New Delhi, June 21: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee today said intelligence agencies had investigated reports of bugging in his office and found nothing during the probe.Commenting on the reports of a possible breach of security in his office and that of his aides in North Block,he told reporters that “in respect of news item regarding bugging in my office, the IB investigated into it and found there is nothing in it.”
According to reports, the Finance Minister had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year asking him to order a secret enquiry into the serious breach of security in his office.The Indian Express on Tuesday reported that an attempt was made to mount surveillance on Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee last year but it was detected in the nick of time.
The report said, on September 7 last year, Pranab Mukherjee wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to order a “secret inquiry” into what he called a “serious breach of security” in his office: the presence of “planted adhesives” in 16 key locations that suggested a possible surveillance attempt.
These locations included the office of the Finance Minister himself, the office of his Advisor Omita Paul, the office of his Private Secretary Manoj Pant, and two conference rooms used by the Finance Minister, including the main conference hall on the ground floor of the heavily guarded North Block.
In his letter, Mukherjee mentioned that no “live microphone” or recording devices were found. An investigation by The Indian Express has revealed that Mukherjee's letter came three days after an unprecedented “electronic sweep” of the Ministry's VVIP chambers was conducted by a team of private investigators brought in by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT).
The CBDT, an agency that reports to the Finance Minister, has never conducted such a counter-surveillance operation. There are two divergent views on the nature of the adhesives found.
Senior Intelligence Bureau officials told The Indian Express that a government forensic lab concluded that these “adhesives” were a “sort of chewing gum”. The IB's suspicion is on members of North Block's maintenance staff and the cleaning crew.
The IB, however, is understood to have not submitted any written report on the episode.
In contrast, CBDT officials said that their conclusion — as well as that of the private detective agency they hired — was that the adhesives were “planted” at critical places in the Finance Ministry and that a closer examination revealed grooves on the surface which indicate some tiny devices could have been pasted and later pulled out.
They argued that it was hard to believe that any cleaning staff, visitor or official, would paste “chewing gum” on the desks of the Finance Minister, of his Advisor and Private Secretary and the conference rooms.
As a result of Mukherjee's letter to Singh, since the end of last year, CBDT inspectors, armed with newly acquired state-of-the-art debugging and surveillance equipment, have been periodically conducting electronic sweeps of sensitive locations in the Finance Ministry.Home Ministry officials, contacted by The Indian Express, said that the IB too routinely carries out these checks.
In his letter, Mukherjee had underlined to the Prime Minister that the “serious breach” of security in his office could have “wide ramifications”. He added: “...The PM may consider ordering a secret inquiry into why and how this breach occurred and who is responsible for this action.”