Friday, October 2, 2009

Indian Defence officer discloses 'sensitive info' to fake caller

Believe it or not, a person apparently managed to extract some ``sensitive information'' from a senior military officer over the telephone by posing as a joint secretary in the defence ministry. Thrown into a tizzy by this recent audacious espionage bid, a diktat has now been issued in the defence ministry as well as the Army, Navy and IAF HQs, which forbids all officers from discussing ``top-secret, secret or confidential'' matters on phone. "All communications are vulnerable to interception. Security of information is, therefore, of paramount importance in the Defence HQ security zone,'' says the ominous security alert, issued by South Block's chief security officer on September 16.


The alert specifies that the person who made the telephone call was ``an official from a foreign embassy'' but does not name the country. Sources, however, said Pakistan was the primary suspect. The entire episode began with the embassy official calling up the landline of a senior IAF officer at Air HQ here. Identifying himself as the joint secretary (air) in MoD with effortless elan, he sought some specific classified information. Taken in by the act, the unsuspecting IAF officer revealed the ``sensitive information'' to him. ``He failed to check the identity of the caller,'' says the alert. The cat was let out of the bag when the IAF officer apparently called the joint secretary -- this time the correct one -- to check something later.


IAF, however, was quick to strongly deny any classified information had leaked through any such an incident in the recent past. ``We do get such fake calls quite often but we have procedures in place to prevent leakages,'' claimed a senior officer. But the MoD security alert, being circulated in the corridors of power now, does indeed mention the ``recent'' espionage episode. It goes on to warn that ``every care'' should be taken to prevent the ``inadvertent leakage of classified information'' while discussing matters over the telephone.


A caller's credentials must be established ``beyond any doubt'', says the alert, adding officers would do well to carefully read the relevant chapter on ``security of communication'' in the Manual of Security Instructions, 2008. ``Follow them in letter and spirit,'' it says. This, of course, is not the first time such calls have been made to elicit information from officers, juniors and seniors alike. ``Some do get conned. In one incident, an officer's wife was fooled into giving his unit's forward location,'' said an officer.


Incidentally, around 10 armed forces personnel have been convicted and dismissed from service after they were found guilty of espionage in the last three-four years. ``Pakistan-based military intelligence organisations and ISI have been identified for involvement in spying activities against India,'' held defence minister A K Antony, during a recent Parliament session.



``Regular security review is carried out from time to time with a view to sensitise the environment for making the security apparatus foolproof. Awareness programmes are also being conducted to sensitise all members of armed forces and their families regarding the threat perception and modus operandi being adopted by the adversaries,'' he added.

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