Alleged Indian Intelligence Operations Abroad Stir Tensions with Western Allies

US and Australian media reports on alleged overseas operations by Indian “intelligence officials” have caught New Delhi off-guard, stirring disquiet within the establishment. Sources suggest a perceived “concerted pushback” from key Western strategic allies. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Indian operatives were expelled from Australia for attempting to pilfer sensitive defense and airport security information, along with classified data on trade relationships. The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald confirmed the expulsion of two Indian “spies.”

The ABC highlighted a foreign “nest of spies” dismantled by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) in 2020, alleging surveillance on Indian expatriates and forging close ties with current and former politicians. The Washington Post, a day prior, identified an Indian intelligence official implicated in a plot to assassinate pro-Khalistan Sikh separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, seeking connections with senior Indian intelligence and security figures.

Randhir Jaiswal, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, denounced The Washington Post’s report, labeling it as containing “unwarranted and unsubstantiated imputations” on a serious matter. He referenced an ongoing high-level investigation addressing security concerns shared by the US government regarding organized crime and terrorism networks.

ABC disclosed that ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess had hinted at the spy network during his 2021 annual threat assessment, without divulging the country involved. Burgess reportedly detailed how the spies recruited an Australian government security clearance holder with access to sensitive defense technology information. The Indian government has yet to respond to ABC’s revelations, given the lack of official endorsement from the Australian government.

When questioned about allegations linking the Indian government to the “nest of spies,” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong refrained from commenting on intelligence matters but emphasized democratic principles and the resilience of Australian democracy against foreign interference. Sources indicate a shared sentiment in South Block and North Block, housing the Ministries of External and Home Affairs, that Western agencies aim to establish boundaries with India, a key Quad grouping partner.

The timing, amidst a heated election season in India, bolsters New Delhi’s belief that Western partners prefer a more “sensitive” approach from the next government regarding overseas operations, particularly in certain countries.