The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has busted a major espionage racket involving serving and retired Indian Navy officials who were passing on sensitive information related to a submarine modernisation project to private persons in lieu of bribes.
This episode in which a former naval commander and two retired officers have been arrested is being considered as a major security setback for the Indian Navy and also reminds the country of the 2005 Naval War Room leak.
We take a look at the big episodes and how they expose the Indian Navy's security system.
In October, the CBI conducted searches at 19 locations in Delhi, Noida, Mumbai and Hyderabad and arrested five people, including a serving naval officer and two retired personnel, for allegedly leaking confidential information on the upgrade of the Navy's Kilo class submarines.
The agency said that more arrests are likely to take place.
As per reported information, the commander discussed crucial details about the ongoing modernisation project of the Kilo-class submarines with two retired officers.
The Daily Pioneer reported that while the commander was arrested from Mumbai, the leaks took place in Delhi.
Following the arrests, the Navy has initiated a high-level probe headed by a Vice Admiral and a Rear Admiral. The Navy is also co-operating with the CBI in the probe.
India operates eight Kilo class submarines, four HDW German origin submarines and three Scorpene submarines built in India under technology transfer from France (three more Scorpenes will join the fleet in the future). The navy also operates an indigenous nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, INS Arihant.
Naval War Room leaks
In May 2005, over 7,000 pages of sensitive information, including the Navy’s plans for the next 20 years, was leaked and referred to as the notorious Naval War Room Leak, which became one of the biggest defence scandals of the country.
According to a report in the Economic Times, the case came to light when the Air Force Intelligence put an Air Defence Directorate officer under surveillance. The IAF then recovered a pen drive that contained information about India’s naval and maritime plans for the next 20 years from the residence of Wing Commander SL Surve. The leak was then traced to the Maritime Operations Centre of the Directorate of Naval Operations in Delhi.
Another pen drive with information of similar nature also surfaced, which Surve admittedly obtained from Lt (Retd) Kulbhushan Parashar.
The CBI's chargesheet in July 2006 said that the documents also contained "information for big multinationals engaged in defence supplies" and that the "worth of this information, when translated into currency could run into billions of dollars."
The investigations revealed that the key officers included retired Naval officers Ravi Shankaran and Kulbhushan Prashar, and arms dealer Abhishek Verma. Shankaran is a relative of the then Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Arun Prakash.
Three war room officers – Commander Vijendra Rana of the Marine Commando Force and navigation and operations specialists Commander Vinod Kumar Jha and Captain Kashyap Kumar – were sacked without a trial.
Surve was also found guilty by the Court of Inquiry set up by the Air Force. He was dismissed from service for misconduct, under Section 19 of the Air Force Act, which allows the central government to remove a person from service.
Ravi Shankaran, the alleged mastermind of the leak, fled to UK in 2010. In 2015, the Times of India reported that the chase for Shankaran had ended as the CBI would not challenge the 2014 order of the England and Wales High Court against his extradition.
Parashar was sentenced to imprisonment under Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act and Verma was sentenced to imprisonment under Sections 3 and 5 of the Official Secrets Act.
In 2016, alarm bells rang again in the South Block after reports in Australia revealed that the entire design plan of India's Scorpene submarine fleet had been leaked.
The Indian Navy in a statement had said that the leak appeared to be "from overseas and not in India".
"The documents that have been posted on the website by an Australian news agency have been examined and do not pose any security compromise as the vital parameters have been blacked out," the Navy had said.
Interestingly, The Australian, a newspaper based in Australia, had put out only a few of the 22,400 pages that is in its possession. Citing security concerns of India, the paper had itself blacked out vital information.
In February 2020, 13 Indian Navy personnel was arrested for leaking sensitive information to Pakistan intelligence services on social media.
The arrested navy personnel reportedly revealed the names of the ships and submarines, top level officers, routes they operate, details of other colleagues recruited recently from various naval bases. They also disclosed about some vital locations, movements of warships and submarines.
After this incident came to light, the Indian Navy imposed a strict ban on the use of smartphones and social media applications by its personnel.
With inputs from agencies