By Sumir Kaul Bengaluru/New Delhi :
The probe uncovers the scam that Pakistan-based Intelligence operatives exploited such illegal exchanges to route their calls to connect with Indian citizens and obtain information of military installations.
A CALL from a Pakistani spy agency to an Army installation in eastern India has led to the unravelling of an illegal telephone exchange in Bengaluru, raising questions whether similar systems were operational in other parts of the country, officials said on Thursday. The entire racket was busted by the Military Intelligence wing of the Army’s Southern Command which had intercepted the call received at the Army installation in eastern India a few weeks back. During the call, a spy from Pakistan was asking about general details while posing as a senior officer. On further investigation, the Intelligence sleuths found that some other offices located in various formations such as the Movement Control Office (MCO) as well as the Principal Comptroller of Defence Account (PCDA) were also receiving such calls seeking details from them.
A deeper probe led to uncovering of the scam in which Pakistan-based Intelligence operatives exploited such illegal exchanges to route their calls to connect with Indian citizens and obtain information of military installations. The officials said Pakistani intelligence operatives have adopted the modus operandi of investing in illegal call exchanges that switch Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls to normal Indian mobile calls. To execute this illegal operation, SIM boxes are used which run a parallel illegal telephone exchange. Karnataka Police, and Military Intelligence (Southern Command), have together busted an illegal network, comprising six telephone exchanges, that were converting international calls to local calls, and also ferreting out information from Indian Army exchanges, and personnel. Two persons, hailing from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, have been arrested in the city on June 7, a statement issued by the police said. They have been identified as Ibrahim Pulatti of Malappuram, Kerala, and V. Gautam of Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu, residing in BTM Layout of the city.
The duo had established a network of six illegal telephone exchanges in BTM Layout. Using 30 electronic devices fitted with 32 sim cards each for their operations, the illegal telephone exchanges converted international calls into local calls. Indian Army officials went into alert mode when their Siliguri helpline began receiving several suspicious calls seeking information on troop movements in April. The Army located the calls to Bengaluru, and contacted the city police. A joint raid conducted by the Anti-Terrorist Cell (ATC) on June 7, led to the arrest of the two persons, while a Hawala operator has been arrested from Bhatkal in coastal Karnataka. Bengaluru city Police Commissioner, Kamal Pant said that the arrested persons are being charged with defrauding the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the exchequer, by illegally creating a telephone exchange. Meanwhile, an Army Intelligence and law enforcement press note, said that the arrested men are also accused of “disrupting the country’s security”. The officials explained that a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) box, also known as a SIM bank, is a hardware-based device used in the telecom sector for termination of direct Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) communication. An operator uses a technology called ‘migration’ of the SIM cards, wherein the registration of the SIM cards jumps on different GSM modules with a specific frequency, leading to multiple GSM gateways located throughout a city or a town, and the system creates an illusion of a real user’s movement by showing the call being conducted from different gateways.
This helps in prevention of a SIM card from being blocked by service providers or detected by Government agencies. Operation of these illegal exchanges not only incurs losses to the cellular networks but also to the Government as it is an un-registered operation, and the money generated is un-accounted and non-taxable which can further be utilised to support anti-national activities without leaving any money trail. The officials said the “adversary nation” has been found using these illegal SIM boxes often to obtain sensitive information and maintain contact with their agents who have penetrated into the country.
The racket came to light after the anti-terror cell of the Bengaluru Police, with the help of Military Intelligence of the Southern Command, arrested two men who ran an illegal phone exchange, converting international calls to local ones, causing a huge revenue loss and posing a threat to national security. Thirty-two SIM box devices, which can use 960 SIM cards at a time, were seized from them, they said. Ibrahim Mullatti Bin Mohammed Kutty, hailing from Malappuram in Kerala, and Gautham B Vishwanathan from Tirupur in Tamil Nadu had placed the 32 devices at six areas of the city to carry out their illegal activities. After termination of a VoIP call, the same call is further generated to the destination phone with the number appearing as that of an Indian number. The Indian Army has issued many advisories and drafted SOPs to prevent leaks through such means. However, a lot of civilian staff still fall prey to the con.