Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

The atomic secret of Nanda Devi

Nanda Devi is unfortunately being featuring in the news at the moment…

Nanda Devi: Hopes fading for eight missing climbers

But there was a time when the location was relatively unknown, yet was the subject of a story that would have probably have made even more headlines back around 1965 than it is making today.

NEW DELHI: Even as the world celebrated the golden jubilee of the human conquest of Mount Everest, a legendary Indian mountaineer and a CIA expert have come out with an authoritative chronology of how nuclear devices were planted atop high Himalayan peaks to monitor Chinese nuclear tests in the 1960s.

In an explosive book ”Spies in the Himalayas”, the mountaineer, Capt Mohan Singh Kohli, who had led these expeditions to Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot and other summits between 1965 and 1968, and CIA expert Kenneth Conboy chronicle the planting of nuclear-powered monitoring devices by the CIA with the help of intrepid climbers from India and the US.

That was the time when there were no satellites to monitor such developments from the sky.

One of the devices, which could not be planted atop Nanda Devi summit due to bad weather and was left cached on the mountain for the next expedition, went missing.

This caused serious concern about possible radioactive contamination of the environment and, in particular, the River Ganges.

Repeated searches could not retrieve the device which still remains missing, the book, published by Harper Collins, and said, adding that tests done subsequently at different spots indicated there was no cause for alarm.

The highly sophisticated and top-secret mission was kept under wraps for 38 long years, barring a “partial and inaccurate leak” made to a US magazine in 1978, which rocked the Indian Parliament at that time.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then Foreign Minister, declared in London on April 30, 1978, India would recover the nuclear device. To pacify agitated MPs, Vajpayee also made statements in Parliament.

A high-powered committee of scientists, including Dr Atma Ram, H N Sethna, M G K Menon, Raja Ramanna and Dr Saha, was set up to study and assess the risk of the missing device on Nanda Devi, the book said.

While CIA refused to comment on the news, US Congressmen asked then President Jimmy Carter to conduct an investigation.

Kohli also participated in the famous sailing expedition ”Ocean to Sky” in 1977 on the Ganga against the currents. The expedition, led by Sir

Edmund Hillary, was among other things reportedly intended to monitor radioactive contamination on the river as a fallout of the missing nuclear device atop Nanda Devi.

The book also mentions several interesting developments in that period, relating to these expeditions and the plans to install the nuclear monitoring devices.

These included unauthorised climbing of Nanda Devi twice, capture of an Indian Special Frontier Force commando by the Chinese in Tibet, the appearance of an American spy plane U-2 in India on a secret mission, use of the world famous Huskie aircraft for high altitude search up to 22,500 feet and Kohli”s seven close brushes with death.

The legendary Indian mountaineer, along with co-author Conboy, also recalls the involvement of leading intelligence officials, nuclear scientists and dare devil pilots of US and India and the CIA experts who participated in this unusual expedition.

CIA nuclear device atop Himalayas

Another article from the same source…

NEW DELHI: Soon after China detonated its first atom bomb in 1964, CIA tried to plant a nuclear-powered surveillance device atop Nanda Devi to spy on the communist nation.

Though the secret mission failed and the device was lost there, it created ripples in the Indian establishment 12 years later.

The espionage mission remained top secret till April 1978 when a news report published in a US magazine “Outside” claimed that the US intelligence agency had sent a team to set up a remote sensing device atop 25,645-foot mountain in the Himalayas in 1965.

But bad weather halted them 2,000-feet short of the summit and forced them to abandon the 125-pound device containing plutonium 238 that can remain radioactive for about 500 years. When the team returned to the site a year later, the device could not be located.

After a short-term “feckless effort”, the US government gave up its search for the device. Instead, the CIA covertly placed a second snap generator on another mountain, Nanda Kot, in 1967. After serving the agency’s purposes, it was also abandoned a year later, the report had claimed.

The revelations sparked a huge uproar in the country and even forced then foreign minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to say the episode might damage the “recently improving” ties between the two countries, according to recently declassified external affairs ministry documents.

The documents, available with National Archives, show how the Indian embassies abroad, especially in the US, had become active and kept on sending notes explaining how the issue was being played up by the media there.

At the time of this discloser, foreign ministry officials here were apparently unaware of the fact that the Nanda Devi mission was actually a joint collaboration between India and the US, according to the declassified documents.

CIA tried to plant surveillance device atop Nanda Devi

I’ve gone with somewhat longer than usual quotes from the source since I note that nearly all the other accounts I have bookmarked since coming across this story about 10 or so years ago have largely evaporated from the net.

Nanda Devi uncredited image

Nanda Devi uncredited image

The image came this info:

In addition to being the 23rd highest independent peak in the world, Nanda Devi is also notable for its large, steep rise above local terrain. It rises over 3,300 metres (10,800 ft) above its immediate southwestern base on the Dakkhni Nanda Devi Glacier in about 4.2 kilometres (2.6 mi), and its rise above the glaciers to the north is similar. This makes it among the steepest peaks in the world at this scale, closely comparable, for example, to the local profile of K2. Nanda Devi is also impressive when considering terrain that is a bit further away, as it is surrounded by relatively deep valleys. For example, it rises over 6,500 metres (21,300 ft) above the valley of the Ghoriganga in only 50 km (30 mi).

No wonder they thought of installing a surveillance device powered by similar technology to a space probe there!

The only surprising aspect I note is placing something in that environment, and expecting it to stay there.

I’ve also seen other stories claiming contamination (but none with real evidence), which seems rather unlikely given the construction of such devices. But then again, this was ‘new’ technology in those days, so it’s reasonable to assume the hardware may not have been built in the robust manner seen today.

It may even have just been cobbled together.

I wonder if it might have been copied from a Soviet design?

The Russians were always less squeamish about using nuclear power for remote applications, and used nuclear generators to power remote lighthouses, and have nuclear-powered ice breakers sailing in freezing waters to this day.

Advertisements

02/06/2019 Posted by | Cold War, Lost, Surveillance | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oh dear – even the BBC sometimes just repeats myths

I wondered if the recent tale of a ‘spy’ in the form of a ‘beluga whale’, kitted out with a GoPro and reportedly trained to approach vessels for food, would be picked up by any media sources, and it seems our very own BBC was the one lured in by this ‘honey trap’.

First rule of spying – don’t look like a spy.

The beluga whale – if that’s really its name – found in Norway’s waters can certainly tick that box.

But it appears to have committed an absolutely basic rookie sleuthing error.

The reason it’s causing suspicion among Norwegian fishermen and scientists is that it was wearing a harness and a label saying it was from St Petersburg in Russia.

Russia has denied any wrongdoing – and so far the beluga is refusing to talk.

Can’t or won’t?

Regardless of the truth, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time undercover animals have been used to spy.

It goes on to recount the tale of the now fairly well-known CIA’s ‘Acoustic Kitty’.

If there’s one thing we know about cats, it’s that they do whatever they want, whenever they want.

Admittedly, they’re inscrutable and impossible to second guess, so that’s possibly why the CIA thought they’d make excellent field operatives.

In the 1960s, it’s estimated $14m (£10.7m) was spent on a project to fit listening devices inside cats. The idea was for them to prowl around picking up vital Russian intelligence.

But it ended in failure on day one – when the cat was run over by a car outside the Soviet embassy in Washington.

Spying whales and other undercover animals

Sad to say, while that account is probably not wholly inaccurate, it’s probably also a bit of a myth.

There’s no disputing the creation and existence of Acoustic Kitty, and the chances are you can search online and find most of the story, and maybe even X-Rays of the cat showing the wiring and microphone.

And it’s probably also true to say it was a complete and utter failure, since the chances of convincing a free-roaming cat to follow instruction are at best, slim to nil.

However, I’m going to call ‘FAKE’ on the usual conclusion to the story, as given in the BBC article quoted above.

A few years ago a CIA officer published his memoirs, and these were quoted at length online, by the sort of web site that likes that sort of thing.

Acoustic Kitty came up in story.

The officer noted the project’s failure, but gave a completely different (and for its worth, far more believable account than that of the cat just happening to be “run over by a car outside the Soviet embassy in Washington.” Seriously, try working out the odds of that happening.

The officer’s account of the conclusion to Acoustic Kitty’s career was that, after the handlers found it impossible to control the cat once it was released (it went for a wander where it wanted to), they ‘recovered’ their asset, removed the radio/wiring/microphone (apparently fitted into the cat’s ear canal), and then retired it, after which it went on to live out its life somewhere more comfortable than a city.

I really wish I noted the web address of every article I read, which would make it easy to go find such items years later, but I do keep watching for this one, and if I do come across it, I WILL make a note.

Incidentally, to give you an idea of the credibility of the tale of  the cat being run over the first time it was released, I might add that the stories about this project report a cost to the CIA ranging from less than $10 million to over $120 million before it was cancelled.

Some say…

The Soviets were preparing countermeasures.

Serious Cat

30/04/2019 Posted by | Cold War, Lost, Surveillance | , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: