Pakistani handlers used Facebook accounts ‘Neha’ and ‘Pooja’ to trap arrested Brahmos engineer for spying

Nishant Agarwal, the senior systems engineer at Brahmos Aerospace who was arrested on Monday on espionage charges by ATS officials was found to be interacting frequently with two facebook accounts named Neha Sharma and Pooja Ranjan. According to reports, the Uttar Pradesh ATS unit has informed the court that the two facebook accounts are suspicious and are believed to be operated by Pakistan based ISI agents.

The Uttar Pradesh ATS reportedly informed the court of junior magistrate SM Joshi in Nagpur yesterday while seeking transit remand for Agarwal that Agarwal was in touch with Pakistani handlers through these two facebook accounts. They have also informed the court that despite being engaged in highly sensitive assignments that pertained to national security and involve high-risk data, Nishant Agarwal was ‘casual’ on the internet.

The investigating officers of the ATS have informed the court that both the accounts ‘Neha Sharma’ and ‘Pooja Ranjan’ are based out of Islamabad and such accounts are often used to target and trap senior officials. Both the accounts are allegedly run by ISI operatives. The ATS officials have also reportedly informed the court that highly sensitive files with red markings for sensitive information have been found stored casually on Agarwal’s personal laptop. The ATS officials had also reported that another personal computer was seized from Agarwal’s rented house in Nagpur which contained sensitive documents that should never have reached a personal computer. ATS officials in UP have also seized an old personal computer from Agarwal’s native home in Roorkee and its contents are being investigated.

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The ATS officials also informed the court that top classified information has been stored in Nishant’s laptop and a ‘casual’ attitude over social media platforms has made him an ‘easy target’ for ISI operatives.

Agarwal has been charged with section 3,4,5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act, sections 419,420, 467 and 468 of the Indian Penal Code and also section 66(B) of the Information Technology Act. The court allowed a three-day transit custody. Agarwal has been taken to Lucknow for further investigation. He is in his twenties and a Young Scientist awardee. He worked as a senior systems analyst in Brahmos Aerospace, a joint venture by India’s DRDO and Russia’s ‘Military Industrial consortium’ (NPO Mashinostroyenia).

Brahmos Aerospace is tasked with developing the supersonic Brahmos missiles that are considered the fastest cruise missiles in the world. The Nagpur Brahmos unit where Nishant was employed makes propellants for the missiles. This is the first instance when the Brahmos has been hit by an espionage scandal. In recent past, the UP ATS had arrested a BSF jawan for passing on information to ISI regarding troop movements. A cook named Ramesh employed in the household of an Indian diplomat in Pithoragarh was also arrested by military intelligence officials.

‘Honey Trapping’ is a commonly used technique employed by spy agencies. Earlier this year, an Indian diplomat Madhuri Gupta was sentenced to jail for allegedly leaking sensitive information to ISI officials who had honey trapped her during her stint at the Indian high commission in Islamabad.

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