With more audio clips of conversations supposedly taking place in the Prime Minister Office (PMO) surfacing online on Monday and raising alarms over its cyber security, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) on Wednesday to ascertain how informal conversations in the country’s highest office were leaked.
It has also been learnt that a joint investigation team (JIT) has been constituted to probe the massive security lapse, and that top intelligence agencies have completed an initial inquiry, the report of which would be placed before the premier in the meeting by their high-ups.
On the other hand, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah raised a few eyebrows when he attempted to downplay the possibility of hacking, calling it a “storm in a teacup.” He suggested there was nothing to be concerned about if it was mere “hacking of mobile phones”. He, however, did call it a serious security breach if anyone had bugged the PM House.
“Due to the gravity of the situation, the prime minister has called a meeting of the National Security Committee on Wednesday which will be attended by the top civil and military leadership,” Interior Minister Sanaullah told a TV talk show on Monday night.
“If it is bugging… then it is a serious issue to ascertain how the device was planted and who is behind it. If it is true, stern action will be taken against those involved in it,” he stressed.
However, he said, if it was just ‘simple hacking’ of mobile phones of some people who may have visited the PM House then it was nothing serious.
“In this case, some waiter or any other staff member of the PM House may be involved. We will punish them according to the law,” he maintained.
The minister said as per his information, the Intelligence Bureau and Inter-Services Intelligence had completed their initial inquiry into the matter and their heads would apprise the prime minister of the findings in the NSC meeting.
Sharing his two cents on the age of advanced technology, he casually said anyone’s mobile phone, including his own or PM Sharif’s, could be hacked in today’s world. “But in this case, the government will take measures to prevent such hacking in the future,” he added.
However, when contacted, Bytes for All’s Shahzad Ahmed told Dawn it was possible that a hacker got access to a bugging device that may have been planted by local spy agencies in government offices.
Reacting to the interior minister’s remarks, Ahmed termed such thinking ‘absurd’, saying that if this was the approach, then no good would come of forming a JIT and such mishaps will also continue in the future.
He was of the opinion that those responsible for the security of the top office could be misguiding the rulers in a bid to save themselves from possible action, but phone hacking was a very serious issue indeed.
Earlier on Monday, some more audio clips were leaked wherein purportedly top PML-N leaders were strategising about the by-elections that were recently postponed due to floods.
On Saturday, a recording said to be of PM Sharif surfaced where he was discussing with an unidentified official the possibility of facilitating the import of Indian machinery for a power project that was a concern of his niece Maryam Nawaz’s son-in-law. On Sunday, more recordings surfaced, which were shared on social media by several PTI leaders, concerning Finance Minister Miftah Ismail and the resignations of PTI lawmakers from the National Assembly.
The contents of the leaked recordings, which appear to be informal conversations in the PM Office — as opposed to recorded phone conversations — has not been denied or disputed by Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, who insisted that these only showed that “nothing illegal had happened”.
JIT: Meanwhile, one member from each intelligence agencies will be included in the JIT.
The team will look into how the data was hacked and will have the authority to conduct an investigation involving the PM House staff.
Insiders said that the team will probe into whether devices were installed in the PM House or if the phone calls were recorded. The team will also examine which officers were present in the PM Office at the time of the incident. The personnel of the Special Branch designated at the PM’s secretariat will also be questioned.
The movement of the security personnel posted at the PM’s House and office has also been restricted, the sources added.