SpyCast 9.19.23
Ep 603 | 9.19.23

“Former Senior Indian Intelligence Officer” – R&AW Special Secretary Vappala Balachandran

Show Notes


Vappala Balachandran (Wikipedia) joins Andrew (TwitterLinkedIn) to discuss his career and the ancient roots of espionage in India. Bala formerly served as Special Secretary for India’s Cabinet Secretariat.  

What You’ll Learn


  • India’s Research and Analysis Wing
  • The Tamil Tigers’ threat to Indian national security
  • Intelligence considerations within India-Pakistan relations
  • Lessons in intelligence from Ancient India


  • Intelligence, the 2nd oldest profession
  • Transitioning from leader to student

And much, much more …

Episode Notes

This week on SpyCast, Andrew was joined by Vappala Balachandran, former Special Secretary for the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) in India. Bala spent two decades serving as the #2 leader of Indian intelligence and has since authored four books on intelligence and espionage. His most recent book, “ Intelligence Over Centuries” explores the history of spycraft from pre-biblical times through the current conflict in Ukraine. In this episode, Bala and Andrew discuss his time in India’s Research & Analysis Wing and explore the often-overlooked early roots of intelligence in Indian history. 

This episode is part four of our five-part Spy Chiefs special series. If you haven’t yet, listen in to our episodes with former CIA Director David Petraeus, former Director of Kenyan Intelligence Wilson Boinett, and current Irish Garda Assistant Commissioner Michael McElgunn


Bala’s home state Kerala is known not only for its beautiful landscape, high literacy rate, and matrilineal traditions, but also its notable linguistic and religious diversity. This is evidenced by Kerala being home to India’s oldest mosque (c. 629 AD), Catholic church (c. 52 AD), and synagogue (c. 1568). And yes, hundreds of years later, these places of worship are still active! 

Quotes of the Week

“There was a lot of pressure. There was a lot of pressure, especially, for example: Certain incidents happening – What would be the repercussions in India? Now, anything that happens in Pakistan, it will have some repercussions in India. And, same thing in Afghanistan, and then all the neighboring countries, we are to watch them.” – Vappala Balachandran.




*Beginner Resources*



  • Intelligence Over Centuries, V. Balachandran (Indus Source Books, 2023)
  • The War that Made R&AW, A. Nandakumar (Westland, 2021)
  • Keeping India Safe: The Dilemma of Internal Security, V. Balachandran (HarperCollins, 2017)
  • India’s External Intelligence, V.K. Singh (ManasPub, 2007)



Primary Sources 

*Wildcard Resource*

  • Interestingly, the two most recent episodes of SpyCast have featured intelligence chiefs from Ireland and India – Two countries that gained their independence from Great Britain around the same time in the 20th century.
  • Check out this article and this article to learn more about the connections within their struggles for independence. Two countries across the world from one another, but with very interesting ties …