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Intelligence and the Sino-Indian War of 1962

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The 1962 war between India and China was marked by lapses in intelligence performance on the part of the defeated country, India. These lapses originated from resource constraints and lack of analytical experience. A civilian agency with a policing culture was tasked with collecting and assessing military intelligence. The result was an inability to appreciate the profound impact that subtle differences in Chinese domestic calculations and military postures could have on Beijing’s readiness to escalate hostilities.


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  1. 1.

    On various aspects of Indian intelligence before and during the 1962 war see: Mahadevan 2008, 2011; Hoffmann 1972 and, controversially, Maxwell 2000.

  2. 2.

    Hoffman 2006, pp. 182–183.

  3. 3.

    Subrahmanyam and Monteiro 2005, p. 72. Vertzberger 1984, p. 196. It needs to be mentioned however, that Mr. Subrahmanyam subsequently distanced himself from his earlier findings in an interview with the author on 7 September 2008. He claimed to have developed a view that the failure extended to both collection and analysis, which would fit the argument of this chapter.

  4. 4.

    Askew 2002, p. 201.

  5. 5.

    Davies 2004, pp. 499–500.

  6. 6.

    As one writer has noted, organizational mindsets ‘become an Achilles heel to a professional strategist or intelligence analyst when they become out of date because of new international dynamics’. This is precisely what happened to the IB in 1962. George 2004, p. 387.

  7. 7.

    Interestingly, this problem seems to have been noted right from the time civilian intelligence agencies were created in the UK prior to the First World War. Bennett 2014, p. 55.

  8. 8.

    Pascovich 2014, pp. 236–237.

  9. 9.

    The words most commonly featured in Indian discourse on the 1962 war are ‘betrayal’ and ‘aggression’. Regimental museums in the Indian Army for instance, refer to soldiers killed during the 1962 War as ‘martyrs to Chinese aggression’. Bhola Nath Mullik, a former IB chief who headed the agency between 1950 and 1964 and thus played a decisive role in the events described here, later saw fit to subtitle one volume of his memoirs as ‘The Chinese Betrayal’. Mullik 1971.

  10. 10.

    Mullik 1971, p. 230.

  11. 11.

    Chen 2006, pp. 85–86.

  12. 12.

    Khanduri 2006, p. 323.

  13. 13.

    Cited in Hoffmann 1972, pp. 970–971.

  14. 14.

    Guruswamy 2006, pp. 224–226.

  15. 15.

    Many years later, an IB official who had drafted assessments of Chinese intentions in 1962 observed that warning analysis must also extend to studying the defensive capabilities of one’s own side. He noted that although this task was normally outside the mandate of intelligence agencies, it was necessary in order to prepare policymakers for dealing with the aftermath of a shock defeat. Dave 2006, p. 32.

  16. 16.

    Verghese 2012.

  17. 17.

    Palit 1991, pp. 97–98.

  18. 18.

    CIA 1963a, b, p. 32.

  19. 19.

    Grabo 2004, p. 114.

  20. 20.

    Interview of former senior IB officer by the author. The officer later transferred to the Research and Analysis Wing (India’s foreign intelligence service) upon the latter’s creation in 1968. Interview date: 25 July 2008, location withheld.

  21. 21.

    Bhargava 1964, pp. 64–65.

  22. 22.

    CIA (1963b) central Intelligence Agency—Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room, accessed online at on 28 July 2014, p. 18 and p. 41.

  23. 23.

    Arpi 2004, p. 128 and Chakravarti 1961, pp. 56, 60.

  24. 24.

    Malhotra 2005, p. xxxii.

  25. 25.

    Mullik 1971, pp. 329–333, 410.

  26. 26.

    Karnow 1990, pp. 438–439; Brugger 1981, pp. 240, 255.

  27. 27.

    Dhar 2009, pp. 132–139.

  28. 28.

    In 1958, Mao had precipitated an international crisis by ordering artillery bombardment of two small islands in the Taiwan Strait. He later explained the logic of this action: ‘A tense situation helps to mobilize people, in particular those who are backward, those middle-of-the-roaders’. Quoted in Dikotter 2011, p. 45.

  29. 29.

    Mullik 1971, p. 195.

  30. 30.

    Mullik 1971, pp. 498–499.

  31. 31.

    Dalvi 1969, p. 123.

  32. 32.

    Official 1962 War History, Ministry of Defence, Government of India, accessed at, on 28 July 2014, p. 430.

  33. 33.

    Worthing 2007, pp. 165–166; Prasad Varma 1965, p. 113.

  34. 34.

    Mehra 2007, p. 181.

  35. 35.

    Sukumaran 2003, pp. 341–343.

  36. 36.

    Bhat 1967, p. 66.

  37. 37.

    Hudson 1957, pp. 181–182.

  38. 38.

    Palit 1991, pp. 160–161.

  39. 39.

    Central Intelligence Agency 1964, p. v.


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Mahadevan, P. (2017). Intelligence and the Sino-Indian War of 1962. In: Baudet, F., Braat, E., van Woensel, J., Wever, A. (eds) Perspectives on Military Intelligence from the First World War to Mali. T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague.

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