Living down a covert unit

The Technical Support Division, a covert intelligence unit of the Army raised during the tenure of General V.K. Singh as Army chief, is in the news for all the wrong reasons. The revelation that sensitive documents relating to it were destroyed illegally in 2012, in the final days of General Singh’s tenure — he is a Union Minister today — deserves a thorough and serious inquiry. The TSD has faced allegations that it misused funds earmarked for secret service operations, indulged in unauthorised surveillance and made attempts to destabilise the Jammu and Kashmir government. Some of these charges are attributed to the findings of an inquiry report by a Board of Officers. The latest exposé by this newspaper, with documentary evidence, shows that between May 22 and May 25, 2012, the Pune-based Southern Army Command assembled two different boards of officers to destroy all TSD-related documents in its possession. It is puzzling that the military authorities went ahead with a general court-martial against a havildar who was charged with offering these documents to the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), though the originals had been destroyed. Further, the documents that were used during the court-martial proceedings were not certified copies. And two different sets of copies appear to have been produced by the Army and the DRI in the court-martial. To compound the problems, Havildar Sham Das D. has not been given a copy of the verdict, citing reasons of secrecy, making it difficult for him to go in appeal. Whether he was actually trying to leak official secrets or was framed as part of a larger feud among the Army top brass, requires investigation.

The entire episode concerning the TSD, its functioning as well as the inquiry against it, and the manner in which the fallout of disclosures about the probe report was handled, indicate that two factions may be at work within the Army seeking to discredit each other. Given the sensitive nature of the unit that is involved, it is possible that the destruction of the documents may be part of an effort to clean up the mess left behind by disclosures about the TSD. The most sensitive aspect from a diplomatic and national security point of view concerns the claim that the TSD was actually involved in covert operations in a neighbouring country. It may be for reasons of secrecy and the need to protect the dignity of the Army as an institution that no public disclosure has been made about all aspects of this controversy. There have been only occasional news reports and leaked information about purported inquiries and findings. What is required to live down the operations of a disbanded covert unit is a comprehensive and independent judicial investigation, followed by internal reform in all such agencies.