India’s secret force of Tibetans, the SFF (Special Frontier Force) was raised after the 1962 border conflict with China.
Its main goal originally was to conduct covert operations behind Chinese lines in the event of another Sino-Indian War.
The SFF, sometimes also referred to as Establishment-22, has been a part of India’s external intelligence agency, R&AW, and was originally raised to play a role behind enemy lines in China in the event of a war.
Based in Chakrata, Uttarakhand, the force was put under the direct supervision of the Intelligence Bureau, and later, the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency.
On the advice of Intelligence Bureau founder-director Bhola Nath Mullick and World War II veteran Biju Patnaik, Nehru ordered the raising of a Tibetan guerrilla force that could engage the Chinese in the uber-tough terrains of the Himalayas.
Not all Special Frontier Force (SFF) missions were within India’s frontier. Back in 1964 , an Establishment 22 team had staged a brief but deadly foray from Nepal toward Tingri.
In 1966 the force inherited the wiretap mandate originally conjured for the special teams selected from Joelikote. There was good reason to target China’s phones. Nearly all the communications between China and Tonet used over ground lines supported by concrete or improvised wooden poles. The CIA, more over has already started a successful wiretap project in southern China using agent teams staging from Laos.
Placing the tapa posed serious challenges. The lines paralleled the roads built across Tibet, most of which were a fair hike from the border. Once a tape was placed at the top of a pole, a wire needed to run to a concealed cassette recorder. Because the recording time on each cassette was limited ,an agent had to remain nearby to change the tapes and then bring them back to India for CIA analysis.
The SFF proved up to the task. In a project code named GEMENI , it began infiltrating from North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) with recording gears during mid-1966. To supply the Guerilla while they filled the tapes , an Aviation Research Centre (ARC) C-46 was dispatched to an airfield near Siliguri. Taking off during predawn hours, the plane would overfly the Sikkimese corridor and be at the team’s position by daybreak. Flying with the rear door open, the kickers briefly took leave of the oxygen bottles and shawls to push the cargo into the slipstream. On the way home , the would hang a bag of soft drinks out the door in order to have chilled refreshments by the time they returned to base.
The result of project GEMINI were mixed. Although SFF Guerillas were able to exfiltrate without loss of life, the project was put on hold near year’s end after a Calcutta newspaper reported the mysterious flights over Sikkim.