India's Greatest Spy Masters: What you never knew


Senior Member
Feb 23, 2009
India's Greatest Spy Masters

08/11/08 | by BruteGorilla Mark -II

This article is a tribute to some of India's greatest spy masters, and the political dynamics that defined their times.

Men of espionage: Not just Spy Masters but Masters of Disguise. A nation like India needs more of them in these turbulent times.

B.N. Mullick

The “father of Indian spooks” who gave shape, structure and system to free India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB ). He was actually its second director (1948-64); the first, T.V. Sanjivi, was shifted out following Mahatma Gandhiji’s assassination (in further trivia, Sanjivi wasn’t the seniormost police officer when India became independent; that gentleman opted for Pakistan).

But Mullick’s 17-year tenure enabled him, in the words of a retired officer, to “lay down the parameters of how intelligence agencies operate” in India (the second-longest tenure was that of current National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, under the late Rajiv Gandhi). Every year Mullick would handpick five or six IPS officers to create the backbone of the organisation.

Arvind.K. Dave

He was the China-expert who warned the government on 8 June 1962 that the Chinese would attack in September if the border was not settled. The intelligence was never relayed down the line, perhaps because, at that time, the Directorate of Military Intelligence had still not settled down — because its predecessor organisation went back to the British War Office after independence.

After the Chinese attack, Dave paid serious attention to border management, and set up the SSB, a then secret organisation which mobilized border residents for preventive action, like behind-the-lines sabotage and subversion, against invaders. He set up many IB posts in remote border areas where there was no access to any supplies.

He was also a communism expert, and played a crucial role in dealing with the Telengana uprising (1946-51). That may have also the reason for his falling out of favour when Mrs Indira Gandhi decided to move politically closer to the communists.

Dave, an intellectual and a legend in intelligence by the late 1960s, was in line to become IB director, but left prematurely after being transferred to the Centre for Police Training. Some say since he was close to Home Minister Y.B. Chavan, Mrs Gandhi wanted to sideline Dave. But he left because he was opposed to the way a new external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was being set up.

The founder of RAW, R.N. Kao, was a rival of Dave’s. Kao, who’d spent time mostly in S-branch (dealing with general security), was not considered by his peers to be a top-notch officer. Kao’s claim to fame was his help to the Chinese in the investigation of the 1955 blowing up of the Kashmir Princess, the aircraft in which Chinese premier Chou En-lai was supposed to travel. Kao developed a proximity with Mrs. Gandhi, which some claim was based on shared ethnicity, and was chosen to set up RAW from the IB’s South Block offices. Dave thought the setting up was haphazard, but Kao’s access and vision won the day.

Dave left government and joined ITC, and ironically became known for his work there, especially in setting up their hotel chain.

K. Sankaran Nair

He was Kao’s number two man, and the man responsible for the 1971 operation that led to the breaking up of Pakistan and the liberation of Bangladesh. At the time, RAW and IB were sharing personnel as the bifurcation of IB into two separate organisations was still in progress. RAW wouldn’t fully settle down till about 1975-76, and then, in 1977, suffered a blow when Prime Minister Morarji Desai, suspicious of its role in domestic politics, decided to trim its wings.

The Bangladesh operation was an exploitation of Pakistan’s mishandling of its east wing. The denial of Prime Ministership to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman led to protests, and the RAW probably helped the insurgent ‘Mukti Vahini’. The key person handing this for Nair was P.N. Bannerji, serving as both joint director of the Calcutta IB and commissioner, RAW.

Bannerji was a friend of Sheikh Mujib. The story is that Bannerji suffered an untimely death in a hotel in Bangladesh. He was sitting, having a cup of tea when he hiccupped and collapsed. No foul play was suspected; officially, he died of a massive heart attack.

In any case, the Bangladesh operations was a success. Nair became the second R&AW chief, after Kao’s retirement in 1977, but lasted only three months; he resigned over Morarji’s decisions regarding RAW. When Mrs Gandhi returned, she asked Nair to review the working of India’s intelligence organisation, and affect a restructuring in the RAW. The RAW has never gotten over its early problems of ad hoc-ism, and as of 2005, still suffered from problems of a lack of cohesiveness, despite having a number of top-notch spies.

G.C. (Gary) Saxena

RAW’s fourth director, from 1983-86, is considered by all the finest India had in the field of external intelligence. And he’s also regarded highly for his two tenures as Governor, J&K; the state was under Governor’s rule when he first took over in 1990, and it was during the worst phase of the Kashmir crisis. Suffice it to say, he was a very hands-on Governor.

As R&AW chief, his specialty was Pakistan. No one talks about what he did, but according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), published reports in Pakistan alleged that a big influx of RAW operatives into Pakistan began in 1983. Over the next decade, they numbered 35,000, according to FAS. Of these, 12,000 worked in Sindh, and 5,000 in Balochistan.

Pakistan’s major terrorism headache in the 1980s was the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Sindh. It was founded by Altaf Hussain in 1984, of the mohajirs who were the refugees and their descendants who migrated from mostly northern India. For them, Punjabi domination had turned Pakistan from a dream into a nightmare; they took to violence, and Karachi throughout the 1980s and 1990's was convulsed by urban terrorism. Some thought it was India’s payback for Punjab. But the government apparently took a decision not to drive Sindh the Bangladesh way.

It’s no wonder that when Gary retired, Rajiv Gandhi appointed him security advisor, and V.P. Singh appointed him Governor. In J&K, he is believed to have reluctantly turned down options for “aggressive, night-time” operations against militants somewhere close by

Ajit Doval

A legend, he’s the best operational man India has ever had. His first success was ending the Mizo insurgency; Laldenga in an 1984 interview claimed that Doval had won over six of his seven army commanders, making peace his only option. Doval had once walked from Aizawl to the Kachin areas in China to meet Mizo cadres.

His next success was turning the tide in Punjab. He was behind successful operations like “Black Thunder” (see illustration) and the rescue of Romanian diplomat Liviu Radu (the mastermind behind the kidnapping was ensnared by a honey trap); he launched pre-emptive operations against various militant groups; and he planned out the 1992 state assembly elections, the most visible step towards normalcy.

He went to Kashmir in the mid-1990s and persuaded militants like Kuka Parrey to become counter-insurgents, targeting hardline anti-India terrorists. This helped pave the way to the 1996 elections, which were said by many to be rigged, but which helped put Kashmir on the path to the wildly successful 2002 elections.

And it was during Doval’s tenure as head of counter-espionage, from 1998-2002, that the largest number of spy rings were uncovered and “neutralised”. He ended his career as the IB Director, though it was a short stint as some in the UPA government perceived him to be close to BJP president Lal Krishna Advani.

A.S. Dulat

Kashmir, from 1988 onwards was the battleground of a cold war between India and Pakistan, and if there is one person who can be credited with getting India through its toughest security challenge in the 1990s, it is this man: A.S. Dulat. No surprise, then, that this lifetime IB official ended his career as RAW chief under the NDA government.

If you go to Kashmir, there is virtually no one in any sphere of life, of consequence, who did not know Dulat. His easy-going way befriended him with politicians both in the mainstream — and among separatists. Some even suspected him of running the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

But that’s not all. During the 1990s, he befriended many terrorists, high and low, and “turned” them — he sent them back to Pakistan. As a result, India came to know in some great detail of the ISI’s Kashmir operation.

But Kashmir is such a thorny problem that Dulat suffered setbacks on occasion — the most notable being the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping case. The daughter of Home Minister Mufti Mohd Sayeed (currently the J&K chief minister) was kidnapped by JKLF militants. Dulat made contact with the father of one kidnapper, and nearly got her unconditionally released — until Mufti opened another channel and made the swap of five JKLF prisoners for her release. It was the event that led to the explosion of militancy in J&K.

He had an intense cat-an-mouse game with the ISI in Kashmir — agents were often double and triple, pretending to work for India but working for Pakistan — but actually working for India. He continued this work at RAW. And after retirement, the then NSA Brajesh Mishra appointed him as an OSD at the PMO.

The above article was published by The Hindustan Times edition on 14th August 2005.

Writer: Aditya Sinha.
Intelligence Review


Feb 17, 2009
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Thanks for the great insight into world of spy, i always wanted to become spy master and to join RAW.

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