A dismissed Air Force official, who allegedly shared secret information with intelligence operatives suspected to be backed by Pakistan's ISI after being "honeytrapped" into an espionage racket, has been arrested from Bhatinda in Punjab by Delhi Police.
The accused, identified as Ranjith KK, was a Leading aircraft man with the Indian Air Force posted at Bhatinda. He was dismissed recently and later arrested after a combined operation by Delhi Police's Crime Branch, Military Intelligence and Air Force Liaisoning Unit, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Ravindra Yadav said on Tuesday.
Ranjith, a native of Malappuram district in Kerala, had joined the Indian Air Force in 2010. He has been booked under provisions of the Official Secrets Act, said police.
"With his arrest, the police have come across a honeytrapping module, backed by intelligence agents from across the border, which creates fictitious accounts (cyber entities) in popular social networking sites, pretending to be women, befriend defence personnel and officials from security forces and allegedly lure them into espionage," a senior police official said.
In the concerned case, Ranjith was deceived by a cyber entity by the name Damini McNaught, who pretended to be the executive of a UK-based media firm and claimed that she required Air Force-related information for an article in their news magazine from Ranjith in exchange for pecuniary benefits, said the official.
Ranjith allegedly shared Air Force-related information, mostly pertaining to a recent exercise, movements of aircraft and deployment of various units, in exchange for money transferred to his bank account, Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime) Alok Kumar said.
Ranjith had also received a few Voice Over Internet Protocol-based calls on his mobile number during which a female with British accent introduced herself as Damini McNaught and even interviewed him once. She later assigned him the task of getting more information, Kumar said.
Ranjith was arrested yesterday and brought to Delhi on transit remand and produced before a court in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Ranjith allegedly shared secret information also through e-mails and internet-based text messaging services. The documents he had shared now have to be analysed to evaluate the actual damage and potential threat to national security, said an official privy to the investigation.
Police are trying to crack open the honeytrapping module and ascertain the identities of more security personnel associated with it, the official added.
Ranjith's arrest came close on the heels of the cracking of an ISI-backed espionage racket by the Crime Branch in connection with which five persons, including a serving and a former army personnel and a serving BSF personnel, were arrested.
However, the police have not yet been able to establish any link between Ranjith and the other racket, headed by one Kafaitullah Khan, which was even found to have sources in the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, said the official.
While Khan was intercepted in Delhi while he was travelling from Jammu to Bhopal, three others were arrested from Rajouri district in Jammu and Kashmir and one from Siliguri in West Bengal.
These arrests were again closely preceded by those of some alleged ISI operatives in Kolkata and Meerut.
Meanwhile, sources said, it was in September when Ranjith came in touch with the woman on Facebook while he was admitted to a military hospital for treatment.
"As per the investigation, the lady first made contact with him on Facebook and he reciprocated since he was in hospital and had a lot of free time," the sources said.
He came under the scanner of the Air Force intelligence wing due to his "unusual activity".
Ranjith was put under scanner and it was found that he had been also meeting "unusual people". The sources refused to share details beyond this but added that he had shared sensitive details of a base from where drones and Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems (AEW&CS) are operated.
Air Force Station, Bhisiana (Bhatinda), where he served, is the first upgraded air base under a Rs 2,500 crore programmme which will see modernisation of 30 defence airfields across India, allowing operations of both civilian and military aircraft even in poor weather conditions.
He was arrested by the IAF following sustained surveillance and court martial proceeding was initiated against him.
Following this, Ranjith was dismissed from service at 5.30 pm last evening and handed over to the police.