The Indian military acquired phone tapping equipment illegally, said former Army chief General V.K. Singh in an interview with The Sunday Guardian, but claimed that he had nothing to do with it. He also owned up for the first time to a shadowy spy agency — the Technical Support Division (TSD) — which has been accused of misappropriating secret military funds and bugging the political leadership. However, the general, who is now a political activist, strongly protested his innocence and insisted that the spying charges against him were the result of a conspiracy to tarnish his image. He alleged that sophisticated phone tapping equipment, including off-air interceptors, was acquired by “one particular DG DIA” without the government’s authorisation and that he was not responsible for it.

He also revealed that the Ministry of Defence, suspecting that Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s office was bugged, summoned the Intelligence Bureau to conduct a de-bugging operation in January 2012. It’s the Military Intelligence which is mandated with de-bugging sweeps in the MoD. The summoning of the civilian IB for an external probe appears a reflection of the chilling trust deficit with the military leadership of the time.

“They (the IB) found some interference in the Defence Minister’s office. The issue was reported to the Director-General Military Intelligence, who informed the Defence Secretary, who informed the IB. The IB team checked it but all they found was some loose connection that was causing this interference,” he acknowledged. “Anybody (who) thinks there’s been eavesdropping carried out on the political establishment has a sick mind,” Singh said.

V.K. Singh also claimed that there was nothing clandestine about his spy agency, TSD, which, he said, was set up under an “operational directive” from the government to fill the gaps exposed by the 26/11 attack. “This was talked of during the time of my predecessor, came up on noting sheet at my time, and I gave the go ahead,” he shrugged. This claim is vehemently denied by his predecessor, Gen Deepak Kapoor. “This issue never came up during my time. There’s a lot of room for an external investigation by the CBI, given reports that evidence is being destroyed,” Kapoor countered strongly. A board of inquiry set up by V.K. Singh’s successor against the Technical Support Division (TSD) is reported to have come out with damning revelations. The government has not denied reports that the TSD used and later destroyed illegally-acquired mobile interceptors.

V.K. Singh lent his weight to the growing suspicion that the military is involved in unauthorised tapping. “Well, we don’t buy them (sic), they are all under the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). They have all been bought in conjunction with the IB… In fact, the controversy is that one particular DG DIA bought these interceptors when the permission did not exist, and it included off-air items,” the former Army chief claimed. The DIA is a tri-service agency under the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It does not report to the Army chief.

Although he did not name the “one particular DG DIA”, the reference appeared to be directed towards Lt Gen Tejinder Singh, whom Gen V.K. Singh had earlier named in a press release, levelling the charge that he (Tejinder Singh) had been questioned for making certain (unspecified) purchases as DG DIA. Tejinder Singh has sued V.K. Singh for criminal defamation. V.K. Singh is on bail. The former Army chief elaborated on his charge: “This particular individual bought these interceptors, which was not permitted by the TCG (Technical Coordination Group), which exists under the National Security Adviser.” Lt General Tejinder Singh strongly refuted Gen V.K. Singh’s “charge”: “The DIA doesn’t procure any equipment. Organisations under the DIA procure various technical equipment. The sanctioning authority in each case is the MoD. Approval for each transaction is given by the MoD, which also sanctions expenditure. This power is not delegated to the DG DIA. No equipment has been procured in an unauthorised manner. And I’ve never been questioned on this issue.” Tejinder Singh believes V.K. Singh is making unfounded allegations against him to divert attention from the TSD. He demanded a CBI inquiry “to settle the issue once and for all”.

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