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Security Brief: CICYBER Week of July 5, 2021

Week of Monday, July 5, 2021 | Issue 26

Asia Perri, Counterintelligence and Cyber Team (CICYBER)


Indian Army[1]

Date: July 6, 2021

Location: Punjab, India

Parties involved: Punjab Police; Sepoy Harpreet Singh, of the 19 Rashtriya Rifles; Sepoy Gurbhej Singh, of the 18 Sikh Light Infantry

The event: Punjab Police discovered an espionage network that involved two Army personnel, Sepoy Harpreet Singh and Sepoy Gurbhej Singh. The discovery took place when the Punjab Police was investigating a Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances case.[2] The police arrested the two men on charges of spying and providing the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan with over 900 classified documents, which contained strategic and tactical information relating to India’s defense, between February and May 2021.[3]

The implications:

  • Ever since the partitioning of India and Pakistan by the British Empire, the Punjab region has seen constant conflict since both countries lay claim to it.[4] Given the tensions between India and Pakistan, it is likely that people working for the Pakistan government bribed Indian Army personnel to obtain sensitive information contained in the classified documents. As the classified documents dealt with India’s national security and defense, this espionage network is likely to put India at risk.

  • How far the corruption goes, and the exact number of Indian Army personnel involved in this network is still unclear. However, the cross-border drug smuggler Ranvir Singh, to whom the documents were shared, sent these directly to the Pakistan ISI operatives via another drug smuggler with links with Pakistan-based drug-smuggling syndicates and Pakistan ISI officials.[5] For this reason, it is probable that drug smugglers played a key role in the case and that the Pakistani government might have links with them. This would imply that the espionage network has probably reached more people than just the government, and the number of those involved in the espionage network is likely to be higher. Therefore, there is the possibility that confidential government information can be shared with terrorist groups that might endanger the country’s security. This might happen if the drug organization decides to sell information to either make profit or in case they are allies.

  • There is a high chance that this discovery could lead to an inquest into corruption in the Indian Army to find out the true identities of the higher-ups on the chain of command in this operation. This could imply a restructuring of the hierarchy of the military chain of command in India. Said restructuring could lead to a period of military vulnerability in the Punjab region, possibly displaying enough weakness for the end of the cease-fire to be initiated by Pakistan if it were to be opportunistic.

  • While over 900 classified documents were shared between February and May 2021,[6] it is highly probable that this exchange of information started before February. This is because espionage might involve a lot of time and resources, therefore it is likely that this espionage network has been active for a while. There is a chance that both India and Pakistan have been suspicious of each other due to their hostile relations. At the same time, it is very likely that the number of documents might even be higher than the one reported. Until further investigations, it could remain difficult for the Indian government to measure the impact of this espionage network and find out the exact number of people who came into contact with these documents, as well as the intel that Pakistan gathered from the operation.

[1] “Indian Army” by Jai Bhutani licensed under Pixabay

[2] Punjab Police bust espionage network, two Army personnel held, The Shillong Times, July 2021, https://theshillongtimes.com/2021/07/07/punjab-police-bust-espionage-network-two-army-personnel-held/

[3] Punjab Police bust espionage network, two Army personnel held, The Shillong Times, July 2021, https://theshillongtimes.com/2021/07/07/punjab-police-bust-espionage-network-two-army-personnel-held/

[4] The Punjab partition: when protectors become perpetrators, LSE Blog, August 2018, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/southasia/2018/08/02/the-punjab-partition-when-protectors-become-perpetrators/

[5] Cross-border espionage network busted: Punjab police, The Hindu, July 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/cross-border-espionage-network-busted-punjab-police/article35172760.ece

[6] Punjab Police busts major cross-border espionage network with arrest of 2 Army personnel on charges of spying and providing classified documents to ISI, NewsOnAir, July 2021, https://newsonair.com/2021/07/06/punjab-police-busts-major-cross-border-espionage-network-with-arrest-of-2-army-personnel-on-charges-of-spying-and-providing-classified-documents-to-isi/

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