A new report by an American forensics firm shows that multiple incriminating documents were planted on the computer of 83-year-old activist-priest Father Stan Swamy, who was arrested in 2020 on charges of terrorist links and died in custody a year later.
The report blasted a hole in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) charges against Stan Swamy, which centered on alleged electronic correspondence between the priest and alleged Maoist leaders that he was part of an explosive Naxalite conspiracy.
In its findings, Arsenal Consulting, a Boston-based forensics firm hired by Swami’s lawyers, said around 44 documents, including the so-called Maoist letters, were planted by an unknown cyber attacker, who gained access to Swami’s computer over a long period of time. Five years, starting in 2014 when he was raided in 2019.
Arsenal Consulting says it has extensive experience working in digital forensics and has investigated several high-profile cases such as the Boston Marathon bombing.
This story is being reported simultaneously by The Washington Post.
Swamy, a Jharkhand-based Jesuit priest who worked among tribals, was arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, a move that drew widespread condemnation. Criticism intensified when he died within a year of his stay in prison due to Covid-related complications. Both the UN and the EU reacted strongly to the news of Father Stan Swamy’s death. A UN official called the news “devastating” and added that the priest had been imprisoned on “false charges of terrorism”.
The NIA, however, claimed that he was part of a conspiracy along with 15 others to incite riots in Maharashtra’s Bhima-Koregaon village in 2018, when many Dalits gathered to commemorate a historic battle in which Dalits defeated an upper-caste army. .
Based on documents obtained from their computers, the NIA accused Swamy and others – mainly left-wing activists, academics and human rights defenders – of conspiring with Maoists to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In a video recorded just before his arrest in 2020, the father-in-law rattled off alleged Maoist letters found on his computer, saying he had “denied and denied every extract put before me” by investigators.
Now, nearly 17 months after his death, a report by Arsenal Consulting shows that the hacker used a malware called NetWire to gain access to Father Swami’s computer on October 19, 2014, for both highly invasive surveillance and “document delivery.”
According to Arsenal, one such document was “delivered” by the attacker on Stan Swamy’s computer and part of the NIA’s chargesheet against the priest, an alleged letter sent by an “SS” – Father Stan Swamy – to a “Vijayan Dada” in October 2017. In the letter, “SS” asked “Vijayan” to take measures “to arrest senior leaders of the ruling BJP in the state and act with repressive laws”.
Another document in the NIA chargesheet against Swamy, detailing the manpower and weapons of a Maoist outfit called the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army in various states of India, is also among the planted documents, Arsenal said.
According to Arsenal, they found “no evidence to suggest that … the documents were ever interacted with in any legitimate way on Father Swami’s computer. More specifically, there is no evidence to suggest any (planted) documents, or that they were hidden.” Was in 22 folders, ever opened” by husband.
previous report Similar evidence was found in the systems of at least two co-accused in the Bhima Koregaon case – activists Rona Wilson and Surendra Gadling – by Arsenal Consulting. The report found that an unknown hacker planted more than 30 documents on Rona Wilson’s computer and at least 14 incriminating letters on Surendra Gadling’s computer.
All three – Stan Swamy, Surendra Gadling and Rona Wilson – were targeted by the same hacker, according to Arsenal.
While Arsenal did not speculate on the identity of the attacker, reports said the attacker made a bizarre attempt to “perform a massive cleanup of their malicious activity” on June 11, 2019 – a day before Pune police seized Stan Swamy’s computer (June 12) raising questions of timing. Whether the hacker had prior knowledge of impending police action.
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