NEW DELHI — A new digital forensics report has found that multiple incriminating documents were planted on the laptop of activist Stan Swamy, who who was arrested for alleged terror links in 2020 and who died in custody a year later.
About 17 months after his death, Arsenal Consulting’s report shows that the hacker used a malware called NetWire to gain access to Father Swamy’s computer on October 19, 2014, for both highly invasive surveillance and “document delivery”.
The new report said that “Swamy was the target of an extensive malware campaign for nearly five years, the longest known for any defendant, right up until his device was seized by police in June 2019,” the Washington Post reported.
“During that period, the hacker gained full access and had complete control over his computer, dropping dozens of files into a hidden folder without his knowledge,” the Washington Post said, citing the Arsenal report.
According to the report, these documents, including the so-called ‘letters to Maoists’, are cited by the police as evidence against Swamy and others.
However, the NIA didn’t respond to the request for comments.
Arsenal’s report said Swamy’s laptop was infected beginning in October 2014 with NetWire, a malware focused on password stealing and keylogging, and also includes remote control capabilities.
The hacker copied more than 24,000 files and folders from Swamy’s computer onto his own server, the report said.
“On the night of June 11, 2019, hours before Swamy’s computer was seized by the police, the hacker performed an extensive ‘cleanup’ of their activities, including getting rid of malware and surveillance data and creating distractions by copying a large number of files into folders used maliciously before the cleanup,” the report said.
Swamy, a Jharkhand-based Jesuit priest who worked among tribals, was arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case that sparked wide condemnation.
The criticism escalated when he died within a year of his incarceration due to Covid-related complications. The UN and the EU both 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”, reports NDTV.
The NIA, however, claimed he was part of a conspiracy along with 15 others to instigate riots in the village of Bhima-Koregaon in Maharashtra in 2018, when scores of Dalits had gathered to commemorate a historic battle in which Dalits defeated an upper caste army.
Based on documents retrieved from their computers, the NIA had also charged Swamy and the others – mainly left-leaning activists, academics, and human rights defenders – with plotting with Maoists to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In a video recorded just before his arrest in 2020, Father Swamy had rubbished the purported Maoist letters found on his computer, saying he “denied and disowned every single extract that was put before me” by investigators.
(Based on Washington Post and NDTV reports)