A 26-year-old engineer at the BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited in Maharashtra, who was arrested on charges of violating the Official Secrets Act and espionage, had been in touch with suspected Pakistani intelligence operatives through fake social media accounts, the Uttar Pradesh police said. The police are trying to ascertain the extent of the breach and many others are also being questioned.
Nishant Agrawal, who worked at the Nagpur facility of the missile programme, had reportedly been interacting with two Facebook accounts, operated under the names “Neha Sharma” and “Pooja Ranjan”, the UP police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) said while seeking the court’s permission for Mr Agrawal’s questioning in Lucknow.
Mr Agrawal was arrested on Monday by the ATS units of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra police at BrahMos’ Nagpur facility for allegedly revealing “technical information” to Pakistan.
The winner of the Young Scientist award by the Defence Research and Development Organisation, had studied at the National Institute of Technology in Kurukshetra. Sources at BrahMos say he IS a bright engineer, but didn’t really have access to sensitive details of the Brahmos missile as he was “too junior” in the hierarchy and information is stored and shared on a need-to-know basis.
The UP police told the court that the Islamabad-based Facebook accounts Mr Agrawal was in touch with are believed to be run by Pakistan’s intelligence operatives.
Such fake accounts are often used to approach senior officials in India, the investigating officer said.
Despite his “highly sensitive work”, Mr Agrawal was “casual” on the internet and made himself an “easy target”, the officer added.
He added that classified files with red markings were found in his personal laptop. Such sensitive information which (if) shared could be a threat to the country, the officer said.
After the arrest of a soldier in September when he was being honey-trapped allegedly by the ISI, the ATS has been keeping a close watch on fake Facebook accounts of women, being operated from Pakistan.
The contents of an old computer seized from Mr Agrawal’s home in Roorkee are also being investigated.
A woman scientist who works at a defence research laboratory in Kanpur is also being investigated.
Sources in BrahMos Aerospace say enhanced “muscular security” is being put in place to avoid cyber or physical leaks.
BrahMos Aerospace is a joint venture between India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the ‘Military Industrial Consortium’ (NPO Mashinostroyenia) of Russia.
This is the first spy scandal to hit the BrahMos Aerospace, which is involved in making critical components for the BrahMos missile, considered the world’s fastest cruise missile and one that can be launched from land, ships, aircraft or submarines.