Hacking isn’t the only threat to secure communications. Plain old theft works just as well. It was on May 31 last year that a porter hired by the 15 Corps Operating Signal Regiment at Sharifabad in Jammu and Kashmir allegedly walked away with an envelope that contained passwords and frequency details of the unit.
Top official sources said the porter later delivered the packet to a ‘shikara’ (boat) owner at Dal Lake in Kashmir so that it eventually reached a militant group based across the border in Pakistan. The envelope, called ‘Slidex’ in military jargon, contains password and frequency details for radio communications for an entire week. Each day has a separate envelope, all within the Slidex.
Generally, the army communicates troop movements and sensitive information through secure radio signals. Military Intelligence (MI) operatives were shocked to know that the signals of this unit were accessible to Pakistani militants for a full week simply because they had the envelope.
The tripled sealed envelope is a ‘top secret’ document of Army which is always burnt after use at end of the week. As per Army rules, after the usage of contents of the envelope, it is officially burnt and a burning certificate sent to headquarters, thus ensuring the envelope has not fallen into the wrong hands. In this case, however, the unit sent a false ‘burning’ report, leading MI to its doorstep.
There are two officers responsible for safekeeping of the envelope—one is known as custodian, and the other is called holder. At the time of the incident, Major Shyam was the custodian while Col Vivek Nautiyal was the holder. The MI informed headquarters about the incident in October 2011. Later, intelligence sleuths quizzed the officers to get to the bottom of security breach. The major blamed Col Nautiyal for the missing envelope during the interrogation. Since the matter was sensitive and directly linked to the national security, the Army had ordered a one-man inquiry. After getting the details of the incident, a Court of Inquiry was convened on June 14, 2012 through order letter 2221/1/A3 (15 COSR) which was headed by Brigadier S K Datta, with Col S Mitra and Col J Bala as members.
The commanding officer of the signal regiment, Col Sunil Gupta, was sacked after the investigation and three other officers—Col Vineet Saxena, Major Shyam and Col Vivek Nautiyal—have been attached. The incident has brought the focus back to hiring of local porters by the Army, something near essential given the terrain and the requirements. In 1998, a porter allegedly walked across the border with a light machine gun that a JCO had given to him because of the stiff gradient.