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Simply Put: The working and controversies of TSD, the Army’s shadowy MI unit

Reports in The Hindu that the Army destroyed documents on TSD, days before V K Singh’s tenure as Chief ended, have returned focus to the controversial unit that existed from 2010-12.

Written by Sushant Singh |
Updated: September 23, 2015 7:28:01 am
military intelligence, india mi, india military intelligence, military intelligence india, india mi controversy, v k singh, indian army, army india, indian express, express explained, #ExpressExplained Illustration: C R Sasikumar

What was the Technical Services Division (TSD)?

A secret unit set up by the Army’s Directorate General of Military Intelligence (DGMI) in May 2010, which directly reported to the then Army Chief, General V K Singh. Gen V K Singh had taken over as Army Chief on March 31, 2010. The unit was disbanded in August 2012, after he retired on March 30, 2012.

What was TSD’s structure?

It was headed by Col Munishwar Nath “Hunny” Bakshi, an officer of the Army’s intelligence corps, who had earlier served with Gen Singh at the Eastern Command Headquarters in Kolkata. The unit had four officers and 32 men; Bakshi handled key operations for which secret service funds were drawn from accounts at the State Bank of India.

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What was TSD’s role?

It was reportedly tasked with preparing, planning and executing special operations “inside depth areas of countries of interest and countering enemy efforts within the country by effective covert means”. Main areas of operations were North and Northeast India, and against adversaries in neighbouring countries. The Army’s internal approvals for raising the TSD reportedly said it would “enable the Military Intelligence Directorate to provide a quick response to any act of state-sponsored terrorism with a high degree of deniability”. It was asked to “cover any tracks leading to the organisation”.

military intelligence, india mi, india military intelligence, military intelligence india, india mi controversy, v k singh, indian army, army india, indian express, express explained, #ExpressExplained Over the last three years, The Indian Express has published a series of reports on the secret unit and controversies around it

Did this go against government policy on employing Military Intelligence?

As per policy, the employment of Military Intelligence is restricted to border areas, including areas of tactical operations in neighbouring countries. Intelligence beyond those areas falls under the jurisdiction of the Research and Analysis Wing. TSD, being an MI unit, was not authorised to carry out covert operations that are in the domain of civilian intelligence organisations. Moreover, foreign covert operations must have clearance from the highest political executive.

In counterinsurgency operations in the North and Northeast, the DGMI has a limited role. The IB is the designated civilian intelligence agency for such activities.

What was the controversy about TSD?

It pertains to TSD’s role, charter and activities, which contravened the Army’s mandate. There were questions about the Army keeping the government in the dark about the TSD, and the diversion of secret DGMI funds for TSD. TSD allegedly used off-the-air interceptors to spy on telephone conversations, and allegedly diverted secret funds to politicians and to certain NGOs in Kashmir, which had filed a case against Gen Bikram Singh, who succeeded V K Singh as Army Chief.

Was there an inquiry into the TSD’s functioning?

Soon after Gen V K Singh retired, an inquiry was conducted by Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, who was then the Director General Military Operations (DGMO) at Army Headquarters. He submitted his report to the Defence Ministry in March 2013. A summary was put up to the Defence Minister, and submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office, as per media reports.

What did the inquiry find?

The report contained details of withdrawals of secret service funds from SBI accounts that matched payments claimed by TSD officials for specific operations. Nearly Rs 8 crore out of Rs 20 crore alleged to have been spent by TSD could not be accounted for. The inquiry, however, cautioned that given the covert nature of these operations, an element of “deniability” was built into them.

* Rs 1.19 crore given to Ghulam Hassan Mir, then J&K Agriculture Minister, to engineer a change of the Omar Abdullah government

* Rs 2.38 crore given to one Hakikat Singh on the orders of Army Headquarters. Hakikat Singh set up an NGO called Jammu and Kashmir Humanitarian Service Organisation, which was linked to Yes Kashmir, another NGO, which filed a PIL against then Army Commander Bikram Singh in the alleged fake encounter in Jangalat Mandi when Bikram Singh was a Brigadier. That PIL, which was later dismissed, was widely seen as an attempt to scuttle Bikram Singh’s appointment at the next Chief, and change the line of succession in the Army.

* Rs 8 crore spent on purchase of off-air interception equipment from a Singapore-based company in November 2010, ostensibly meant to be deployed with 15 Corps in Kashmir. In March 2012, following orders of the then DGMI, Lt Gen D S Thakur, the equipment was physically destroyed. Incidentally, this happened days after a report appeared in The Indian Express on the illegal use of this equipment in New Delhi to spy on civilian officials.

* Frequent foreign travel by TSD officials to places like London and Dubai using their personal — and not official — passports, and of TSD officials “doctoring’’ documents to tarnish Army officers.

What did theTSD claim to achieve?

As per reports, the inquiry said the TSD had claimed to have carried out at least eight covert operations in a foreign country. The TSD also allegedly claimed that in October and November 2011, it had paid money from secret service funds to try and enrol the secessionist chief in a province of a neighbouring country.

What happened after the inquiry?

The government asked the DGMI to submit a quarterly statement of expenditure of secret funds to the Defence Ministry. It issued a strict charter and mandate for the DGMI, stating that it should engage only in counter-intelligence and anti-militancy operations on the border, and not conduct any covert or clandestine operations like the TSD did. Instructions were given that henceforth, no special units like TSD would be raised without explicit Defence Ministry authorisation.

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