The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Defence leaves secrets open

New Delhi, Oct. 10: The defence ministry is lurching from one scandal to another — the latest a theft that raises questions about its ability to protect the country’s biggest secrets.

A burglary, initially passed off as an ordinary crime, was transferred to a special police cell after it emerged that 17 computer hard disks were stolen from a section that develops codes for sending “super-secret” data.

The shift was prompted by suspicions of a hush-up attempt at the police-station level.

Computers holding the missing disks were installed in the office of the Special Analysis Group in north Delhi’s Metcalfe House, which also houses the Defence Documentation Centre and the Defence Terrain Research Laboratory. Metcalfe House belongs to the Defence Research and Development Organisation.

The analysis group is in charge of cryptography and development of codes for secured communication — used by the army, intelligence agencies and the foreign ministry.

Cryptography involves the making of one-time ciphers — a code used only once to send super-secret information.

The Congress, which had targeted defence minister George Fernandes over the Tehelka and coffin scandals, demanded a joint probe by the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau. “We demand that the Prime Minister make a statement,” chief spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy said. ( )

The theft is believed to have occurred over the last weekend. According to North district police, scientists at Metcalfe House said the computers were intact when they locked the offices on October 3.

On the next working day on October 6, they discovered 17 missing. The central processing units were discarded near a boundary wall, but the hard disks containing secret documentation, said to be vital to the country’s security, were missing.

Defence ministry sources said a DRDO inquiry had concluded that sensitive data was not stolen. But government officials are asking why the ministry did not inform the Intelligence Bureau, the RAW and the foreign ministry till yesterday.

The officials lodged a case with Civil Lines police station of North district. The case was transferred today amid officials’ allegations of a conspiracy as no serious attempt was apparently made to get to the bottom of the incident.

Police suspect an inside job, with the culprits either from the middle or higher ranks, as the computers were selectively picked. More surprising for them was the breach of the highly fortified Metcalfe House.

Sources ruled out financial gain as a motive because only hard discs were stolen. More than one person must be involved, they said.

Defence ministry sources said that a DRDO internal inquiry had concluded that sensitive data was not stolen.

But government officials suspect foul play. Questions are rife about why the defence ministry apparently did not inform DRDO consumers — including Intelligence Bureau, RAW and foreign ministry — about the theft.

They were reportedly not informed till yesterday, which could mean that all secret communications were not secured for almost a week since the theft.

Reddy said the news should have been conveyed immediately as urgent corrective measures would be required to pre-empt any serious compromise of the national security apparatus.

Intelligence agencies said the compound should have been secured immediately on finding out the theft and the case handed over to either the CBI or another central agency.

The employees should also have been questioned and their houses searched to know about the selective targeting of computers, sources said.

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