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Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

Espionage files: Indian security?s leaky past

On Oct 6, 2003, 19 computers belonging to DRDO at Metcalfe House near ISBT were stolen, writes Shreevatsa Nevatia & Mayank Tiwari.

india Updated: Jul 09, 2006 00:54 IST
Shreevatsa Nevatia & Mayank Tiwari
Shreevatsa Nevatia & Mayank Tiwari

DRDO hard drive theft

On October 6, 2003, 19 computers belonging to top-secret establishments of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at Metcalfe House near ISBT were stolen. A week later, the DRDO pegged number of stolen hard drives at 27. The hard drives were stolen from the offices of the Scientific Analyses Group (SAG) and the Institute for System Studies and Analyses (ISSA) inside the DRDO complex. The SAG is responsible for cryptography. In other words, all codes and cyphers to ensure communication security for the defence forces have an SAG stamp. The ISSA, on the other hand, analyses competing weapons systems for induction into the armed forces. Almost three years after their disappearance, the Delhi Police still has no answer on the whereabouts of the 27 hard drives. Senior officials of the Delhi Police refused to comment on the status of the case. DRDO maintains the hard drives contained no data of any great importance.

Rabinder Singh

Rabinder Singh came on deputation to RAW from the army in the 1980s. He held the rank of major at that time but did not go back to the army on completion of his deputation. He gave up his lien in the army and chose to be permanently absorbed in RAW as a member of its Research and Analysis Service. It is said there was a question mark over his reliability since the early 1990s when he  began an operation for the collection of intelligence about US government activities in South Asia through a sister of his, who was employed in a sensitive US agency with links to the CIA. Singh’s colleagues detected his misdeeds due to the practice of ‘restrictive security’ based on the need-to-know principle. Singh showed undue interest in matters outside his professional ambit. However, the RAW’s inability to decide when to arrest Singh only enabled him to escape from their clutches in 2004. After he came under suspicion of working for US intelligence, Singh was found absconding from his duties for nearly three weeks and is suspected to have fled abroad, most probably to the US via Nepal.

Rattan Sehgal

In 1996, Rattan Sehgal was a contender for the top job in the IB. Sehgal had served for some years in the ministry of external affairs and was responsible for internal security and counter-intelligence in the MEA. After reverting to the IB at the end of his MEA tenure, he became the head of its counter-intelligence division. It was alleged that without the knowledge of the Director of the IB, Sehgal maintained relationships with foreign intelligence officers, which he had built up in the MEA. The IB's counter-intelligence division reportedly found that a woman CIA officer posted in the US embassy was in contact with government servants and others on a mobile telephone, allegedly registered in the name of their boss, the suspect IB officer. They brought this to the notice of the director, IB. A joint counter-intelligence team of IB and RAW then kept him under surveillance, collected video-recordings of his clandestine meetings with the CIA officer and then confronted him with the evidence. He reportedly admitted his contacts with her. It was stated that during the investigation it was found that apart from facilitating her operational work by hiring a mobile in his name and giving it to her, he had not betrayed any sensitive secrets. He was reportedly sent on premature retirement. 

KV Unnikrishnan 

Before his arrest in 1987, KV Unnikrishnan headed the RAW’s operation in Madras and was directly in charge of Indian dealings with Sri Lankan Tamil militants based in Tamil Nadu. Although he was not part of the decision-making apparatus, as field coordinator of Tamil militants he was privy to most of the details of the secret negotiations involving New Delhi, Colombo and the militant Tamil groups. During a tenure in Colombo as the RAW’s representative in 1981, he had become friendly with an unnamed US consular official and, together with him, engaged in several extra-marital affairs with unidentified women. After his return to India, he was briefly stationed in New Delhi before moving to Madras. Sometime in 1985, a woman describing herself as a stewardess with Pan American Airways telephoned him from Bombay to say that his American consular friend had told her to contact him if she felt lonely. Unnikrishnan flew from Madras to Bombay and a liaison developed between the two. During 1985-86, she gave him complimentary air tickets to fly to Singapore. During those jaunts in Singapore, compromising photographs of the stewardess and her lover were taken. These photographs and other documents were recovered by mid ’86 and it was learnt that Unnikrishnan was working for the CIA. He was dismissed under Article 311 (2) of the Constitution and jailed in Tihar for a year.

Larkins Brothers

At a party in 1978, Major General (retd) FD Larkins met an American who went by the name of Jockey. The retired Larkins would often visit the Army Headquarters to sell them products made by Meakins, his then employer. Jockey promised Larkins suitable rewards if he kept his eyes and ears open when he visited the AHQ. Over the months, Jockey’s demands kept getting more specific and Larkins was forced to rope in Lt Col (retd) Jasbir Singh in 1979 and his brother K H Larkins (a retired Indian Air Force office) in 1981. On March 24, 1983, Group Captain Jasjit Singh, posted at the Air Headquarters (AHQ), had informed his boss, Air Vice Marshal S Raghavendran that a retired officer, K.H. Larkins was inducing him to part with secret IAF manuals. Senior IAF officials were consulted and it was decided that Jasjit Singh should play along with Larkins. During the seven-month long vigil that followed, the authorities managed to establish an incriminating pattern in the clandestine meetings F.D. Larkins had with Bud (a replacement for Jockey) and his trips to the bank to deposit money he received from the US agents. On November 9, 1983, Raghavendran lodged a confidential complaint under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) with the espionage cell of the Delhi Police. The residence of F.D. Larkins was raided and incriminating documents as well as an unlicensed weapon recovered. KH Larkins was arrested in Lucknow and brought to Delhi. The Larkins’ interrogations led to the arrest of Singh and it was found that Jockey and Bud were CIA operatives. The Larkins were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment under the OSA in 1985 but received bail in 1989, which was later cancelled in 2001 by order of the Delhi High Court.

Samba Spy Case

A gunner in the Indian army, Sarwan Dass first went to Pakistan in February 1971. By 1974, he began working for its army's Field Intelligence Unit at Sialkot on a regular basis. In the June of 1975, Dass was arrested on suspicion of espionage but by then he had persuaded some of his colleagues (including a certain Aya Singh) to become accomplices. Dass jumped off the running train at Jalandhar, while being taken to Pathankot, on July 2, 1975, went over to Pakistan and stayed in Sialkot. On February 10, 1976, he was arrested after his return. The police handed him over to Military Intelligence (MI) on April 10, 1976 and he remained in its custody until July 1978. On the other hand, Aya Singh was arrested by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) while crossing into India in July 1975, only to be reinstated in 1978. He was then discharged from the Army in 1983; arrested by the Jammu and Kashmir Police in February 1985 as he tried to enter India from Pakistan; released on bail in 1986; escaped to Pakistan in January 1987; re-arrested in India on July 2, 1987; sentenced to two years' imprisonment; and shot dead in December 1990 while crossing the border again. On the basis of Dass and Singh’s confessions, the MI implicated and arrested 50-odd persons who had worked in the 168 Infantry Brigade and its subordinate units at Samba (40 km from Jammu). Those arrested were court marshalled and imprisoned. In 1994, Sarwan Dass swore an affidavit and appeared at a press conference to admit that he had falsely implicated the men.