A few days after two soldiers were arrested on charges of spying, Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee revealed that he is “deeply concerned that there were spies in the army” but the establishments has started initiatives “to unravel the spy rings.” Preliminary investigations have revealed Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) sponsored spy rings operating between New Delhi and Katmandu but he was quick to add that neither of the two soldiers was senior enough to gain access to classified information of operational and strategic importance.
A special branch of the Delhi Police in cooperation with the Intelligence Bureau (IB) which arrested these soldiers disagreed. They say that those arrested may have developed their own sources in the army through personal contact with fellow soldiers, some of whom would have functioned as couriers and messengers involved in physically transferring files and data between different offices. Documents recovered from one the arrested contained highly sensitive material. Mukherjee himself acknowledges that more senior officers may be involved and the investigation is focused on nailing “the kingpins” and that this only the tip of the ice-berg. But Mukherjee says that a “more detailed investigation” is in progress and the focus is on ensuring that “such things don’t happen again.”
There are several open questions on those arrested. Anil Kumar Dubey and Ritesh Kumar Vishwakarma are both Hindus and investigators do not know if they belong to the same module although the Delhi Police says that the arrests are not related. Mukherjee says that the standard operating procedure is to place those involved in “suspicious activity” under surveillance and that is how the arrests were made. One was a signalman in Leh and was caught while handing over a large number of classified documents, 3 rolls of film, and a pen drive containing information about troop deployment in Jammu and Kashmir . The other was a Havaldar (senior) clerk in the Army group insurance Directorate. A Pakistani Embassy staffer (driver) involved in collecting the documents has been arrested and handed over to the Embassy. Both individuals were in position of handling sensitive information relating to codes, positions, status of files, procurement process, deployment positions, etc. Although the full nature of information passed on is unknown and Military Intelligence input is being sought, the police say that the soldiers were paid Rs. 20,000 (USD 450) for their cooperation.
Concurrently, the Army is also reportedly investigating reports of a tie-up
Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and some serving Rashtriya Rifles (RR) personnel in the Home and Hearth battalions based in Poonch and Rajouri border areas of Jammu. The RR is group formed to fight terrorism and their alleged nexus with terrorists groups is alarming.
Mukherjee is rightfully stressing on the need for internal intelligence gathering mechanism as means to deal with such threats. However, he is also unnecessarily being defensive in dealing with the issue but that may be because of the political practice in India of castigating a Minister for even a minor error in the area that he may control. As a senior politician, Mukherjee needs to forcefully voice the issues without sugar-coating them and also propose ways of fixing the issues.
Meanwhile, a day after the National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan had said that India did not have “clinching” but “pretty good” evidence on the ISI’s role in the Mumbai 7/11 train blasts, Home Secretary V.K. Duggal
refuted the statement saying that the evidence was “fairly solid.” The
Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) immediately jumped on Narayanan’s remarks accusing him damaging India ’s case. This is sort of controversy that the nation can ill-afford when fighting a shrewd organization such as the ISI.
These comments were also ill-timed as it coincided with a briefing for Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Deputy Director (Intelligence) Karmen Medina and National Intelligence Council’s South Asia Head Nancy Powell by Foreign Secretary Shivshanker Menon. In the one hour briefing, Menon cited a Mumbai police report that blamed the ISI for master-minding the operation and executed by 11 Pakistanis of the LeT killing 200 people. The Americans also briefed the Indian side on the resurgence of Taliban and the huge strategic and security implications of these developments. Reportedly, a Russian team will also be in Delhi for a meeting of the joint working group to deal with terrorism.
Narayanan in a TV interview said that if Pakistan continues to deny and give a “negative answer” then India could call off the out-of-the-box joint mechanism. India would like to give Pakistan to act on the information first before such decision is made.
The danger of ISI infiltrating came up when several 50 detonators, safety fuse, and wire were found concealed below vermicelli packets inside the Punjab Regimental Center at Ramgarh, about 30 kilometers from Ranchi. A Muslim civilian apprentice at a tailoring unit inside the campus was arrested with the detonators and a half written note in Hindi that said: “Sending the stuff through Ansari; send back Lovely from your end.” Police say that “Lovely” is a code and may mean money or something else. Apparently, the civilian and another apprentice have been working at the tailoring shop for a year and a half. Ansari, the caught civilian, managed to get past the first gate but was caught at the second. He has reportedly implicated the other apprentice Mazhar, who is missing.
If such dangerous material can be transported into such a high security installation, it speaks volumes about the dangers to other less protected locations.