‘Honey-trapping’ has been one of the top methods in the guidebook of international espionage. Last year, a Pakistani spy posing as a girl honey-trapped a high-ranking defense scientist and made him divulge sensitive secrets, including information about the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile.
Taking a cue from this, the Indian Army has developed a chatbot that, when deployed, will send messages to unsuspecting soldiers and try to gauge their gullibility to such traps online.
In recent years, there have been multiple reports of military personnel and executives from Indian defense corporations being set up for deception by Pakistani intelligence operatives. Although honey trapping is a widely employed tactic by intelligence services worldwide, the Indian incidents are notable for taking place virtually rather than in person.
Developed by the soldiers of the Territorial Army, the Chatbot will work through WhatsApp. The AI-based technology has been tested and will be deployed soon. Once deployed, it is envisaged that the commanding officer or another senior officer will be using the technology to chat with the men in his unit and figure out who is gullible to such traps.
An Indian Army official told the EurAsian Times: “This AI bot converses with soldiers over WhatsApp (can also be moved to other channels of communication). It mimics various scenarios, and based on the response received from the soldiers, it continues the simulation.”
In a unit, most army personnel will immediately block unsolicited messages from unknown numbers. However, there will be a few who will continue with the conversation despite the red flags. The officer in charge will monitor these conversations and be able to sensitize the gullible soldiers better to the pitfalls of cyber technology.
“The AI bot learns from itself, and new scenarios can be easily added for effective training,” the official added.
The AI-based simulation for cyber-security has been part of the Indian Army’s “Inno-Yodha” (Innovation Warrior) exhibition organized ahead of Army Day.
The Army has been recruiting cyber-specialists in the Territorial Army and utilizing their skills to prepare for future warfare. The use of social media and technology in espionage and intelligence operations has increased the effectiveness and accessibility of honey trapping. Increased connectivity through social media and digital impersonation has made honey-trapping easy.
The art of honey trapping is a subtle dance between manipulation and seduction. Operatives are trained in the art of seduction, discovering and taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of their targets.
The year 2023 revealed that Pakistani spies were honey-trapping Indian scientists and soldiers by pretending to be women online. And unlike in the past, the honey-trapping happened entirely in the digital space.
In recent years, the Indian Armed Forces have adopted strict policies advising the soldiers to stay away from social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. They are also not authorized to post any photographs in uniform. Smartphones are not allowed inside military installations to safeguard against cyber espionage.
Absar Alam, a senior journalist in Pakistan and the former chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Authority (PEMRA), penned a lengthy column titled “Business of Videos, Daughters of the Nation and a Painful Reality,” which discussed the ISI’s use of honey trap tactics. Alam is well-known for his opposition to the military and the ISI, particularly about their interference in politics and authoritarian policies.
The Alluring World Of Honey Trapping
In 2023, Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested a scientist, Pradeep Kurulkar, who was also the head of the Defense Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) Research and Development Establishment (Engineers) Laboratory.
He had allegedly shared sensitive information about defense projects with a woman, who identified herself as Zara Dasgupta, an alleged Pakistani Intelligence Agent.
ATS added the name “Zara Dasgupta” to the first information report (FIR) after the agent’s IP address was traced to Pakistan. As per the ATS, the DRDO scientist was in touch with the Pakistani agent through WhatsApp and video calls.
The DRDO scientists had offered to show a “highly classified” report on the BrahMos missile project to a female Pakistani Intelligence Operative (PIO), according to ATS.
Kurulkar has played a key role in the design, development, and production of Akash launchers and mission-critical ground systems defense projects. His area of specialization, according to DRDO’s website, is the design and development of missile launchers, military engineering equipment, advanced robotics, and mobile unmanned systems for military applications.
This is not the only case. In February 2023, Baburam Dey – a senior technical officer of the DRDO’s Integrated Test Range in Chandipur, Odisha, was detained on suspicion of giving Pakistani intelligence information on India’s missile testing. The PIO introduced herself as a poor science student from Uttar Pradesh and remained in touch with Dey for over a year.
In 2020, an official of the Indian aerospace maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was arrested for sharing vital information about Indian fighter jets in the production line of the company with a Pakistan Intelligence Agency ISI operative. Deepak Shirsat (41) was working at HAL’s Ozar unit in Nashik and was “honey-trapped.”
A 27-year-old BrahMos Aerospace Engineer, Nishant Agarwal, was arrested under a joint operation by Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra for giving technical information to a Pakistan operative. He was in touch with suspected Pakistan intelligence operatives, operating under false names “Neha Sharma” and “Pooja Ranjan.”
The police later said that despite the highly sensitive nature of his job, he made himself an easy target on the internet.
In 2020, an Indian Army soldier, Shantimay Rana, was arrested for allegedly leaking military information to Pakistan. He was allegedly honey-trapped by a Pakistani woman for leaking information related to the movements and maneuvers of his unit.
In 2020, a probe launched into an espionage case in the Indian Navy opened a pandora’s box. Thirteen Indian navy personnel were arrested from different naval bases and were accused of leaking sensitive information to Pakistani spies. The intelligence operatives had befriended them through social media profiles.
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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