How we spied on the Indonesians and how expats are targeted overseas
5 december 2013
THEIR clandestine activities may be directly in the spotlight, but Australian spies have for decades been listening in on our neighbours.
Modern spooks have two main methods of tapping the mobile phones of people of interest in cities such as Jakarta. The first option is to install a physical bugging device in the actual handset, to forward calls to a third number – but this requires access to the handset.
For high-security targets, Australian agents use electronic scanners and very powerful computers to monitor phone numbers of interest via microwave towers (small metal towers that look like venetian blinds) located on top of buildings across Jakarta and all modern cities.
The latter was employed to tap the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and key ministers.
Getting hold of a handset is a tricky business so the preferred method for the spooks employed by the Australian Signals Directorate (formerly Defence Signals Directorate) is to monitor microwave phone towers located on top of most buildings in Jakarta and indeed any other major city.
The material, known at this point as “first echelon”, is captured by computers located in secure rooms at the Australian Embassy where information is filtered before it is forwarded by secure means to super computers located at ASD headquarters. They are located inside the maximum security building ‘M’, protected by high voltage electric fences, at Defence’s Russell Office complex in Canberra. Here it is processed and analysed as “second echelon” product.
In less busy locations, or where the target phone number is known, an off-the-shelf scanner can be programmed to intercept mobile phone calls.
In cities such as Jakarta enterprising business people now offer a mobile bugging service where for a fee of between $300 and $1000 they will arrange to “borrow” a mobile phone, insert a bugging device and then return it to a relieved owner. Whenever the phone rings or is used to access a network the call is diverted to another handset or recording device.
Government staff understand that if their phone goes missing and then turns up they should dispose of it and get a new one.
But for the average citizen, say a teacher at an English speaking school in Jakarta whose phone was bugged by an angry ex-girlfriend, phone tapping is a serious matter. And it is more common than many expatriates might think.
There is a thriving business in phone tapping for private or industrial or state espionage reasons in cities such as Jakarta, Singapore and Bangkok. Industrial espionage is widespread in cities around the world including Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.
Compared to the operations of ASD and its powerful scanners, super computers and army of analysts these operations are small beer.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott was quick to point out in the wake of the phone tapping scandal that every country spied and he was right.
However Indonesia has nowhere near the capacity for espionage that Australia and our close “five eyes” allies – the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand – posses.
After the 2002 Bali bombings the DSD, Australian Federal Police and Telstra went to Indonesia and showed Indonesian intelligence agencies how to tap into the networks of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI).
Unlike Australia much of Indonesia’s electronic surveillance capacity is directed at internal problems such as the insurgencies in Aceh and West Papua.
According to one of Australia’s leading experts on electronic spying, Professor Des Ball from the Australian National University, there is really no point in conducting such intercept operations unless a country has the whole picture. That is satellite communications, cable communications and radio communications.
“Microwave mobile phone calls are very hit and miss,” he said.
Australia owns the big picture thanks to an expensive and extensive network of listening posts in Jakarta, Bangkok and Port Moresby and powerful satellite ground stations at HMAS Harman in Canberra, Shoal Bay near Darwin, Morundah near Wagga in NSW, Cabarlah near Toowoomba in Qld and Geraldton in WA.
This interception network is monitoring communications from Singapore to the Pacific Islands including Indonesia’s Palapa satellite.
Professor Ball said there had been huge growth in Australia’s eavesdropping capacity in recent years. For example the number of dishes at Shoal Bay has gone from six to 15 and Geraldton has more than doubled its capacity including six American dishes for the exclusive use of the National Security Agency (NSA) whose lax security allowed Edward Snowden to abscond with top-secret information that is now being leaked.
Unfortunately Australian taxpayers have no way of knowing how much is spent on these facilities or even how many staff are employed by the top-secret ASD. The numbers used to appear in the Defence annual report, but not anymore.
Professor Ball said successive governments had allowed the electronic spooks to have a virtual free rein.
“When briefings about the phone intercepts from SBY and his wife came in the government should have ordered the tapping to stop,” Professor Ball said.
“It is important to have the capacity but you only use it when there is a conflict. Put it in, test it and keep it up to date, but don’t use it because unless you have to because it will come out.”
Professor Ball also slammed Mr Abbott for saying that other countries (Indonesia) were doing exactly what Australia did, because they weren’t and they can’t.
“They are not doing what we are doing and Abbott should have apologised or done what Bob Hawke did with Papua New Guinea in 1983.”
Prime Minister Hawke went to Port Moresby after it was revealed that Australia spied on politicians there, but before he left he ordered the spooks switch to all monitoring equipment off for 48 hours. He was then able to say that Australia wasn’t doing it although as journalist Laurie Oakes pointed out he had to be “very careful with his tenses”.
Tapping a friendly foreign leader’s phone is fraught enough. Recording the fact on clear power point slides and handing them to another country is just plain dumb.
IAN MCPHEDRAN NATIONAL DEFENCE WRITER
NEWS LIMITED NETWORK
NOVEMBER 21, 2013 6:34PM
Find this story at 21 November 2013
News Ltd 2013 Copyright
Spying rocks Indonesia-Australia relations
5 december 2013
Indonesia has officially downgraded the relationship, after Australia refused to apologise for espionage.
A spy scandal involving an Australian attempt to tap the phone of Indonesia’s president has jeopardised crucial people smuggling and counter-terrorism co-operation between the two countries, officials have said.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has temporarily suspended co-coordinated military operations with Australia, including those which target people-smuggling, after significant public outcry in Indonesia over the reports.
“I find it personally hard to comprehend why the tapping was done. We are not in a cold war era,” President Yudhoyono said.
Find out more with our exclusive interactive feature
“I know Indonesians are upset and angry over what Australia has done to Indonesia. Our reactions will determine the future of the relationship and friendship between Indonesia and Australia – which actually have been going well.”
Angry crowds mobbed Australia’s embassy in Jakarta, burning Australian and American flags on Thursday. Indonesia has officially downgraded its relationship with Australia and recalled its ambassador from Canberra.
The country’s prime minister, Tony Abbott, has refused to apologise for what he calls “reasonable” surveillance, but promised to respond to the president’s request for an explanation “swiftly and courteously”.
“I want to express … my deep and sincere regret about the embarrassment to the president and to Indonesia that’s been caused by recent media reporting,” Abbott told parliament.
“As always, I am absolutely committed to building the closest possible relationship with Indonesia because that is overwhelmingly in the interests of both our countries.”
I don’t believe Australia should be expected to apologise for reasonable intelligence-gathering activities
Tony Abbott, Australian Prime Minister
The situation erupted after documents leaked by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, showed Australia’s Defence Signal’s Directorate recorded personal communications of President Yudhoyono, his wife, Ani Yudhoyono, and senior officials in 2009.
The surveillance is understood to be part of a longstanding spying arrangement with the UK, USA, Canada and New Zealand, known as the “five eyes” intelligence partners.
“I don’t believe Australia should be expected to apologise for reasonable intelligence-gathering activities,” Abbott told Australia’s parliament on Tuesday.
“Importantly, in Australia’s case, we use all our resources including information to help our friends and allies, not to harm them,” Abbott said.
The document leaked by Snowden was dated November 2009 and was published jointly by Guardian Australia and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation state television network.
It details the attempted interception of various targets’ mobile phones and lists their specific phone models with slides marked “top secret” and the Australian Signals Directorate’s slogan: “Reveal their secrets, protect our own.”
This leak came after previous documents released by Snowden revealed Australian embassies had participated in
widespread US surveillance across Asia, including in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand.
The combined revelations have strained a bilateral relationship already under pressure over the Abbott government’s hardline asylum seeker policy to “turn back” boats coming to Australia, a controversial and highly emotive issue in the country.
Professor Greg Fealy is an Indonesian politics specialist at the Australian National University. He told Al Jazeera the situation was becoming increasingly serious.
“Every new day brings new sanctions from the Indonesian side and so far the Abbott government hasn’t responded well to it,” Fealy said.
He believes relations between the two countries have not been this strained since the East Timor crisis in 1999, when Australia’s military went into East Timor during its transition from an Indonesian territory to independence.
“It has the potential to get worse, with the Indonesians withdrawing further cooperation [with Australia] in many fields,” Fealy said.
“If there is a sufficiently wide range of retaliation then this could possibly be worse than the crisis of 15 years ago.”
Prime Minister Abbott has been encouraged to reassure President Yudhoyono that no further surveillance is taking place – similar to the conversation between US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel after
revelations her phone was also tapped.
John McCarthy, a former Australian ambassador to Indonesia, said Abbott must contact Yudhoyono to make amends.
“There is nothing, frankly, to prevent the prime minister saying to the president that it’s not happening and it’s not going to happen in the future. That’s what Obama did with Angela Merkel and I don’t see a problem with that,”
“It can’t be allowed just to fester. If it festers it will get worse and it will be much harder to deal with, particularly as the politics get hotter in Indonesia.”
Australian officials would also be expressing their frustration with the United States over this situation, according to Michael Wesley, professor of national security at the Australian National University.
“There are a number of reasons Australian officials can legitimately be very irritated with the Americans. We’re in this mess because of an American security lapse,” Wesley told Al Jazeera.
“I’m actually gobsmacked at both Snowden and Bradley Manning, at their ability to get highly classified documents and download them. It would be absolutely impossible for people of their level of access to do that in Australia.”
“There should be real questions asked in the American intelligence community how this could have happened,” Professor Wesley said.
Former NSA senior executive Thomas Drake said the “five eyes” utilise each other’s services for information on other nations.
“Much of it is legit, but increasingly since 9/11 because of the sheer power of technology and access to the world’s communication systems … [agencies have] extraordinary access to even more data on just about anything and anybody,” Drake told ABC.
Indonesia’s minister for religious affairs, Suryadharma Ali, also cancelled a planned visit to Australia following the response from Yudhoyono.
Author and Indonesian political expert Professor Damien Kingsbury was due to host Ali at an event in Melbourne, and
told Al Jazeera the snub was a concerning sign of the deterioration in relations.
“It is still quite significant that a senior minister felt he couldn’t come to Australia at this time,” Kingsbury said.
“It’s pretty disastrous, the issue has effectively ended ongoing diplomatic engagement between Australia and Indonesia.”
“We’ve seen the cancellation and suspension of a number of points of engagement and that has quite distinct implications for Australian government policy in some areas. There is the possibility this matter could continue to escalate if it’s not adequately resolved,” Kingsbury said.
The bilateral relationship between the two nations will be “uncomfortable” but it will pass, according to former US assistant secretary of state for East Asia, Kurt Campbell.
“The relationship will be strong again, but there is a ritual quality that I’m afraid you [Australia] will have to go through, and very little you can say now or do is going to ease the next couple of months,” Campbell told ABC.
He said the practice of phone-tapping was an acceptable part of international relations.
“I can tell you that some of the most sensitive spying is done by allies and friends.”
“Some of the most difficult foreign policy challenges – terrorist attacks – actually emanated in Indonesia. Australia has good cause to understand the delicate dynamics that play out behind the scenes with regard to how Indonesia’s thinking about some of those movements and some of the actors inside its country,” Campbell said.
Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten said the “vital” relationship between the two countries must be repaired.
“No-one should underestimate what is at stake in maintaining this critical relationship on the best possible terms.
“Co-operation between our countries is fundamental to our national interest – working together on people smuggling, terrorism, trade,” Shorten wrote in an opinion piece for The Guardian.
Prime Minister Abbott is expected to respond to Indonesia’s request for a full written explanation into the phone tapping in the coming days.
Geraldine Nordfeldt Last updated: 22 Nov 2013 15:00
Find this story at 22 November 2013
Indonesia voices anger at Australia alleged spying
5 december 2013
(CNN) — Indonesia summoned the Australian ambassador Monday to voice its anger at allegations that Australia tried to listen into the phone calls of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Greg Moriarty. Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia, “took careful note of the issues raised and will report back to the Australian Government,” the Australian embassy in Jakarta said.
Indonesia’s objections stem from reports in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Guardian Australia that said Australian intelligence tracked Yudhoyono’s mobile phone for 15 days in August 2009, monitoring the calls he made and received.
‘We live in a post-Snowden age’
Stone: ‘We’ve bugged the whole world’
Fareed’s Take: Spying on allies
The intelligence agency also tried to listen in on what was said on at least one occasion. But the call was less than a minute long and could not be successfully tapped, ABC reported.
The two media outlets cited documents provided by Edward Snowden, the U.S. national security contractor turned leaker.
“The Australian Government urgently needs to clarify on this news, to avoid further damage,” Indonesian presidential spokesman Teuku Faizasyah tweeted.
“The damage has been done and now trust must be rebuilt,” he said in another tweet.
Asked in parliament to comment on the reports, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, “all governments gather information and all governments know that every other government gathers information.”
“The Australian Government never comments on specific intelligence matters,” he added. “This has been the long tradition of governments of both political persuasions and I don’t intend to change that today.”
By the CNN Staff
November 18, 2013 — Updated 1033 GMT (1833 HKT)
Find this story at 18 November 2013
© 2013 Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.
Australia spied on Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, leaked Edward Snowden documents reveal
5 december 2013
Video: Watch: Michael Brissenden on how leaked documents prove Australia spied on SBY (ABC News)
Photo: The documents show the DSD tracked activity on Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s mobile phone. (Reuters: Supri)
Related Story: Live: Follow the unfolding reaction to this story
Australian intelligence tried to listen in to Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s mobile phone, material leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.
Documents obtained by the ABC and Guardian Australia, from material leaked by the former contractor at the US National Security Agency, show Australian intelligence attempted to listen in to Mr Yudhoyono’s telephone conversations on at least one occasion and tracked activity on his mobile phone for 15 days in August 2009.
Spy games explained
Australia’s role in the NSA spy program, including what it means for Indonesian relations.
The top-secret documents are from Australia’s electronic intelligence agency, the Defence Signals Directorate (now called the Australian Signals Directorate), and show for the first time how far Australian spying on Indonesia has reached.
The DSD motto stamped on the bottom of each page reads: “Reveal their secrets – protect our own.”
The documents show that Australian intelligence actively sought a long-term strategy to continue to monitor the president’s mobile phone activity.
The surveillance targets also included senior figures in his inner circle and even the president’s wife Kristiani Herawati (also known as Ani Yudhoyono).
Also on the list of targets is the vice president Boediono, the former vice president Yussuf Kalla, the foreign affairs spokesman, the security minister, and the information minister.
Mr Yudhoyono’s spokesman Teuku Faizasyah has responded to the revelations, saying: “The Australian Government needs to clarify this news, to avoid further damage … [but] the damage has been done.”
Asked about the spying in Question Time today, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “First of all, all governments gather information and all governments know that every other government gathers information… the Australian government never comments on specific intelligence matters. This has been the long tradition of governments of both political persuasions and I don’t intend to change that today.”
Documents list ‘who’s who’ of Indonesian government
One page in the documentation lists the names and the 3G handsets the surveillance targets were using at the time.
A number of the people on the list are lining up as potential candidates for the presidential election to replace Mr Yudhoyono next year.
The documents are titled “3G impact and update” and appear to chart the attempts by Australian intelligence to keep pace with the rollout of 3G technology in Indonesia and across South-East Asia.
A number of intercept options are listed and a recommendation is made to choose one of them and to apply it to a target – in this case the Indonesian leadership.
The document shows how DSD monitored the call activity on Mr Yudhoyono’s Nokia handset for 15 days in August 2009.
One page is titled “Indonesian President voice events” and provides what is called a CDR view. CDR are call data records; it can monitor who is called and who is calling but not necessarily what was said.
Another page shows that on at least one occasion Australian intelligence did attempt to listen in to one of Mr Yudhoyono’s conversations.
But according to the notes on the bottom of the page, the call was less than one minute long and therefore did not last long enough to be successfully tapped.
Factbox: Indonesia and Australia
Indonesia is one of Australia’s most important bilateral relationships.
Indonesia was Australia’s 12th largest trade partner in 2012.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has pledged to increase two-way trade and investment flows.
President Yudhoyono has visited Australia four times during his presidency, more than any predecessor.
Asylum seekers remain a sticking point in relations; Australia seeks active cooperation.
In 2012-13, Australia’s aid assistance to Indonesia was worth an estimated $541.6 million.
Given the diplomatic furore that has already surrounded the claims that the Australian embassy in Jakarta was involved in general spying on Indonesia, these revelations of specific and targetted surveillance activity at the highest level are sure to increase the tension with our nearest and most important neighbour significantly.
On an official visit to Canberra last week, the Indonesian vice president publicly expressed Indonesia’s concern.
“Yes, the public in Indonesia is concerned about this,” Boediono said.
“I think we must look to come to some arrangement that guarantees intelligence information from each side is not used against the other.”
Last week Prime Minister Tony Abbott was keen to play down the significance of the spying allegations, saying that he was very pleased “we have such a close, cooperative and constructive relationship with the Indonesian government”.
That may be a little harder to say today.
By national defence correspondent Michael Brissenden
Updated Mon 18 Nov 2013, 8:11pm AEDT
Find this story at 18 November 2013
© 2013 ABC
Australia’s spy agencies targeted Indonesian president’s mobile phone
5 december 2013
Secret documents revealed by Edward Snowden show Australia tried to monitor the mobile calls of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, accompanied by his first lady, Kristiani Herawati, speaks to his Democratic party supporters during a rally in Banda Aceh, Aceh province, in March 2009. Photograph: Supri/Reuters
Australia’s spy agencies have attempted to listen in on the personal phone calls of the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and have targeted the mobile phones of his wife, senior ministers and confidants, a top-secret document from whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.
The document, dated November 2009, names the president and nine of his inner circle as targets of the surveillance, including the vice-president, Boediono, who last week visited Australia. Other named targets include ministers from the time who are now possible candidates in next year’s Indonesian presidential election, and the first lady, Kristiani Herawati, better known as Ani Yudhoyono.
When a separate document from Snowden, a former contractor to the US’s National Security Agency (NSA), showed Australia had spied on Indonesia and other countries from its embassies, the Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, reacted angrily and threatened to review co-operation on issues crucial to Australia such as people smuggling and terrorism.
The revelation strained a bilateral relationship already under pressure over the Abbott government’s policy to “turn back” boats of asylum seekers coming to Australia. The new leak, published jointly by Guardian Australia and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, reveals the specific top-level targets and is likely to seriously escalate those tensions.
The leaked material is a slide presentation, marked top secret, from the Australian Department of Defence and the Defence Signals Directorate, or DSD, (now called the Australian Signals Directorate), dealing with the interception of mobile phones as 3G technology was introduced in Asia. It includes a slide titled Indonesian President Voice Intercept, dated August 2009 and another slide, titled IA Leadership Targets + Handsets, listing the president and the first lady as having Nokia E90-1s, Boediono as having a BlackBerry Bold 9000, as well as the type and make of the mobile phones held by the other targets.
Also named as targets for the surveillance are Dino Patti Djalal, at the time the president’s foreign affairs spokesman, who recently resigned as Indonesia’s ambassador to the US and is seeking the candidacy in next year’s presidential election for the president’s embattled Democratic party, and Hatta Rajasa, now minister for economic affairs and possible presidential candidate for the National Mandate party. Hatta was at the time minister for transport and his daughter is married to the president’s youngest son.
A slide entitled Indonesian President Voice Intercept (August ’09), shows a call from an unknown number in Thailand to Yudhoyono. But the call did not last long enough for the DSD to fulfil its aims. “Nil further info at this time (didn’t make the dev threshold – only a sub-1minute call),” a note at the bottom says.
Another slide, titled Indonesian President Voice Events, has a graphic of calls on Yudhoyono’s Nokia handset over 15 days in August 2009. It plots CDRs – call data records – which record the numbers called and calling a phone, the duration of calls, and whether it was a voice call or SMS. The agency, in what is standard procedure for surveillance, appears to have expanded its operations to include the calls of those who had been in touch with the president. Another slide, entitled Way Forward, states an imperative: “Must have content.”
Also on the list of “IA Leadership Targets” are:
• Jusuf Kalla, the former vice-president who ran as the Golkar party presidential candidate in 2009.
• Sri Mulyani Indrawati, then a powerful and reforming finance minister and since 2010 one of the managing directors of the World Bank Group.
• Andi Mallarangeng, a former commentator and television host who was at the time the president’s spokesman, and who was later minister for youth and sports before resigning amid corruption allegations.
• Sofyan Djalil, described on the slide as a “confidant”, who until October 2009 was minister for state-owned enterprises.
• Widodo Adi Sucipto, a former head of the Indonesian military who was until October 2009 security minister.
Asked about the previous revelations about the embassies, Tony Abbott emphasised that they occurred during the administration of the former Labor government, that Australia’s activities were not so much “spying” as “research” and that its intention would always be to use any information “for good”. The prime minister has repeatedly insisted Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is “good and getting better”.
Boediono said during his visit to Australia – before being revealed as an intended target of Australia’s surveillance – that the Indonesian public was “concerned” about the spying allegations.
“I think we must look forward to come to some arrangement which guarantees that intelligence information from each side is not used against the other,” he said. “There must be a system.”
At the bottom of each slide in the 2009 presentation is the DSD slogan: “Reveal their secrets – protect our own.” The DSD is credited with supplying the information.
Yudhoyono now joins his German, Brazilian and Mexican counterparts as leaders who have been monitored by a member of Five Eyes, the collective name for the surveillance agencies of the US, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, who share information.
Germany, Brazil and Mexico have all protested to the US over the infringement of privacy by a country they regarded as friendly. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, reacted with outrage to the revelation that her personal mobile phone had been tapped by the US, calling President Barack Obama to demand an explanation. The US eventually assured the chancellor that her phone was “not currently being tapped and will not be in the future”.
The Australian slide presentation, dated November 2009, deals with the interception of 3G mobile phones, saying the introduction of 3G in south-east Asia was nearly complete and providing dates for 3G rollout in Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
Talking about future plans, the Australian surveillance service says it “must have content” and be able to read encrypted messages, which would require acquiring the keys that would unlock them. Other documents from Snowden show the intelligence agencies have made huge inroads in recent years in finding ways into encrypted messages.
One of the slides, entitled DSD Way Forward, acknowledges that the spy agency’s resources are limited compared with its US and British counterparts. It says there is a “need to capitalise on UKUSA and industry capability”, apparently a reference to the help provided – willingly or under pressure – from telecom and internet companies. The slides canvass “options” for continued surveillance and the final slide advises: “Choose an option and apply it to a target (like Indonesian leadership).”
The tension between Australia and Indonesia began in October when documents revealed by the German newspaper Der Spiegel and published by Fairfax newspapers revealed that Australian diplomatic posts across Asia were being used to intercept phone calls and data. The Guardian then revealed that the DSD worked alongside America’s NSA to mount a massive surveillance operation in Indonesia during a UN climate change conference in Bali in 2007.
But these earlier stories did not directly involve the president or his entourage. Abbott made his first international trip as prime minister to Indonesia and has repeatedly emphasised the crucial importance of the bilateral relationship.
Speaking after his meeting with Boediono last week, Abbott said: “All countries, all governments gather information. That’s hardly a surprise. It’s hardly a shock.
“We use the information that we gather for good, including to build a stronger relationship with Indonesia and one of the things that I have offered to do today in my discussions with the Indonesian vice-president is to elevate our level of information-sharing because I want the people of Indonesia to know that everything, everything that we do is to help Indonesia as well as to help Australia. Indonesia is a country for which I have a great deal of respect and personal affection based on my own time in Indonesia.”
Asked about the spying revelations in a separate interview, Abbott said: “To use the term spying, it’s kind of loaded language … researching maybe. Talking to people. Understanding what’s going on.”
On Monday a spokesman for Abbott said: “Consistent with the long-standing practice of Australian governments, and in the interest of national security, we do not comment on intelligence matters.”
It remains unclear exactly who will contest next year’s Indonesian presidential election, in which Yudhoyono, having already served two terms, is not eligible to stand. Based on recent polling, the popular governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, and former general Prabowo Subianto would be frontrunners.
Ewen MacAskill in New York and Lenore Taylor in Canberra
theguardian.com, Monday 18 November 2013 00.58 GMT
Find this story at 18 November 2013
Find the documents at
© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
India’s Nuclear Scientists Keep Dying Mysteriously (2013)
3 december 2013
Indian nuclear scientists haven’t had an easy time of it over the past decade. Not only has the scientific community been plagued by “suicides”, unexplained deaths and sabotage, but those incidents have gone mostly underreported in the country, diluting public interest and leaving the cases quickly cast off by police.
Last month, two high-ranking engineers – KK Josh and Abhish Shivam – on India’s first nuclear-powered submarine were found on railway tracks by workers. They were pulled from the line before a train could crush them, but were already dead. No marks were found on the bodies, so it was clear they hadn’t been hit by a moving train, and reports allege they were poisoned elsewhere before being placed on the tracks to make the deaths look either accidental or like a suicide. The media and the Ministry of Defence, however, described the incident as a routine accident and didn’t investigate any further.
This is the latest in a long list of suspicious deaths. When nuclear scientist Lokanathan Mahalingam’s body turned up in June of 2009, it was palmed off as a suicide and largely ignored by the Indian media. However, Pakistani outlets – perhaps unsurprisingly, given relations between the two countries – kept the story going, noting how quick authorities were to label the death a suicide considering no note was left.
Five years earlier, in the same forest where Mahalingham’s body was eventually discovered, an armed group with sophisticated weaponry allegedly tried to abduct an official from India’s Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC). He, however, managed to escape. Another NPC employee, Ravi Mule, had been murdered weeks before, with police failing to “make any headway” into his case and effectively leaving his family to investigate the crime. A couple of years later, in April of 2011, when the body of former scientist Uma Rao was found, authorities ruled the death as suicide, but family members contested the verdict, saying there had been no signs that Rao was suicidal.
Trombay, the site of India’s first atomic reactor. (Photo via)
This seems to be a recurring theme with deaths in the community. Madhav Nalapat, one of the few journalists in India giving the cases any real attention, has been in close contact with the families of the recently deceased scientists left on the train tracks. “There was absolutely no kind of depression or any family problems that would lead to suicide,” he told me over the phone.
If the deaths of those in the community aren’t classed as suicide, they’re generally labelled as “unexplained”. A good example is the case of M Iyer, who was found with internal haemorrhaging to his skull – possibly the result of a “kinky experiment”, according to a police officer. After a preliminary look-in, the police couldn’t work out how Iyer had suffered internal injuries while not displaying any cuts or bruises, and investigations fizzled out.
This label is essentially admission of defeat on the police force’s part. Once the “unexplained” rubber stamp has been approved, government bodies don’t tend to task the authorities with investigating further. This may be a necessity due to the stark lack of evidence available at the scene of the deaths – a feature that some suggest could indicate the work of professional killers – but if this is the case, why not bring in better trained detectives to investigate the cases? A spate of deaths in the nuclear scientific community would create a media storm and highly publicised police investigation in other countries, so why not India?
This inertia has led to great public dissatisfaction with the Indian police. “[The police] say it’s an unsolved murder – that’s all. Why doesn’t it go higher? Perhaps to a specialist investigations unit?” Madhav asked. “These people were working on the submarine programme – creating a reactor – and have either ‘committed suicide’ or been murdered. It’s astonishing that this hasn’t been seen as suspicious.”
Perhaps, I suggested, this series of deaths is just the latest chapter in a long campaign aiming to derail India’s nuclear and technological capabilities. Madhav agreed: “There is a clear pattern of this type of activity going on,” he said.
INS Sindhurakshak (Photo via)
The explosions that sunk INS Sindhurakshak – a submarine docked in Mumbai – in August of this year could have been deliberate, according to unnamed intelligence sources. And some have alleged that the CIA was behind the sabotage of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
Of course, the deaths have caused fear and tension among those currently working on India’s various nuclear projects. “[Whistleblowers] are getting scared of being involved in the nuclear industry in India,” Madhav relayed to me. Their “families are getting very nervous about this” and “many of them leave for foreign countries and get other jobs”.
There are parallels here with the numerous attacks on the Iranian nuclear scientist community. Five people associated with the country’s nuclear programme have been targeted in the same way: men on motorcycles sticking magnetic bombs on to their cars and detonating them as they drive off. However, the Iranian government are incredibly vocal in condemning these acts – blaming the US and Israel – and at least give the appearance that they are actively investigating.
The same cannot be said for the Indian government. “India is not making any noise about the whole thing,” Madhav explained. “People have just accepted the police version, [which describes these incidents] as normal kinds of death.”
If the deaths do, in fact, turn out to be premeditated murders, deciding who’s responsible is pure speculation at this point. Two authors have alleged that the US have dabbled in sabotaging the country’s technological efforts in the past; China is in a constant soft-power battle with India; and the volatile relationship with Pakistan makes the country a prime suspect. “It could be any of them,” Madhav said.
But the most pressing issue isn’t who might be behind the murders, but that the Indian government’s apathy is potentially putting their high-value staff at even greater risk. Currently, these scientists – who are crucial to the development of India’s nuclear programmes, whether for energy or security – have “absolutely no protection at all – nothing, zero”, Madhav told me. “Which is amazing for people who are in a such a sensitive programme.”
By Joseph Cox Nov 25 2013
Find this story at 25 November 2013
© 2013 Vice Media Inc
Mysterious deaths, freedom of information, Marconi and the Ministry of Defence (2006)
3 december 2013
Under the Freedom of Information [FOI] Act publicly-funded organisations have 20 working days to answer or notify the applicant if they need more time to answer. Some organisations with well managed records answer more quickly than others but none has been quite as slow as the Ministry of Defence. Its first response to my FOI request came more than six months later.
And there was no acknowledgment of my application, although this is a legal requirement.
I had asked about the mysterious deaths of computer programmers and scientists, some working for Marconi, some for other defence contractors, and others for the MoD and the government communications headquarters GCHQ.
The 25 deaths in the 1970s and 1980s led to countless articles in many countries around the world, including France, Italy, Germany, Poland, and Australia. Separate TV documentaries were made by crews in the UK, US, Canada and Australia. The MoD’s press officers received countless calls from journalists about the deaths; and Lord Weinstock, the then managing director of GEC, one of the government’s biggest defence contractors and at that time Marconi’s parent company, set up an inquiry.
It was carried out by Brian Worth, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner at New Scotland Yard. He concluded that “on the evidence available that the suicide verdicts reached were credible on their own facts, and in the four cases where open verdicts were returned the probability is that each victim took his own life”.
One of the Marconi computer programmers, from London, had gone to Bristol where he tied his neck to a tree and apparently drove off in his car. Less than three months earlier another Marconi programmer from London had travelled by car to Bristol where he apparently jumped off the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Police stopped the cremation of his body as the service was taking place, to investigate further.
Letters to the coroner from the dead man’s friends were unanimous in their scepticism that the programmeer had committed suicide. Police found a tiny puncture mark on the man’s left buttock.
The local coroner alluded to a possible “James Bond” link. He said: “As James Bond would say, ’this is past coincidence,’ and I will not be completing the inquest today until I know how two men with no connection with Bristol came to meet the same end here.” He did not discover why.
The two dead programmers had been working on highly sensitive projects for the government.
If the MoD had been so swamped with information that it could not answer my FOI request quickly, this would have explained its late reply. In fact the poor official who spoke to me had spent months looking for material and found nothing at all. Not one piece of paper. The official reply was that the MoD has no recorded information on any of the cases I had mentioned. So much for the ministry’s record-keeping.
It was as if the deaths had never happened.
By Ted Ritter on November 29, 2006 9:40 AM | 2 Comments
Find this story at 29 November 2006
Scientists` Deaths Mystify British (1988)
3 december 2013
LONDON — In this trench-coated city, where real-life stories of spies and moles and double agents often rival the best fiction, the peculiar deaths of nine British defense scientists in the last 20 months have stirred suspicions that the cases might be connected-and that espionage might be involved.
Those who have studied the deaths-among them opposition politicians, a Cambridge University counterintelligence specialist and some investigative journalists-are loathe to draw any definitive conclusions, because the evidence, although intriguing, is scant.
But they do believe that the seemingly isolated cases bear enough connections and similarities to at least warrant a government investigation into whether some terrorist group or foreign government is involved.
The Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, however, insists that the deaths, most of them apparent suicides, are mere coincidences, at best attributable to the unusually high stresses associated with secret defense research.
“The idea that they might have been bumped off by foreign agents is just straight out of James Bond,“ scoffed a Defense Ministry spokesman.
To be sure, the facts would seem to be the stuff of a crackerjack spy novel. Five of the dead scientists worked at classified laboratories of the Marconi electronics company, a defense subsidiary of General Electric Corp. that happens to be the subject of an ongoing fraud investigation into alleged overcharges on government contracts.
Several of the scientists reportedly were working on top-secret research into submarine detection and satellite defenses related to the “Star Wars“
antimissile program. Marconi has declined to comment on their fates.
While some of the deaths appeared to be suicides, circumstances surrounding others were decidedly bizarre. One Marconi computer scientist, Vimal Dajibhai, 24, plunged to his death from a Bristol bridge in August, 1986. He was found with his pants lowered around his ankles and a tiny puncture wound in his left buttock.
The Bristol coroner returned an open verdict in the case, and the puncture wound, according to a coroner`s spokesman, “was a mystery then and remains a mystery now.“
Another Marconi scientist, Ashad Sharif, 26, was found inside his car in October, 1986. He was nearly decapitated, with one end of a rope tied around a tree and the other end around his neck.
The coroner ruled the death a suicide. But Computer News, a weekly London publication that first drew attention to the series of scientists` deaths, reported that a relative summoned to identify the body said he saw a long metal shaft lying on the floor of the car, near the accelerator pedal. The shaft, the relative said, could have been used to wedge down the accelerator. A third Marconi scientist, David Sands, 37, was killed in March, 1987, when his car-containing two full gasoline cans in the trunk-slammed into the wall of a building. Sands` body was burned beyond recognition, with identification made from dental records. The coroner in the case returned an open verdict, ruling that there was neither sufficient evidence of suicide nor of foul play.
What has complicated the arguments of those who would dismiss the espionage theories as mere fantasy is the fact that stranger things have actually happened in Britain.
Ten years ago, Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident who broadcast anticommunist programs on the British Broadcasting Corp. world radio network, was murdered when an unknown assassin, presumed to be a Bulgarian spy, jabbed him in the leg with an umbrella.
The umbrella carried a microscopic pellet laced with a deadly poison that killed Markov within a few days but left no trace in his bloodstream. The pellet is on display at Scotland Yard`s famed Black Museum.
The British have had a more recent reminder of the spies among them every Sunday for the last month, courtesy of the venerable Sunday Times. The paper has been carrying a serialized interview with Harold (Kim) Philby, the infamous Soviet KGB double agent who managed to infiltrate the highest levels of Britain`s intelligence service 30 years ago and betray the entire Western alliance.
It is knowledge of such history that leads Randall Heather, a counterintelligence researcher at St. Edmund`s College, Cambridge, to at least entertain the possibility that the Soviets are capable of a sophisticated attack on Britain`s defense scientists.
“I restrain myself from engaging in conspiracy mania,“ said Heather.
“But it is possible that we are seeing a very quiet type of terrorism here, directed at very specific targets. It is possibly an attempt to intimidate the small group of scientists who work in these fields.
“These are not normal types of accidents and suicides. These are not normal types of people who are dying.“
The most recent death did appear to be a “normal“ suicide. On March 25, the body of a Marconi computer scientist, Trevor Knight, was found in his car inside his garage, with a hose connected to the exhaust. A coroner`s inquest ruled that Knight, 52, committed suicide and died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
But normal or not, Knight`s case prompted a call in the British Parliament for an official government inquiry into the scientists` deaths.
“Some of these cases are very, very strange indeed,“ said Douglas Hoyle, a Labor Party member of Parliament who is pressing for the government inquiry.
“I mean, does anyone really commit suicide with his trousers halfway down? What was the mark on (Dajibhai`s) buttock? A lot of these deaths just don`t look like ordinary suicides. The question is: is there some common element?“
April 17, 1988|By Howard Witt, Chicago Tribune.
Find this story at 17 April 1988
A British Mystery: 4 Defense Scientists Dead And 1 Missing (1987)
3 december 2013
LONDON — Even considered individually, the mysterious and brutal deaths cry out for attention.
Vimal Dajibhai plunged 250 feet from a suspension bridge in southwest England, 100 miles from home, in August. When his body was discovered on the hard ground below, small, unexplained puncture marks were found on his buttocks.
A month later, Ashad Sharif died after he looped one end of a rope around his neck, attached the other end to a tree, got into the driver’s seat of his car and sped away.
Then at the end of March, David Sands loaded his car with cans of gasoline and drove it at 80 miles an hour into an abandoned roadside cafe south of London, where it exploded in a fireball so furious that his body had to be identified by dental records.
Considered together, the deaths of these young, apparently well-established professional men share some disturbing characteristics that many in Britain say cry out for explanation.
All were defense researchers working for the sprawling Marconi organization, a major electronics defense contractor. All three were involved in sensitive, defense-related projects. All apparently were suicides, although in none of the cases has a convincing motive been advanced, and there were no witnesses to any of the deaths.
These deaths – along with the unexplained death in February of a fourth defense scientist and the disappearance in January of yet another – have caused no end of speculation and concern in the tightly knit, highly secretive world of defense research.
“I do not wish to be accused of inventing plots more suited to a television thriller than real life,” said John Cartwright, parliamentary defense spokesman for the opposition Liberal-Social Democratic alliance. ”But I think the circumstances of these . . . cases and the possible links between them stretch the possibility of coincidence too far.”
But the government has steadfastly resisted Cartwright’s calls for an official inquiry, contending that there is no evidence of a conspiracy.
“I agree that it is odd that all three were computer scientists working in the defense field,” said Lord Trefgarne, the junior defense minister, “but there any relationship stops.”
Marconi, which employed Dajibhai, Sharif and Sands before their deaths, said an internal investigation disclosed no connection among the three men.
“We employ 35,000 people in 18 separate sister companies,” said a spokesman. “These individuals were working on separate programs for separate companies at separate locations.”
And yet many questions remain unanswered. Why should Dajibhai and Sharif die in Bristol, a city far away from their homes and with which they had no apparent connection?
Why should Avtar Singh-Gida, a Ph.D. student working on a Ministry of Defense-funded project at Loughborough University in central England, disappear without a trace in January two days before his wedding anniversary, when he had already bought his wife a gift and a card?
Tony Collins, a reporter who has investigated the incidents for the weekly Computer News, says that his work has led him to conclude that the three Marconi scientists were all involved in a narrow field of underwater-simula tion projects, an area in which he says Britain leads the world.
“I have no evidence to link them at the moment, but I believe there is a case for investigation,” Collins said in an interview. “The government probably feels there’s not enough evidence. It wouldn’t be like the British to rush into an inquiry.”
Others have raised questions about the fact that the names of two of the men who died and the one who is missing – Dajibhai, Sharif and Gida – indicate that they are from the Indian subcontinent or are of Indian origin.
“I’m very suspicious of this. For a fluke there’s too much in it,” Andreas Fingeraut, a defense economist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said in an interview.
“Some of the top computer programmers in the U.K. happen to be people of Indian descent. They have specialized in it and are very good,” he said.
“I’m not saying they’re a security risk, but maybe somebody, somewhere thought they were.”
Others who may not believe in a conspiracy theory have suggested that the deaths and disappearance could be saying something else: that the world of high-technology defense research has become so competitive that it is driving some of its youngest and brightest workers to suicide.
“People in the defense industry are under tremendous pressure all the time. Competition is tough. The pressure is on for people to come up with new ideas,” said Anthony Watts, who writes about maritime defense research for a publication called Navy International, based in Surrey, England.
“The question of whom you can talk to about your work, and how much you can say is uppermost in people’s minds,” he continued. “It’s a strain on people’s families. Perhaps in the end, some of them crack up.”
Martin Stott, Cartwright’s aide in Parliament, also brought up that theme in an interview last week.
“We wonder whether there was something about the work they were doing that might force them to come out and take their lives. Maybe we’re putting too much pressure on these people,” he said.
Yet those looking for some theme, some reason behind the deaths and disappearance, are finding it difficult to know where to begin.
The first death was reported on Aug. 5, when Dajibhai, 24, was found in the gorge below Clifton Bridge near Bristol. Marconi officials say he worked for Marconi Underwater Systems at Watford, near London, as a junior software engineer checking torpedo-guidance systems. It is not known why he traveled so far from his home in London.
The police inquest into his death returned an open verdict, meaning that it could not be determined whether he was killed, died accidentally or committed suicide.
But in the March 5 edition of Computer News, Collins reported that Dajibhai’s family was not satisfied with the police investigation. And people familiar with the case said that Dajibhai seemed happy, had just purchased a new suit and new shoes, and was looking forward to beginning a new career in London’s financial district.
Although Sharif’s death officially was ruled a suicide, many believe it is just as puzzling. Sharif, 26, worked on electronic test equipment as a computer analyst with Marconi Defence Systems at Stanmore, north of London.
Police in Bristol said that a tape recording found in his car lent support to the verdict that he took his own life. But Collins quoted a member of Sharif’s family who contends that the taped message had “nothing to do with death.”
Sands, 36, was employed by a Marconi subsidiary, Easams Ltd., when he drove his car at high speed into the roadside restaurant in the early morning of March 31. A coroner’s ruling on his death is expected next month.
Police were reported to have said that he was depressed and had argued with his wife, but others said Sands had just returned from a vacation in Venice with his wife and showed no signs of depression.
Marconi officials contend that Sands’ work, although classified, had nothing to do with underwater research. But that certainly was the area of expertise for Gida, 26, who was working on an unclassified government-funded contract on sonar transmission.
He was last seen Jan. 8, when he and a colleague were testing acoustic equipment at a reservoir near the University at Loughborough. Both men went for separate lunches, and Gida did not return. Police are still investigating his disappearance.
Dajibhai and Gida lived in the same building at Loughborough University when they both were students, and a Marconi spokesman said they were “nodding acquaintances.” But there is no evidence to link the others.
The mystery appeared to deepen last weekend, when police in Oxfordshire reported details of the death of Peter Peapell, 46, a lecturer at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham and a former Defense Ministry employee.
He was found dead Feb. 22 under the car in the garage at his home. The car engine was running and the garage door was shut, but an inquest returned an open verdict, which means it could not determine whether Peapell’s death was murder, suicide or an accident.
Yet even those who are searching for some link among these deaths are cautious about adding Peapell’s name to the list. He did not work for Marconi, nor was he involved in underwater research. “I’m rather wary of lumping all these people together,” said Stott, Cartwright’s aide.
Still, Peapell’s death notice seemed to add to the sense of unknown permeating all these cases. Stott and others believe the only way to clear the air is through an official inquiry.
“It may well be that this is all coincidence, a series of mysterious but isolated incidents,” he said. “But it is very strange, and we ought to get to the bottom of it.”
By Jane Eisner, Inquirer Staff Writer
Posted: April 12, 1987
Find this story at 12 April 1987
Police Confirm Death Of Fifth Scientist Under Unusual Circumstances (1987)
3 december 2013
LONDON (AP) _ Police on Sunday confirmed the death of a metallurgist involved in secret defense work – the fifth such case in the past eight months in which authorities have been unable to establish the cause of death.
A sixth scientist, a research expert on submarine warfare equipment at the University of Loughborough, vanished in January.
The government has rejected opposition demands for an investigation, saying there was ”no evidence of any link (in the deaths) at this stage.” But Home Secretary Douglas Hurd has ordered police involved in the individual cases to contact each other about the deaths.
John Cartwright, the defense spokesman for the centrist Liberal-Social Democratic Party alliance, renewed his call for an inquiry by the governing Conservative Party following Sunday’s confirmation of the metallurgist’s death.
Even if all the cases were suicides, he said, ”it must raise some question about the pressures under which scientists are working in the defense field.”
Police in Thames Valley confirmed Sunday that Peter Peapell, 46, a lecturer at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham near Swindon, died on Feb. 22 from carbon monoxide poisoning.
An inquest returned an open verdict, making no ruling on the cause of death. Police said Peapell was found underneath his car in the garage of his home. The car’s engine was running and the garage door was shut, according to the report. His wife told reporters he was happy and had no reason to commit suicide.
Cartwright said he believed there were ”grounds for concern” and urged police to reinvestigate Peapell’s ”worrying” death.
Last Monday, David Sands, 37, a computer expert at a subsidiary of the British defense contractor Marconi Co. Ltd., was killed when he drove his car, loaded with gasoline cans, into an abandoned cafe in Surrey.
Press Association, Britain’s domestic news agency, said Sands had just completed three years’ work on a secret air defense radar system for the Royal Air Force at Easams, a subsidiary of Marconi and part of Britain’s giant General Electric Company.
Last year, two other Marconi scientists also died.
Vimal Dajibhai, 24, a programmer with Marconi Underwater Systems who reportedly was working on Britain’s self-guided torpedo Stingray missile, was found dead last August beneath a suspension bridge spanning the River Avon in Bristol, western England.
Relatives and friends testified he had no reason to commit suicde and an inquest returned an open verdict.
Ashad Sharif, 26, a computer expert with Marconi Defense Systems, died near Bristol in October. A police report said he apparently tied one end of a rope to a tree, the other around his neck, got into his car and drove off, strangling himself. An inquest returned a verdict of suicide.
Richard Pugh, a computer design expert, was found dead in his home in Essex in January. The circumstance of his death have never been explained.
A seventh scientist, Avtar Singh-Gida, 26, disappeared in January in northern England while conducting experiments on underwater acoustics. His disappearance is still under police investigation.
AP , Associated Press
Apr. 5, 1987 11:34 PM ET
Find this story at 5 April 1987
© 2013 The Associated Press.
PMO unconcerned about scientist deaths (2013)
3 december 2013
Scientists working in BARC have been particularly liable to ‘suicides’ and murders.
hile there has been substantial international media comment on the unnatural deaths of several scientists working in Iran’s nuclear program, similar attention has not been paid to the (much larger) number of unnatural deaths that have taken place of scientists and engineers working in India’s own nuclear program. The latest casualties were discovered on 7 October, when the bodies of K.K. Josh and Abhish Shivam were discovered near the railway tracks at Penduruthy near Vishakapatnam Naval Yard. The two were engineers connected with the building of India’s indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, Arihant. They had apparently been poisoned and their bodies placed on the tracks to make it seem like an accident. However, they were discovered by a passer-by before a train could pass over the bodies. In any other country, the murder of two engineers connected to a crucial strategic program would have created a media storm. However, the deaths of the two were passed off both by the media as well as by the Ministry of Defence as a routine accident, with only the ordinary police officer tasked with investigations into the cause of death. The inquiries went nowhere.
Scientists working in the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) have been particularly liable to “suicides” and murders, with several being reported during the past five years. In each case, the unnatural death in question gets passed off as either a suicide or an unexplained killing. This far, there has been no report of the police having identified any of the perpetrators of the murders of personnel whose brainpower has been crucial to the success of several key programs. On 23 February 2010, M. Iyer, an engineer at BARC, was found dead in his residence. The killer had used a duplicate key to enter the house and strangle the engineer in his sleep. Interestingly, efforts were made by some of the investigating police officers to pass the death off as a suicide. Finally, the Mumbai police decided to register a case of murder. However, as is usual in such cases, no arrests were made and the investigation ran into a stonewall. Forensics experts say that in all such unexplained deaths of scientists and engineers involved in the nuclear program, fingerprints are absent, as also other telltale clues that would assist the police in identifying the culprit. These indicate a high degree of professionalism behind the murders, such as can be found in top-flight intelligence agencies of the type that have been so successful in killing Iranian scientists and engineers active in that country’s nuclear program.
Unlike Iran, however, which now protects its key personnel, thus far the Government of India has not taken any appreciable steps to protect the lives of those active in core strategic programs relating to the country’s nuclear deterrent.
While it is true that at least one of the unnatural deaths — that of former BARC scientists Uma Rao on 29 April, 2011 — seems to be a case of suicide, the other suicide verdicts are challenged by the families of the deceased engineers and scientists, who say that there was no indication that their loved ones were contemplating such an extreme step. What is surprising is the inattention of the Government of India towards what many believe to be a systematic outside effort to slow down India’s march towards nuclear excellence by killing those involved in the process. Such a modus operandi differs from that followed in the case of the cryogenic engine scandal in 1994, when key scientists working on the program to develop an indigenous cryogenic engine were picked up by the Intelligence Bureau and the Kerala police on false charges of espionage, together with two Maldivian women. The Bill Clinton administration had sought to scupper the Russian sale of such engines to India, but Russian scientists friendly to India had secretly handed over blueprints relating to the making of such engines. This soon became known to the CIA, which is believed to have orchestrated the plan to paralyse the program by sending its key scientists to prison. Although the charges were found to be entirely false, that vindication took a decade to come about, and in the process, the Indian program was slowed down by an equivalent number of years. Thus far, none of the IB or Kerala police officers who acted as the apparent catspaw of a foreign intelligence agency in slapping false charges on key scientists has suffered even a minor punishment, much less be arraigned for treason.
According to the Government of India, over just a three-year period, there have been at least nine unnatural deaths of scientists and engineers at just BARC as well as the Kaiga nuclear facility, of which two have been categorised as suicide, with the rest unexplained in terms of bringing to book those responsible.
MADHAV NALAPAT New Delhi | 26th Oct 2013
Find this story at 26 October 2013