Report reveals secret US-India Cold War collaboration

U-2 surveillance aircraftBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
During much of the Cold War, India enjoyed a close diplomatic and military relationship with the Soviet Union. But a newly declassified document reveals that the South Asian country allowed the United States to spy on the Soviets using its airspace. The revelation is contained in a 400-page history of the American U-2 reconnaissance aircraft program authored on behalf of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The formerly classified document, written in 1992 by CIA historians Gregory Pedlow and Donald Welzenbach, is titled: The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and OXCART Programs, 1954-1974. It was declassified last week in response to a 2005 Freedom of Information Act request filed by Jeffrey T. Richelson, Senior Fellow at George Washington University’s National Security Archive. The Central Intelligence Agency had been involved in U-2 reconnaissance missions since 1954, when the spy program began. Known officially as Project HOMERUN, the U-2 program was a joint effort by the CIA and the National Security Agency that surreptitiously gathered signals and photographic intelligence on Soviet military sites. The program, which has been described by some historians as one of the most successful intelligence projects in US history, relied on the U-2’s ability to fly beyond 70,000 feet over the Soviet Union, thus avoiding detection or attack by Soviet forces. That assumption, however, proved to have been false. In reality, Soviet radars had been able to detect nearly every U-2 flight over Soviet territory. Eventually, on May 1, 1960, Soviet forces managed to shoot down one of the U-2 flights using a surface-to-air missile. This led to the so-called ‘U-2 incident’, during which India sided firmly with the Soviet Union, criticizing the US for violating Soviet airspace. But New Delhi’s attitude to the U-2 program appears to have changed drastically following the Sino-Indian conflict on October 1962, when Chinese forces launched a series of armed incursions into Indian territory, killing over 1,000 soldiers. Soon afterwards, India approached the US and asked for military assistance; the US response was to offer to deploy U-2 airplanes from in Thailand, in order to spy on the Chinese forces along India’s eastern flank. India’s Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, agreed to allow the U-2 aircraft to refuel in Indian airspace. According to the CIA history of the U-2 program, the Chinese detected the spy flights and logged official protests with both India and the US. But New Delhi’s response was to intensify its cooperation with Washington. In early 1963, during a visit to India by US President John F. Kennedy, India offered to build an air base on its territory to be used exclusively by the CIA. The Agency made use of the Charbatia Air Base, in eastern India, for nearly four years, from 1964 to 1967, to spy on both China and the Soviet Union’s missile bases in Kazakhstan. It is not known whether the Soviets were aware of this secret collaboration between India and the US. The declassified history is now available in full on the National Security Archive’s website.

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