In a major breakthrough in the Visakhapatnam espionage case, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) today arrested its key conspirator, Mohammed Haroon Haji Abdul Rehman Lakdawala (49 years) in Mumbai. The case relates to an international espionage racket, where Naval officers were honey-trapped by Pakistani ISI operatives on social media after which these men had leaked sensitive information related to the Indian Navy through their social media profiles.
NIA (National Investigation Agency) today arrested the key conspirator in the Visakhapatnam espionage case, Mohammed Haroon Haji Abdul Rehman Lakdawala (49 years) in Mumbai: NIA pic.twitter.com/pYg6qed9Dd— ANI (@ANI) May 15, 2020
In a statement, NIA said that Mohammed Haroon Lakdawala had visited Karachi in Pakistan on many occasions to meet his handlers under the guise of cross-border trade. he came in contact with two Pakistani spies during these visits, namely Ali and Rizwan. The NIA said that the key conspirator was instructed by the Pakistani spies to deposit money at regular intervals in the bank account of the Navy personnel. The NAVY said fourteen arrests have been made in total thus far in the case including one Pakistan born Indian national Shaista Qiaser.
NIA earlier made 13 arrests in the Visakhapatnam espionage case
In February this year, the Andhra Pradesh police jointly with the Naval intelligence had arrested thirteen people, including eleven Navy personnel and two civilians, in connection with this alleged espionage case. It was revealed that they were honey-trapped by the Pakistani ISI operatives on social media after which these men had leaked sensitive information related to the Indian Navy through their social media profiles.
“The 11 Navy personnel and the two civilians have been apprehended in connection with the espionage case so far while a large number of social media profiles of service personnel are under the scanner for being in touch with the suspicious profiles,” Navy sources had told ANI. The Navy personnel apprehended by the police were from the different naval bases including Mumbai, Karwar (Karnataka) and Visakhapatnam.
The investigation into Visakhapatnam espionage case named “Operation Dolphin’s Nose”
The investigation into this case began on December 20 last year after the Andhra Pradesh Police, Naval Intelligence and Central Intelligence Agencies in a joint operation arrested seven navy personnel who have been allegedly involved in espionage. The racket was busted in Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam, which houses the Eastern Naval Command. The operation was named “Operation Dolphin’s Nose”, after the hill named Dolphin’s nose, which is adjacent to Eastern Naval Command in Visakhapatnam, housing the residential complexes and offices of Indian Navy.
The police had said that all the arrested officials were in touch with Pakistani women who had befriended them on Facebook. It is alleged that officials were paid through a hawala operator for providing information. The chats between these sailors, who were being used by Pakistanis, were sexually explicit. Sources said the women, who honey-trapped the navy officers posing as their friends on Facebook, were set up by the Pakistani ISI operatives. The sailors were later blackmailed and forced to give information. On December 30, 2019, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had taken over the case.
After the misuse of social media by the naval personnel came to light, the Indian Navy imposed a strict ban on the use of smartphones and social media applications such as Facebook by its personnel.
Pak ISI increasingly using social media for honey-trapping
Pakistan intelligence is increasingly using social media for spying activities. It has long been trying to lure the armed force personnel for carrying out espionage against India.
In January 2019, it was revealed that one Army jawan named Sepoy Somveer Singh, who was arrested four months back on charges of espionage in Jaiselmer, got in touch with one ‘Anika Chopra’ over Facebook and was chatting regularly with her and exchanging details and information about the armoured unit including its movement. Following this, multiple accounts of officers and jawans are under probe with whom ‘Anika Chopra’ was in touch with. Now, as many as 50 jawans are under investigation.
A 2018, an Engineer at Brahmos facility in Nagpur, Nishant Agarwal, was arrested for alleged spying and passing on sensitive information to his ISI handlers. Even then Pakistani handlers had used social media accounts of women to honeytrap Agarwal.