A BJP politician from Bihar who retired as a Colonel, a retired Colonel from Ludhiana in Punjab and an “Army aspirant” from Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir are among the scores of men who became “friends” with a woman on Facebook in what is being alleged as an espionage operation by Pakistani agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) aimed specifically at trapping serving and former military men.
The three men separately told The Indian Express they did not know the woman they befriended, and that they “might have just accepted the friend request in routine”.
The alleged ISI-operated Facebook page and the people figuring in the friend list of the account are being investigated by the State Special Operation Cell of Punjab Police, which in a joint operation with Military Intelligence on Thursday arrested an alleged spy Ravi Kumar, a resident of Dhaleke village in Moga district.
Ravi Kumar’s arrest led to the discovery of the Facebook account in the name of a woman. A senior police officer in Punjab said it was unlikely that all the serving and retired defence personnel in the friend list were “moles”.
Within minutes after The Indian Express contacted one of the men on the list, the retired Colonel from Ludhiana appeared to have deleted his name. “I don’t know,” he said. “Friend requests keep coming in. I have more than 4,000 friends on Facebook,” said the Colonel who retired in 2001.
The BJP politician from Bihar said over phone, “I might have received request and accepted it. There are so many fake accounts and you are well aware of that.”
“In the daily conversation of hello hi, I keep on asking the person who are you. Main jankari leta hun (I seek information). I have not had any conversation with the person nor I know the person,” he said.
Incidentally, the “ISI operated Facebook account” is an account where one can see the posts and friends’ list even without becoming a friend.
A 21-year-old man from Kupwara district in Jammu and Kashmir also figured as friend in the Facebook account.
His Facebook profile has his photo in Army uniform. When contacted, the youth said he might have “generally accepted the friend request”.
“Bahut shauq tha Army mein jaane ka lekin selection nahi hua (Was very keen to join Army, but was not selected). I like the Army uniform and that is why my profile has photo with uniform. I am a former NCC cadet,” he said, adding he was not aware who was the person who operated the FB account allegedly operated by ISI.
Ravi Kumar (34), who was on Thursday booked in a case registered under The Official Secrets Act and criminal conspiracy charge under the Indian Penal Code and was arrested for spying for ISI on Thursday, was working as supervisor at a soft drink factory near his village in Moga districts. Two smart phones were recovered from him and an initial analysis led the investigator to “ISI operated Facebook espionage ring”.
Investigators said that “when he visited Dubai between February 20 and 24, he was tasked with opening a shop in Ferozepur cantonment area”.
Investigators said that ISI wanted to get information about “strike” and “defence” units of Indian Army from him.
A police official said Ravi was unmarried, had a brother who was married and had three sisters, one of whom had died and other two married. Parents of Ravi died some years back, said the official.
The official alleged Ravi’s Dubai visit was “sponsored” by ISI.