Audio Leaks Continue

ByDr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam

Designation: is an educationist with wide experience


October 2, 2022

Audio Leaks

AndDr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam talks about a disturbing phenomenon

Though audio leaks of sensitive national matters is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan but this is the first time that they have been used as a blackmailing tool by the notorious dark web. It is more than clear that this attempt is the rearguard action of the retreating action of the arbitrary forces without realising that they will also be hit in the cross-fire and rather soon. The possibility that this may be the result of a cyber-attack was mentioned by former information minister Fawad Chaudhry, who tweeted that in a major cyber attack on PM Office 100 hours of conversations of PM and cabinet members have been leaked to an international hacker website.

The hacker has asked for $345,000 for detailed record, that is about 8 GB. The conversations include political, economic and security related issues. Fawad Chaudhry’s claim of a hacker making off with the data seems to originate from reports that a hacker or a collective — that has been involved in previous cyber-attacks on behalf of neighbouring India — listed for sale a data dump containing conversations from the Pakistani PM Office.

Users claimed that the clips leaked online were shared by the alleged hacker(s) as proof that they were indeed in the possession of sensitive data and set a minimum bid of around 18 0BTC, or Etherscan tokens, worth around $345,000. When contacted, a senior military official in the Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) also held IB responsible for the leak and said the military and its spy agencies have nothing to do with that department. It was added that the entire Prime Minister Office is looked after by the IB in terms of security.

Data Hacked

It was also mentioned that it was difficult to say anything with authority on when and how the conversations were hacked unless a thorough investigation was conducted. However, it was also stated that the lack of government policy and interest in thwarting cyber-attacks on important state institutions is one of the causes of the breach and it is expected that the incident would prove to be a wake-up call for the government and it will not simply be forgotten or brushed under the carpet.

The unflattering situation compelled the prime minister to come on to national stage and term the scenario as a serious security lapse announcing formation of a high-level committee to probe into the matter. Audio recordings of conversations between key government figures including Prime Minister, Maryam Nawaz and some members of the federal cabinet discussing governance matters privately surfaced over the weekend, prompting concerns over the security of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). In the recording the PM could be heard speaking with his principal secretary about facilitating import of Indian machinery for a power project for Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law. The PM clarified that Maryam never talked to him about any favours or her son-in-law.

The issue of unlawfully recorded, closed-door conversations between high-level government officials and using it for blackmail is crime of the first order if seen in the right perspective but this unfortunately has become the new normal. This issue becomes more complicated when it is put on the uncontrollable social media that catches the attention of the nation and flares up emotions to very high degrees.

Audio Leaks And PTI Posturing

The contents of such conversations get dissected in gory details and accusations begin to fly increasing the already high degree of polarisation in the country. The PTI has already started spinning them in its favour: pointing fingers at Maryam Nawaz and demanding that the chief election commissioner resign. There is an element of hesitation even in the PTI’s posturing, however, as the national security implications of this leak become clearer.

This situation has raised national security questions as the recordings released so far do not seem to be from recordings of intercepted telephone calls but have been recorded from a bugging device placed inside PM Office apparently so close to him that there was no interruption in the conversation. It is pointed out that the responsibility of ensuring the security of the premises of prime minister’s office is of the Intelligence Bureau and Special Branch and they are required to sweep it every day before the daily proceedings begin.

It is crystal clear that both agencies have failed to detect the bugging devices despite being aware of the presence of Pegasus software available in the market notorious for cutting across all prevention protocols used by cyber systems. And it is also reported that all intelligence agencies also use this software rather widely.

There is another matter to be looked into and that is how these audios have been released. Some reports suggest that a large cache of audio recordings was uploaded to a hackers’ forum sometime last month and offered for sale. A part from the cache was also seemingly uploaded to Twitter much earlier this month but appeared to have evaded attention till this weekend, a situation quite intriguing to be neglected by the intelligence network whose job is to remain very vigilant about such matters.

Pakistani Deep State On Audio Leaks

The gross neglect completely missed such red herrings indicating involvement of a highly trained tactical player well-versed with the operational practices of the Pakistani deep state comprising both civil and military. It knew that both the wings of intelligence are constantly at loggerheads and could easily be manipulated and it clearly emerged that it was successful in the end.

It must always be kept in perspective that the incumbent elected head of the government and his cabinet are not ordinary people or even out-of-favour politicians whose privacy may be casually compromised without many consequences. And it should always be realised that their conversations are not run of the mill affairs so casually treated as to be thrown to the dogs to be mauled without due discretion.

It is a shame that the absence of strict implementation of libel laws has enabled such blame game to prosper by the day encouraging anyone to accuse with impunity. The position has come to the pass where the judiciary finds it difficult to protect its honour and is routinely slighted. The judicial organ of the state is required to come out of its protective cocoon and take to task its so-called guardians so that they know their place otherwise they will continue shifting the blame and the cyclical game will continue to be played.

Audio Leaks Raised Alarm Bells

There is hardly any doubt that the audio leaks have raised alarm bells in all corridors of power, with questions being raised about flaws in the cyber security of the highest office of the land. This has cast doubts about the capacity of the Pakistani officialdom to keep its official conversation preserved for the sake of larger national interest till the appropriate time comes to release it for general public consumption.

Every government in the developed world reserves the right to preserve parts of its sensitive conversations hidden from the public eye and some parts are not even released even after expiry mandatory 30 years according to Public Information Act. There is no reason to apply any exception to Pakistan in this respect and any such effort should be discouraged. The Weekender


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