Demystifying the Nitin Gadkari snooping row


A couple of the listening devices that supposedly “entered” roads minister Nitin Gadkari’s residence in Lutyen’s Delhi may have been roaming ones, carried into his home by people who had access to his house, a bugs-vendor to the government told dna.

He said such a device is referred to in bugs-trade as a “box” and they can fit into pens and computers or any other device. Some of them may have also been left behind, planted in concealed receptacles, crooks and crannies, such as an AC vent, lamp-switch, table-lamp, ceiling fan or any household appliance such as a coffeemaker or dishwasher.

An intelligence source told dna Gadkari’s residence was debugged, and the Prime Minister’s Office informed soon after the bugs were discovered. He said as far as he knew, the bugs were found planted in an AC vent, a table-lamp, a lamp switch and a ceiling fan in a bedroom, drawing room and “office” of Gadkari’s official residence in Teen Murti Lane.

The bugs were said to be very sophisticated, and already stories are being aired of the involvement of a foreign spy agency, with the CIA at the top of the list of suspects. As for the fallout from the revelations, Gadkari issued a formal statement on Monday, saying, “As already stated, I reiterate no devices were found at my residences anywhere.” Earlier, on Sunday, he had tweeted that the report was “speculative”, without denying it outright.

The Congress, left holding “collateral damage” (the bugs were supposedly discovered two months ago, within days of the Modi government taking charge), said it will take up the issue in a big way, even stall Parliament to force the government to come clean. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, sensing where the story was heading for, had called for a probe on Sunday, dismissing suggestions that the then UPA-II government was behind the “snooping”.

To get an idea of how sophisticated such listening devices can be, dna went bug-hunting, and found that bugs are “living and lifeless, technological marvels and simple hearing-plants.”

For instance, at the height of Cold War, a Telegraph report of 2011 said, the CIA surgically planted listening devices in a cat called ‘Kitty Acoustic’ to spy on a “person of interest” in Russia. And, Gadkari’s denial notwithstanding, doubts persist.

According to a source in the intelligence community, Gadkari could be a “person of interest” to a foreign spy agency, and so could be other ministers in the Modigovernment. “I am not privy, but full sweeps must have been done at their offices and residences, too,” said the source.

The bugs-story has embarrassed Indian intelligence agencies. They cannot fathom how any foreign spy agency could outfox them and plant the bugs in Gadkari’s residence. “Somebody has to get those bugs in and spend time to plant them,” said an intelligence source. Spy agencies have always seen any and everyday things right receptacles to plant bugs, from car navigation systems to light switches, dishwashers to coffeemakers, television to radio sets, and devices wired to the internet.

Former CIA director David Petraeus was once quoted saying, “We’ll spy on you through your dishwasher.” For Petraeus there were items of interest (dishwashers…) and persons of interest (such as top officials/ministers in foreign governments), and he wouldn’t let go an opportunity to use items of interest to spy on persons of interest. For him all online devices were “treasure troves of data” if anybody was a person of interest to the spy community.

“Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters, all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing, Petraeus was quoted as saying. “These household spy devices change our notions of secrecy and prompt a rethink of our notions of identity and secrecy.”

For all that, for now, Gadkari is a person of interest only to the raucous media, which has no concrete proof.


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