On July 11, 2012, at approximately 6 pm, one of the most responsible news channels in India claimed that an officer of the Indian Army was caught in a honeytrap in a five-star hotel by the counter-intelligence unit of R&AW.
The story was run practically in every news bulletin subsequently with a rare vehemence impacting the Army's morale and damaging the Army's reputation without verifying the facts.
The TV channel claimed, besides the honeytrap angle, that two laptops have been lost, which possibly contained sensitive information since the officer was posted in Suratgarh sector and was privy to the plans as Second-in-Command of an armoured regiment.
If the couple were caught by IB in a five star hotel, the IB will hand over the officer to the Army authorities and the female mole to the Delhi Police, as it has no arrest powers.
The Delhi Police will have to produce the female mole in the court within twenty four-hours.
Also, as she is a foreign national, India will have to inform the Embassy of Bangladesh which in turn will have the right to visit and meet their citizen in custody immediately. The question is, therefore, where exactly was this mole nabbed and from which five star hotel in Delhi?
The reputed channel did not bother to investigate these vital angles of the story that took place in May 2012.
The Indian Army has denied that any physical contact was ever made by the Lieutenant Colonel as he was posted in Suratgarh and the woman concerned was in Bangladesh. What merely happened was that while chatting on Facebook or a social-media site, the officer came in contact with this lady.
He possibly subsequently obtained her telephone number in Bangladesh and made a call. All international calls, especially emanating from military areas to foreign countries are likely to be monitored by the counter-intelligence wing of civil intelligence agencies.
It is said that this female mole was also involved earlier in enticing another Indian Army Officer. This officer was doing a course in Staff College, Bangladesh, and was brave enough to inform his superiors of the blackmail being conducted by ISI to force him to pass sensitive secrets through this lady.
Therefore, the counter-intelligence would be tracking the calls from and to the ISI mole to monitor her activities. This could be another reason, as, if the officer made a telephone call to Bangladesh, it would immediately come under the intelligence scanner.
While it is not known whether R&AW was monitoring the traffic on Facebook or on the telephone line, it is clear that the officer in violation of military laws was conversing on Facebook and possibly subsequently on telephone with a foreigner.
R&AW as a precautionary measure informed the Army and the latter immediately swung into action by ordering a "Court of Enquiry".
It now appears after the military denial that neither the officer was found in a honeytrap, as claimed, nor the lost laptops had anything remotely to do with this female mole, who was in Bangladesh while the officer was in Suratgarh. The story about the loss of laptops in relation to the ISI mole appears to be concocted.
The breaking news only ended up maligning the Army for no rhyme or reason and lowering its own credibility. The officer, it appears, did violate by chatting on Facebook or making an international telephone call to a country considered sensitive by India.
The court of enquiry will also possibly come to the conclusion that no secrets were really passed on Facebook and it was just a normal chat that could have subsequently led towards unwanted scenarios.
However, this is subject to investigations. But the damage that was done wittingly or unwittingly by leaking this falsehood to a media channel by the intelligence agency and later the channel without counter verification of the news has unnecessarily damaged the social fabric of the Indian Army.
In the 21st century, it is very difficult for an average middle-class to avoid the social-media interaction. The military may not legally permit use of the social-media, but in practical terms it is not "doable".
For example, even if the officer and the men are not allowed, their family will be using the social-media at home and other places. Further, an officer sitting in a remote area will be chatting with his children under a false identity on facebook. There is no way this can be stopped or even monitored.
Therefore, it is better that the military works out "dos and don'ts" for itself and educates and creates a high level of awareness among the men and the likes of the officer in this case. Similarly, the media should be mature enough to verify again and again such sensitive and damaging broadcast.
Particularly in view of the fact that the military and its activities being of sensitive nature do not permit it to defend itself in the public in such slanging matches! While the politician or the bureaucracy can offer counter arguments to defend itself, the militaries of the world by virtue of their work do not enjoy such privilege -- the media must understand this professional limitation.
Image courtesy: WikimediaBharat Verma, a former Cavalry Officer is Editor, Indian Defence Review. He frequently appears on television as a commentator, and is the author of
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