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Home > Mumbai > Mumbai Crime News > Article > DRDO scientist fell for her despite taking anti honey trap class

DRDO scientist fell for her despite taking anti-honey trap class

Updated on: 11 May,2023 07:25 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Faizan Khan |

Investigation also exposes how unsuspecting Indians in sensitive postings are falling prey to Pakistan agents on social media, of all places

DRDO scientist fell for her despite taking anti-honey trap class

Pradeep Kurulkar (wearing mask) was produced before the Pune sessions court, on Tuesday. Pic/Faizan Khan

Disgraced scientist Pradeep Kurulkar, who allegedly volunteered vital security information to an enemy agent masquerading as “a beautiful patriotic Indian” in exchange for nudes, had attended a programme on honey traps and how to avoid them organised on the Pune campus of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) last year, sources told mid-day.

Indian intelligence agencies, including the Maharashtra ATS, have been perturbed by the disturbing trend of honey-trap operators, allegedly funded by Pakistan’s ISI, using social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook to steal classified information from key security personnel in India. Indian security agencies have been organising awareness campaigns to educate security forces and important figures from vital establishments on the importance of safeguarding classified documents.

According to sources in the Maharashtra ATS, Pakistan’s intelligence operatives, backed by the ISI, have created hundreds of fake social media accounts using the names of Indian women such as Neha Rajput, Neha Gupta, Pooja, Zara Das Gupta to lure and trap top intelligence officers, scientists and diplomats into revealing crucial and confidential pieces of information. In Kurulkar’s case, a woman going by Zara Das Gupta on social media approached him and kept sending him patriotic messages and nudes to gain the elderly scientist’s trust.

Also Read: Maharashtra: How ISI milked secrets from smitten scientist

An old ISI tactic

“The honey trap has long been a tactic of the ISI, and we always keep a close watch on their activities,” explained an ATS officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Recently, we’ve noticed a new trend where they approach Indian intelligence officials, scientists and diplomats under the guise of beautiful, patriotic women. We’ve been conducting awareness campaigns to protect them from falling prey to these honey- trap tactics used by the ISI.”

The officer went on to explain that a similar awareness programme was organised last year, between July and August, on the DRDO’s Pune campus, which was being headed by Kurulkar. “We believe that while the lecture was being delivered on how Pakistan and other intelligence agencies use social media handles to honey trap and spy on India, Kurulkar was also present. In fact, at the same time, he was reportedly chatting with a Pakistani woman and was so deeply in her love that he failed to realise he was being honey-trapped,” the officer added.

“If he had been more aware of the situation, he could have avoided falling into the honey trap, especially since it was still in its early stages and he hadn’t shared any sensitive information yet,” the officer added. “The woman started sharing explicit photos with him, but didn't immediately make any demands regarding information on the crucial projects he was handling at the DRDO.”

Sources have revealed that, in addition to Kurulkar, who was arrested on May 3, two more officials from the DRDO were contacted by different social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook. The officials engaged in conversation with the individuals but became suspicious and blocked the accounts when they realised they may be dealing with a honey trap.

“We keep a close watch on these types of accounts, and when we noticed that two DRDO officials were engaging with these accounts, they were called in for questioning,” explained an ATS officer. “However, nothing incriminating was found against them as they had already blocked the accounts. They were released with a warning and received awareness counselling,” he added.

Sources within the Maharashtra ATS have said that many instances of honey trapping have been occurring following the Pakistani ISI’s collection of information on the profiles of top intelligence agents, diplomats, and scientists from their respective websites. “In the case of Kurulkar, his entire profile was available on the DRDO website, detailing the critical projects he was working on, which led to the honey trap being set and his subsequent fall,” said an officer.

In response to this incident, the ATS is now planning to provide recommendations on what information should be shared on the websites of top officials and what should be kept private. They will also suggest that individuals in important positions should refrain from using social media accounts, and if they must use them, they should be kept hidden and their true identity concealed.

Expert speak

Balakrishna Kamath, a retired IB officer and author of The Velvet Gloves and The Ace of Shadows, has shared his expertise on how to prevent honey traps and how the ISI selects its targets. He said that nowadays, ISI spies do not directly contact their target on social media. Instead, they first explore the target's profile, connect with their common friends, and then approach the target through the common friend. As a result, the target may be approached by someone who is a mutual friend of one of their own friends.

Notorious case 

“It is not just Indian security forces that are vulnerable to honey traps, however. In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases of western officials falling victim to honey traps set by foreign intelligence agencies. In one particularly notorious case, CIA operative Aldrich Ames was caught spying for the Soviet Union after falling for a honey trap set by a Russian agent,” Kamath said.

He added that to avoid falling victim to honey traps, officials are typically advised to be cautious when interacting with strangers on social media platforms, particularly those who appear too good to be true. They are also warned not to share any sensitive information with anyone who they have not met in person and who they cannot verify as being who they claim to be. Also, officials are typically advised to maintain a strict separation between their personal and professional lives, particularly when it comes to social media. They are warned against posting sensitive information on social media platforms, as this information can be used by honey-trap operators to gain their trust and access to more sensitive information. He said, “Overall, honey traps remain a potent and effective tool for intelligence agencies around the world. While awareness campaigns can help officials recognise and avoid these tactics, there is no foolproof way to prevent them entirely. As such, officials must remain vigilant and cautious when interacting with strangers on social media platforms.”

Asked why some get honey-trapped despite being fully aware of the consequences, he said, “Basically, there are three vulnerabilities that the enemy try to exploit to get close to their targets—money, ideology and sex. Of these, the potential of sex is high because, to some it is an insatiable trait that ultimately overpowers them. There is also a belief that, while money and ideological orientation can easily leave a trail, sex remains, as an entirely personal activity where chances for exposure are limited. And then the urge for intimacy and sex prompts people to take a chance ‘just this time’. It is an entirely psychological phenomenon. Unlike in the olden days, social media make it easy to choose targets and approach them.”

No of other DRDO officials contacted by social media accounts

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