McNaught's profile on Facebook showed her to be a resident of Beeston, Leeds, an executive for an investigative magazine there. Ranjith, whose job as a lead aircraft man (LAC) was to help the technical crew look after the aircraft, was titillated by the intimate chatter made all the more naughty by the woman's strong British accent. They soon moved from text chats to audio and photo exchanges on Whatsapp.
During one such tete-a-tete, McNaught seductively asked the Kerala man for some information on the IAF, ostensibly for the news magazine she worked for. She had earlier even interviewed him for the magazine, so an enamoured Ranjith thought nothing of divulging the info. In fact, he thought it a bonus when she said she would pay him for any material he passed to her.
One day, the woman asked him if he could give her some details about TAC-DE (Tactical and Combat Deployment Establishment) in Gwalior. He refused, knowing how strategically important this unit is to the IAF. He could as well have been hit by a missile, for the woman suddenly turned from coy to vicious, confronting him with recordings of the chats and documentation of the information he had shared earlier.
Too late, Ranjith realised he had become the latest victim of an ISI honeytrap. Threatened with exposure, he had no option but to pass on crucial IAF-related dope to an ISI handler he was introduced to. Every time he moved stations for training - Belgaum to Chennai, and lately to Delhi -- the ISI dogged him, sometimes over Facebook and Whatsapp, but also via Skype.
Thrice in Belgaum, six times in Chennai and also in Delhi, Ranjith leaked sensitive data on air force exercises, movement of aircraft and deployment of various flying units, his major lapse being supplying the position and other details of Mirage and fighter jets at TAC-DE.
Military Intelligence (MI) and Delhi Police caught up with him, and Ranjith was arrested on Monday, hours after the IAF dismissed him from service. Ravindra Yadav, joint commissioner of police, Crime Branch, revealed that the man had been under electronic surveillance for some months after MI sleuths had tracked communications between him and his handler. A few days ago, a police team led by ACP KPS Malhotra interrogated him at length in Bathinda. They brought him to Delhi, where he was formally arrested, completely wrecking Ranjith's planned tryst on New Year's Eve with his lady love at a luxury hotel in New Delhi.