Scorpene leak has the whole world sweating, not just India

France, Brazil, Australia, Russia... all are in the thick of it.

 |  5-minute read |   24-08-2016
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Scams surface in India ever so often. This time, it is an old scandal (the Scorpene bribery case) with a new twist (hacking). Here's a look at what all the fuss is about.

What is Scorpene and what was the original deal?

Scorpene-class submarines are diesel-electric attack submarines and six are being built at Mazagaon Dock for the Indian Navy, thanks to a technology transfer agreement between India and the makers of Scorpene. The first submarine will be called INS Kalvari and DRDO technology has been incorporated. There were allegations of corruption but a probe cleared the deal.

Why is it suddenly in the news again?

It is the era of hacking and one security breach after another keeps popping up. In the past, we had Wikileaks, the Bradley Manning Afghan war logs and the Edward Snowden revelations. 2016 has already become famous for #DNCLeaks (related to the Democratic National Convention in the US) and many other leaks related to the Clinton Foundation and its allies.

The most sensational hacking has been that of US's intelligence organisation National Security Agency, in which for the first time a code was stolen and is being sold in the black market.

manohar-embed_082416045440.jpg Defence minister Manohar Parrikar first called the Scorpene case “a hacking”.

While in India everyone alleges a "foreign hand" in everything, in the US it's the Russian hand. Reports have emerged that even US media outlets have been hacked.

Coming back to Scorpene, defence minister Manohar Parrikar first called it "a hacking". This has serious repercussions for India. It is a big security breach and lays bare the Scorpene-class submarines, the Indian Navy and national security itself.

The data that has been leaked runs into a whopping 22,400 pages. This includes highly sensitive stuff like specifications of the torpedo launch plus combat systems and frequencies at which the submarine gathers intelligence. It's a complete technical manual.

How did they do it? How much data did they really get? Can they do it again? These are not questions that can be answered overnight.

Who else is worried?

While India and France are in the thick of it, the Royal Malaysian Navy, Brazilian Navy and Chilean Navy are all inducting Scorpene-class submarines and will all be very worried. While French DCN (part of the country's defence ministry) and Thales along with Spanish Navantia were initially involved, now DCNS (a French industrial group specialising in naval defence and energy) is in charge.

DCNS has also won the $50-billion bid to design Australia's submarine fleet. So there will currently be panic Down Under too. America has always been wary of French intelligence (the French Sapphire Affair leak almost handed the advantage to Russia in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis) and has already privately voiced its concern.

Also read: Indian railways website was hacked by a Pakistani: How do you fight a silent cyber war?

DCNS is two-thirds owned by the French government. America was going to impart stealth technology to Australia, but even that may be put on hold. Russia is in the picture as they are planning to buy the Mistral-class ship carrier from DCNS.

That means the whole world is worried, especially in the new hacking climate.

Again, so far it is considered a French leak and not an Indian one, because there is a lot of information which wasn't with India in the first place.

When did it all happen?

The original Indian Scorpene deal took place in 2005. It was given the clean chit in 2009. The hacking has come to light only this year and it could not be worse timing. INS Kalvari was originally scheduled to be commissioned in September 2016.

The Australian newspaper that broke the story has put the year of the leak at 2011 and that too from the French side and not Indian. If that is the case, then we can breathe easy but only a bit. Information about the deal itself can pose a security risk.

Also read: If Zuckerberg, Pichai and Dorsey could lose their passwords so can you

Plus if the leak happened in 2011, who all have viewed the documents in the last five years?

How much money was involved initially, and now?

The original deal was worth a whopping $6 billion. The bribery amount (unspecified in the 2G case which just talked of losses to the exchequer) was to the tune of Rs 1,100 crore. Of course, the Central Bureau of Investigation gave one of its umpteen clean chits to the deal.

The multi-billion dollar Thales Group, which provides defence services, was alleged to have paid the bribes and someone in the government of India at that time was supposed to have received them.

However, the current hacking may also be due to money. The NSA code-hackers are auctioning the code in the black market and hoping to raise half-a-billion dollars. The DCNS data may first have been sold and then leaked.

Also read: Why the Indian government requires hacker groups

Who all were involved in the past?

Pranab Mukherjee: The current President of India was the defence minister who approved the original deal.

Lt-Commander Ravi Shankaran (retd): He was accused of military espionage in the infamous Navy War Room Leak linked to the Scorpene scandal.

Abhishek Verma: Son of journalist Shrikant Verma who was close to Indira Gandhi. It was alleged that he was the middleman.

LK Advani: The former deputy PM was sued by Abhishek for dragging his name in the case.

Prashant Bhushan: He filed a PIL which was dismissed by the Delhi High Court.

Of course, this latest controversy prima facie appears to be an overseas hacking and may not involve any Indian. Also the veracity of the leaked documents is still being authenticated.

Why India can't take this lightly

Right from when the Scorpene scam happened to the Navy War Room Leak to the fire in our submarines at the docks, this spells a crisis for the Indian Navy. The submarine crisis took the career of Indian naval chief Admiral DK Joshi.

Our submarine fleet was severely depleted and we were in the process of rebuilding it and the fact that those detailed plans are now out in the open is quite alarming, to say the least. We were to launch the Scorpene fleet this year and it remains to be seen how the plans are reworked.

Writer

Sunil Rajguru Sunil Rajguru @sunilrajguru

The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.

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