New Delhi — In the shadowy James Bond world of spies, New Delhi finds a special place. Suddenly it has emerged as an information center for both the East and the West concerning India's neighbors -- Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
India is spending upward of $300 million annually in the shadowboxing. KGB agents from the Russian bloc are fighting it over with the American CIA, and with the British and West German interlligence networks.
Right in the heart of New Delhi's diplomatic jungle, even Soviet journalists have been known to claim that the marbled building of the Russian embassy is fitted with enough electronic devices to tap any telephone conversation within 18 miles of the mission.
The modern US Embassy, with its marble, steel, and glass facade, stands cheek by jowl with the Soviet Embassy.
One of the jokes here is that when American brief their correspondents on the rebel activity in Afghanistan, Russians meticulously tape the entire proceedings.
But a series of articles in the highly respected Daily Statesman has dropped strong hints that the KGB, with its 80 or 100 operatives, is winning the spy game in the national capital.
According to a senior intelligence analyst, the Russians have been expecially successful in cultivating contacts with people in sensitive positions.
Some Western sources claim that the Russian agents are "everywhere" -- in almost every ministry, newspaper office, and other key establishment.
This may be a tall claim, but Indian Central Intelligence Bureau and other Indian intelligence agencies have tried in vain to locate these "moles." Sometimes, they can ferret out an agent. But cases of Russian diplomats being pushed out of the country are quite rare.
According to some Western experts, the Indian government is quite aware of the doings of the KGB operatives. Its counterespionage wing is fairly active. They know who the Indian contacts of the KGB people are, but unless they find reliable evidence of Indian officials passing on classified information to Russians and their friends, it is impossible to arrest them.
A few years ago, a sensational case was launched by the government when a senior Information Ministry official was caught passing on classified information to diplomats of the Romanian Embassy. The official fought with his back to the wall. But he eventually was jailed for life. Such cases are few and far between.
One reason such cases are rare, according to the intelligence community here, is that the Intelligence Bureau is far too busy chasing politicians, trade unions officials, and even journalists to be able to spot a real catch.
The Soviet Union is also known to have access to information that may be denied to the West because of Moscow's involvement in military deals with India.
The Statesman report suggests that telephones of officials, journalists, ministers, judges, and other senior officials are being tapped, sometimes illegally.
Mrs. Gandhi is not entirely satisfied with the performance of the intelligence agencies. She has, therefore, appointed an old hand in this game, Ram Nath Kao, to help improve operations.
Mr. Kao had lost his intelligence post under Mrs. Gandhi's Janata Party predecessor, Prime Minister Morarji Desai. The Janata government had disbanded most of India's domestic intelligence operations and shaken up overseas operations as well.
As one intelligence report says, "Desai did not realize this, but it was a disaster. We lost much valuable time and we could not gather information vital to India's security."
What India is really worried about is the threat from Pakistan. Indian intelligence is forever on the lookout for Pakistani agents who might have collected vital defense information.
New Delhi once had links with the Central Intelligence Agency in Washington and exchanged information with the American intelligence community. Similar links were devised with the British and the West Germans. But now the linkage with the West is almost over.
What worries Western diplomats is that New Delhi may rely too much on the KGB apparatus for information on developments outside of India. This runs the risk that senior officials may be fed misleading information.
Soviet concern stems from a possible link between the American CIA and the Chinese. The result may be of serious consequence to Moscow, which fears the possibility of being surrounded by a cooperative arrangement consisting of the Americans, Chinese, and Pakistanis.
That fear is one reason the KGB forges links with Indian officials.
From time to time the Soviets have passed valuable information to New Dehli. This makes India less likely to distrust the Russians -- no matter what the Americans might say.
With the possibility of a stepped-up flow of US arms to Pakistan, Indians are finding it hard not to consider the United States as an "adversary." This adversary relationship, notes one senior analyst, is reflected in almost all contacts between New Delhi and Washington.