By B. Raman
According to a report carried by “The Hindu” of April 4, 2013, “the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT), a Government-run research university known for its work on China’s space programme, signed on April 3 a first of its kind Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Karnataka-based Manipal University paving the way for closer collaboration on joint research projects.”
The report adds that the Manipal Universirty will sign on April 5 an MOU with BIT’s sister university, the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in southern Jiangsu province.
The report also says: “Both universities have ties to China’s space programme and also run research and development programmes related to defence projects.”
For China, research and espionage are synonymous .Chinese universities and nuclear and space research establishments often provide academic cover to their intelligence officers for the collection of intelligence.
A Chinese university in Shanghai allegedly collaborates with China’s offensive cyber intelligence set-up to enable the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) develop a capability for infiltrating foreign cyber networks.
Strengthening counter-intelligence capabilities against China is a priority task for Western intelligence agencies and particularly for the US intelligence community. Since the Chinese intelligence techniques for the collection of nuclear and space related intelligence from the US came to notice during the Clinton Administration, the US Government has considerably strengthened its counter-intelligence capability against China. This subject is constantly under review by the Congressional Intelligence Oversight Committees. The US intelligence agencies are cautious in vetting and clearing academic exchange programmes with Chinese academic institutions which are suspected to act as Trojan Horses for the Chinese intelligence.
Our intelligence and counter-intelligence capabilities relating to China are weak. After the 1962 war, we found that China had more intelligence about us than we had about China. Since then steps have been taken to improve our capabilities for counter-intelligence against China. There are still deficiencies.
For the Chinese intelligence agencies, among priority targets in their briefs for intelligence collection in India are our space establishments in and around Bengaluru and our space launching sites on the East coast. Another penetration target for them is the Indo-Russian Brahmo project.
The presence of Chinese space experts in Manipal will enable the Chinese to use Manipal as a base for putting in place an intelligence collection network under the cover of an academic exchange programmne.
When asked about the security aspects of the programme, Shri M. D. Nalapat, Honorary Director of the Department of Geopolitics of the Manipal University, has stated as follows: “It makes no sense for us to avoid dealing with China when every other country in the world is embracing China—even the US and the EU, where universities are having far more in-depth engagement than what we are proposing.”
It is a simplistic argument which can prove counter-productive. No one can object to in-depth exchanges with Chinese institutions in fields like humanities, special areas like energy conservation, pollution control, disaster management etc. But before engaging in exchanges in very sensitive fields like nuclear and space research, we have to be certain that we have the required counter-intelligence capability to prevent the Chinese from misusing the exchanges for intelligence collection and sabotage like injecting computer viruses into the computer networks of our nuclear and space establishments. We had seen what happened in Iran.
The Manipal University’s initiative needs close scrutiny from the Counter-Intelligence angle before it is cleared by our intelligence community.
About the author: B. Raman
B. Raman was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: [email protected]