Why Wikileaks cables on Pakistan’s NADRA need serious attention

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Wikileaks, the famous whistle-blowing website, again brought Pakistan in focus yesterday by sharing an interview of Imran Khan conducted by the site’s founder Julian Assange. In the interview, Assange had informed Imran about a 2009 leak that claimed US and MI6 had set up a front to steal all of Pakistan’s voter data, through NADRA (National Database Registration Authority). The leaks allege that the then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik had offered to share information of Pakistani citizens with the US. 

Below is the excerpt from the 2009 Assange-Imran interview, along with the leaked cables mentioning Malik and Gillani. 

The interview excerpt:

Imran, we discovered a cable [09ISLAMABAD1642] in 2009 from the Islamabad Embassy. Prime Minister Gilani and Interior Minister Malik went into the embassy and offered to share NADRA – and NADRA is the national data and registration agency database. The system is currently connected through passport data but the government of Pakistan is adding voice and facial recognition capability and has installed a pilot biometric system as the Chennai border crossing, where 30,000 to 35,000 people cross each day. This NADRA system, that is the voting record system for all voters in Pakistan, and a front company was set up in the United Kingdom – International Identity Services, which was hired as the consultants for NADRA to squirrel out the NADRA data for all of Pakistan. What do you think about that? Is that a…? It seems to me that that is a theft of some national treasure of Pakistan, the entire Pakistani database registry of its people.

Excerpt from the leaked Cables:

Both PM Gilani and Interior Minister Malik pointed out that the National Data Registration Agency (NADRA) already collects a wide spectrum of information on Pakistani citizens, from driving records to DNA. Malik offered to share NADRA-generated information on Pakistani citizens, within the constraints imposed by privacy concerns. NADRA is at the heart of what the GOP intends to be an integrated border management system, Malik said, and suggested that API/PNR sharing could be a subset of this larger system. The system is currently connected through passport data, but the GOP is adding voice and facial recognition capability and has installed a pilot biometrics system at the Chaman border crossing, where 30-35,000 people cross each day. Reiterating that he welcomed both USG assistance and the arrival of a DHS team to discuss PNR, Malik agreed to set up a joint U.S.-Pakistan task force to work out a way forward.

(S//NF) Comment: The Secretary’s visit was an essential and well-received step to rebuild the trust between DHS and the GOP that will be necessary to reach an eventual deal on API/PNR. GOP officials are clearly concerned about the political fallout if any deal to share API/PNR data became public. Malik was direct in expressing his need for model agreements or other legal frameworks to help allay concerns of a politically embarrassing court challenge to API/PNR data sharing and the potential issues with airlines of third countries. While this information will no doubt be helpful, Post strongly recommends further political-level bridge building before we can effectively engage at the technical level. On senior officials’ broad requests for more assistance on border security, we caution that the openness we regularly see in high-level meetings is often not followed through at the institutional level. Post will work with DHS, State, and DoD (all of whom are already working on border security and training issues) to target DHS assistance clearly so as to complement our existing security and training programs. End Comment.

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