India Deploys Naval Officers for Espionage, Again


India has been exposed multiple times for its espionage activities IN VARIOUS PARTS OF THE WORLD

On October 26, 2023, a court in Qatar sent shockwaves through the international community by sentencing eight former Indian Navy personnel to death. These individuals, all employees of Dahra Engineering & Security Services Limited Liability Company, were found guilty of spying on a submarine programme on behalf of Israel. The espionage case, which had been shrouded in secrecy, took a sudden and dramatic turn as the Qatari court delivered its verdict.

The convicted men, identified as Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commander Amit Nagpal, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, and Sailor Ragesh Gopakumar, had been working for Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services  — a private firm providing training and other services for Qatar’s armed forces. The charges brought against the Indian nationals were never made public by the Qatari authorities, adding a layer of mystery to the case.

This is not the first time that the Indian deep state has deployed its intelligence assets as Naval officers. Pakistan has a living proof of Indian state terrorism in the form of its spy, Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav, who was caught by the Pakistani security forces in Balochistan in March 2016 for criminal and terrorist activities. Commander Jhadav had admitted before the court that he worked for the Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). He was involved in several clandestine activities to create instability in the port city Karachi and Balochistan province. During the trial, as per law, he was provided the services of a defending officer. Jadhav was convicted for espionage, anti-state activities, terrorism, and sabotage in the country. He operated in Pakistan under the alias Mubarak Hussein Patel.

The verdict from the Qatari court is being keenly watched by the international diplomatic circles. The Indian government expressed its ‘shock and dismay’ at the judgment, pledging to provide all necessary consular and legal assistance to the convicts.

image 6 | Daily Narratives, Defence Line, Featured from Narratives Magazine

Deepak Mittal, former Indian Ambassador to Doha, met the detainees thrice during their detention. Indian ambassador to Qatar visited them on October 1 after being granted consular access. Furthermore, the Chief Executive of Dahra Global made a trip to Doha, Qatar’s capital, in an attempt to secure their release.

Ambassador Mittal was already facing relationship constraints when in June 2022, the Qatari Foreign Affairs Ministry summoned him, and handed him the official note, expressing the disappointment of the State of Qatar and its total rejection and condemnation to the controversial remarks made by an official in the ruling party in India against Prophet Mohammed (may blessings and peace be upon him), Islam and Muslims. Qatar reaffirmed that the insulting remakes would lead to incitement of religious hatred, and offend more than two billion Muslims around the world. Expressing its displeasure, Qatar emphasized that the actions of the BJP leadership indicate the clear ignorance of the pivotal role that Islam played in the development of civilizations around the world, including India.

However, what makes the Naval officers’ espionage case even more intriguing is the curious connection of Mohammed Khamis Al-Ajmi, the CEO of Dahra Global Technologies, a leading US Department of Defense’s cybersecurity contractor, with the Oman Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT). The company, Al Dahara is owned by the Omani national, Khamis al-Ajmi, a retired squadron leader of the Royal Oman Air Force. This man too, was arrested along with the eight Indians, but he was released in November 2022.

The CEO, who simultaneously holds the position of Head of Digital Forensics at Oman CERT, has an extensive background in digital forensics and cybersecurity. This connection between a high-ranking executive of a private cybersecurity company and a government-operated CERT agency raises questions about potential conflicts of interest, transparency, and the safeguarding of classified information.

Mohammed Khamis Al-Ajmi is not a typical CEO. Beyond his executive responsibilities, he has a rich and diverse background that demonstrates his passion for digital forensics and cybersecurity. He stands out as a highly qualified individual with an extensive track record in this specialized domain. One of the striking aspects of Al-Ajmi’s career is his literary contribution. He has authored two books in Arabic, shedding light on critical subjects in the realm of IT and cybersecurity. These books, “شرح عملي باللغة العربية – Servers Microsoft To Guide 1-” and “The 7 Element of Digital Citizenship – في السبعة المحاور المواطنة الرقمية,” underline his sphere of influence in the digital and cyber security in the Arab world.

Charges were also framed against the Omani national Mohammad Khamis al-Ajmi, the CEO of Dahra Global. Al-Ajmi was kept in solitary confinement for two months starting in October 2022 until he was granted bail. And an Omani national, who had also been detained, was released just before the beginning of the FIFA Football World Cup.

Media reports shed some light on the activities of Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services. The company was allegedly advising Qatar on a programme aimed at obtaining high-tech Italian-made submarines with the capability to evade radar detection. Despite its significant role in this endeavor, Dahra Global was abruptly shut down in May 2023. The company had employed a substantial workforce, including 75 Indian nationals, many of them former Navy personnel.

Al Dahra employees are deployed in various locations across the world. The highest number of employees, eight, were stationed Qatari capital Doha, and an additional six spread across various other parts of the country. Oman is another significant deployment location with five employees, three of whom are in Muscat. In India, there are three employees, with one each located in Hyderabad, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh. Additionally, three employees are based in Muscat, Oman, while two employees are situated in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France, and two more in other French cities. There is also a Dahra employee in Ankara, Turkey, Salon-de-Provence, and Toulon, with another additional one in Telangana, India. This wide geographic distribution underscores Dahra’s global presence.

The company Al Dhara Engineering and Consulting has a web of sister companies across the GCC, the US and other parts of the world, managed and led by multiple nationalities. However, the majority of them are Indians. The companies provide a diverse set of services, including recruitment, logistics, cybersecurity, business intelligence, defense and security solutions and a lucrative indenting business with the US Department of Defense.

The Indian Naval (veteran) officers’ spying case dates back to August 2022 when Qatari authorities took the former Indian naval officers into custody. For months, the nature of the charges remained undisclosed. However, the veil of secrecy was lifted when Qatari authorities revealed that these eight individuals had been involved in spying on Qatar’s classified submarine programme for the benefit of Israel. Qatari officials have claimed to possess electronic evidence supporting these allegations.

The Indian government has vigorously pursued the release of its citizens but has faced resistance from Qatari authorities, who maintain that the evidence supports the claim that these former officers passed on sensitive intelligence to Israel. The Ministry of External Affairs of India has stated that it was deeply shocked by the verdict and vowed to take up the issue with Doha, urging a reconsideration of the sentence.

The the diplomatic circles across the world are keenly watching development on this espionage case. The serious nature of charges against Indian nationals, combined with the international implications, underlines the complexities surrounding the case and its implications on Qatar-India diplomatic relations. The connection between the CEO of Dahra and Oman CERT, along with Dahra’s role as a leading US Department of Defense contractor, adds an additional layer of intrigue to it.

Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services, also known as Dahra, presents itself as a highly specialized provider of support solutions in various sectors, including aerospace, security, defense, information technology, and communications. While the company highlights its certifications and memberships in organizations such as ISO 9001:2008, TRACE (Transparency International), and Aviation Supply Association (ASA), the recent events have cast suspicion on its operations and activities. The eight Indian Navy officers face death penalty in Qatar, and their association with Dahra raises questions about the nature of services provided by the company.

Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services, now referred to as Dahra Global, is a company that specializes in providing training, logistics, and maintenance services to the Qatari Emiri Naval Force (QENF). While the company’s old website indicated its association with the QENF, its new website no longer mentions this connection, nor does it reference the involvement of the eight former Indian Navy officers who held leadership roles within the company.

Notably, Commander Tiwari, who was the Managing Director of Dahra Global, received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman in 2019 for his role in strengthening the bilateral relationship between India and Qatar. This recognition reflects the company’s history of being endorsed by New Delhi.

The Indian Navy veterans were arrested in August 2022 by the Qatari State Security Bureau, the country’s intelligence agency. The details of the charges against them were not disclosed due to security reasons.

The case presents a significant diplomatic challenge for the Indian government. India and Qatar have historically maintained friendly relations, with deep economic and defense ties. However, recent developments have strained this relationship.

This is not the first time that India has used its Naval officers for espionage services. India has been exposed multiple times for its espionage activities. The historical cases where Indian naval officers were allegedly involved in espionage shed the light on the national insecurities surrounding the complexities India creates with its friends and foes.

The Rustom Case

Pavri’s trial and conviction sparked a diplomatic row between India and the United States. India accused the U.S. of using its diplomatic immunity to shelter a spy. The case strained bilateral relations, raising questions about the extent of espionage activities within the Indian military and its consequences on international partnerships.

Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav

image 7 | Daily Narratives, Defence Line, Featured from Narratives Magazine

The case of Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav also highlights the Indian naval officers being involved in espionage. Jadhav was arrested by Pakistani authorities in 2016 and accused of espionage and terrorism. While India told the world that Jadhav was a retired naval officer with no official ties to the Indian government, Pakistan has provided documentary evidence and dossiers that prove he is a serving Navy officer.

The Submarine Data Leak

In 2016, a major espionage scandal emerged involving the Scorpene-class submarines being built in India. Classified data related to the submarines was leaked, raising concerns about the compromise of national security. While the leak was not attributed to naval officers directly, it highlighted vulnerabilities in safeguarding sensitive defense information.

These cases expose India’s espionage game and state-sponsored terrorism in various parts of the world. The Rustom Case, Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav’s terrorism activities, and the submarine data leak also underscore the involvement of the Indian Naval officers in this game.

Amir Jahangir
Amir Jahangir
The writer is a global competitiveness, risk, and development expert. He leads Mishal Pakistan, the country partner institute of the Centre for the New Economy and Society Platform at the World Economic Forum.

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