Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Question: What is a bug?

ANSWER:A bug is a device for the clandestine recording of a conversation or a discussion. It differs from telephone interception which is about overhearing and/or clandestinely recording a conversation over a telephone. Bugging of a personal face-to-face conversation can be done inside a room or a conference hall or in a means of transport. One would recall how the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had bugged the car of Tahawur Hussain Rana of the Chicago Cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in order to clandestinely record his conversations with David Coleman Headley while they were travelling in the car together.

Q: How many kinds of bugging are there?

A: Two--- permanent and temporary or opportunistic. Permanent bugging is done all the 24 hours inside the offices of your adversary or competitor. Temporary or opportunistic bugging is done to clandestinely record a conversation or discussion or the proceedings of a meeting when one has advance information that such a discussion is going to take place.

Q. How are the bugging devices concealed?

A. Inside the walls of a building under construction, inside an ash tray, inside a cigarette lighter, in the false bottom of a flower vase or a table lamp or a tea or coffee pot, inside a landline telephone instrument, on the ceilings of a room etc. Bugging devices planted inside the false bottom of a tea or coffee pot could be used only for temporary or opportunistic purposes. Others can be used as permanent or opportunistic devices. Where a device is used for a temporary purpose, it has to be activated clandestinely before a conversation starts. A bugging device is a miniaturised transmitting device, which transmits the conversation to a control room outside where it is clandestinely recorded. Miniature cassette recorders are also used for temporary bugging. There, the question of transmission to an outside controller does not arise, but one has to change the cassette from time to time. That is why in the intelligence profession, one suspects that a person has a concealed recording device if he frequently goes to the wash room.

Q:How are the bugging devices fitted? What kind of adhesive is used in case of temporary devices?

A: Generally, a cello tape or a chewing gum depending on when or where it is used. Other adhesives can also be used. The most important requirement in choosing the adhesive is that it should be something normally used and hence will not create suspicion.

Q: How are bugs detected?

A: Manually through physical checking of walls and ceilings and other objects normally used for concealing a bug and through electronic sweeps. The electronic sweep is the most effective. A hand-held device is used to search the room. It gives a warning signal when there is a clandestine transmitting device anywhere in the room. Generally, offices and residences of all Ministers holding sensitive portfolios should be swept electronically at regular intervals. Whenever our PM travels abroad, an advance team from the intelligence agencies travels ahead of him, takes possession of his room, subjects it to electronic sweeping and then keeps the room under its control till the PM leaves.

Q: Who does the anti-bug sweeping?

A: The Intelligence Bureau (IB), which has trained anti-bug experts with modern equipment for sweeping.

Q: Do any of the financial intelligence agencies coming under the control of the Finance Ministry have an anti-bug sweeping capability?

A: They did not have at least till 2000.Whether they have acquired this capability subsequently, I would not know.

Q: Do the allegations regarding the bugging of the office and conference rooms of Shri Pranab Mukherjee, the Finance Minister, in the North Block sound credible?

A: Circumstantially yes if one takes into account the important position occupied by him in the Cabinet, his important role involving sensitive discussions in his office on many sensitive issues of a political nature and the suspicion that there are question marks over his head in the Congress (I) leadership. Technically, it would depend on where the adhesive material was found. If it was found at places easily visible to the naked eye, then the allegations may not be correct. If the adhesive was found at places not easily visible to the naked eye, the allegation will acquire some credibility.

Q: The media has reported that the sweeping was done by a team of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT). If true, what does this imply?

A:Normally, such sweepings are done by the IB. It is possible that one of the financial intelligence units under the control of the CBDT now has this capability and does routine sweeping as a precaution. If so, it is quite logical for the CBDT team to have done the sweeping on its own as part of its routine. No suspicion in such a case. It is also possible that the FM suspected bugging by the IB and hence asked the CBDT team to do the sweep. In which case, it is intriguing as to why his suspicion against the IB.

Q:Who would have had the motive to target him for bugging?

A: Suspicious elements in his party, suspicious elements in the Government, individual personalities under investigation for corruption, corporate houses under investigation, corporate houses and foreign Governments trying to collect financial intelligence.

Q.How they might have got the bugging done?

A: Suspicious elements in the party and the Government through the intelligence agencies (many agencies now have this capability).Others through private detective agencies.

Q: The IB is reported to have ruled out any bugging and claimed that the adhesive material found was only chewing gum, implying that someone interested in chewing gum might have pasted it against the wall after using it.

A: Normally, the IB is the final authority in such matters. Its findings are accepted by the Government. If the FM had suspected that the IB was bugging his office, the IB’s findings should not be the last word on the subject.

Q: Will the truth be ever known?

A: Unlikely. It is too late. Suspicions will linger in the minds of the FM as well as the public.

Q: What are the lessons for the future?

A: Entrust such enquiries to agencies not having any responsibility to prevent bugging. Have time-bound enquiries. Keep a tighter control over the access of private detective agencies to such sensitive offices. (22-6-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.E-mail: )

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