Disinfo Lab Operated By Indian Intelligence Operatives, Claims US Publication

Claims the Lab is running a disinformation campaign to discredit foreign critics of the Modi government

Disinfo Lab Operated By Indian Intelligence Operatives, Claims US Publication

Alleged disclosures of funding sources and relationships of US-based critics of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government by an opaque organisation are, in fact, the work of a secretive group of Indian intelligence operatives working to 'expose' actors critical of the Modi government, a report in The Washington Post has claimed.

The report looked into the people allegedly behind Disinfo Lab, an organisation that has combined "fact-based research with unsubstantiated claims to paint US government figures, researchers, humanitarian groups and Indian American rights activists as part of a conspiracy, purportedly led by global Islamic groups and billionaire George Soros, to undermine India".

The report stated that Disinfo Lab - not to be confused with EU DisinfoLab - does not disclose its affiliations but describes itself as a "separate legal entity" seeking "completely unbiased research". But the report claims that the Lab was set up in mid-2020 and is run by an Indian intelligence operative Lt Col Dibya Satpathy, to discredit foreign critics of the Modi government, with targets including US officials and uncovering anti-India information.

The Washington Post report, however, does not name any sources who accuse Lt Col Satpathy of setting up the mysterious organisation since they feared retribution by the Indian government.

The Lab uses influence as a tool to counter the influence of those whom it seeks to discredit. It does so by gaining critical mass and virality on social media as its reports are shared by high-profile figures with large social media followings on social media platforms, particularly on 'X', formerly known as Twitter. These figures include current and former leaders of India's ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), former military and intelligence officials and even incumbent cabinet members. 

An analysis by The Washington Post found that of the 250 most-followed accounts that reposted Disinfo Lab content, 35 were current or former BJP officials, 14 were government or military leaders, 61 journalists, authors or influential thought leaders and 140 other influencers and content creators.

The Washington Post stated that it based this on an analysis of 100,000 reposts of Disinfo Lab content on X. 

The report claimed that reposts by such high-profile individuals give Disinfo Lab content credibility and boost its ability to intimidate targeted critics.

Dinsfo Lab, The Washington Post stated, demonstrates how the BJP and its allies have expanded their circle of propaganda and influence internationally.

Further, the suggestion that an intelligence operative has been running the Lab suggests that the line between national security operations conducted abroad that serve the country's national interests have been intertwined with serving political agendas benefitting a particular party currently in power, analysts The Washington Post spoke to said.

The report claims that Lt Col Satpathy, who used to adopt the moniker Shakti in his interaction with the media has either sought favourable coverage for India or critical coverage of adversaries such as Pakistan and China, according to five people who had media contact with Satpathy. In fact, Pakistan was a major target for Satpathy, The Post claimed.

The description of Disinfo Lab's template for targeting critics is usually described as "doxxing", where private information, sometimes confidential and identifiable, relating to a target is released publicly with a framing suggesting attacks on the individual.

In this way, Disinfo Lab has doxxed a California-based journalist and, on another occasion, a member of Congress such as Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash).

One common thread in most Disinfo Lab reports was to link targets with funding from Pakistan or Islamic groups.

On one occasion, Satpathy's associates fed documents allegedly from Pakistan to former Portuguese diplomat Bruno Macaes, who has written books on the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Macaes confirmed being approached by some people who identified themselves as Pakistani dissidents. Macaes said he ultimately did not write about the documents.