BALASORE ( ODISHA ):A tremor of espionage seems to have hit the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Even as Odisha’s Crime Branch of Police interrogates suspected ISI agent Iswar Chandra Behera, arrested for allegedly spying for anti-national forces, the DRDO authorities are facing flak for having allowed him into sensitive areas of the test facilities off the state’s coast.
Behera’s arrest for his alleged links with Pakistan’s security agency ISI assumed significance in the wake of possible terror strike threats from four Pakistan-based terror outfits in Odisha along with Maharashtra, Rajasthan and UP.
Earlier in 1995, a couple from Sunhat in Balasore was arrested from Chandipur Integrated Test Range (ITR—where missiles test-fired are located) for allegedly supplying vital strategic information to Bangladeshi operatives. These two, now dead, were released after languishing in jail for over 10 years.
However, Behera, a contractual employee of DRDO and a native of Kantipur village under Baisinga police limits in Mayurbhanj district, was arrested on January 23 by a special team of police led by Balasore SP Awinash Kumar after a 10-month-long joint probe by the Central Intelligence Bureau (IB) and State Intelligence Wing.
He was picked up from Balasore and then taken to his Kantipur residence from where police seized two cell phones, a computer, one hard disc, pen drives, bank passbooks, bank account statements and a UPS. Cops are also verifying his social media accounts.
A Plus Three graduate from Remuna College, Behera, who is now in a seven-day police remand, had joined ITR with a monthly salary of `8,000 in August 2007 and was working as a contractual videographer in the CCTV section of the control tower in ITR.
Inspector General of Police (Eastern Range) Asheet Panigrahi said though he initially denied his links, Behera later confessed he was sharing information and videos from the test range. He has been booked under sections of 121 (A) (Waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against Government of India), 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy) and Sections 3, 4, 5 of Official Secrets Act.
Sources said Behera was in touch with the suspected ISI agents for last several months and has received Rs 35,000 in six installments between December 2013 and December 2014. He had received money orders twice, each of Rs 5,000 from Meerut while four transactions (twice of Rs 5,000 and twice of Rs 7,500) were made to his Chandipur SBI account through net banking.
Preliminary probe revealed he had received money from Abu Dhabi, Meerut, Mumbai, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. On the pretext of repairing his camera, he used to visit Kolkata where he met the agent. “We have proof of their telephonic talks for at least ten times and the calls were from nine digit numbers from Pakistan. We have only verified his one bank account among many others which are being checked,” Panigrahi said.
Panigrahi said Behera was sharing defence information about the testing of missiles and vital defence installations located in Chandipur and Wheeler Island. As he was a videographer, he had close access to all sensitive areas in both the test facilities. More classified information can be obtained after the Crime Branch completes investigation in the case, he added.
Intelligence sources said Behera was entrusted to keep a close watch on defence scientists coming from different laboratories of DRDO. He had first met a person at Wheeler Island test facility in 2010 who identified himself as Sribastav of Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), a Hyderabad-based DRDO laboratory responsible for design and development of Agni missiles.
On December 10, 2010, the first experimental trial of the surface-to-surface intermediate range ballistic missile Agni-II prime, later dubbed Agni-IV, had failed to perform as the missile deviated from the trajectory and nosedived into the Bay of Bengal. During that period, Behera spent four days with Sribastav in Wheeler Island, the source said.
Later he received a call from the number used by Sribastav, but the caller introduced himself as Srinibasan. Since then Behera has been in contact with these persons who, police says, are ISI agents. He used to receive international calls from Pakistan and it is suspected that he was given some tasks to execute.
Defence experts, however, have blamed the DRDO for entrusting a contractual employee with important work and for allowing him into sensitive areas without periodical intelligence verification. Retired Colonel Sarat Kumar Mohapatra, who was in the regiment of artillery in the Kargil War, said contractual employment in defence organisations is not done on a long-term basis without periodical interim verification.
Behera’s parents believe he is being framed. His father is a retired school peon. Prior to this, Behera owned a small shop and photo studio in the village.
■ Behera was arrested on January 23 after a 10-month-long joint probe by the IB and State Intelligence Wing
■ He was working as a contractual videographer in the CCTV section of the control tower in Chandipur ITR
■ Police say Behera confessed to sharing information and videos from the test range
■ Preliminary probe reveals Behera received money from Abu Dhabi, Meerut, Mumbai, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh