Senate body hears about spying on cabinet meetings

Published June 13, 2015
'Outsiders’ may be spying upon the federal cabinet meetings, says PPP Senator Rehman Malik.—PPI/File
'Outsiders’ may be spying upon the federal cabinet meetings, says PPP Senator Rehman Malik.—PPI/File

ISLAMABAD: ‘Outsiders’ used to pry upon the federal cabinet meetings held in the safety of Prime Minister’s House in 2012, and may still be doing so, according to PPP Senator Rehman Malik.

A former interior minister, Senator Malik, disclosed this and other secrets while chairing a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Interior on Friday on regulatory affairs of the telecommunications sector of the country.

His disclosures followed when his questions to Dr Ismail Shah, head of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), yielded the answer that countering spying was someone else’s job.

Also read: Rehman Malik’s sentence in corruption cases annulled

Senator Malik recalled that once in his days as interior minister prying signals were detected in the cabinet room in the Prime Minister’s House. But since Pakistan lacked the capacity to block the spying activity, he said, the cabinet meeting only could be put off.

In his own house, he said, two windows were cemented up to block prying signals.

He also claimed that the US intelligence agency, CIA, admitted to its spying activities in Pakistan by reporting in 2013 that it had been tapping the phones of former President Asif Ali Zardari, the sitting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and others in Pakistan.

“That (countering the spying) the agencies do themselves,” responded Dr Ismail Shah, the Chairman of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), who was called to the Senate committee meeting.

PTA had just over a dozen technical people on its staff for its basic job of regulating the country’s telecom sector, he told the committee.

Dr Shah informed the committee that some 2.2 million SIMs falling in a specific category, that included corporate customers, had neither been verified nor blocked.

“More than 97.2 million SIMs registered against 44.7 million unique CNICs have been re-verified since January 12 while 98.3 million SIMs have been blocked,” he said.

For cyber security, the cellular companies operating in Pakistan perform various checks before employing people. It includes verification of academic degrees, verification of two past employments, authentication of identity card from Nadra, security watch in service and a check against fraud database.

Dr Shah said Expression of Interest applications have been called for short-listing companies for third party audit of biometric verification exercise of mobile phone subscribers.

Local development of applications like WhatsApp would not only provide secure communication means to country’s institutions, free from threat of interception, but would also help generate revenues, according to him.

The PTA chief said the roaming facility for mobile SIMs issued from Afghanistan has been stopped on the basis of intelligence reports. India and Pakistan have already denied the facility to each other on reciprocal basis.

While briefing the Senate committee on Axact scandal, the director general of FIA Akbar Khan Hoti said that the company did its alleged business of fake degrees mainly in Europe and Middle East. Some employees and purchasers of Axact fake degrees in Pakistan have come forth and their statements have been recorded.

But the transaction of millions of dollars in the company’s accounts is still a question mark and would be probed in detail, according to the FIA official.

The committee’s proceedings were postponed when its member, Shibli Faraz, suddenly developed some problem and had to be taken to hospital.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2015

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