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Shipbuilder threatens legal action to stop Australian reports on Scorpene leak

An Australian newspaper that broke the story on document leaks concerning six Scorpene submarines being built for India said on Sunday a French shipbuilder at the centre of the scandal has threatened legal action “to prevent further publication of the information contained in 22,400 secret documents”.

india Updated: Aug 29, 2016 01:11 IST
Nisheeth Upadhyay
File photo of the Indian Navy's Scorpene submarine INS Kalvari being escorted by tugboats as it arrives at Mazagon Docks Ltd, a naval vessel ship building yard, in Mumbai.
File photo of the Indian Navy's Scorpene submarine INS Kalvari being escorted by tugboats as it arrives at Mazagon Docks Ltd, a naval vessel ship building yard, in Mumbai.(Reuters File Photo)

An Australian newspaper that broke the story on document leaks concerning six Scorpene submarines being built for India said on Sunday a French shipbuilder at the centre of the scandal has threatened legal action “to prevent further publication of the information contained in 22,400 secret documents”.

French naval contractor DCNS was left reeling after details from the documents relating to the submarines were published in The Australian newspaper this week, sparking concerns about its ability to protect sensitive information.

On Saturday, the journalist who reported the leak said the material posted online by his newspaper was “just the tip of the iceberg,” cautioning India that the data’s interception by foreign intelligence agencies in its original form could be damaging.

“The move by DCNS (to threaten legal action)… comes as a former commander of the US Pacific Fleet Submarine Force warned that the Scorpene leaks scandal would undermine confidence in the ability of French companies to protect classified information,” The Australian reported on Sunday.

“The company is also seeking a court order to force The Australian to hand over the documents and remove them from its website,” it added.

The French shipbuilder said earlier this week that the leak bore the hallmarks of “economic warfare” carried out by frustrated competitors.

The secret data on India’s Scorpene submarines was accessed by an unknown number of people working for a private company in a Southeast Asian country and even placed on an internet server where it was vulnerable to hacking and interception.

The leaked data, which has forced the Indian Navy to assess the vulnerability of Scorpene submarines ordered from DCNS under a $3.5 billion deal, is believed to have been “removed” from the firm in Paris in 2011 by a former French navy officer, according The Australian.

The data that has been leaked is reported to have details such as specifications of the torpedo launch system and functioning of the above-water and underwater sensors.

The whistleblower in the leaks plans to surrender the disk containing the documents to the Australian government on Monday and was quoted as saying: “In the wake of the recent future submarine decision (in Australia) this matter went from one of a very serious breach for both France and India to a matter of national security significance to Australia and the US.”

On Sunday, The Australian quoted an affidavit by DCNS’s lawyer as saying: “The publication of this highly valuable document causes a direct harm to DCNS and its customer in terms of spread of sensitive and restricted information, image and reputation.”

The Indian government has so far maintained the leaked information does not cause any major concern, while an analysis of the data is underway to ascertain the level of information contained in the secret documents.

Defence minister Manohar Parrikar said on Friday the leaked information did not contain data on the weapon systems.

“We are waiting for the report. Basically what is on the website (of The Australian) is not of concern to us but we are assuming on our own that this has been leaked and we are taking all precautions,” Parrikar said.

The Australian said it had redacted the most sensitive details from the documents before publishing them.