The Da Lakhvi Code

1Khaki Files chronicles the adventures of Police Officer, Neeraj Kumar. He joined the IPS in 1976 and retired as the Commissioner of Police, Delhi in 2013. The Government of India recognized his good work by awarding him the Police Medal for Meritorious Service in 1993 and the President’s Police Medal for Meritorious Service in 1999. Khaki Files comes after Dial D for Don and is the subject of a web series under production. Excerpt, follows.

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In the autumn of 2002, with terror raging in the Kashmir Valley and other parts of India, ACP Pramod Kushwaha of the Special Cell of Delhi Police visited Srinagar. He met with several local officers serving in the Valley in his quest for information, one of whom was a Deputy Commandant of the Border Security Force [BSF]. The BSF Officer showed Pramod a diary recovered from one of the slain terrorists, killed in an encounter. Amongst the many diary entries that he saw, the ACP took a mental note of an e-mail address scribbled innocuously on the last page.

The ID – rashid32XXXX@hotmail.com – belonged to one of the contacts of the slain terrorist, and curiously, its IP address was in Delhi. Further, this e-mail ID was being used from IP addresses traced to different cyber cafés in Delhi. Since, I was his immediate superior, Pramod brought his discoveries to my attention. We deployed several Police Teams in the vicinity of the cafés that had been mapped out. Additionally, our men went to each of those cafés posing as regular customers and planted software in their computers using floppy discs to feed in ‘hot words’ so that in the event that an e-mail containing such words was detected, a message would immediately be sent to Pramod’s phone from the computer used for receiving or sending such an email.

An e-mail dated 7 February from rashid32XXXX@hotmail.com to stupaXX@hotmail.com read: 2The content of four other e-mails sent earlier from four different cyber cafés were more or less in the same vein. Indications of an imminent terror attack in or around Delhi seemed concealed in these messages. What confirmed our fears of an imminent terror attack was an e-mail we intercepted on 13 February, originating from stupaXX@hotmail.com and sent to a new e-mail ID, nehasingh1XX2@hotmail.com, which came to our notice for the first time. It read: 3The mention of ‘football’, which could be a code word for a bomb or a lethal weapon, and a ‘match’ after which the sender desired to be informed, set alarm bells ringing. An e-mail sent on 18 February from puranamakan@hotmail.com and addressed to birthdXXX@hotmail.com was entirely in code. It read: 4Everyone contacted began to work on the code, but no one was able to crack it quickly. At this hopeless juncture, when all seemed lost, something providential happened. On 19 February, when we were clueless, out of your depth and running out of time, a saviour arrived on the scene in late afternoon. He was neither a cop nor a computer whiz-kid nor a cryptologist. He was an unemployed youth who had come looking for a job in Delhi. He had nowhere to go except Pramod, who had been his senior in school. Vivek Thakur was his name. Vivek, in a eureka moment, let out a muted cry of triumph. 5.pngIn some e-mails, -5 or -7 was written at the end of the code. That meant while decoding, the reader needed to count back those many letters. For instance, the e-mail dated 17 February read: ‘Dear Rashid, please make a new e-mail ID. Then mail me on my present ID .002 .1 .004 .7 .09 .7 .07 .7 .000 – 7‘. Using this method, .002 was W, but if we counted back seven letters [as indicated by ‘-7’ at the end of the message], it become ‘P’. The deciphered code read, ‘purana makan’. 

The date for the terror attack was fixed as 25 February and the target was India Gate. Sometimes in life, what appears to be very complex and difficult to solve eventually turns out to be simple. The code that was being used by the terrorists in their emails appeared to be one such intractable riddle. If a visitor to India Gate today is unable to approach the base of the war memorial for a closer look, she can curse if she wants, now that I have let the cat out of the bag.