How RAW & CIA Tracked Chinese Nuclear Program in the Himalayas


It was in 1963 that our intelligence agency had intelligence report of Chinese testing a nuclear bomb  code named “596” at Xinjiang. Chinese established their nuclear test base with the assistance from Soviet Union in 1959. On 16th October 1964, Chinese successfully tested their first nuclear bomb.

It looks beautiful but it's damn tough to scale that. The Nanda Devi.
Nanda Devi

After the 1962, Sino-India War on  the advice of IB, Special Frontier Force was made which included 5000 Tibetan Men. Most were khampas. It was a covert op of RAW. They were trained at Chakrata in Uttrakhand(100 km from city of Dehradun), with their leader Dalai Lama safely brought to India in 1959, Tibetan people have been an ethnic part of Indian traditions. Initially SSF was made to free Tibet and to train the commandos(to execute Covert Op) in case there is any other war between China and India. The SFF came to be known as ‘Establishment 22’ due to its first Inspector General, Major General (Retd.) Sujan Singh Uban of Indian Army, who used to be commander of 22 Mountain Regiment during World War II, a Military Cross holder.

Special Frontier Force, establishment 22

CIA itself trained Tibet Climbers with full co-operation of Indian Govt from 1964-1968. Their job was not less heroic then 007-Bond. In 1960s, America had no network of spies in China, and there were no spy satellites at that time.

Cold war was at its peak and CIA decided to place a transceiver powered with plutonium batteries at Nanda Devi, the highest Himalayan Peak of India. The transceiver will be give the values of range, payload and speed of Chinese Missiles. Mountaineer M.S Kohli and climbers from SFF with climbers of CIA, which included Barry Corbett .

The ARC(Aviation and Research Center)  of the Research and Analysis Wing was formed by RN Kao, the legendary spy of India. The functions of ARC are Aerial surveillance, Signal Intelligence, monitoring of borders and the imagery Intelligence.

The first plane of ARC was Helio Twin Courier which is of USAF. The Nanda Devi operation was set to make heavy use of most of the ARC fleet. Because of the difficulty in reaching the Sanctuary via the Rishi Ganga gorge, aerial options were the only efficient means of supplying the expedition with food.

ARC officers calculated the most of the provisions could be free-dropped or landed by the Mi-4 choppers. The Twin Helio, meanwhile, would provide a shuttle between New Delhi and a staging base close to the Sanctuary.

Helio Twin Courier

The Twin Helio was also selected to provide MS Kohli’s requested aerial reconnaissance of Nanda Devi. Flying the aircraft would be Jim Rhyne. A top-rated STOL pilot, Rhyne had gained a stellar reputation while flying single-engine Helios over the mountains of Laos for the CIA’s proprietary, Air America. In late 1963, he had come to India to provide transition training for the first batch of Helio pilot candidates in ARC.

Rhyne departed on his reconnaissance from New Delhi’s Palam airport, then headed northeast for a little more than 200 miles. Skies were clear but just short of his target, a massive cloud bank loomed. Used to the mix of mountains and inclement weather while flying the skies of Laos, Rhyne plunged into the cumulous wall without hesitation.

No sooner had he entered the cloud than a single bolt of lightning slapped the plane. The radio went out. The frame was magnetized so the compass locked at 120 degrees, rendering it useless. The controls were still responding, so I reversed direction to head out of the soup and make a dead reckoning back toward New Delhi.

He fortunately landed safely at Delhi. The first attempt to place the device on the Nanda Devi, by a Kohli-led SFF failed because of adverse conditions and  they left a device in a small unmarked mountain cave after carrying the device to just short of the 25,645 feet peak. When another Kohli-led expedition returned the next year to recover the device, it was found to be missing.

Installation at Nanda Devi, 1967                                                               Source

That device is still missing. Another mission was launched in 1967 to place a similar device on the Nanda Kot. This time Kohli–led team with SFF team successfully placed the device. After some years again a problem came, snow would settle on the antenna of the device which will make it function-less. The Mountaineers went for another mission and retrieved the device. In the mean time, China tested many nuclear weapons and also Ballistic Missiles .

In 1969, China tested ICBM which has a capability of reaching 6000 miles. CIA and RAW again sprung in action. In December 1969, SSF mountaineers successfully placed a gas-powered device on an undisclosed mountain supposedly in Chinese controlled areas. After that year, US had spy satellites being made.

The danger of avalanches and death always nearing by, there is something which keeps you climbing, that is the love for adventure and taking risks, the mountaineers saw life and death very closely. But, the only worry is that transceiver which lost had plutonium, and if it mixed with Glacier, that would create environmental problems .