His name is not really Raghav Singh, but for current purposes it will do. He has many names. He is an Indian spy operating on the Chinese border. On a morning last October when the spectacular Malinja landscape, full of bamboo groves, was coming to life, Raghav switched on his high frequency camera to capture Chinese activities on the other side. Neither he, nor his guide saw two Chinese PLA jeeps that emerged, heading straight towards them.
“I quickly jumped into the thick foliage. Minutes later I heard gunshots. I don’t know if they were firing at us or only just trying to scare us, but we abandoned our normal path and opted for a longer route through thick pine forests. We were lost for three days but finally managed to reach our base camp with great piece of intelligence,” Raghav chuckles.
So what happens if spies are caught? “The Chinese have small customised tin boxes for prison cells. You cannot sit or stand in them. The Chinese will put you in one for at least two days before interrogation begins. They completely break you even before they ask your name,” Raghav says.
Unlike army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), espionage activities are very adventurous along the LAC in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. A source says India has installed high-altitude surveillance cameras at observation posts, which work as collection and analysis network. Although technical experts man these, whenever the Chinese transgress into India, they break the machines. “We have never lodged a formal complaint because we are asked not to raise petty issues.”
Raghav says frequent Chinese transgression has made trans-border espionage operations unfeasible. They now rely mostly on passive intelligence picked up by high frequency cameras.
An official in the National Security Council acknowledges that the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing were wrongly blamed for intelligence failure on the Chinese incursion in Daulat Beg Oldi sector in April. Their warnings up to a week prior to the incursions were ignored.
A senior intelligence official says India has excellent penetration regarding Chinese border activities. Many undercover spies are recruited from border villages and trained. The advantage is that they speak the local dialect and are confident facing the dragon.
“All major points in Arunachal, Sikkim and Ladakh have observation posts. Most are on top of hills, providing excellent strategic advantage to snoop on Chinese camps below. We have an operations map showing Chinese routine 24/7. If there is any deviation spotted, we immediately inform our supervisors,” the source said.
The Chinese observation post cannot see what is happening in India—the primary reason attributed by Indian intelligence to the rising incursions. The Chinese want to know whether we are building roads or deployed equipment to build infrastructure.
“Whenever we tried to build in sensitive sectors, the Chinese have raised objections and we were asked to abort. They protest even if we fly choppers inside our own territory at the border. An Army captain who was recently injured couldn’t be evacuated for two days because the Ministry of External Affairs had to be informed, which in turn would inform China about the medical emergency,” an official adds.