DRDO emerges as key target of Pakistan ISI – The Sunday Guardian

NEW DELHI: Critical information related to missile-launching systems used by the Indian military, including Akash and Agni, may have been compromised as Pakistan’s intelligence agencies were able to snare one of India’s most senior scientists, who was working with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), through a honey trap.
Pradeep Kurulkar, 59, who until recently was heading the Research & Development Establishment (Engineers), Pune, which is a DRDO laboratory, was arrested on Wednesday night by the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad in culmination of an investigation that was started early this year. Sources have alleged that Kurulkar, who was supposed to retire in fewer than 180 days, was entrapped by a female operative of Pakistan’s intelligence agency sometime last year. He was at the level of “Outstanding” scientist equivalent to the rank of Lieutenant General of the Indian Army and Additional Secretary in the Indian government.
As per DRDO’s hierarchy, “Emeritus” ranked scientists are at the top, followed by “Distinguished” scientists and then come the “Outstanding” scientists. A scientist in DRDO has to progress from the level of “Scientist B”, which is the most junior position, until he reaches “Scientist G” level, after which he is promoted to “Outstanding”.
As per claims by officials, after establishing a formal relationship with Kurulkar whom she initially described as a “mentor”, the operative started sharing personal details and titillating images over WhatsApp which was responded to by Kurulkar. After “enough” of such images, video calls and messages were exchanged over a period of months, the said operative revealed the real purpose of reaching out to the scientist and started demanding details about the projects that he was working on.
Sources claimed that Kurulkar had no option but to accede to the demands and he was forced to share sensitive details. The said exchange, sources said, continued till February when officials of Directorate of Vigilance and Security (DVS) of DRDO confronted the scientist and on 24 February, seized his mobile phones and laptop. Kurulkar’s last day in office was supposed to be 19 November. He had joined the organization in 1988. According to DRDO sources, Kurulkar has already been dismissed from his job a few days ago.
As a part of the security apparatus that is employed in DRDO, the mobile phones of any officer, irrespective of his or her rank, can be inspected by the security staff. If anything incriminating is found, the same is then sent to the Joint Cipher Bureau.
Sources said that as the phone in the present case belonged to a senior scientist, officials had to be doubly sure of what the mobile phone was used for before arresting him. As per claims by officials, he was removed from the said position last month while his access was “restricted” “much earlier”.
However, with the exchange allegedly going on since early last year, sources said that it was quite possible that a “significant” amount of sensitive information has already been passed. As the director of the laboratory, he was privy to all the work that the laboratory was executing in standalone mode and in collaboration with other laboratories.
Research & Development Establishment (Engineers), which Kurulkar headed, is engaged in the indigenous development of various engineering systems for all three wings of the Indian defence forces. In October 2020, The Sunday Guardian had reported about the Pakistani military adding young, educated women in its ranks in high numbers, with the objective of honey-trapping Indian officials (GHQ Rawalpindi drafts educated girls to gather info from India).
What should ring alarm bells in the Ministry of Defence is the regularity with which DRDO officials are getting honey-trapped. In February this year, a 57-year-old senior technical officer, who was posted with Integrated Test Range (ITR) of DRDO in Chandipur, Odisha was arrested for allegedly leaking confidential information to a Pakistani agent. He, too, was honey-trapped.
In June 2022, an engineer working on the Advanced Naval System Programme of DRDO from 2020 was arrested after he was charged with leaking sensitive information. He was honey-trapped by a woman Pakistani spy, who claimed that she was working with a UK-based defence journal.
In January 2015, Ishwar Behera, a contractual employee of ITR-Chandipur, Odisha, was arrested in a similar case. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2021 for sharing information with Pakistan’s ISI.
In September 2021, the Odisha police had arrested five contractual employees of ITR, including the driver of its director, for sharing sensitive information. They were all honey-trapped.
In October 2018, Nishant Agarwal, a scientist with DRDO, who was heading the 40-member team that was working for hydraulics-pneumatics and warhead integration in the Production department of the BRAHMOS project, was arrested after he was caught allegedly passing information to a Pakistani agent after being honey-trapped. In September, he was given the “young scientist award” by DRDO. Agarwal, who had got married just four months before he was arrested, got bail last month on the ground of delay in trial. As per his lawyer, Prakash Jaiswal, there was no angle of “honey trapping” in this matter as the conversation between the two revolved only around job opportunities.
According to a former director level officer of DRDO, the Ministry of Defence was doing whatever it could to stop these incidents, but clearly was not having the desired impact. “When I had joined DRDO in the 1980s, I was given a copy of Indian Official Secrets Act 1923 and was asked to read it, understand its contents and submit a declaration in writing and sign that I have read, understood and will abide by it. This was being done every year regularly. It was essential for every officer. This practice has now ceased to exist. The scientists in DRDO are among the most well paid government employees. They get different sorts of allowances, they get higher education from premier institutes, the cost of which is borne by Government of India. So many different financial incentives are given to attract and retain these scientists and despite that, they are getting caught in such activities which not only brings disrepute to the organization, but also hurts the strategic interests of the country,” he said.
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