Afou Inokwa, Elliott Pelzman, Trey Hester, Jen Eiben and Emily Renz. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage related artefacts, the International Spy Museum.