The world of espionage and spying is no longer like a John Le Carrre novel. As the cult of intelligence sheds its old image and tactics for newer and more modern technology some old habits remain and die hard. These remain as good and as reliable as they always have been.

The easy access to new technology by players outside the stage of state craft compels many of the intelligence agencies of the world  to rely on the human being as the most reliable of carrier pidgeons in preference to the quicker medium of electronic radio transmissions.

The Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka for instance, once given a back handed compliment by the late Yitzhak Rabin of Israel (“Glad we are fighting the Arabs and not this bunch”) were said to prefer HUMINT (Human Intelligence) over ELINT (Electronic Intelligence ) to deliver their instructions, orders and messages of high importance to their cadres in the field.

It is this choice that made their systems impregnable,  hard to intercept or detect making them a potent and dangerous fighting force in their day.


Spies today and in fact going back a few decades were not always personally and directly recruited by intelligence agencies. Many like the former Iranian President Bani Sadr (an engineering consultant to a Philadelphia based engineering company) did not even know he had been spying for the US for decades.

The firm he worked for filed regular reports back to Philadelphia on anything ranging from soil tests, to oil fields and other technical data relating to these and to major military and civilian airports throughout the country.

Not all of the work in this respect was his. But the interdependence and interrelationships between engineering firms within the country then meant that what others knew however classified it was at some stage of the chain of knowledge travelled down the line to him before he passed it on to Philadelphia.

Bani Sadr’s cover was blown by the students of the Iranian Revolution occupying the US embassy that fateful day in Tehran in 1979. Meticulously reassembling pieces of shredded documents they recovered from the American embassy they pieced together a potent jigsaw of information that catapulted the Revolutionary Guard into a force unlike any other in the region.


The recent spat between Indonesia and Australia over spying has hi lited two things about spying and the state of technology and knowledge that exists within governments and the media.

The fact that Susilo Bambang Yuhdiono’s wife’s telephone was tapped by ASIO (Australian’s premier spying agency) should have come as no surprise to anyone including the Indonesian president. Yet that story created a media frenzy in Indonesia and much of South East Asia straining diplomatic relations between Australia and many of its Asian neighbours. 

That furor revealed that it is not just Australia that spys on its precious neighbours and friends. Everyone else in the region is according to old spies doing exactly the same thing to everyone else.

Singapore for instance assists the Americans, Australians the British and the Israelis to tap into undersea telecommunication cables that carry billions of bits of encrypted and ‘open’ information and communications each day between nations, government departments, private individuals and commercial organizations.

This exercise includes tapping into classified communications  between the Malaysian government, its ministers, their departments, their friends, private conversations and foes alike.

It is the way by which Singapore was able to inform Australia about Anwar Ibrahim’s sexual dalliances and preferences with his many reputed male partners when the Sodomy allegations against him  re surfaced. Singapore  listened in on Anwar as they do to others each day. It is in Singapore’s interests to do so. And Malaysia probably also listens into what the Singaporeans do as it would others in the region and beyond for this same reason.

Indonesia’s former spy chief Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, interviewed by the ABC’s Asia Pacific programme in late 2013 revealed that his country’s foreign intelligence apparatus had been eves dropping on Australian leaders for years. “Its part of the game” he observed.


It is a given these days that friends spy on friends as much as they spy on their enemies. If it is not you spying on your friend or foe, it is the spies of a friend that’s doing it to you. If not then, it is one of the tens of thousands of hackers the world over who is watching, listening and possibly sabotaging you.

There is no fool proof or super secure impregnable firewall or anti virus programme capable of protecting anyone of us from prying eyes and from being hacked. Not forever at least. 

The axis of power in this game has many faces and hands. None friendly. Power related to technology shifts regularly and it shifts fast.

A recent sensation about Israel’s “super spy” agency the Mossad having created a computer virus called Stuxnet as part of its cyber war on an Iranian nuclear processing facility destroying a number centrifuges in the process was the biggest humbug of all time. Yet the world bought the story hook line and sinker.

This was after all Israel the land of supermen and Benjamin Nethanyahu. But the truth is stranger than fiction. Stuxnet was no friend or child of Israel at all.

Eugene Kaspersky the creator of the Kaspersky anti virus and firewall, the world renowned Russian born IT genius was in Canberra in January of 2014. Kasperski confirmed at his press luncheon at the prestigious Canberra Press Club that no sooner had Stuxnet attacked Iran, than the Israelis urgently called upon Kaspersky to assist in defeating a more virulent attack of the same Stuxnet virus on its own facilities and installations. This one a mutated form of the original Stuxnet.

Kasperski is  a man in great demand. So much in demand he had to pay a Russian gang over $1,000,000 to secure the release of his son kidnapped by the gang recently. The gang also demanded the codes to certain firewalls they wished to breach. He negotiated the deal (the terms of which have never been fully disclosed) and secured the release of his son.

Kasperski confirmed that Israel did not create the Stuxnet virus as Israel would have the world believe. Instead Israel was itself a victim of the Stuxnet virus. A virus that was probably the work of some unemployed bored creative geek feeing the adrenalin rush in him whilst entertaining himself somewhere in cyberspace.


Last month as an exercise in ‘intelligence gathering’ and after 18 months of trying to find a real hacker, we finally located and commissioned a young Indian computer geek in Mumbai to demonstrate his prowess in computer and mobile telephone hacking for us.

It took the man less than 20 minutes to breach one of the more ‘secure’ email addresses of a government minister in India. He then quickly and deftly moved to disable a firewall in another computer in Washington downloading the names of prominent Asians and Arab contacts of a US government sponsored NGO.

Not long afterwards he hacked the password of a bank comptroller (the State Bank of India Treasury Operations division), moving to the mobile telephones of others and soon afterwards for entertainment remotely switched on a cameras in the mobile phone and iMac computer  of a well known Mumbai socialite in her bedroom. Impressive!

The same hacker later downloaded the files of two journalists and a prominent politician lawyer in a south East Asian country. He accessed their private and business emails, correspondences with their contacts and their sources of information then created a log of their calls, contact details, times, dates and duration of each of their calls and emails.

As a token memento to the occasion he provided us a thumb drive of mobile call logs and email records of each of these as well.

Not wanting to be complicit in what may arguably have been the commission of a crime, we accepted the demonstration by the hacker as proof of his prowess and vulnerability of modern technology, anti virus and firewalls included. We politely declined his offer of the physical evidence.

The man is not alone nor unique in his trade. He remains employed as a short term part time instructor at a coffee shop computer school on the outskirts of Mumbai in Borivli.

He offered to do much more for us if we ever required his services in future, on condition we pay him well. And paying well in his world is mere US$200 for the proof of his prowess at hacking  as he demonstrated it to us.

No one is safe and there is no such thing as privacy especially in Malaysia. If someone wants to know who their journalists and NGO’s are working with or for, that’s not a secret anymore nor has it ever been.Somewhere someone knows what we do and the information they are able to steal from us is often up for sale. It is just a matter of knowing where to find that someone and how much to pay them for the information.


The recent disappearance of Malaysian Airlines jet MH370 raises some serious and pressing issues for consideration by us all. The inexplicable disappearance of such a large vehicle as a passenger jet should be reason enough for grave concern about airline safety and provide food for thought in light of this unfolding mystery.

Technology has reached a stage in our lives that it is now possible for a hacker with mid level skills to hack into any computer system, radio or TV station and to superimpose the voices, images and commands of third parties not connected to them or the progammes in their computers. All of this is achievable without the knowledge of the target and its capacity to resist or control interference by a hacker.

The CIA and KGB perfected these black arts a long time ago and put to effective use the “voices” of leaders they disapproved of in emerging third world countries in the 1960’s and 70’s. The idea was to disorient the masses and to turn them against their leaders prior to a military coup more favourable to the CIA or KGB.

Fidel Castro was nearly victim of one such plot, just prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion. Except that he had been saved by the Soviets who were tipped off in advance of the plan  thereby allowing Castro to jam the frequency of that broadcast from Miami.

Closer to home former Indonesian president Sukarno was the subject of CIA and ASIO clandestine broadcasts within Indonesia. These broadcasts were directed to the Indonesian armed forces prior to the 1967 coup athat toppled Sukarno. Another broadcast was directed to Malaysia on shortwave radio during and after “Konfrontasi”.

The technology then consisted of carefully edited voice tapes of Sukarno and Fidel pieced together to create the material for the clandestine broadcasts. In other instances sound alikes or stand ins were used to impersonate the targets.


Today the threat comes from drone control technology and remote controlling of computers and other devices that rely on IT and computers aboard vessels and aircraft like the MH370. None of these are out of reach of forces on the ground or on board a target aircraft. None of these are secure from hacking. None.

If NASA and the US ballistic missile control systems could be hacked by young geeks without being detected whilst numerous layers of firewalls and secret pass codes are in place, why would an airliner be any different or more secure than the most powerful country in the world?

An innocent third party’s laptop, working aboard a flight like the MH370 may have been unknowingly compromised through a download, infected, running a Trojan which in turn is programmed to detect the frequency of a radar or computer in the pilots cabin.

It then begins to interfere with the equipment taking control of the aircraft stealthily, disabling  the transponder, security alarms and emergency radio beacons, re directing the plane onto an alternative flight path.

All of this may be undertaken in a manner unbeknownst to captain and crew (especially at night) and by remote control or a pre programmed virus. Surreal? maybe but real and definitely possible nonetheless. Even of they knew their flight computer had been compromised how would they contact home base for assistance?


The technology of interfering and interrupting radar and computers (electronic counter measures and counter counter measures “ECM and ECCM”) were tested by the Russians and Israeli’s as far back as the 1980’s. Israel used remote controlled drones to search, identify and record remotely the frequency of the Soviet built anti aircraft missile batteries in the Beka valley by applying this technology.  

These drones prematurely set off anti aircraft (ground to air) missiles and re directed their trajectory out of control of missile battery commanders during the 1982 Middle East war, successfully clearing the path for the Israeli Airforce fighter jets to down over 80 Syrian aircraft in the process. This technology is neither new, novel  or fanciful.

More recently Dutch and Swedish TV stations fell victim to a hackers prank. The hacker had taken control of the stations on air computers remotely, disabling the broadcasters microphone channels replacing it with their own. The hacker’s computer generated voices were then heard blabbering away in some form of gibberish in place of the on air broadcasters who continued to read as if in lip sync.

As soon as it became apparent to the broadcasters a few minutes later what was happening,  the station went into damage control. Took the broadcast off air and apologized. A little too little, a little too late.

These days with the sophistication of hacking and availability of off the shelf hacking computer programs to aid with hacking, it would not be too difficult to go that one step further and to bring down an airliner or to radically alter its course using Wi Fi technology. It is the technology which stealth aircraft and drones use in military applications but which is also available online for civilian purposes.

To hack into a planes navigation system and its auto pilot or ground radar and control is not a difficult task to achieve. One merely needs the co-operation of local dissidents, like foreign NGO’s and other organizational plants working in government and other sensitive installations to pave the way for access to a hacker either inadvertently or deliberately to enter into otherwise prohibited zones. And that  with the off the shelf technology so readily available online. With this the old gun toting hijacker is made redundant.

  1. Philip Mathews says:

    GK, what you said in the last para is truly frightening! grkumar posted: “I SPY YOU SPY METhe world of espionage and spying is no longer like a John Le Carrre novel. As the cult of intelligence sheds its old image and tactics for newer and modern technology some old habits die hard. Others remain as good and as reliable as they”


    • grkumar says:

      Its even scarier still I think that we and our leaders are unaware of the possibilities.
      In fairness to them, we cannot predict or take precautions against every possibility
      even though it exists and has perhaps been tried out by someone somewhere.


  2. IT.Scheiss says:

    Thanks GK. Hacking is a possibility I have been wondering about, though apparently nobody besides you has brought up the possibility in relation to MH370 in such vivid detail.

    The more digital technology becomes a part of machines such as airliners, the more exposed they are to being hacked and the exposure can only increase with the trend towards the so-called “Internet of Things”, where more things than humans communicate with each other over cellular data.


    • grkumar says:

      What we have not included in this particular series is the possibility of another aircraft
      providing cover for a hijacked aircraft in order to take it to another destination undetected.
      The technology and the practice was tested in 1981 by Israel.

      6 of their fighter aircraft avoided detection by flying one over the other (reasonably spaced)
      over a Boeing 707 leased from an Irish aircraft leasing firm. That aircraft flew as a charter
      on an Irish registration.

      The Israelis flew out to sea towards Cyprus where they met then in formation placed themselves over the
      chartered Boeing 707 which had been cleared to fly over Saudi and Jordanian airspace as a civilian airliner.
      The other 6 aircraft over the Boeing were not detected by ground radar and flew safely towards their destination
      in Irak. Their mission was to destroy the Iraki nuclear reactor in Osirak outside Baghdad.

      There are other methods as well like that used to disable late President Zia Ul Huq’s flight crew before the aircraft
      was hijacked and destroyed mid air.

      The gun toting hijacker is a legend of history.


      • IT.Scheiss says:

        Possible, but what would be the motive of doing so in the case of MH370?

        Dr. Kevin Barrett speculates that the plane was hijacked and landed at a disused airfield for its spare parts, estimated to be worth US$100 on the aftermarket.


        A friend speculated that it was hijacked so as to hold the passengers to ransom, especially with several engineers and I’m told – some very wealthy people on board or so I’m told.


      • grkumar says:

        This sort to speculation is unhelpful.
        A possible source of air piracy would be the separatists in Sinjiang province
        (also referred to as part of Turkmenistan) where the mainly central Asian European
        population have been kept under the Chinese for over 60 years in very poor conditions.

        In Kunming two weeks ago 28 Chinese waiting at the airport terminal were stabbed by knife wielding
        separatists (at least that’s who China blames). 4 were killed by security the rest escaped. A month
        earlier a bus caught fire and exploded in Tian An Mein square an event alo blamed on the Uyighurs.
        Yesterday 14 March the same knife wielding attack occurred in another major Chinese city. These are the
        separatist attacks we know of.

        In these circumstances it would be fair to say the Chinese would have anticipated an ariel hijacking.
        They failed to pass on any information because of their very secretive way of operating. But to then blame
        Malaysia is a bit rich for them to do.

        Taking the plane and taking it to an unknown destination is not rocket science. One merely has to look at the
        various online air tracking portals to understand how this is possible. The US and Europe have daily incidents
        of planes landing at wrong airports, travelling across borders to Mexico and Guatemala without either ground control
        or the pilots themselves realizing it.

        Crowded skies and poor international communication has a lot to do with it. Chinese air traffic controllers according to
        SIA are notorious for being incompetent and suffering from poor language skills.


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