Washington Post exposes covert Indian operation targeting US critics of Prime Minister Modi

The investigative report exposes the Modi government’s secret disinformation campaign aimed at discrediting opponents.

Published : Dec 11, 2023 20:57 IST - 3 MINS READ

The report alleges that the Disinfo Lab was founded and led by Dibya Satpathy, an intelligence officer with ties to RAW.

The report alleges that the Disinfo Lab was founded and led by Dibya Satpathy, an intelligence officer with ties to RAW. | Photo Credit: KACPER PEMPEL

An in-depth investigation by The Washington Post published on December 10 reveals a complex covert operation run by a shadowy organisation called the Disinfo Lab. Since 2020, the organisation has been targeting US-based critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi through dossiers and social media posts.

Presenting itself as an unbiased research entity, the Disinfo Lab has been accused of mixing facts with unsubstantiated claims to portray US government officials, researchers, humanitarian groups, and Indian American activists as part of a global conspiracy against India. “In each instance, these allegations have gone viral on Indian social media after they were amplified by pro-Modi influencers, who at times used the group’s findings to validate their own positions,” said the report prepared by Gerry Shih, Clara Ence Morse, and Pranshu Verma.

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The report alleges that the Disinfo Lab was founded and is currently led by Lt. Col. Dibya Satpathy, a 39-year-old intelligence officer with ties to India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Initially composed of approximately a dozen private contractors, the organisation operates out of New Delhi and engages in covert operations aimed at discrediting foreign critics of the Modi government, stated the report.

Influence beyond borders

The Disinfo Lab’s activities highlight the growing reach of online propaganda campaigns orchestrated by the BJP and its allies, extending far beyond traditional domestic targets. The organisation’s extensive connections to right-wing Indian and Hindu nationalist figures, including prominent members of the BJP, and intelligence and military officials, underscore its significant influence on social media, particularly X (formerly Twitter).

According to the report, analysts have expressed unease over the blurred lines between India’s national security interests and political objectives, drawing parallels to Cold War-era KGB (Russian intelligence agency) tactics. In the report, experts argue that if Indian intelligence is indeed involved in discrediting American critics, it reflects the broader attitude of the Modi government towards dissent.

In its 28 published reports, the Disinfo Lab frequently portrays India as under attack by a vast “nexus” funded by entities like Pakistani intelligence, the Muslim Brotherhood, and billionaire George Soros. The reports allege connections between these funds and various US-based individuals critical of Modi, including Democratic Party member and US Representative Pramila Jayapal and Indian American activists.

The Disinfo Lab’s reports gain global traction when amplified by pro-Modi influencers and cited by Indian officials on television and Capitol Hill. The investigation identifies key BJP figures like Tajinder Bagga, Sanju Verma, and Kapil Mishra as having significantly contributed to spreading Disinfo Lab content.

International fallout

The Washington Post reveals instances where Disinfo Lab reports have influenced US lawmakers and impacted debates on issues like India’s pandemic response and legislation on caste-based discrimination. The Disinfo Lab’s work has ignited concerns about foreign influence on and misinformation among American citizens.

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In its only known interview, the Disinfo Lab acknowledged its founding in 2020 by individuals with political and marketing backgrounds. It claimed to rely on conventional open-source intelligence-gathering methods and emphasised its role in countering a “narrative war” against India.

In response to The Washington Post’s inquiries, the Disinfo Lab denied any affiliation with government agencies and maintained its stance as an independent organisation dedicated to exposing disinformation. Attempts to reach Lt. Col. Dibya Satpathy for comment were unsuccessful, and National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, did not respond to requests for comment, said the report.

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