Spies Selling Army Info to Pakistan's ISI Nabbed In 'Op Desert Chase'
Arti Tikoo Singh
NEW DELHI/ JAIPUR, JUNE 8—In a major crackdown on Pakistani spy network in India, Military Intelligence and Rajasthan police on Monday caught two civil defence employees for passing on information about strategic Army installations to the ISI. One of the Indians was honey-trapped by a Pakistani woman ISI operative on social media.
Official sources said, Rajasthan police, based on intelligence input provided by Lucknow based Military Intelligence (MI) arrested Vikas Kumar (29), a civil defence employee at an Army Ammunition Depot and Chiman Lal (22), a civil contractual employee of Army's Mahajan Field Firing Range (MFFR) for working as spies of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
Both the Ammunition Depot in Shri Ganganagar and MMFR in Bikaner are strategically important military installations in the Western front of India.
In August, 2019, the MI Lucknow through its sleuths, had learnt about the espionage agent, Vikas Kumar, who was passing military information to his handlers in Pakistan.
Kumar was cultivated by a Multan-based female Pakistani Intelligence Operative (PIO), on Facebook. The PIO ran a pseudonymous Facebook account, pretending to be a Hindu woman 'Anoshka Chopra' based in India.
The MI unit ascertained that Kumar was passing military information related to ORBAT (Order of Battle; composition and order of a military fighting formation), ammunition (photos, state, quantity, type, arrival, departure), units coming for firing practice/ military exercise to MFFR, personality traits of senior army officers in lieu of money. It was also found that Kumar was receiving payments in three of his own and his brother's bank accounts.
The MI Lucknow unit shared the case with Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terror Squad in January, 2020, following which Kumar was monitored and analysed jointly by both the law enforcement agencies, under the operation code named 'Desert Chase'.
During the operation, sources said, it was learnt that Kumar was acquiring photos of a "water distribution register" at a water point/ pump house in MFFR through a contractual civil employee, Chiman Lal. However, the operation was halted due to the lockdown across the country following the coronavirus epidemic. Sources said it was observed that the "loss of critical information due to the duo continued" through the lockdown.
Last month, the agencies shared the details of the case with Rajasthan Police Intelligence. A joint team of MI Lucknow and Rajasthan Police Intelligence was formed and all the findings were analysed again, more information was acquired and conclusive evidence was gathered.
The agencies detected fresh payments and passage of more information to Pakistan. On Monday, the agencies busted the module, arresting Kumar, who is son of a retired Army personnel of village Bahadurwas, of district Jhunjhunu and Lal of village Ajitmana of district Bikaner.
During the questioning at Jaipur, official sources said, Kumar confessed that he had received a friend request from the PIO's Facebook Profile, 'Anoshka Chopra' in March or April last year and had accepted. "They became very friendly shared their WhatsApp numbers with each other and started chatting and making audio/video calls," sources said.
Under an elaborate ISI espionage plan, the PIO was using an Indian WhatsApp number and claimed she was working at Canteen Store Department (CSD) headquarters in Mumbai. Sources said, Kumar joined several WhatsApp groups as she asked him to. "She was in all these groups and there were many serving defence and civil defence employees in them.
"Subsequently she introduced Kumar to her 'boss', Amit Kumar Singh (pseudonym used by the handler) who was also using an Indian WhatsApp number. He at times claimed to be from CSD and at times from Military Engineer Service (MES). Once Kumar and the Pakistani handler, 'Amit Kumar Singh' started communicating, 'Anoshka Chopra' deactivated her Facebook account and WhatsApp number," sources said. The handler had convinced Kumar to acquire and send him military information in exchange for money, sources said.
Chiman Lal used to regularly send photos of "water- distribution-register" kept at one of the Pump House of MFFR with all their details on almost daily basis.
Kumar, sources said, confessed to having passed information about Army units and their officials, strength at MFFR, ammunition at the ammunition depot, ORBAT (Order of battle; composition related details) of two local army brigades, visitors etc. on routine basis. He also shared pictures with his Pakistani handler.
Even though someone in March this year, had warned all the members of the PIO-recommended WhatsApp group that the group is a fraud and is being run by Pakistani spies, but Kumar continued to pass on critical information to them till June 7.
Sources said Kumar confessed to have received from his handler at least Rs 75,000 out of which he paid around Rs 9,000 to Lal for his assistance. Both of them are likely to be produced before a local court soon by the police, sources said.