Honey-trapped officer captain Arun Marwaha’s treason has a lesson for Armed Forces

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Indian Air Force’s (IAF) annual Exercise Gagan Shakti that aims to showcase India’s air dominance is set to take place in March-April. Some units of the Navy and Army too will be participating in the exercise to test new combat concepts under our integrated war doctrine. The exercise will see the deployment of indigenously developed light combat aircraft Tejas for the first time after its induction.

The stakes of the exercise are high. Sadly, information regarding Exercise Gagan Shakti now stands compromised.

Group captain Arun Marwaha, arrested for leaking secret information on national security, has allegedly leaked information related to Exercise Gagan Shakti among other sensitive issues. Marwaha reportedly leaked secret documents related to combat air exercises and training of IAF personnel through his smart phone to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in exchange for sexual favours. The extent of damage inflicted by his acts of treason is not known.

Group captain Arun Marwaha

A careful analysis of the social media profile of 51-year-old Marwaha throws up some very disturbing patterns.

He joined Facebook in 2009. The social media platform’s artificial intelligence has a smart feature. It allows Facebook to access users’ contact list and whenever a new contact’s mobile number is saved to the phone, the AI interface of Facebook finds the newly added contact from its database and starts showing him/her as “people you may know”. Also people with common friends are also shown in each other’s friends’ suggestions. Marwaha had been a serving officer for over three decades. It is obvious his mobile number was in the contact list of every officer he served and their family members.

It can be simply concluded that senior officers on whose contact list Marwaha existed and who used Facebook had seen his photos in uniform, onboard IAF aircraft, skydiving or para jumping. However, this breach of security was overlooked probably because Marwaha was a senior officer.

Marwaha’s Facebook profile lists him as someone working at the Aerial Delivery Research and Development Establishment – DRDO in Agra. His last updated profile photo uploaded on December 16, 2017, with an IAF hangar (a classified operational area) in the background is a photo in uniform.

A post uploaded on November 18, 2016, is again one in uniform captioned: Paratroopers training school command jump 2016.Marwaha put up several such photos on Facebook. However, a serving officer posting photographs in uniform, revealing name and location of the unit where he is posted, taking and posting photographs in classified operation areas and indulging in propaganda against the government of the day – all these amount to treason.

This irresponsible social media use that amounted to serious breach of security continued for about nine years without raising any alarms. The armed forces have an old policy of no social media use for its serving personnel.

Shooting videos in uniform and on military campus, leave alone operational areas, has resulted in the following:

1) Death of lance naik Roy Mathew

2) Court marshal of lance naik Tej Pratap

3) Dismissal from service for Tej Bahadur Yadav

While these three officers faced dire consequences for their acts, the senior officers have frequently got away with acts of indiscipline.

Marwaha came under the scanner only after he took his mobile phone inside the service headquarters, where its use is banned.

Sources reveal more shocking details on the continued use of smart phones by the officers of the forces. Except the headquarters and some military installations, most military bases do not have any checks in place to ensure use of smart phones are regulated or monitored.

Divulging even a seemingly insignificant or irrelevant piece of information to an unknown individual one befriends online can have grave consequences.

I remember how we used to receive calls from the command headquarters on the official phone of the ship to check the duty staff’s alertness. If the name of the ship or any other information was revealed due to a slack action was initiated.

Families of Indian Navy sailors only knew when one had to leave for sailing. The other details including when they would return were never shared. These are matters of personal integrity. No defence academy or Sashastra Seema Bal can instil into any individual that integrity or patriotism.

The forces should act tough against officers who are privy to confidential information rather than target the jawans. Discipline must be instilled in the senior-most officers first.

The ISI searched for Indian Air Force on Facebook and came across Marwaha. A honey-trap was laid and he was then teased about being a fake captain. Marwaha didn’t get the game and boasted that he indeed was one to please the women he was talking to. This is how Marwaha turned into an ISI agent and compromised sensitive information.

It is therefore imperative that forces wake up to the challenge of social media and track the social media interactions of officers and jawans capable of leaking sensitive information.

However, social media platforms aren’t the only way in which officers can be honey-trapped. There are women posing as journalists or those who reach out to officers through matrimonial websites. Parties onboard ships are occasions where young officers invite young women whose backgrounds are largely unverified. These can prove detrimental to the forces.

While captain Marwaha must be hanged till death for his treason, forces must ensure better surveillance to ensure this doesn’t happen again.