Indian Army personnel ditch Whatsapp groups after 'stern' instruction in bid to curb leakage of classified information

Adhering to the Indian Army's directive to exit Whatsapp groups with unverified members on it, as an effort to prevent the leakage of classified information, several army officers are quitting such groups by the dozen. The army has dialed up its efforts to curb instances referred to as 'honey-trapping', which is when a spy seeks to receive classified information from Indian Army personnel by posing as someone interested in the jawan romantically.

The army, headed by General Bipin Rawat, has put in stringent measures to curb such instances over the last few years, from regulating the armed forces personnel's use of social media to issuing instructions on verifying the identities of the members who are on WhatsApp groups.

"People tend to join different groups. For instance, a school or college group where there could be many participants. One never knows if any participant could be vying for information. There could be someone observing the personnel," defence sources were quoted by PTI as saying. One-to-one communication is the safest mode of communication, the army maintains.

 Indian Army personnel ditch Whatsapp groups after stern instruction in bid to curb leakage of classified information

File image of Army chief Bipin Rawat. PTI

The army also said that the personnel could be targeted through malware on such social messaging platforms. The force already has a social media policy in place where personnel are asked not to share any information about army operations or their posting.

However, reports said that there was increasing resentment against such "ill-conceived and retrograde" directives. "How can the identity of each and every member of a Whatsapp group, likek that of school alumni, be confirmed personally? It's illogical. But the warning to exit such WhatsApp groups is quite explicit," The Times of India quoted a brigadier as saying, on the condition of anonymity.

Once 'trapped', twice shy

The army has grappled with the issue of classified information — "classified pictures of Indian tanks, armoured personnel carriers, assorted weaponry in the area and the location of army formations" — being divulged to spies, usually belonging to the Pakistan-based Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

In several cases, army personnel who have been trapped in such situations have been arrested and court-martialed. In January 2019, a jawan, Sombir Singh, was interrogated in a case in which a Pakistani spy posing as a lieutenant in the nursing department posted in Jammu region had befriended Singh. In the course of his interactions with the agent who introduced herself as Anika Chopra, Singh revealed classified information.

Very often, the information such agents gather from duped army jawans is already available to the spying country, but reports say that the larger purpose is often to compel the personnel to reveal information, accept money for it, and then blackmail the jawan to reveal more sensitive information.

"The larger plan was to collect enough data from him, deposit enough money into his account and hold him hostage for more sensitive information. This is stage two of all Pakistan-sponsored spy games where the beautiful girl morphs into a bulky, bearded Pathan blackmailing soldiers into spying against their own country," News18 reported.

'Complete ban on social media use by personnel is not an option'

Rawat, who has incredulously exclaimed, "Do you (really) think that the film star wants to become friendly with you (soldiers)?" while cautioning the personnel about hostile intelligence agencies using the names of Bollywood personalities to lure the soldiers into online conversation, has also maintained that a complete ban on social media use for Indian Army personnel is "not an option".

Instead, he said, the defence establishment should make attempts to use social media in a productive manner. He was quoted by ANI in September 2018 as saying, "We have received advice that we should advise our soldiers to stay away from social media. Can you deny a soldier from the possession of a smart-phone? If you can't prevent usage of smartphone, it is best to allow it (access to social media)."

He said, "Social media is here to stay. Soldiers will use social media. Our adversary will use social media for psychological warfare and deception. We must leverage it to our advantage."

"In modern-day warfare, info-warfare is important and within it, we have started talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI). If we have to leverage AI to our advantage, we must engage through social media as a lot of what we wish to gain as part of AI will come via social media," he added.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jul 11, 2019 17:45:58 IST