High-powered panel to probe audio leaks


Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday constituted a high-powered committee to oversee investigation into the recent cyber security breach at the Prime Minister Office & House and to suggest measure to secure the cyber space and ensure electronic security of public offices of strategic importance.

The prime minister, while constituting a 12-member committee, directed that it is to be ensured that it has representation from major coalition partners and the director generals of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) along with technical experts from the ISI, the FIA, the PTA, among others, are part of it.

In the notification dated September 30, 2022, the premier also decided the Terms of Reference (ToRs) of the committee whose convener is the interior minister and its members include PML-N’s Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar, Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman, JUI-F’s minister for communication Asad Mahmood and MQM’s minister for IT & Telecommunication Aminul Haq.

The notification states that the DG ISI or his representative, the DG IB, technical experts nominated by Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA), the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), ISI and National Telecom and Information Technology Security Board (NTISB) are members of the committee and the committee can co-opt any other member or expert as per the requirement.

Through the ToRs, the prime minister directed the committee to “oversee and review the investigation into cypher security breach and to ensure that it covers all important aspects of the matter” within seven days.

The prime minister had ordered an investigation into several leaked audio conversations allegedly between former premier Imran Khan and his associates, saying the leaks were a risk to national security.

The controversy surrounding the diplomatic cable had initially surfaced when Imran had accused a US diplomat of allegedly threatening a Pakistani diplomat in a meeting, who then informed the Foreign Office about it through a cipher.

The issue came under renewed focus after two audio recordings emerged on the social media, wherein Imran, his principal secretary and cabinet ministers were purportedly discussing how would they “play” with the cipher without naming the country – the US.

The high-powered committee would also look into the issue of the US cypher – that Imran claimed contained evidence of the “foreign conspiracy” that led to his government’s ouster – “disappearing” from the records of the Prime Minister’s House.

Recently, the FIA was ordered to probe into Imran’s audio leaks. As per the notification, the committee would investigate the matter and prepare its recommendations that would then be presented to PM Shehbaz for consideration.

The notification issued by the Cabinet Division read: [They will] review the existing cyber security protocols of the Prime Minister House/Office and suggest immediate measures and action plan to develop fool proof security systems and digital eco-system that insulates the cyberspace of PM Office/House from all kinds of intrusion (in seven days).”

It added that the committee would revisit existing e-safety and cybersecurity procedures and guidelines; broadly evaluate the existing capability and vulnerabilities of government departments; and reassess the risks associated with various electronic gadgets including tablets, smartphones, WiFi and other cyber devices.

In particular, it said, the committee should submit short and medium-term recommendations for securing the sensitive data and information technology environment of important ministries and offices of strategic importance (such as SBP, SECP, NADRA, FBR, regulatory authorities etc within 15 days.

The committee has also been tasked to prepare a draft of legal framework for developing a robust and secure cyber eco system that ensures seamless cyber security of government offices within 15 days.

The committee can also consider any other issues. PM has directed the committee to submit reports as per the given timelines for the consideration. The interior division has been tasked to provide secretarial support to the high-powered committee.

Last month, a 1.43-minute audio clip appeared on social media revealing a conversation between the former prime minister and his ex-principal secretary Azam Khan about using the classified diplomatic cable for political purposes.

“We have to play with this. Don’t take America’s name, just play with this,” the PTI chief allegedly said in the audio clip. Later, a 1.09-minute long audio emerged on social media featuring a conversation between Imran, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Asad Umar and Azam about a strategy to set the stage for a narrative around the Cablegate affair.

Earlier than that, in an audio leak, Prime Minister Shehbaz could be heard informing a government official about PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz looking to import machinery from India for a power plant, on the request of her son-in-law Raheel Munir.

A second leaked audio clip that surfaced was between the federal cabinet members discussing the resignation of the PTI lawmakers and seeking the final approval on the issue from London.

In a third clip, a voice, purportedly that of Maryam, is heard telling PM Shehbaz that she was grateful for the support of someone who had been publicising as well as gatekeeping news from the public as per her demand.

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