Posts Tagged ‘Leak’

India’s lobbying, manipulation, contacts, subversion, media management and their underbelly has got a new name – Nira Radia. The 2G scam is a wider web then one can even think of and is a direct question on our country’s democracy. One of the highlights of Indian democracy is a free and independent press. But the scam has raised uncomfortable questions on this powerful fourth estate of the country as well. If the Adarsh land scam has dented the image of the army, the Nira Radia tapes are a pointer to the stark reality that the media is not a holy cow either.


• 2G licenses were issued to private telecom players at throwaway prices in 2008
• According to CAG, Spectrum scam has cost the government Rs. 1.76 lakh crore
• Also rules and procedures were not followed while issuing licenses

Former Telecom Minister A. Raja has been alleged for misappropriation during the bidding for allocation of 2G Spectrum. It is said that he ignored the advice of TRAI, Law Ministry and Finance Ministry and issued licenses on a first-come-first-served basis, without inviting any proper bids. The corporates who were favored were:
• Unitech, Swan Telecom got licenses without any prior telecom experience
• Swan Telecom was given the license even though it did not meet eligibility criteria
• It got license for Rs. 1537 crore, sold 45% stake to Etisalat for Rs. 4200 crore
• Unitech Wireless got license for Rs. 1661 crore, sold 60% stake for Rs. 6200 crore
· All nine companies paid DoT only Rs. 10,772 crore for 2G licenses

The 2G licenses were issued in 2008, but the scam came to public notice when the Indian Income Tax Department investigated political lobbyist Nira Radia.

Nira Radia is a public relations consultant and corporate lobbyist. She heads four PR companies: Vaishnavi Corporate Communications, Neosis Strategic Consulting Services, Vitcom Consulting and Neucom Consulting. She is a woman of formidable networking and PR skills, so much so that she represents both the Tata and the Mukesh Ambani group.


The first assignment, when Nira moved to India from the UK in 1995, was to smoothen the entry of Singapore Airlines into India. Though the project failed, it helped Nira build up her contacts with the then aviation minister Ananth Kumar and Ratan Tata, the chairman of the Tata group, which was to be Singapore Airlines’ Indian partner. Nira was keenly interested in the aviation industry and applied for a license to start an airline under her own firm with a capitalization of all of Rs1 lakh. But the project was controversial and hence Ananth Kumar could not approve it. Surprisingly, Kumar was moved out of the civil aviation ministry.

It was her meeting with Ratan Tata then that proved to be a stepping stone for Nira. She was appointed to manage the corporate communications of the Tata group – leading to the birth of Vaishnavi Corporate Communications in 2001. For many years, Vaishnavi’s main client remained the Tata group, so much so that that it was mistaken for being a Tata firm.


The Tatas were a prized possession for Nira and they opened bigger doors of success for her. Nira, who grew up in Kenya and had a British Passport, has a vast ‘contact’ list that include ministers, industrialists, politicians, bureaucrats, fixers and journalists. Apart from the big shots Tata and Ambani, Nira has almost 50 other companies in her kitty. She was at her highest in 2009-10 with a go-ahead to manage the media and lobbying requirements of the country’s two richest and biggest corporates. Her various firms are estimated to generate annual revenues of anywhere between Rs. 100-120 crores. However, if an attempt was to be made to assess the worth of the deals Radia was dabbling in, the figure would be perhaps matching the combined annual defense, railway and social sector budgets!


The income-tax investigation of Nira started when P Chidambaram, the then Finance Minister, received a complaint dated November 16, 2007. It was mentioned that Nira had raised Rs 300 crore empire in less than nine years and that she “was an agent of foreign intelligence agencies”. The raid started by August 2008. On August 19, 2008, a decision was taken to tap 14 of her personal and official phones, including those of her colleagues. The tapping, authorized by then Union home secretary Madhukar Gupta, continued for 120 days, till December 2008.

The investigation resumed on May 8, 2009 and went on till July 9, 2009. For some unknown and strange reasons, this search was stopped during the election process! The leaked tapes belong to this later 60 days’ period. The recordings were found to be sensitive and harmful to the national security. And hence, a letter was shot at the IB Director, Rajiv Mathur on November 16, 2009.
Different mediums then carried stories and transcripts of the tapes. Also, the CBI announced that they have 5,851 recordings of phone conversations by Nira in relation to the 2G spectrum scam. The matter has reached the Supreme Court that said in its official statement, “We have been talking about pollution of the sacred rivers like the Ganga. But this pollution is mindboggling.”


The tapes that are now in the public domain contain Nira’s conversations with some very prominent figures of the country. These tapes prove that PR is not simply about asking to publish press releases on the company’s developments, acquisitions, mergers, and latest offerings anymore. It is, now, a combination of influencing the media, molding public opinion, and, at the same time, putting your client out there in the limelight. Some of the personalities who were recorded live-in-talks with Nira Radia are:
1. A. Raja, former Telecom Minister
2. Kanimozhi, Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament
3. N.K. Singh, Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament
4. Annu Tandon, Lok Sabha Member of Parliament
5. Poongothai Aladi Aruna, Tamil Nadu Minister for Information Technology, DMK
1. Ratan Tata, Tata Group
2. Mukesh Ambani, Reliance Industries
3. Noel Tata, half-brother of Ratan Tata
4. Tarun Das, former Head of Confederation of Indian Industry
5. Manoj Modi, key advisor of Mukesh Ambani
1. Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times
2. Barkha Dutt, NDTV
3. Prabhu Chawla, formerly with India Today, now with The New Indian Express
4. Shankar Aiyar, was then with India Today Group
5. G. Ganapathy Subramaniam, Economic Times
6. MK Venu, Senior business journalist
7. Rajdeep Sardesai, CNN-IBN
8. Jehangir Pocha, formerly with Business World, now with NewsX
1. Sunil Arora, 1980-batch IAS Officer
2. Ranjan Bhattacharya, son-in-law of former PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee
3. Suhel Seth, actor-manager-columnist
4. RK Chandoliya, A.Raja’s advisor

While some people rubbish the tapes as mere ‘Ethical Gathering of Information’, others are shocked and transfixed at the level to which the conversations reached. Nira is supposedly been functioning as a mediator between and the Congress and the DMK in the negotiations for allotment of union cabinet portfolios for the DMK. The DMK had been instrumental in bringing the UPA government back to power again in the 2009 general elections. But what followed was a prolonged deadlock during which the DMK allegedly threatened to withdraw its support unless it was given the 3 Cabinet and 4 Minister of State berths it had been pressing for a long time. Some talks like that of Nira’s with Vir Sanghvi of The Hindustan Times also reveal Nira almost dictating the journalist as to what he should write on Anil Ambani and the gas controversy.

An official report about the phone tapping said, “The cat is finally out of the bag. The CBI has acquired clinching evidence showing that a high-profile woman public relations lobbyist acted as powerbroker in the multi-crore 2G spectrum scam and that she was in regular touch with Telecom Minister A Raja.”

As a veteran lobbyist has rightly said, “These tapes will not lead anywhere; there are too many powerful people involved.” But the spotlight continues to hover over Nira Radia. CBI claimed recently in November 2010 that Nira’s role in the 2G scam will be thoroughly investigated as the irregularities were of “enormous magnitude” having international effects. It also said that the investigation shall complete by March 2011.

In a recent development, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), India, summoned and then questioned Nira Radia for more than eight hours on 24th November, 2010, in what is her first interrogation by an investigating agency. She had excused herself from earlier summons by the ED on health grounds.
Amidst the controversies, questioning, raids and influence peddling lies the same old but important debate of ‘Public Interest v/s Privacy Issues’.

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A controversy that has ignited a very important debate – WikiLeaks – has created nothing short of a storm worldwide. WikiLeaks and potential imitators could be game changers for the relationships between journalists and the Governments and companies they cover. The merits or dangers of those changes are, however, big points of conflict for both the organizations that have experienced leaks and the journalists who cover them. Multiple stories on the issue do exist, but the first million-dollar question to be addressed is:


Within a year of its launch, the site claimed a database that had grown to more than 1.2 million documents. WikiLeaks is a website that posts formerly secret documents online, in the search of accountability and transparency. Its release of more than 75,000 US Army and Marine Corps documents recording six years of events in Afghanistan, has angered officials in Washington, Britain and Pakistan. It has created serious controversy over the inherent conflict between national security interests and Government transparency. At the center of the WikiLeaks controversy is US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, the man suspected of having passed the whistle-blower website a massive collection of US embassy cables.

The post is an infamous video shot from a US helicopter, which shows suspected militants being gunned down in Iraq. In the video, a group of men alleged to be militants are shot at for over an hour until most of them are dead or wounded, when a rescue van arrives, unarmed men are shot down as well. Recorded by the US Defense Department in 2007, the video has reignited a debate about leaks, the responsibilities of those who publicize them, and the ways the Internet is changing the nature of keeping secrets.
Apart from these, WikiLeaks is supposed to have leaked many other controversial documents:

– Extrajudicial killings in Kenya
– Report on Toxic Waste Dumping on the African coast
– Church of Scientology manuals
– Guantanamo Bay procedures

The process is this: The website is set up to allow completely anonymous submissions from whistleblowers around the world via a supposedly secure online form, although questions have been raised lately about its reliability. Assange and company then leaf through these confidential submissions, repackage them into multimedia presentations and publish them on the Web, still guaranteeing their sources complete anonymity.

As for the recent controversy of US secret cables, it has been said that the US military had recently introduced an information-sharing initiative called Net-Centric Diplomacy which allowed insiders to gain access to classified information. Under the new initiative, a subset of State Department documents are published through a Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet, which is supposed to be Pentagon’s Secret-level global network. The information available on this network is accessible to authorized American military service personnel. Manning is believed to have downloaded a cache of documents and passed them on to WikiLeaks.
Needless to mention, Governments around the world would like to take down WikiLeaks for once and for all, but it is not that easy. They are only able to block the website. But it can be bypassed using separate URL’s maintained by WikiLeaks. This is because: WikiLeaks hosts itself by PRQ, a Sweden-based company providing “highly secure, no-questions-asked hosting services”.

The US Government has solemnly warned that WikiLeaks is endangering the lives of American diplomats, soldiers and spooks. “Such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world that come to the US for assistance in promoting democracy and open Government,” the White House declared. “By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals.”

On 20 August 2010, an investigation was opened against Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks and an arrest warrant issued in Sweden in connection with sexual encounters with two women, aged 26 and 31, one in Enkoping and the other in Stockholm. Assange’s defense lawyer, Mark Stephens, says the sexual assault allegations against his client are part of a conspiracy. Julian Assange, too, dismissed the allegations made against him in Sweden and vowed to fight against extradition. Hinting at a conspiracy,

Assange’s lawyer described the accusations as a “political stunt” and “political motivations that appear to be behind this.”
Assange was arrested on 7 December, 2010 and WikiLeaks appealed to its supporters to make up Assange’s bail in the days before his arrest. Journalist John Pilger, film director Ken Loach and sister of Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, Jemima Khan offered to put up sureties. However, this proved to be unnecessary. The City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court refused Julian Assange bail because of the risk of him fleeing.

Weighing the merits of publishing against the risks of making sensitive information known, experts claim the authority to decide which materials to make public. Needless to say, the Government disagrees. From a journalistic point of view, the ethical problem that arises is determining who decides what is at risk and what it is worth. There are also serious question marks with regard to the verification of the documents and the motives of those who sent them.
As the most basic level, though, the question results from the simple fact being: good facts are necessary for good ethics and we don’t have all the facts needed to fully assess how much harm the leaks will cause. The possible consequences of the leaks have been
the subject of intense disagreement. Predictions have ranged from the leaks having no serious consequences to their undermining “the functional integrity of the whole Western security machinery on which its very survival depends”.

In considering the ethics of WikiLeaks, a point to be kept in mind is that what is and isn’t ethical can differ at different levels of analysis. These levels are the individual (micro), institutional (meso), societal (macro), and global (mega). All of them are relevant in the case of WikiLeaks. Something that might pass ethical muster at one level might not do so at another. For instance, freedom of speech might justify disclosure of certain information at the level of individual rights. The harm that disclosure would cause at all the other levels would make it unethical at those levels, however.

While there are questions over whether he would get a fair trial, Assange himself has no choice but to believe in the system. He has invoked the values of the system to commit some of his other acts. He has admitted at various points of time that he is only the messenger and that there is an attempt to shoot the messenger. The self-styled defender of freedom of speech continues his war with his enemies – the corporations that attacked WikiLeaks. He is supported by a lot of followers who believe in him and his only weapon – his laptop!

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