Friday, 30 April 2010

intel updates:7/7/kyrgystan/afpak/telecom/fatah/india


MI5 files on 7/7 attacks 'impossible' to access

28 April 2010

It would be "impossible" to reveal secret MI5 files about the 7/7 London terror attacks, a court has been told.

The claim has been made at a hearing to decide the format of inquests into the deaths of those killed in 2005. Lawyers for the families of those who died argue the hearing should also look at whether the intelligence services could have prevented the attacks.

Counsel for the home secretary and MI5 argued examining MI5's involvement was outside the scope of the inquests. Four suicide bombers detonated their devices on three Tube trains and one bus killing 52 innocent people.

It emerged after the attacks that security agencies came across two of the bombers in 2004 while investigating other terrorist plots.

Developed vetting

But they were not considered to be of sufficient interest to be put under surveillance.The hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice heard there would be no problem with providing highly sensitive intelligence material to the coroner and counsel to the inquests.

But any jurors could only see the material if they all underwent intrusive "developed vetting" and neither the bereaved families nor their lawyers would be allowed to see it.

Neil Garnham QC, counsel for the home secretary and MI5, said the two official reports about the attacks by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) - made up of security-cleared MPs - had adequately investigated MI5's involvement.

He added there was "overwhelming" public interest in not having top secret MI5 documents revealed in the hearings.

The coroner, Lady Justice Hallett, asked whether it would be possible to restrict the intelligence material discussed in the inquests to that related to the 7 July attacks.

She said: "The families want to know why the decisions were taken in the way they were, and to put questions."

But Mr Garnham suggested a problem would arise because it was necessary to put the decision not to place the 7 July bombers under surveillance in context of all the other investigations MI5 was carrying out at the time.

He said: "It is difficult to see how that can be done without, metaphorically speaking, handing over the keys to Thames House." The coroner also revealed she went on the internet to read conspiracy theories about the attacks. The hearing continues.

7/7 court told MI5 deceived MPs

Sam Marsden, Press Association

27 April 2010

MI5 deceived MPs by claiming the July 7 bombers had not been identified before carrying out their deadly attacks, a court heard today.

In May 2006 the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) said security agencies came across two of the men in 2004 during other investigations but did not identify them.

But a second ISC report, published in May 2009, revealed that the police and MI5 in fact held a series of records relating to Mohammad Sidique Khan, the ringleader of the 2005 London bombings.

A hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London to decide the format of the inquests for those killed in the attacks was told that MI5 misled the British public.

Patrick O'Connor QC, counsel for four of the bereaved families and 15 survivors, said: "This is a serious allegation to make.

"The last time MI5 was accused of deception... the ceiling seemed to fall in, as if MI5 is incapable of deception. They aren't, and they deceived the ISC."

He went on: "MI5 left the ISC under this misunderstanding - and therefore the British public - for three years, thinking they had not identified Mohammad Sidique Khan before the 7/7 bombings."

He said the ISC's findings would be "deeply undermined" if MI5 had deliberately misled the committee.

Mr O'Connor strongly criticised MI5's involvement in the July 7 case, saying the agency demonstrated flaws in its assessment policy, record-keeping and co-operation with other agencies.

He said of the second ISC report: "We submit that by contrast with its simple conclusion exonerating MI5, the material detailed in it exposes a profound criticism of MI5 and raises many more questions than answers...

"Those criticisms may well arguably become very considerably more powerful upon a proper analysis of the primary material."

Khan and three other suicide bombers killed themselves and 52 innocent people when they detonated their devices on three Tube trains and one bus on July 7 2005.

The coroner, Lady Justice Hallett, is holding a three-day legal hearing to decide what form the inquests - expected to start in October - should take.

Lawyers for the families of those who died argue that they should include a broad-ranging investigation of whether the authorities could have prevented the attacks.

Neil Garnham QC, counsel for the Home Secretary and MI5, urged the coroner not to examine how the security service dealt with the limited information it had about the bombers before the attacks.

He argued that the ISC report was an "effective investigation" into MI5's involvement.

He said: "The public interest would, we submit, not be served - in fact would be positively damaged - by attempts in these inquests to reinvestigate the matters that were before the ISC."

Mr Garnham also suggested that national security could be damaged if the inquests attempted to delve deeper into MI5's activities.

He said: "Nothing more of the information revealed to the ISC by the security service can safely be put into the public domain or disclosed to the interested parties than is revealed by that ISC report." The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow.


Russian intelligence arrests, extradites fmr Kyrgyz interior minister

April 26, 2010


If there were any doubts that Russia is aggressively courting the new interim government in Kyrgyzstan, they were dispelled earlier today with the announcement that Russian authorities arrested the Central Asian republic’s former interior minister. Kyrgyzstan’s National Security State Service (NSSS) announced that Moldomusa Kongantiyev was arrested on Sunday in Moscow, by agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), and will be extradited to Bishkek, where he will face charges of using state repression against demonstrators. Kongantiyev had escaped to Russia in mid-April, after he was abducted and viciously beaten by Kyrgyz opposition demonstrators, who released him after his family paid a significant amount of money as ransom. IntelNews hears that Kongantiyev suspected that Moscow planned to extradite him to Kyrgyzstan, and that some of the supporters of the deposed regime in Russia offered to hide him. But their attempt to smuggle him out of a hospital in Moscow, where he was receiving medical care, was thwarted by the FSB, after a tip from NSSS. Kongantiyev is the most senior cabinet member of the toppled regime of Kurmanbek Bakiyev to have been arrested so far. Bakiyev himself has escaped with his family to close Russian ally Belarus, where he has been offered political asylum. Speaking to reporters earlier this month, the former Kyrgyz president denied he had plans to return to Kyrgyzstan, or to form a government-in-exile. Russia was among the first countries to recognize the interim government of Roza Otunbayeva, and has dramatically increased its monetary aid to the impoverished Central Asian nation. Both Russia and the United States, which maintains a strategically crucial air base in Kyrgyzstan, have been courting the interim government, which says it plans to hold free elections on October 10.


Abduction of former Pakistani ISI officials raises questions

April 24, 2010IAN ALLEN | |

Questions are being raised about the reported abduction of two well-known veterans of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, who appear to have been kidnapped by an unknown group in Pakistan’s remote tribal regions. The two are Khalid Khawaja and Sultan Amir Tarar, a.k.a. Colonel Imam. Khawaja, a retired ISI officer, was a critical mediator between the CIA and Osama bin Laden in the 1980s, during the al-Qaeda’s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Colonel Imam, also a former intelligence officer and a diplomat, was the ISI handler of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar in the 1980s and early 1990s. Both Khawaja and Imam are considered senior members of the ISI’s ‘old guard’, who have strong ideological sympathies for both al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and frequently voice support for the latter. Last February, Colonel Imam called on the US to strive for a political settlement with the Taliban, by directly negotiating with Mullah Omar. The two were apparently abducted in March, while accompanying British-Pakistani film producer Asad Qureshi on a documentary tour of Pakistan’s Waziristan province. A few days ago, a video was emailed to Pakistani media by an unknown group calling itself Asian Tigers, showing Qureshi, Khawaja, and Colonel Imam, and calling for the release of imprisoned Taliban commanders Mullah Abdul Kabir, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Ironically, both Imam and Khawaja have publicly campaigned for Baradar’s release, a fact which raises questions among some observers about the authenticity of the video showing the alleged abductees.

Taliban splinter group executes Pakistani spy turned jihadi

Asian Tigers faction dumps Khalid Khawaja's body in North Waziristan, raising fears over fate of two other hostages

Declan Walsh in Islamabad
Friday 30 April 2010

Khalid Khawaja pictured in June 2007

Khalid Khawaja pictured in June 2007. Photograph: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

A Taliban splinter group in the tribal belt has executed a former intelligence officer and prominent jihadi activist, raising fears for two other hostages being held by the same group.

Khalid Khawaja's body was found dumped by the road near Mir Ali, a notorious centre of militant activity in North Waziristan.

Khawaja, a retired Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agent, had been shot in the head and chest. A note pinned to his body warned that other "American spies" would face a similar fate.

A previously unknown group named Asian Tigers claimed responsibility in an email to the Guardian titled "khalid khawaja (episode is over)". It read: "Khalid Khwaja is no more ... We have given the deadline in order to approve our demands. The ISI and government didn't take it serious. This is the last warning to set your minds. What would be the next?"

Khawaja was a retired Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) official who boasted of his links with Osama bin Laden. He was kidnapped just over a month ago while travelling with another well known ex-ISI official, Colonel Imam, and Asad Qureshi, a journalist. Their fate is not known.

The militants recently sent the Guardian hostage videos of the three men from the same email address. Asian Tigers is believed to be a cover name for a group of Punjabi sectarian militants belonging to the notorious Lashkar I Jhangvi group.

In recent weeks sectarian attacks on Shias have increased in the tribal belt, including one against a UN aid distribution centre. Asian Tigers is demanding the release of dozens of militant prisoners in Afghanistan in return for hostages, stoking suspicions that it has links with a larger Taliban group.

Colonel Imam, whose real name is Sultan Amir Tarar, trained jihadi fighters with CIA funding in the 1980s and helped nurture the Taliban movement in Afghanistan in the 1990s. He is widely referred to as the "father of the Taliban".

The three men entered North Waziristan in late March on a mission to meet and film Taliban groups. Before leaving Islamabad Khawaja told journalists he had proof that the Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, had survived a CIA drone attack last January – something that a senior ISI official confirmed to the Guardian this week. Khawaja may have promised Qureshi, the journalist, that he would broker a meeting with Mehsud.

Khawaja occupied a prominent, if ambiguous, position in the murky world of Pakistan's jihadi politics. He boasted of being a close associate of Osama bin Laden during the 1980s; last year he said he brokered a meeting between Bin Laden and the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif in 1990 with a view to ousting the government of then prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

After retiring from the ISI Khawaja became a prominent champion of jihadist causes and, when necessary, turned against his former spymasters. He spent time in jail after the Red Mosque siege in central Islamabad in 2007.

He became a human rights activist of sorts, championing the rights of the "disappeared" – Islamist suspects who had been illegally abducted, detained and sometimes tortured by Pakistani intelligence, often at the behest of the CIA and, less frequently, MI6.

But by several accounts he was playing a complex game – one that appears to have caught up with him.

In his hostage video Khawaja said he was secretly working for the ISI during the Red Mosque crisis and helped engineer the arrest of Maulana Abdul Aziz, an extremist cleric who was caught fleeing the mosque wearing a woman's burqa.

Ali Dayan Hasan, a Human Rights Watch researcher who had worked with Khawaja, described him as an ambiguous operator who balanced an implacable belief in jihadist causes with a concern for the plight of those victimised by the "war on terror".

"He made an essential contribution in bringing to attention the disappearances by the Pakistani intelligence agencies at the behest of the US authorities – whatever his motivations," Hasan said.


April 21, 2010

Legal spying via the cell phone system

Elinor Mills

Two researchers say they have found a way to exploit weaknesses in the mobile telecom system to legally spy on people by figuring out the private cell phone number of anyone they want, tracking their whereabouts, and listening to their voice mail.

Independent security researcher Nick DePetrillo and Don Bailey, a security consultant with iSec Partners, planned to provide details in a talk entitled "We Found Carmen San Diego" at the Source Boston security conference on Wednesday.

"There are a lot of fragile eggs in the telecom industry and they can be broken," Bailey said in an interview with CNET. "We assume the telecom industry protects our privacy. But we've been able to crack the eggs and piece them together."

The first part of the operation involves getting a target's cell phone number from a public database that links names to numbers for caller ID purposes. DePetrillo used open-source PBX software to spoof the outgoing caller ID and then automated phone calls to himself, triggering the system to force a name lookup.

"We log that information and associate it with a phone number in a (caller ID) database," DePetrillo said. "We created software that iterates through these numbers and can crawl the entire phone database in the U.S. within a couple of weeks... We have done whole cities and pulled thousands of records."

"It's not illegal, nor is it a breach of terms of service," Bailey said.

Next up is matching the phone number with a geographic location. The SS7 (Signaling System) public switched network routes calls around the world and uses what's called the Home Location Register to log the whereabouts of numbers so networks can hand calls off to one another, DePetrillo said. Individual phones are registered to mobile switching centers within specific geographic regions and they are logged in to that main register, he said.

Only telecom providers are supposed to have access to the location register, but small telcos in the EU are offering online access to it for a fee, mostly to companies using it for marketing data and cost projections, according to DePetrillo.

"Using previous research on the subject as a starting point, we've developed a way to map these mobile switching center numbers to caller ID information to determine what city and even what part of a city a phone number is in" at any given moment, he said. "I can watch a phone number travel to different mobile switching centers. If I know your phone number, I can track your whereabouts globally."

For instance, the researchers were able to track a German journalist talking to a confidential informant in Serbia and follow his travels back to Germany, as well as obtain the informant's phone number, Bailey said.

Bailey said he had contacted telecom providers with the information on how industry outsiders were able to get to information believed to be privileged to the providers, but said the hands of GSM providers in the U.S. are tied.

"The attack is based on the assumption of how the networks work worldwide," he said. "For interoperability and peer sake, the larger providers in the U.S. have to hand out the information to other providers."

Asked what cell phone users can do to protect themselves, Bailey said, "people are just going to have to be made aware of the threat."

It's also relatively easy to access other people's voice mail, a service that's been around for years from providers like SlyDial. They operate by making two nearly simultaneous calls to a target number, one of which disconnects before it is picked up and another that goes straight into voice mail because of the earlier call. This enables the caller to go directly to voice mail without the phone ringing. DePetrillo and Bailey re-created that functionality for purposes of their legal spying scenario.

"If I want to find Brad Pitt, I find his number using the caller ID database, use Home Location Register access to figure out what provider he has. T-Mobile is vulnerable to voice mail spoofing so I get into his voice mail and listen to his messages," said DePetrillo. "But I can also have the system tell me the numbers of the callers and I can take those numbers and look them up in the caller ID database and use the Home Location Register system to find their providers and break into their voice mail, and so on."

This can allow someone to make a social web of people, their cell numbers, the context of their voice mail, and their relationships to others, he said.

"These attack scenarios are applicable to corporations and individual users alike," DePetrillo said. "Corporations specifically should start to take a look at their security policies for executives as this can impact a business very hard, with insider trading, tracking of executives, etc."

Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service, and the Associated Press. E-mail Elinor.


Comment: Is Palestinian Fatah Spying for Israel?

April 18, 2010

Mohammed Dahlan



Gaza-based Palestinian movement Hamas has again accused a senior official of rival Palestinian group Fatah of spying for Israel. Speaking last week from Damascus, Syria, Hamas official Mohammed Nazal said that Fatah Central Committee member Mohammed Dahlan, who has been tipped for the post of Vice President in Fatah-controlled Palestinian National Authority, is actively gathering information on behalf of Israeli intelligence. Nazal said Hamas received a tip-off about Dahlan from a former security officer in the Palestinian National Authority, who appears to have defected to Hamas. The unnamed informant reportedly met with Hamas defense officials on Friday, and told them that Dahlan had asked him to “collect detailed information” about the March 26 execution of two Palestinians, who were accused by Hamas of working for Israeli intelligence. He also claimed that Dahlan showed him a lengthy list of known Hamas operatives and asked him to determine the precise location of their residences in the Gaza strip.

The allegations concerning Mohammed Dahlan’s rumored contacts with Israeli and Western intelligence agencies go back several years. Until 2006, Dahlan, a.k.a. Abu Fadi, was the charismatic leader of Fatah in the Gaza strip. But in the civil strife that followed Hamas’ 2006 election success, Dahlan –a fluent Hebrew-speaker– was expelled from Gaza, along with his extensive network of operatives. Two years later, Vanity Fair reported that Dahlan led an aborted CIA-funded coup against Hamas, which involved extensive CIA paramilitary training, and formed the basis of the CIA’s current presence in the West Bank.

IntelNews has previously reported on the increasingly close collaboration between Fatah and Israeli or American security agencies. Last August, it emerged that Israeli Shin Bet operatives were providing political security for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad during their official trips around the West Bank. In December of last year, British newspaper The Guardian alleged that the Fatah-controlled General Intelligence service and the Preventive Security Service were working so closely with the CIA, that some American intelligence officers “consider them as their property”.

Less than a month later, there were reports of three Palestinians having allegedly assisted Israeli intelligence agency Mossad to assassinate Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. It is worth noting that all three were arrested by Emirati and Jordanian authorities, who have little sympathy for Hamas. The three arrestees included two Palestinian ‘businessmen’ in Dubai, who are known to belong to Fatah’s network of operatives, as well as Ahmad Hasnin, a Fatah intelligence officer.

The latest accusations by Hamas against Mohammed Dahlan should be considered within the context of the increasingly close collaboration between Fatah, the CIA, and Israeli security agencies. Admittedly, it is difficult to imagine someone like Dahlan working alongside the Shin Bet, the same agency that imprisoned him nearly a dozen times in the 1980s. On the other hand, close observers of the deepening political rift between Hamas and Fatah would admit that this scenario appears more likely as the Hamas-Fatah rivalry deepens. Both factions now routinely direct considerable portions of their security apparatus on each other. It is easy to see how US and Israeli intelligence agencies would be very interested in having a share in Fatah’s intelligence exploits in the Gaza strip.


Political wiretap scandal erupts in India

April 28, 2010


A major scandal has erupted in India, with the revelation last weekend that government intelligence services have monitored the telecommunications of senior political figures since at least 2006. Indian newsmagazine Outlook, which is published nationwide, reported on Sunday that the left leaning government of the United Progressive Alliance and the Indian National Congress ordered intelligence officers to tap the telephone communications of several politicians. The list allegedly included Bihar state chief minister Nitish Kumar, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat, and minister for agriculture Sharad Pawar. According to Outlook, the government also used powerful communications interception hardware to “listen in on the conversations of opposition leaders during the July 2008 no-confidence motion on the Indo-US nuclear deal”. The deal between Washington and New Delhi prompted the resignation of the CPI(M) from India’s governing alliance. The magazine quotes a senior intelligence official, who says that the tappers intercepted targeted telecommunications signals exchanged between cell phones and cell phone towers, which apparently voided the standard requirement for official court warrants. Speaking on Monday, Indian interior minister Palaniappan Chidamabaram vouched that a government investigation of the scandal will be conducted.

Indian intelligence agencies bugged senior politicians

India's opposition has warned that democracy is in danger following allegations that senior politicians' telephones had been tapped by the government's intelligence agencies.

26 Apr 2010

India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party senior leader L.K.  Advani: Indian intelligence agencies bugged senior politicians
India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party senior leader L.K. Advani Photo: AP

The agents secretly listened in to mobile telephone conversations of leading public figures have united opposition rivals and plunged the government into a new scandal at a crucial time, it has been claimed.

"Democracy has to be defended," L K Advani, a veteran leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), told the lower house of parliament, which was repeatedly adjourned amid uproar on the opposition benches.

"This house will not be satisfied until the prime minister comes to the house and makes a statement," Mr Advani added, demanding new legislation to prevent such abuses of personal privacy.

P Chidamabaram, Home Minister, promised a probe into the scandal, which surfaced in a magazine last week.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to address the issue in parliament on Monday

The magazine Outlook was the first to report that intelligence officers had been tapping the phones of politicians including Sharad Pawar, the Agriculture Minister, Prakash Karat, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary, and Nitish Kumar, the Bihar state chief minister.

The latest controversy threatens to further sap the left-leaning government at a time when it is looking to pass key legislation.

It is seeking support from its allies for a possible no-confidence vote over high food prices, as well as passing the budget and other key bills, and has been embroiled for the last two weeks in a cricket scandal.

Shashi Tharoo, the Junior Foreign Minister, resigned a week ago after it was disclosed that his girlfriend had been given a free stake worth 15 million dollars in an Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket team based in his state.

The opposition charged that this was a kickback for his role in putting together the consortium that bought the franchise in the southern city of Kochi. Mr Tharoor denies all wrongdoing.

The government has a comfortable majority in parliament but has struggled to push through its legislative programme in the face of rising food and fuel prices, Maoist violence and the IPL scandal.

Other opposition parties also decried the alleged phone tapping as an assault on democratic and civil rights.

"We are not living in a military regime," Communist Party of India national secretary D. Raja told reporters at the weekend.

Mr Advani said the phone tapping reports recalled the time when former Indian Congress premier Indira Gandhi clamped a state of emergency on the country in 1975, censoring the press and jailing hundreds of opposition politicians.

"We must ensure there is no such emergency (rule) in the country," Mr Advani said.

phone-tapping exclusive

We, The Eavesdropped

The government has been tapping the cellphone conversations of these prominent political leaders

Saikat Datta

Digvijay Singh, Congress general secretary
February 2007
Digvijay Singh was driving from his house in South Avenue through Sardar Marg Patel having a conversation on his cellphone with a Congress leader from Punjab. The two were discussing possible candidates for 2007 chapter of the Congress Working Committee elections, which are held every three years. The leader from Punjab was seeking Digvijay’s support for his possible candidature. Unknown to them, their entire conversation was being tapped and filed in a computer system. Digvijay had this to say about the surveillance: “I think it is illegal and unethical.”

Nitish Kumar, Bihar chief minister
October 2007
The Bihar CM was on his way in his official car from Bihar Bhavan in Chanakyapuri to South Block for a meeting when his conversation—on a cellphone belonging to the then Bihar resident commissioner, who was travelling with him—was tapped. Nitish was discussing with a colleague how to get more funds from the Centre for his state. Other related issues like projects on the Kosi river also figured in his call.

Sharad Pawar, Union agriculture minister
April 2010
Discussions between the minister and IPL commissioner Lalit Modi were tapped and taped last fortnight in the wake of the scandal in the cricket league. The recorded conversations allegedly threw up inside details of the deals that were struck in the bidding process for the various teams.

Prakash Karat, CPI(M) general secretary
July 2008
The cellphones of Opposition leaders were tapped to ascertain their plans regarding the Indo-US nuclear deal and the consequent no-confidence motion in Parliament at the time. Karat was targeted since he was leading the charge against the UPA government.

M.K. Narayanan, Then NSA
He was instrumental in bringing the new tapping technology to India in 2005-06. During a demonstration at an NTRO facility in Delhi on Jan 7, ’06, his phone was tapped successfully.


In February 2007, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh was on his cellphone with a party leader from Punjab. With Congress Working Committee (CWC) elections due soon, the Punjab leader was discussing his possible candidature. Neither was aware that the conversation was being tapped and taped. In fact, a team from the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), an intelligence agency created in the aftermath of the Kargil war to cover all aspects of technical intelligence-gathering, was monitoring the conversation. The call was recorded, logged and filed away.

Likewise, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s mobile phone was tapped during an official visit to Delhi in October 2007. The call was intercepted while he was going in his official car from Bihar Bhavan in Chanakyapuri. Sources familiar with the interception say Nitish had called a colleague in Delhi seeking his help to lobby with the Planning Commission for more funds for Bihar. The CM was using the phone of the then Bihar resident commissioner who was with him. He also discussed certain projects for flood relief, and spoke about a project related to river Kosi. Currently a close aide of Nitish Kumar, the resident commissioner categorically confirmed to Outlook that the Bihar CM did make such a call and that he had this discussion.

Digvijay expressed surprise when Outlook sought his comment. While he couldn’t recall the exact details of his conversation, he conceded that there was a distinct possibility of it having taken place. It is a matter of fact that the CWC elections were due later that year. The CWC nominations and elections are held every three years. They were held last in 2007 and are due again in the latter half of 2010.

“The conversation may have taken place,” Digvijay told Outlook. “But I think this is very disturbing. I am very surprised to know that the government has been eavesdropping on political leaders, which I think is illegal and unethical.” While he wondered how such tapping could go on in a government headed by Dr Manmohan Singh, he felt that modern (surveillance) technology should be used only for national security.

Both Digvijay and Nitish’s phones were tapped using the new off-the-air GSM monitoring device, which can track and tap into any cellphone conversation within a two-km radius. Nor have Digvijay and Nitish been the sole victims of such tapping. The device, sources say, was used extensively to listen in on the conversations of opposition leaders during the July 2008 no-confidence motion on the Indo-US nuclear deal. One intelligence agency targeted some leaders of the Left Front, including CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, to fathom the Left’s strategy to bring down the government. More recently, in fact last fortnight, the conversation between IPL commissioner Lalit Modi and Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar was tapped and allegedly used to pressurise Pawar to call for Modi’s resignation.

“The whole system works on deniability,” a senior intelligence official told Outlook. “It can be deployed anywhere. We don’t need to show any authorisation since we’re not tapping a phone number at the exchange but intercepting signals between the phone and the cellphone tower and recording them on a hard disk. If too many questions are asked, we can remove the disk and erase the conversation. No one gets to know.”

Outlook has also learnt that an air vice marshal, then posted as an air defence commander in the Western Air Command, was put under similar surveillance. The officer’s cellphone, besides those of his wife and other family members, was tapped for several weeks in the early half of 2006. Ironically, the air vice marshal also applied for a position in the NTRO as a joint secretary since he had been overlooked for promotion by the air force.

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