Noon leaks

Published September 27, 2022

A SET of audio clippings of discreetly recorded, closed-door conversations between the prime minister and other key decision-makers have surfaced on social media — capturing the nation’s attention at a time when political tensions are on the boil. The content of these recordings will be dissected in great detail by opinion makers in the coming days.

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. The biggest question at the moment is how a lapse of such grave proportions happened on the watch of multiple security institutions tasked with protecting the prime minister against exactly such threats.

When former finance minister Shaukat Tarin’s telephone call with Taimur Jhagra over the IMF deal was ‘leaked’ recently, there had been little question about who may have been snooping in on their conversation. Phone tapping is par for the course in a country where civilian leaders are fair game for illegal surveillance and few care about individuals’ right to privacy.

Editorial: Another leaked audio

However, things seem quite different this time, as everything about these latest leaks raises questions.

Firstly, the clippings that have been released so far do not seem to be from recordings of intercepted telephone calls. Instead, a recording or bugging device seems to have been placed inside PM Office, the security of which is the responsibility of the Intelligence Bureau and the Special Branch. As of now, it is unclear how many places were bugged, how long the bug or bugs remained active, and why they were not detected.

Then there is the question of 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 clipping from the cache was also seemingly uploaded to Twitter much earlier this month, but appeared to have evaded attention till this weekend.

Were these carefully placed red herrings, or is an external player actually involved? Relatedly, will more such clips be released in the coming days, or have the ones already released done the job?

The serving prime minister and his cabinet are not ordinary people, or even out-of-favour politicians whose privacy may be casually compromised without many consequences. Their conversations are not something that ought to be on the internet for anyone with money to purchase and listen to.

This is a national security emergency that ought to be investigated at the highest level. Heads must roll.

For a security apparatus obsessed with ‘5G warfare’ and what dissenters are saying online, the fact that conversations hosted by the country’s chief executive are available on the internet is a major embarrassment.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2022

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