Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) heaving a sigh of relief that Manmohan Singh is beyond US' National Security Agency’s (NSA) worldwide spying programme because he does not use cell phones or emails will have to do a rethink.
When the NSA was tracking Osama Bin Laden, a man who never used cell phones or emailed, they targeted his cook, his couriers and his wives. Some of them did use cell phones and a call by his courier finally did him in.
The NSA has created a worldwide surveillance programme that targets individuals and their colleagues to get a complete picture. Most leaks don’t come from the targeted individual but those who work with them.
So if the PM does not use modern communication tools, his national security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon uses cell phones and emails and so does his principal secretary Pulok Chatterjee.
The US intelligence community has undergone major reforms because of two epochal moments. One is the 9/11 attacks and the other is the May 1998 nuclear test by India. US intelligence and particularly NSA missed the tests and have been desperate to gather insights into Indian politics, economy and strategic issues since then.
The NSA taps into international communications being transmitted through undersea cables. They have worked on a few telecom companies to get access and also monitor root servers. Majority of the world’s root servers are in the United States, helping the NSA to monitor communications worldwide.
Documents leaked by Edward Snowden now show that 35 world leaders including German chancellor Angela Merkel were under surveillance.
While US President Barack Obama issued a non-denial denial – he denied that Merkel was currently under surveillance but did not comment on the past, this could well be true for Singh.
He may not be sending emails and using a cell phone but his team certainly does.