Was the Technical Services Division (TSD), a controversial military intelligence unit set up by General VK Singh, carrying out special operations in neighbouring countries?
Operations of the kind were formally shut down by IK Gujral when he was the Prime Minister in 1997.
The TSD's mandate, perused by Hindustan Times, reveals that the unit — accused of snooping on defence ministry officials through off-the-air interceptors — was raised as a strategic force multiplier for preparing, planning and executing special operations “inside depth areas of countries of interest and countering enemy efforts within the country by effective covert means”.
Apart from conducting psychological operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast (as reported by HT on Oct 4), the TSD was also meant to probe the Mumbai attacks.
The unit, the functioning and funding of which is now under scrutiny, was constituted after several meetings at the highest levels of the security establishment.
The unit was set up by General Singh when he took over as the army chief in early-2010, following an assessment that the country lacked actionable intelligence to prevent incidents such as the Mumbai terror attacks.
According to the TSD concept note — approved by the chief, the vice chief and the director general of military intelligence — the controversial unit’s main task was to combat the “rising trend of state-sponsored terrorism by hostile intelligence agencies”.
The unit was mandated to “prevent and orchestrate a suitable response”.
Tasked and supervised at the apex level to develop assets for special missions in select countries, the unit ran into trouble after General Singh took his age battle with the government to the Supreme Court.
Sources revealed on the condition of anonymity that they were able to carry out several operations, including penetrating militant organisations, through human assets.
“In the two years of its functioning, the unit was given Rs. 8.5 crore,” a highly placed source said, “The name was a deception. The work being done was more through human intelligence and less through technical means.”
The facts surrounding the TSD — caught in an internecine battle of personalities between the former and present chiefs — will now emerge through the probe being conducted by a board of officers. The army declined to comment because “the probe was still on”.