Operation HAT:How CIA Lost A Nuclear Device In India While Spying On China And Almost Polluted Ganga

lcafanboy

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Operation HAT: How CIA Lost A Nuclear Device In India While Spying On China And Almost Polluted Ganga
BY ANSHUL GANDHI
UPDATED ON NOV 21, 2017, 19:09:08

The underbelly of Himalayas on the Indian side hides a dirty secret.
'Nanda Devi' or the blessed goddess is the highest mountain peak of India in the state of Uttarakhand. Apart from being a trekking paradise, the Nanda Devi holds a high strategic importance for India. It's an incredible vantage point to keep an eye on its mischievous eastern neighbour–China.

The Nanda Devi trail encompasses two major glaciers (Nanda Devi North and Nanda Devi South) originating from the southern most slope of the Nanda Devi peak. The beautiful surroundings for seasonal tourists give way to punishing slopes in the winters and yet they remain one of the best spots for adrenalin junkies throughout the year.

"Apparently in October of 1959 it was confirmed that China, with Soviet assistance, had established a nuclear test base at Lop Nor with all intentions of testing a nuclear device. U-2 flights over China were becoming extremely dangerous, so powers thought if they could put a monitoring station on top of some Himalayan mountain with a clear shot towards Lop Nor they could gather all the information they needed. Before a decision was made as to what mountain would be selected, it was a given it would be at a very high altitude.” - CIA wires

October 16th, 1964
But despite its picturesque peaks, Nanda Devi has a nuclear past not many know of.

China, in its efforts to establish itself as a regional power in a rapidly deteriorating world order, tested a nuclear bomb at Lop Nor in Barren Sinkiang province on October 16th, 1964. With the Vietnam War already giving the US a hard time, an emboldened China posed a new threat to the already embattled US intelligence. The US reconnaissance satellites were incapable at the time to spy on China's nuclear capabilities. Also, with most of the intelligence satellites stationed over Russia, the US intelligence was stretched for options.


© WIKIPEDIA

At last and after long, after deliberations and compromises, the US President Lyndon Johnson approved a spy mission to measure China's nuclear capabilities and see if it was a threat to the US ambitions in South-Asia in the long run.

“How many times do you get a chance for a free boondoggle?”
The CIA dived deep to make sure that the preparations for the spy mission were accurate. The mission was so critical for the CIA at the time that in India only the CBI was aware of what the Americans were attempting. The all-star nine member climbing team included a track star turned life sciences student and an engineer and inventor. Along with these 9 climbers, four other Indian mountaineers were drafted too.


Their mission – to install a 125,000 pound tracking device powered by a nuclear snap generator atop the Nanda Devi at 27,000 feet. The snap generator was powered by Plutonium-238 which has a half life (the time taken for the radioactivity of a specified isotope to fall to half its original value) of 87.7 years. If installed successfully, this device would help the US intelligence to gather critical information on China's rapidly expanding nuclear capabilities and track their nuclear war-heads.


THE INDIAN TEAM OF CLIMBERS IN WASHINGTON/© INDIANDEFENCE

The climbers, who would carry this device, were gathered at Langley and saw this mission as an opportunity of a lifetime. The proposal gave them a hefty sum of $1,000 a month all the while navigating through one of the most breathtaking landscapes in South-Asia. And this was nothing more than an exotic trip for some, “How many times do you get a chance for a free boondoggle? I'd do it again if the same situation presented itself. I had a lot of fun." Maybe, if only they knew how critical it was to not brand the mission as just an adventure trip!

But before they could land in India for this adventure of a lifetime, they were given a crash course in nuclear-age espionage.

The team assembled to train the climbers included a demolitions expert, a former U-2 pilot, a psychiatrist and a sinologist. They were tasked with equipping the mountaineers with the basic skill set for a mission of such critical value. But as one spy put it later, most of the spy book jargon was “just meant to impress us—and waste a lot of time.”


THE ALL-STAR TEAM AT MT. MCKINLEY/© WIKIPEDIA


The climbers were flown to Mount McKinley in Alaska to acclimatize and warm up at 20,320 feet. In ominous signs, just before embarking on the greatest mission of their lives, deteriorating weather kept them from reaching the summit and ended the warm-up mission prematurely.

Nanda Devi- A rock and a hard place
The Nanda Devi peak is stationed just 500 miles from Sinkiang, and presents a challenging trek for even the best of mountaineers. CIA's initial estimates of stationing the device at 27,000 feet were squashed after inputs suggested that even if it was set up at 25,645 foot, it would deliver efficiently without elevating the risk levels.


THE HIGHEST PEAK IN INDIA - NANDA DEVI/© WIKIPEDIA

The climbers, therefore, left for their mission under the guise of 'The Air Force High Altitude Test Program' (HAT). The journey would present them with high risks as the 'Blue Mountain' was infamous for rocks fading into the night and shrouded in the mist, paving a treacherously steep slope.

Plutonium-238
The centre piece of the device that was to be installed atop the peak was a thin fuel rod that powered the snap generator. The rod contained plutonium-238, a radioactive fuel that produces heat as it decays and was supposed to last 75 years, if the mission was successful. At a place where temperatures could go as low as -40 degree Celsius, the spies in the first expedition to install the device could feel the heat radiate from the container that housed plutonium-238.


EXPEDITION ONE/© PAHAR


The team which set out to complete the mission in September 1965 from the south face of the mountain was stopped in its track due to stormy weather conditions; just 2,000 feet shy of the summit. But rather than wait for the autumn monsoons to give way, they decided to secure the package between rocks and returned to base, hoping to complete the mission in the second expedition.

The second expedition to the Nanda Devi peak was attempted in the spring of 1966. As the weather eased up and the team well rested and wiser from the mistakes they made last time, the state department of the US was fairly confident that once the expedition was over they would have clear and concise inputs on China's nuclear activities. They could not be more wrong in their assumptions.

April, 1966

INSTALLING THE NUCLEAR POWERED TRACKING DEVICE/© INDIANDEFENCE

The package is gone. Swept away by the rubble from the cliff that had broken loose. With the package, the radioactive Plutonium was gone too, leaving the climbers dumbfounded and the state department in shock. The spy mission quickly turned into a nuclear tragedy waiting to happen. The Nanda Devi South glaciers provide the headwaters for Ganges, the holy river for 450 million Hindus in India at that time and a source of clean water to major parts of northern India. That the CIA might have accidentally polluted an entire Indian River system with radioactive elements would be disastrous. More so because if this news broke out, it could lead to an all-out war between India and China as the two Asian powers were already involved militarily in the northeast. Taking stock of the situation, the CIA came up with a plan to locate the package including the radioactive Plutonium. The plan, in short, involved using Rubber hoses to wash away the rubble and exhume the nuclear device. In theory, it should have worked but the mound created by the avalanche was almost as big as the Giza pyramid and the CIA cleanup was unsuccessful.

Operation HAT: Zero-turned-negative

THE COMPLETE GROUP OF CLIMBERS AT NANDA KOT/© WIKIPEDIA

Estimating the high cost of repercussions if the news of this failed mission came out, the higher-ups in Washington decided to abandon the mission without retrieving the device. The mission was now officially designated Zero-turned-negative. The decision to abandon the device was concealed from the White House so as to shield it if the disastrous details came out. The Indira Gandhi government in India was never notified of the mission by the CBI.


The blame game was on. Anyone and everyone involved was under pressure to justify how three expeditions could have failed despite so much planning and investment. The Chinese and Indian specialists within the CIA almost came to blows. In letters thereon, it was reported that one mountaineer even punched a CBI agent in the midst of an argument.

Going nuclear: Under the nose
Total failure. All through 1965 and 1966, the CIA's efforts to establish a watch on China's nuclear arsenal were unsuccessful. The Chinese in the meanwhile built launch pads for the new nuclear missiles despite international pressure. On 27th October, 1966 China launched an experimental rocket from a launch pad in central Sinkiang under the CIA's nose. That was a serious blow to CIA's operational inability to track Chinese nukes and it prompted Washington to once again try and somehow put up a tracking device for future tests.


BASE CAMP/© INDIANDEFENCE

Operation Hat, now entering its fourth expedition was kick-started in 1967 with another mountain in sight – Nanda Kot. Nicknamed 'Red Mountain' Nanda Kot was 22,470 foot high and clearly a much better alternative than Nanda Devi. With a new target and a different set of climbers, the new spy mission took off in April with a similar package as used in the last expedition with a substitute plutonium-fuelled device. Learning from the last three expeditions, the crew avoided the perpendicular chutes which could trigger avalanches because of the morning warm of the sun. The fourth expedition, however, was called off too as a high intensity blizzard blocked their way. Two climbers almost lost their lives caught in the deadly blizzard.

The team determined to complete the mission, climbed up a few days later and was successful. The device was finally set up at 21,000 foot and as expected, once installed, the device worked perfectly, scanning the northern horizon. A year later, though, the CIA was back in action as a storm had dismantled the device and a fifth expedition was planned. Only Indian mountaineers and porters took the fifth expedition to repair the device in 1968. It continued to transmit for another year after which the US launched a new surveillance satellite to scout China's nuclear activities.

The underbelly of Himalayas on the Indian side still hides a dirty secret.

NANDA DEVI - HIDING A NUCLEAR SECRET/© WIKIPEDIA


CIA's five expeditions to the Nanda Devi and Nanda Kot peaks scream one important question. Where did the first device with plutonium-238 actually go? That the whole area was swept away in the rubble caused by the avalanche was apparent. But why couldn't the CIA locate the remains of the highly radioactive device? In 1966, the HH-43 Huskie helicopters flown by Air Force pilots went out to find some trace of the device that was swept away but to no avail. No readings and no leads were found in respect with the device. This, in turn, leads some experts to speculate that maybe, just maybe, the whole operation was always in knowledge of the Indian government then headed by Indira Gandhi. The device, left on its own in the snow covered avalanche might have easily been recovered by the Indian intelligence agencies before the second expedition arrived. This, in theory, seems like a perfect script for how India accelerated its own nuclear capabilities. But these are just speculations, for there might still be a piece of plutonium tucked way in the underbelly of the Himalayas.

Photo: © unsolvedmysteriesindia (Main Image)

https://www.google.co.in/amp/s/amp....pying-on-china-and-almost-polluted-ganga.html
 

lcafanboy

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CIA kept changing story on losing the nuclear device in Nanda Devi’ – Indian Defence Research Wing
‘CIA kept changing story on losing the nuclear device in Nanda Devi’

Published August 9, 2018 | By admin

SOURCE: TNN


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.
idrw.org/cia-kept-changing-story-on-losing-the-nuclear-device-in-nanda-devi/#more-177759
 

HariPrasad-1

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This is a very old story published a long ago. may be a decade or more.
 

The Ultranationalist

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That plutonium device is still polluting the ganges waters and many locals have died due to radiation poisoning. This is why that device should be located and disposed off safely.
 

Raweg

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They really lost it or lost it intentionally ?? Coz looking at history that we know it felt Americans hated us more then china
 

binayak95

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This story is BS on so many levels. While it is true that a joint RAW CIA climbing expedition to Nanda Devi did occur, to place a ELINT device, this "125000 pound" device is HILARIOUS. It'll be next to impossible even today to carry such a heavy piece of gear to those altitudes.
 

Mikesingh

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If it was powered by Plutonium 238, then the radiation would last 140 years.

But if it was powered by Plutonium 239, then the radiation would last 50,000 years!!

We need to find the device fast. Nothing has happened so far, no one has died due to radiation, but the danger will manifest itself once the radioactive material starts mixing with the water and enters the Ganga. And that's when all hell is going to break loose. No more holy dips! :frown:
 

Icarus

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If it was powered by Plutonium 238, then the radiation would last 140 years.

But if it was powered by Plutonium 239, then the radiation would last 50,000 years!!

We need to find the device fast. Nothing has happened so far, no one has died due to radiation, but the danger will manifest itself once the radioactive material starts mixing with the water and enters the Ganga. And that's when all hell is going to break loose. No more holy dips! :frown:
Ganga is a powerful river. It has been tested and despite the filth they throw in it, it has retained its purity. So all things will be absorbed.
 

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