On Friday, the Maharashtra Police filed a chargesheet against Indian scientist Pradeep Kurulkar in an alleged espionage case that brought to the fore the depths of alleged honey trapping Pakistan’s intelligence conducts against India via the internet.

Honey trapping refers to a person being enticed into revealing information through romantic or sexual relationships.

Kurulkar’s case is not the first. There have been several other cases of officials and employees of Indian defence companies as well as military personnel being allegedly honey trapped by Pakistani intelligence agents in recent years. While honey trapping is a common method used by intelligence agencies across the word, the Indian cases stand out for happening in cyberspace rather than through physical contact.

DRDO scientist honey trapped?

On May 3, Maharashtra’s anti-terrorism squad arrested scientist Kurulkar, the head of Defence Research and Development Organisation’s Research and Development Establishment (Engineers) laboratory, for allegedly sharing sensitive information with a woman who identified herself as Zara Dasgupta – an alleged Pakistani intelligence agent.

Kurulkar, who was attracted to the woman, shared information about sensitive defence projects in exchange of nude pictures and sexting, the chargesheet alleged.

The Indian scientist, a member of several strategically-significant defence projects including the Agni missiles, and the alleged Pakistani operative were in contact between June 2022 and December 2022 through email, Instagram and video calls using two applications suggested by the woman, The Indian Express reported.

Cases involving officials, employees of defence companies

This was just one of several Indian defence company officials and employees being allegedly honey trapped by the Pakistani intelligence apparatus in recent years.

In February, Baburam Dey, a senior technical officer at the DRDO’s Integrated Test Range in Chandipur, Odisha was arrested for allegedly leaking secrets about India’s missile tests to a Pakistani spy. The purported woman, with whom Dey was in conversation for over a year, had reportedly introduced herself as a poor science student from Uttar Pradesh who was interested in higher education and research.

In June 2022, Hyderabad Police arrested Dukka Mallikarjuna Reddy, a contractual employee at DRDO’s Defence Research & Development Laboratory, for allegedly sharing sensitive information with a suspected agent of Pakistani intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence.

Reddy had allegedly shared the information with an agent through social media. A Facebook account named Natasha Rao had befriended Reddy in March 2020, claiming that she worked at a United Kingdom-based Defence Journal and that her father previously worked in the Indian Air Force. The purported woman reportedly agreed to marry Reddy and they were in contact until December 2021, when the profile changed its name to Simran Chopra and stopped communicating with him.

DRDO scientist Pradeep Kurulkar. Screengrab via IUCAA SciPOP/YouTube
DRDO scientist Pradeep Kurulkar. Screengrab via IUCAA SciPOP/YouTube

Similarly, Maharashtra Police arrested Deepak Shirsat, an assistant supervisor at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, in October 2020 for allegedly leaking details of Indian fighter jets and the company’s manufacturing unit to Pakistan. Shirsat was allegedly honey trapped by a Pakistani national who texted with him on social media posing as a woman, police said. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, a government defence company, designs and manufactures some of the Indian Air Force’s aircraft.

In October 2018, Nishant Aggarwal, an engineer employed with BrahMos Aerospace was arrested by Uttar Pradesh’s anti-terrorism squad and military intelligence for alleged espionage. “Extremely sensitive documents” were reportedly recovered from him. BrahMos Aerospace, a joint venture between India and Russian missile developer NPO Mashinostroyeniya, manufactures BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles.

The prosecution has alleged that Aggarwal was honey trapped. During the investigation, the anti-terrorism squad came across Facebook accounts with names Neha Sharma and Pooja Ranjan – suspected to be operated by Pakistani intelligence agents – that were in touch with Aggarwal.

Military personnel honey trapped?

Similarly, several serving military personnel have also been allegedly honey trapped in recent years.

In July 2022, Indian Army soldier Shantimay Rana was arrested for allegedly leaking military information to Pakistan after being honey trapped by Pakistani agents posing as women through social media accounts with the names Gurnaur Kaur, alias Ankita, and Nisha.

This came two months after another soldier Pradeep Kumar Prajapat, deployed at “an extra-sensitive regiment”, was arrested by Rajasthan Police on similar grounds. The agent, claiming to be a woman from Madhya Pradesh, talked to him through social media and video calls. Prajapat shared the information after the woman promised to marry him, police said.

During the same month, the Delhi Police had arrested Indian Air Force sergeant Devendra Sharma for allegedly leaking information about defence installations to a Pakistani agent posing as a woman by deceitfully getting the information from computers. The Indian Express reported quoting unidentified Delhi Police officials as alleging that they suspect Sharma was honey-trapped by the agent on Facebook, and may have also received money in exchange.

A file photo of an Indian army soldier in Uri. Credit: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP
A file photo of an Indian army soldier in Uri. Credit: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP

In February 2020, 13 Indian Navy personnel from several naval bases were arrested after they allegedly shared sensitive information through social media after being honey trapped by Pakistani operatives.

In February 2018, Delhi Police had arrested Indian Air Force Group Captain Arun Marwah for allegedly leaking classified information to a woman, who presented herself as a model, through social media. Marwah had accepted friend requests from two accounts: Kiran Randhawa and Mahima Patel. These profiles were allegedly fake and created by Pakistani intelligence operatives.

The Pakistani agents reportedly used alleged explicit videos and chats between Marwah and the woman to blackmail him. While he reportedly turned a spy for Pakistan, he eventually confessed his actions.

In December 2015, KK Ranjeet, a junior Indian Air Force personnel, was arrested for allegedly sharing secret documents about the organisation’s operations with Pakistani intelligence operatives. Ranjeet was deceived by a fake social media profile named Damini McNaught which portrayed her as working at a United Kingdom-based media firm.

While honey trapping is a long-standing spycraft practice, unlike the past, these alleged Indians interactions with Pakistan’s intelligence agents posing as women and offering romantic relationships in exhange for information have happened entirely in the digital space.

This trend has concerned authorities. In recent years, Indian defence forces have reiterated their guidelines warning their personnel not to use photos in uniform as profile pictures on social media platforms and reveal their rank, unit name and location or anything related to their work. Personnel have also been told to not forward or store sensitive data on their devices, and to not open unknown emails and suspicious websites.