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NEW DELHI: The IAF’s counter-intelligence wing has detained a senior officer posted at the Air Headquarters here for allegedly leaking classified documents to a woman among other persons, in what is suspected to be an espionage ring being run from Pakistan.
The officer, a Group Captain (equivalent to a Colonel in the Army), was allegedly using his smart phone to click pictures of classified documents at the Air Headquarters and then using the popular messaging platform “WhatsApp” to transmit them to the woman, whose identity is not yet clear, said sources.
The officer, who had access to a certain level of secret documents and plans due to his posting at the Air Headquarters, had apparently got to know the woman initially through the social networking website “Facebook”. There is suspicion that the officer could have been “honey-trapped and compromised” by the woman at some stage during their relationship, and could have been in touch with his “handlers” for the last few months.
“The Group Captain, who is a para-jumping instructor but not from the flying branch, is being interrogated after being taken into custody from the Race Course Road area. It is being ascertained whether he is part of some larger espionage ring,” said a source.
But the IAF, on being contacted, refused to say anything on the matter. Sources, on their part, said it was during “routine counter intelligence surveillance” being conducted by the IAF’s Central Security and Investigation Team that it was discovered that the Group Captain “was indulging in certain unwanted activities through unauthorized electronic devices which is against existing orders”.
There are strict instructions in place in the armed forces to ensure classified information and data is not compromised through the improper use of Internet or social networking websites like Facebook, Orkut and Twitter. But there have been several such cases in recent years.
Several military officers have also been caught in honey-traps- basically an intelligence operation for first seducing and then blackmailing a person into divulging confidential information- over the last several years. In 2011, for instance, the Navy had sacked Commodore Sukhjinder Singh after his sexually explicit pictures with a Russian woman had surfaced.
Singh was posted in Moscow as part of the Indian negotiating team for the acquisition of aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov (now rechristened INS Vikramaditya), for which India finally agreed to pay $2.33 billion after protracted and bitter negotiations with Russia.
In another major commercial espionage case, in which three Navy and one IAF officer were arrested, a staggering 7,000 pages of classified information were ‘compromised’ from the naval war-room in South Block and the air defence directorate in Air Headquarters in what came to be known as the Navy war-room leak case in May 2005.
The IAF, of course, was also stunned by the arrest of Air Vice-Marshal K H Larkins and his brother Major General FD Larkins, along with two others, for passing classified military documents to US intelligence agents in 1983. They were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 1985, but were granted bail after some years for good conduct.