Of Technology and Terrorism|
It is a relentless and often
losing war that Indian security agencies wage against the rapid
advance in technology that allow people and by extension terrorists
and militant ideologues to communicate, whether over the Internet or
the cellular phone.
The Intelligence Bureau (IB) which is responsible for internal
security is the nodal security organization in India that has been
entrusted with the tough task of monitoring communication that may
be inimical to national interests as well as cracking any potential
terror attacks. The equivalent of the IB in the US is the Federal
Bureau of Investigation, the FBI. The IB has done a good job of
tracking e-mails, taking a cue from monitoring software such as the
infamous Carnivore that the FBI is known to use. In the latest
instance, however, it seems that the advancements in cellular
technology have far outstripped the progress that the IB is making
in tracking exchanges on mobile phones.
The IB has taken a serious view of the fact that cellular service
providers’ in India have yet to comply with the requirement of
installing monitoring equipment that will allow sleuths to access
data whenever they wish to. License conditions make it mandatory for
cellular operators to install a security monitoring system before
launching these services. In countries like the US, the monitoring
systems are so strong that all overseas calls are recorded and
stored, while all domestic calls are monitored.
The IB has written a letter to the national security advisor J N
Dixit and the secretary, department of telecommunications (DoT),
saying that it is necessary that telecom service providers be
permitted to introduce value added services only after putting
monitoring mechanisms in place. The services in question include
GPRS, EDGE and PSDN that are high-speed data transmission devices,
which allow fast Internet access, and sending and receiving mails
and photographs while POC is a close user group service. All
cellular operators, including Airtel, Hutch, Idea and Reliance
provide these services.
The IB has said that immediate action should be taken against
operators who do not comply with this condition. Criticizing the
DoT’s soft approach on the issue, the IB has said,
“Non-implementation of license conditions conveys a soft approach,
due to which, even after being approached to provide monitoring
mechanisms their response is lackadaisical, indicative of a weak
licensing regime.” It has expressed concern that the DoT has not
initiated any action against the operators providing GPRS services
without any monitoring facility in place. It has asked the DoT to
ensure that service providers install proper monitoring equipment in
a time-bound manner.
The IB has reason to be miffed as it has achieved some success in
providing classified information by cracking e-mails of several
known terrorists and mafia dons, in the past.
The IB constantly updates a list of keywords that are to be used to
intercept mails emanating from Internet protocol addresses in
India. The move came after investigations revealed that terrorists,
who mounted a bold attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001,
were in constant touch with their counterparts in Pakistan as well
as within India through email.
The IB has been constantly preparing dossiers to prove that that
terrorists connected to such leading terror outfits as the
Lashkar-e-Taiba, al-Qaeda and the Jaish-e-Mohammed are tech-savvy
often using coded words and pictures to communicate over the
Internet. Obvious giveaways such as Kashmir, Lashkar, Pakistan,
Musharraf , an email ID such as Lashkar@hotmail.com are under the
surveillance. Others words such as attack, kill, rocket as well as
mails with repeated reference to Arab names should also be under
surveillance. The software being used is similar to the Carnivore
surveillance technology that the FBI went public about a few years
back, which led to a public outcry against invasion of privacy, with
most protests dying down after the September 11 attacks.
Surveillance software is usually installed inside servers of the
Internet Service Providers, several of whom such as Satyam, Mantra
and VSNL operate in India.
According to senior officials, tracking e-mails of arrested
terrorists has become a foolproof method of gaining hard evidence.
``There can be no fooling around with e-mail IDs and passwords,"
says an official of the IB, "Once a terrorist is caught his e-mail
IDs can be crosschecked immediately. So, he better tell the truth.
Phone records or other statements require a time lag before they can
be confirmed,’’ he adds.
Indeed, the fact that the modern generation terrorist is generally
educated and tech-savvy, has helped in investigations. Whether it is
Aftab Ansari (accused in an attack on the American Center library in
Kolkata) or Omar Sheikh (accused in the killing of journalist Daniel
Pearl) or Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Shakeel (accused of several
crimes including bomb blasts and terror attacks in India), the kind
of information that has been generated now would not have been
possible without accessing their e-mails.
``Most of the current lot of criminals have become extremely chary
of using their phones given the past record of tapping by
intelligence agencies. However, they felt free exchanging critical
information on the Internet,’’ says the official.
It is through a series of e-mail exchanges between Ansari and Sheikh
that the involvement of the two in the WTC attack had been
confirmed. The IB used e-mail interception technology to track
Ansari by tracing his e-mails, first to servers in Dubai and then to
Islamabad. The local Internet service provider was roped in to
determine the exact location from which Ansari had sent an e-mail
that turned out to be Islamabad. Even in the case of Sheikh, the
police in Karachi, helped by a cyber-tracking team from the FBI,
traced the three men who had sent the e-mails about Pearl's
abduction to the media. The arrested men lead them on to Sheikh. The
authorities then picked up Sheikh's in-laws from Lahore, exerting
pressure on him to surrender. Intelligence agencies have cracked
into e-mail IDs of Dawood Ibrahim (email@example.com) and
Chhota Shakeel to confirm their presence in Pakistan.
Thus, the IB is now taking a serious view of cellular service
providers launching new services without installing any monitoring
system. According to an official anti-national elements are using
these services extensively ``being conscious of the fact that they
are not being monitored.’’ Various Indian security agencies have
been holding several meetings in the recent past to surmount the
issue of tracing text SMS, short message service, one of the
preferred means of communication by terrorists. As things stand
cellular signals in several locations, including Delhi, are blocked
during important occasions such as Independence or Republic Day,
when possibility of disruption is the maximum. Long distance
landline calls and cellular services are intermittently blocked in
the state of Jammu & Kashmir.
Indeed, it is a tough task to balance individual privacy and freedom
with implications of national security.