Inquiry launched into India's 'chewing gum' spy claim
India's prime minister has ordered an espionage investigation after 'chewing gum' was found stuck under the desks of his finance minister and senior members of his staff. They feared the gum had been used to attach bugging devices.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Photo: EPA/HARISH TYAGI
By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
4:14PM BST 21 Jun 2011
Dr Manmohan Singh ordered the inquiry after finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, effectively his deputy prime minister, complained of a 'serious security breach' and possible surveillance operation after the discovery of 'planted adhesives' at 16 points in his office and those of some of his aides.
Officials from the Intelligence Bureau were drafted in to establish whether the 'planted adhesives' were carefully placed to hold surveillance devices or simply discarded pieces of bubble gum furtively pressed under the desks of senior officials by careless peons or office cleaners.
The targets appeared to be Mr Mukherjee, his advisor, private secretary and conference rooms in North Block, the government's secretariat which houses the finance and home ministry which polices terrorism.
The finance minister initially called in counter-surveillance experts to sweep the building but later sought the involvement of intelligence specialists, but the two agencies came to different conclusions, officials told The Indian Express.
The counter-surveillance team, which worked alongside tax officials, concluded the squashed adhesive gums had been placed so strategically that it must have part of a plot. They found 'grooves' which suggested the gum had held devices which had been later removed.
They rejected the intelligence officials conclusion that it had simply been low-level staff discarding their chewing gum because, they argued, no employee would dare stick it on a minister's desk.
In the panic caused by 'bubblegumgate' the country's National Security Advisor and the Director of Revenue Intelligence were also drafted into the inquiry. Yesterday the finance minister conceded nothing sinister had happened.
"In respect of the news report about the bugging in my office, Intelligence Bureau investigated into it and they found there is nothing," Mr Mukerjee told a press conference.
India's former chief of counter-terrorism intelligence B. Raman said had it been a plot, it would have been one of the most audacious in recent history.
"Bugging is not very common, in fact this is the first incident in India so far but that does not mean these things do not happen here, its only, if they get detected then we get to know about the act otherwise they succeed in taking away the information and remain unknown," he said.
"It's quite possible that some people after chewing gums might have pasted it under the table. We often see this, instead of dumping the chewing gums in dust bins they stick it under tables and chairs, but nothing can be ruled out," he added.