A costly intelligence asset of no use now
Rs 30-cr project scrapped after technical panel found flaws in encryption system
The use of Chinese processors in an encryption system for ground mobile satellite communication terminals for use by the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) was considered a breach of security for which the project was scrapped on the directions of the National Security Council (NSC).
Following strong objections by the NSC, the “Sampark” network was shot down and is not being used by the NTRO, leading to the loss of Rs 30 crore (including capital and recurring expenditure) that was spent on purchasing the asset.
The wasteful expenditure incurred as a result of non-use of the system has come under the scanner of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) which is learnt to have classified it as among several other “suspect” NTRO acquisitions and procurements between 2007 and 2010. The CAG undertook a massive special audit of the NTRO after the head of the communications intelligence organisation blew with the whistle on several questionable procurements and other irregularities.
The audit findings have been submitted to the Supreme Court in a sealed envelope.
In late 2009, the NSC was apprised by the Scientific Analysis Group (SAG) within the Defence Research and Development Organisation that several ground mobile SATCOM terminals, which the NTRO had procured from the Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) for positioning in various parts of the country for communication “during operations”, contained Chinese processors.
The sensitive issue came to the notice of the NSC when the Indian Air Force, which procured the same encryption system from BEL the same year, sought to have it cleared by the SAG. On further examination, it was found by SAG scientists that the encryption system contained Chinese processors which, it was suspected, could potentially compromise all special operations within the country.
An encryption system is an essential feature in SATCOM terminals as they help in protecting transmission of and securing sensitive communication which could otherwise be intercepted. The NTRO procured “bulk encryption systems” in early 2009 as part of a project that was called “Sampark”.
According to sources in the country’s security establishment, senior NTRO officials procured the systems, worth Rs 30 crore, without taking due clearance from the SAG which is the government’s sole certifying authority for such hi-tech and sensitive equipment which the security agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau, use for operations.
The encryption system was used by the NTRO for at least six months during which time intelligence information was transmitted without clearance from the authorities concerned.