Use technology to prevent leakage of documents
It was New Delhi’s worst-kept secret: The ministry of petroleum & natural gas located in Shastri Bhawan leaked like a sieve. As did some other ministries, as unfolding events now seem to indicate. But now that a full-blow scandal involving organised pilferage of official documents has come out in the open, the government will need to frame a strategy to insulate its offices from further leakage. Like in all counter-espionage operations around the world, the best resource to be deployed to counter the enemy is always the human resource. The job of external security of the ministries and government offices is handled by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). The CISF refutes the charges of negligence and says they had followed the standard operating procedure. Besides, the CISF’s mandate is to see if a visitor is carrying a pass, it is not supposed to screen identity.
But all indicators show that such blatant violation of security could not have taken place unless there was something wrong with the system. Let’s face the facts: the stakes in India’s oil sector are high because we are an export-dependent nation and any information relating to domestic discoveries, industrial prospects and government plans will always be sought after. So, shouldn’t those guarding access to the offices been more vigilant? Shouldn’t a biometric I-card system have been in place? And how did offenders have a run of the place and leave carrying sacks full of documents? These are some questions that will have to be looked into.
If the CISF personnel are to continue safeguarding our establishments, then they should be properly sensitised to their mandate and be provided with adequate technology. Their antecedents should be verified. An apex agency should be notified to oversee the security of government buildings. As part of the preventive measures, it has now been decided that a Joint Secretary-level official would be appointed the Departmental Security Officer for supervision for every ministry. One wonders if this is the right decision. A white collared babu may not be the best person for the job. Why not hire former spooks for the job instead?
The field agents in the Leakgate ring were peons and multi-tasking employees of oil
and other ministry offices at Shastri Bhavan who have access to classified files – both hard and soft copies – and eavesdrop on important conversations. One of the culprits during questioning revealed that it was his senior colleagues, some of whom have retired by now, who showed him how to make money by pilfering documents from offices of senior officials. This implies that the network of thieves is well-entrenched. Indeed, the espionage ring had several layers: peons who stole documents, the conduits who took the leaked documents from the peons and passed them on to private companies, and consultancy firms which analysed the papers and prepared reports for companies.
One way of countering espionage is to use technology. The recent edition of Leakgate involved old-fashioned methods like duplicate keys, photocopiers and fake IDs. The new methods are more tech-savvy. With every employee today armed with a smartphone, recording meetings, scanning critical documents or transferring client data is child’s play. Then there is cyber theft. In the developed economies, companies in sensitive sectors reportedly spend billions to safeguard their sensitive information by burglar-proofing documents, equipment and buildings. Maybe our government should make a start in this direction.
Recently, the PMO took a significant step to prevent leakage of Cabinet notes. In the future, all Cabinet notes will be put on Kindle devices, which ministers will use at meetings and hand back to the Cabinet Secretariat immediately after. National Informatics Centre, the technology arm of the government, has been instructed to implement the feature within six months. Indeed, the idea of going totally paperless is a good one. Electronic devices will eliminate paper trails which are easy to trace. It is good that the government has for the first time decided to do a security audit of computers. Both the software and hardware components should be audited and loopholes plugged. The government should also not let down its guard to the practice of cyber theft where contents on computers can be accessed by hackers working through servers based in far-off countries. Young talented people should be roped in and groomed as our own cyber warriors.