A top defence research scientist was ‘honey trapped’ by a Pakistani spy—and shared confidential information about our missile programs. The police have now released all the sad details in the chargesheet, including (what else) WhatsApp messages.
Babe ko Brahmos pasand hai…
That was the excellent and most apt headline used by Mid-Day for this story about hot babes—with a remarkable interest in specs of missile design.
Meet Mr Kurulkar: Until his arrest on May 3, Pradeep Kurulkar was ruling the roost at the R&D wing of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)—which develops our military technology. The 59-year-old was involved in critical projects—especially the design of our missiles—including the nuclear-capable Agni and the surface-to-air missile Akash. He seems to have been well-liked by his colleagues—who describe him as chatty and a bit of a show-off: “He loved to talk about all the work he did in the past, how he worked closely with Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.” A trait that did not serve him well when sexting on WhatsApp. For what it’s worth, he was also active in the RSS.
FYI, he seems to have been inspired by Big B’s unfortunate policy of dying his hair and not his beard—which pretty much screams ‘retirement age crisis’:
Enter Zara Dasgupta: All it took was a single message from a UK number: “This beautiful Indian girl from London is a great admirer of the work you’re doing for India”—and poor Kurulkar was hooked. She reeled him in over the course of a year—sending him steamy photos and videos. She appealed to both his libido and his vanity—pretending to be a naive young woman trying to educate herself about his work. Oh, and she regularly cursed out Pakistan—which made her seem ‘patriotic’.
What is shocking—and sort of amusing—is how easily Kurulkar coughed up state secrets. Here’s a convo about Brahmos revealed by Mid-Day:
Zara: Brahmos was also your invention babe?
Zara: This is dangerous one
Kurulkar: I have initial design reports (some specific details of Brahmos mid-day is not mentioning)
Zara: It is an air launched version na
Zara: We have discussed earlier
Kurulkar: Yep (specific details)
Kurulkar even downloaded two apps on his phone on her request—to make it easier for her to send sexy vids. Of course, it had malware 🙄.
The most delusional bit: is in this Mid-Day report:
He believed that the woman was genuinely interested in his work and was flattered by her admiration. Kurulkar apparently thought that by exchanging information with her, he could educate her, and in return, engage in sexting with her…
“Hundreds of such calls took place, but the shocking part is that Kurulkar was never threatened and he kept sharing information voluntarily while the woman continued to send him pictures of herself in the nude. Taking advantage of his loneliness, she made him talk until late in the night,” a source said.
The most ironic bit: Kurulkar attended a DRDO awareness event on “how Pakistan and other intelligence agencies use social media handles to honey trap and spy on India”—even as he was sexting his Zara.
There have been other such cases, right?
Yup. If you think only sad middle-aged men are prone to being honey-trapped, let us introduce you to Madhuri Gupta. The 61-year-old diplomat posted to Islamabad fell in love with the handsome 30-year-old Jamshed—and soon began passing sensitive information to him. It is also common among soldiers posted in border states. Half of the 28 people arrested for espionage in Rajasthan were honey-trapped. And it’s not just the Pakistanis. In the 1990s, a top RAW officer—dealing with the Sri Lankan civil war—fell for a PanAm air hostess who turned out to be a CIA agent.
Point to note: Back in 2010, there were Indian media reports of Pakistan’s ISI training 900-odd women to honey trap Indian officials and politicians. This may well be an exaggeration, but the Soviets had specially trained ‘Mozhno girls’ tasked with seducing foreign targets. The East Germans, OTOH, had ‘Romeo spies’—handsome, intelligent officers tasked with seducing West German women:
Thanks to the Romeo spies and their honey traps, the Stasi penetrated most levels of the West German government and industry. At one stage, the East Germans even had a spy inside NATO who was able to give information on the West’s deployment of nuclear weapons. Another used her connections to become a secretary in the office of the West German chancellor, Helmut Schmidt.
The billion-dollar honey trap: It may well have been a Mozhno girl who reeled in Commodore Sukhjinder Singh—a naval officer posted in Moscow from 2005-2007 who was in an “amorous relationship” with a Russian woman. Singh was also closely involved in negotiations to buy a refitted aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. Here’s how that turned out:
Singh was indicted, though the navy insisted that his conduct had not affected the negotiations. It was no use. India eventually paid $2.33 billion for the refit, instead of the $974 million mentioned in the original contract leading to suspicions that Indian negotiating positions had been betrayed in a “honey trap operation”. Singh was eventually sacked but the Admiral Gorshkov now sails in Indian waters as the INS Vikramaditya.
Irony alert: The most iconic female spy Mata Hari may, in fact, have been innocent. She was arrested by the French during World War I for spying for a German attache—who she insisted was her lover but to no avail. She was put to death by firing squad—and the French later admitted they had no hard evidence against her.
The era of digital honey-traps: These days, spies don’t even have to do the tedious work of actually having sex with their target. ‘Sejal Kapoor’ hacked into 98 accounts of men serving in the forces just by delivering malware smuggled with videos and images. The entry point is usually the person’s social media account:
According to a report, a young and pretty woman may ‘like’ the photographs posted by a soldier on social media and leave a comment saying something like, “Wow, Jai Hind!” or “Thank you for keeping us safe”. The conversation eventually moves to intimate messages over WhatsApp. It turns out later that this online patriot woman is actually a spy looking to extract valuable information through blackmail.
Technology makes it easy to cast a wide net—or make multiple approaches to a desired target. One Corps of Engineers soldier was seduced by three separate women—who called themselves Reet Kaur, Khushdeep Kaur and Harleen Gill. Of course, that may say more about the gentleman than the skills of the Pakistanis.
The bottomline: It’s always money or sex—sometimes both.
The most detailed and colourful reporting on the case is in Mid-Day—while Indian Express has the charge sheet and a profile of Kurulkar. The Hindu looks at the new era of digital honey traps—and how best to defend the military from them. Scroll has a good overview of past cases in India. For the history of honey traps or sexpionage, read The History Press or Coffee or Die.