CIA installed nuclear surveillance device atop Himalayas mountains

The United States Central Intelligence Agency tried at least twice to install a nuclear-powered surveillance device atop the Indian Himalayas, in an effort to spy on China. The decision to plant the device was taken in 1964, soon after communist China detonated its first nuclear bomb. In 1965, a team of CIA operatives attempted to climb Nanda Devi in the Garhwal Himalayas, which, at 25,645 feet (7,816 meters), is the highest mountain peak located entirely within Indian territory. But the top-secret mission failed miserably after adverse weather forced the CIA team to give up its effort approximately 2,000 feet below the summit. Battling against a heavy snowstorm, the CIA officers abandoned the 125-pound device, which was eventually swept away (.pdf document) by an avalanche. Incredibly, the team members deserted the surveillance device even though they knew it contained plutonium 238, which can emit radioactivity for over 500 years. In 1966, the same CIA team returned to Nanda Devi, in an effort to recover the complex surveillance instrument, but failed to locate it. In response to the second failed mission, the Agency decided to close the book on Nanda Devi, and instead constructed an identical surveillance device, which was transported and installed on Nanda Kot, a mountain peak located about nine miles (15 km) southeast of Nanda Devi. At 6,861 meters, Nanda Kot is about 3,000 feet shorter and far less steep than Nanda Devi. In 1967, a successful CIA attempt was made to reach the peak of Nakda Kot, where the radioactive surveillance device was installed. It is believed that it served its purpose before being abandoned there in 1968. Ten years later, in 1978, both operations were revealed in an article published in US-based Outside magazine. The revelation caused a major political uproar in India, as many Indians consider the Himalayas ‘sacred’ ground. Now the National Archives of India has released a batch of previously classified internal documents from India’s Ministry of External Affairs. The documents reveal that the 1978 disclosure of the two CIA operations caused a serious political crisis in India’s governing establishment and caused some damage in the bilateral ties between Washington and New Delhi. What is perhaps more interesting is that, according to the newly declassified documents, the government of India appears to have been unaware that both CIA missions in the Himalayas were undertaken with the direct collaboration of Indian intelligence. One inevitably wonders whether that was because the Congress Party, which ruled India for decades, but had lost the 1977 national election, had failed to let the governing  left-leaning Janata Party coalition about the CIA operations. Or could it be that the Congress Party was also in the dark about the CIA’s Himalaya spy expeditions?

10 Responses to CIA installed nuclear surveillance device atop Himalayas mountains

  1. AlbertE. says:

    Nanda Devi is known as a killer mountain. Lots of climbers killed on that peak because of persistent avalanche threat. CIA should have known this from the start and been more careful. Placing the device there would have made it also susceptible to discovery by mountaineers of some nationality and a lot of questions raised. This second thing was in use only a couple years so you have to ask if it was all worth it. Probably not.

  2. intelNews says:

    I would imagine the device would have been somehow disguised when installed; but on the other hand we don’t know much about its precise purpose. Also, why would it need to be nuclear-powered? I have been looking in Jeffrey Richelson’s “Spying on the Bomb”, and there is absolutely no mention of this operation in the extensive chapter on China. [JF]

  3. Red Mann says:

    The perverted bastards poison their own troops and their future kids with exposure to Depleted Uranium Munitions!

    and the DOD knows it!

  4. indiandragon says:

    It could be the congress which did not disclose the operation as the left would never allow an operation hand in hand with the CIA, so RAW was completely autonomous in this mission as it benefitted India as it did for US. As for the missing device, Indian army could have recovered it later as high altitude is not a different terrain to them. They got a permanent base in siachen.

  5. Ralph says:

    Couldn’t be very radioactive or it would fog the camera from the emissions, let alone film if used. I’m sure the reason was the cold. No batteries in existance even now can operate very long at those temps. That’s why they use chemical reaction batteries in space, but these have a tendency to go BOOM … and that is why most satellites have a small radioactive power source.

    It may also be that a lot of the avalanches weren’t natural too eh? Anyone think of that angle yet?

  6. One of the later attempts by Indian Army to scale Nanda Devi East also failed leading to disappearance of Team Leader Major Shyamal Sinha.

  7. says:

    Hehe! Do you think the Chinese would have allowed it? If anythiing, they would have gone in, and taken it down. Yes, they have the people to do it.

    As to the CIA using a radioactive device. It’s NOT their “nest”- , so they DON’T care!

  8. Darwin Noble says:

    or is it the case that America yet again didnt even seek any permission and simply did what they felt like doing with no fear of reprisal from a nation which at the time was making a slow climb up the world ladder. Nature beat tyrants thats made my day

  9. intelNews says:

    @Ralph: The cold temperature sounds very plausible as an explanation for the radioactive nature of the device –namely as a power source. Thanks for posting. [JF]

  10. deepak bhargava says:

    How can be you so sure that radioactive device was lost…. it might be stolen by Indian government, as all knows near to 1960-1970 India was not a nuclear power and 4-5 kg plutonium could be a real asset for them.

    And even today, there are many devices which can trace minute level of radioactive material, if this was a big cause of concern then Govt. of India could have been already planned something.

    I don’t think that government of India is that much dumbass…. :) , Though, we can use word ‘dumbass’ in the case of CIA.

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