India's security establishment is rattled following the arrest earlier this month of S S Paul, a systems analyst at the National Security Council Secretariat, for passing on sensitive information to an American woman using a Pen Drive.
Paul's arrest has created such a scare that the central government has cut off all Internet connections in the Intelligence Bureau headquarters, and has even asked IB officials not to have Internet connections at home. The IB has now adopted the model being used by the Research and Analysis Wing wherein officers can access the Internet only from computers in a high-security room.
A senior officer in the home ministry told rediff.com, "There is no doubt Paul was a part of the Central Intelligence Agency's mole network."
A former intelligence officer told rediff.com, "Paul's arrest highlights the fact that the government still does not seem to have any idea of the extensive network established by the CIA within the Indian intelligence community."
The NSCS comes under National Security Advisor M K Narayanan, and is supervised by the Deputy National Security Adviser.
Vijay Nambiar used to be in charge of the secretariat but after he joined the United Nations, the post fell vacant. Currently, Dr S D Pradhan, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, looks after it.
From the NSCS, the CIA would have been able to get all sensitive reports submitted to the prime minister and the Strategic Policy Group headed by the Cabinet Secretary.
However dull the NSCS may be or however bland their reports allegedly are, the fact remains that the NSCS is part of the PMO.
The Delhi police has so far refused to comment on Paul's arrest.
When contacted by rediff.com, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Special Cell) Ajay Kumar said, "We would not like to comment on a sensitive issue."
There are serious reasons why DCP Kumar is silent. The system analyst's arrest is being seen as a serious security breach, considering that the NSCS is part of the Prime Minister's Office.
For the past one year Paul, it was learnt, had been providing confidential data to the American whose identity is yet to be ascertained.
According to exclusive information available with rediff.com, when IB sleuths in charge of the security of central government documents were doing random checks of some computers, they found that Paul had been sending alert messages to one particular e-mail address. That made them suspicious.
Paul was then put on watch, and it was noted that he had used a Pen Drive to copy huge amounts of data.
Although Paul was destroying data and e-mails, IB managed to trace what he did using a software "that goes backwards", sources said.
Paul was most probably providing information about the government's thinking on international relations and issues related to India's national security.
A source who has extensively dealt with CIA told rediff.com that when Major (retired) Rabinder Singh of the Research and Analysis Wing, who was working for the CIA, fled to the US in 2004 via Kathmandu using an American passport issued by a CIA officer in the US embassy in Nepal, it set off alarm bells.
But Singh was not the first intelligence officer to be recruited by the CIA in India. At least two senior officers -- one from RAW and Ratan Sehgal of IB -- were recruited by the CIA before that.
Sehgal was No 2 in the IB, and both the Indian officers had access to very sensitive intelligence.
Compared to them, Rabinder Singh had very little access to sensitive intelligence. And yet, the CIA was keen that he should not fall into the hands of Indian investigators, and went out of their way to help him reach the US.
This gave rise to suspicion in IB and RAW that he must have helped the CIA to recruit other officers with access to important intelligence.
Paul's arrest will help investigators in knowing more about the CIA's network and its connections, if any, to Singh's groundwork.
According to exclusive information available to rediff.com, when Singh's escape was being probed suspicion fell on another retired army officer close to him.
This Army man turned RAW officer was posted in New York, where the FBI allegedly established contact with him. Normally FBI "harasses" sleuths posted in the Indian embassy but this officer was handled softly by them.
He returned to RAW headquarters last year after completing his tenure but his wife took up a job in New York. Enquiries gave rise to suspicion that he probably belonged to the spy ring set up with Rabinder Singh's help.
However, since no concrete evidence was found against him, he was prematurely retired and his passport cancelled to prevent him from fleeing to the US.
Recent reports about Brigadier U Dasgupta, director in charge of RAW's computers section, coming under a cloud of suspicion, and Paul's arrest show that the CIA, in addition to recruiting human agents, was also trying to penetrate the computer network of the intelligence and security agencies.
This is the second time the PMO has been penetrated by an intelligence agency.
In Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's time French intelligence had penetrated the office of Principal Secretary Dr P C Alexander, and got hold of a large number of sensitive documents.
The United Progressive Alliance government has activated the security set-up. Currently it helps NSA Narayanan in co-ordinating the work of intelligence agencies, and prepares notes and assessments for the PM and the Strategic Policy Group.
Under the NDA government, it handled all paperwork relating to India 's nuclear command.
Apart from this, it services the work of the Task Force headed by K Subrahmaniam on Strategic Developments and Indo-US Relations, and the work of the National Security Advisory Board.
It is easy to understand why CIA wants to penetrate it.
If it secured access through Paul, then could lay its hands on sensitive information relating to India's national security and strategic issues.
Since the NSCS came into being in the end of 1998, this is possibly the first time it has been penetrated.
It should come as no surprise that the CIA penetrated it despite the warming up of Indo-US relations. Such considerations do not prevent US intelligence from penetrating sensitive departments of even governments close to it.
A home ministry sources said at a time when Indo-US relations were about to make history, with US Congress set to pass the Indo-US nuclear deal , obviously New Delhi will not want to disclose many facts about the American woman's involvement in Paul's case.