CIA and India
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CIA aeroplanes used Charbatia air base: 1964
Nehru permitted CIA spy planes to use Indian air base: Report PTI | Aug 16, 2013
Chinese aggression: 1962
WASHINGTON: India allowed the US to use one of its air bases for refuelling the CIA's U-2 spy planes to target Chinese territories after its defeat in the 1962 war, a declassified official document said on Friday.
The then Indian Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, approved overflight by U-2 missions covering the border areas with China on November 11, 1962, the independent National Security Archive (NSA) said in a report based on the latest set of declassified documents it obtained from the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act.
Background: China occupies Indian territory
According to the CIA report, in October 1962, the People's Republic of China launched a series of massive surprise attacks against India's frontier forces in the western provinces of Jammu and Kashmir and in the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA).
"The Chinese overran all Indian fortifications north of the Brahmaputra Valley before halting their operations. The Indian government appealed to the United States for military aid.
"In the negotiations that followed, it became apparent that Indian claims concerning the extent of the Chinese incursions could not be reliably evaluated," it said.
"(The, then) US ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith, therefore, suggested to the Indian Government that US aerial reconnaissance of the disputed areas would provide both governments with a more accurate picture of the Communist Chinese incursions."
"On 11 November 1962, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru consented to the proposed operation and gave the United States permission to refuel the reconnaissance aircraft (U-2s) in Indian airspace," it said.
In late November, Detachment G deployed to Takhli, Thailand, to carry out the over flights of the Sino-Indian border area. Since the U-2s were not authorised to overfly Burma, they had to reach the target area via the Bay of Bengal and Eastern India and, therefore, required midair refuelling.
The United States had provided photographic coverage of the border area to India for two reasons, the report said.
"First of all, US policymakers wanted a clear picture of the area under dispute. In addition, the intelligence community wanted to establish a precedent for over flights from India, which could lead to obtaining a permanent staging base in India for electronic reconnaissance missions against the Soviet ABM site at Saryshagan and photographic missions against those portions of western China that were out of range of Detachment H," it said.
"ln April 1963, Ambassador Galbraith and the Chief of Station at New Delhi made the first official request to India for a base. The following month, President Kennedy agreed to DCI McCone's suggestion to raise the question of a U-2 base in India when he met with India's President Savepalli Radhakrishnan on 3 June. This meeting resulted in an Indian offer of an abandoned World War 11 base at Charbatia south of Calcutta," the report said.
1963: The two Presidents sign an accord
The use of Charbatia, an abandoned World War -II base in Orissa, was agreed during a meeting between then US President John F Kennedy and Indian President S Radhakrishnan on June 3, 1963, but Indian work to improve it took longer than expected, so the missions resumed from Thailand's Takhli, NSA said, based on the 400-page CIA report released by it.
According to the report, which details the spying programmes conducted with the planes from 1954 to 1974, the U-2 mission on 10 November 1963 was the longest yet flown by a U-2 at 11 hours 45 minutes, and the pilot was so exhausted that project managers limited future flights to 10 hours endurance.
In fact, the longest U-2 mission to date was the one flown from Takhli on 29 September 1963, it said.
NSA said that the first deployment to Charbatia in May 1964 ended because Nehru died.
India receives information about the Chinese
According to a newly declassified CIA history of the U-2 programme obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by National Security Archive, it was the secret flights made by these U-2s aircrafts by the CIA, which informed New Delhi about the nature of Chinese incursions inside Indian territory.
"Charbatia was still not in early 1964, so on 31 March 1964 Detachment G staged another mission from Takhli. The first mission out of Charbatia did not take place until 24 May 1964. Three days later Prime Minister Nehru died, and further operations were postponed," the report says.
"The pilots and aircraft left Charbatia but other remained in place to save staging costs. In December 1964, when Sino-Indian tensions increased along the border, Detachment G returned to Charbatia and conducted three highly successful missions, satisfying all of COMOR's requirements for the Sino-Indian border region," it said.
"By this time, however, Takhli had become the main base for Detachment G's Asian operations, and Charbatia served merely as a forward staging base. Charbatia was closed out in July 1967," the report said.
Nanda Devi/ 1965
Capt Kohli’s account
‘CIA kept changing story on losing the nuclear device in Nanda Devi’
In 1965, during a secret expedition to Nanda Devi, an atomic device got lost and continues to be missing and potentially hazardous to the people of India if it contaminates the Ganga – a concern that was recently voiced by the Uttarakhand tourism minister. The chilling story of international espionage, involving China, the CIA and the Indian government, is now being made into a Hollywood film. Namita Devidayal spoke to the leader of the expedition, Capt Manmohan Singh Kohli, now 88 and living in Delhi, about the three-year-long project that remains one of India’s lurking unsolved mysteries
Tell us a little bit about the background to the expedition.
After the Chinese carried out their first nuclear test in 1964, the US decided to spy on China’s nuclear capabilities via India. The CIA asked the Indian government if it could plant a sensor. The government, which at the time blindly followed the CIA, agreed. On June 23, 1965, we did a trial run on Mount McKinley in Alaska, and then went to Nanda Devi, but had to turn back because of bad
weather conditions. Unable to carry it back, we left the device there. We went back in May 1966 to search for it, and again in 1967 but had no luck. In 1968, we finally abandoned the search. Because it was a top-secret mission, we were not allowed to disclose what we were doing even to our families. The American agents used aliases. The whole thing was quite exhausting, but we were in the service of the nation.
What was it like to do a covert operation with the US Intelligence?
The CIA was not very straightforward and frank with the Indian government when the device got lost. It kept changing its version. The government did not have a say right from the beginning, so the whole thing ended up being a bit topsy-turvy.
What is the potential damage that can be caused by the nuclear device?
The life of the device is about 100 years and there are still about 40 years left. If it goes into the Rishi-Ganga, the water can get very contaminated and more people would get affected, even die. But once it goes to the main Ganga, there would be quite a lot of dilution, and some people might suffer but it would not lead to fatalities. According to my estimates, the device is very hot and once it touches the glacier, it will start sinking until it touches rock. Then it won’t move.
What has prevented the Indian government from locating the device and preventing any fallout?
It may be worthwhile to try to locate it now that technology has improved and there is machinery that can penetrate ten to fifteen feet of ice. But using such equipment is very expensive and the question remains whether the Indian government should use its own money or persuade the CIA to do the needful.
Do you think China might know where the device is?
I don’t think so. The device is not active. There are four parts to the device – the generator with the plutonium capsules, two transmitter sets, and one big aerial to collect the radio waves – and they are all buried separately. If not connected together, there is very little possibility of anyone finding it.
There have been reports that Hollywood producer Scott Rosenfelt (of Home Alone fame) is making a film about this.
They’ve completed the script already and chosen Greg Mclean as director.
Now they are going to choose the cast, and they might pick Ranbir Kapoor to play me. They spoke to his mother and she was positive.
They had told me that shooting will start sometime in March 2020. They have kept the story 100% authentic.
1986 report: “India After Rajiv ...”
Five years before Rajiv Gandhi was killed in 1991, the US Central Intelligence Agency had prepared a very detailed and thorough “brief” on what would happen if he is assassinated or makes an “abrupt departure” from the Indian political scene.
A 23-page report, titled “India After Rajiv ...” was put out as early as in March 1986 for comments from other senior CIA officials. The “sanitised” report was declassified recently by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The report, whose complete title is not entirely available as it is part deleted, was prepared on the basis of inputs available to the CIA till January 1986.
The very first sentence of the report’s available (undeleted) page reads: “Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi faces at least an even chance of assassination before his tenure in office ends in 1989.” It, however, later clearly said that “assassination is the major near-term threat” to him.
Over five years later, Gandhi was assassinated at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu on May 21, 1991.
The first section titled “Key Judgments” analyses and deliberates upon what likely scenario would emerge in the domestic and international political situation if there is a sudden change in leadership minus Rajiv Gandhi and the likely impact on India’s relations with the US, the then USSR and the region.
It also dealt with the threats posed to Gandhi’s life by various extremist groups at that time and the likely fallout of his murder.
“If Gandhi fell to a Sikh or Kashmiri Muslim assassin, widespread communal violence probably would erupt even if strong preventive security measures — including deployment of Army and paramilitary troops across northern India — were taken by the Indian President ...... (deleted),” it said.
Interestingly, it also names P.V. Narasimha Rao and V.P. Singh, who could be the “interim successor” and “likely candidates” in case of sudden exit by Rajiv. Rao took over as the Prime Minister in 1991.
In a section, titled ‘The Threat of Assassination: Stability in Jeopardy’, the report says “In our view, there is at least an even chance in the next several years of an assassination, most likely by extremist Sikhs or disgruntled Kashmiri Muslims who have targeted Rajiv,” besides “a fanatical Hindu”.
Since a significant portion of this section is deleted, it is not clear whether Sri Lankan Tamil extremists were also dealt with in the analysis. However, another section deals in-depth with Rajiv’s mediation efforts to resolve “the conflict between militant Sri Lankan Tamils and the Sinhalese-dominated government in Colombo...”
Besides Gandhi’s possible assassination, the report also analysed various scenarios of his “abrupt departure” from the political scene before 1989.
“Although we believe assassination is the major near-term threat to Rajiv’s tenure, any of several other events could cause his abrupt departure from the political scene before 1989,” it said while listing out several other possibilities including “his death from natural causes or by accident“.
It ruled out the possibility of a decision by him “to resign out of frustration”, saying “we see no signs of this and believe it would be out of character“.
The CIA report also noted: “We suspect, however, that Rajiv would calculate — as we do — that he and his kin would be targets for extremist violence even if he left public office.”
In a section called “Implications for the United States”, the report says “We believe (Rajiv) Gandhi’s death would represent a significant blow to US interests, regardless of the circumstances of the succession.”
”...We believe Indo-US relations could also suffer as a result of domestic political changes following Rajiv’s assassination.”
The report assessed Rajiv’s policies ranging from dealing with extremists, foreign relations (including Sri Lankan Tamil issue) to promoting acquisition of selected foreign technology” among others, and their outcome.
“Although some of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s policies will continue to encounter serious resistance over the next several years, we believe his dominance of the Indian political scene is secure until at least the end of his present term of office in December 1989, barring his incapacitation or death,” it said.
The report also dealt with the possibility of a “national government” taking over in case of a sudden exit by Rajiv, while discounting the possibility of a military coup in such a scenario.
Several portions of the 23-page report were deleted before the CIA decided to release it under the Freedom of Information Act.